Thursday, January 16, 2020

A Lost moment in time: Lepidodendron & the Hubbardston Library.

By Craig: I say the word often. Sometimes I might go a few months without it rolling off my tongue, but it always comes back. It has always been like that. At least since I first saw the word when I was about 8 years old. I must have struggled with it at first. L-e-p-i-d-o-d-e-n-d-r-o-n. Numerous syllables and not a word that an average adult would know, never mind an 8 year old. But I was different. I had an obsession with certain things that I found interesting. I had to know all about something, or learn as much as I could about the subject that interested me. In this case it wasn't so much the word Lepidodendron as the artists rendition of what Lepidodendron was.

When I was in third grade our class would walk to the library next to the school in Hubbardston Massachusetts. I would immediately gravitate to the science or history section. There were a number of books that interested me and I would find myself flipping the pages of these books and immersing myself in the pictures and captions below them. I was particularly intrigued with one book in particular. It was called The Forest. It was one of the books in the Life Nature Library, a series of books written for young adults, or merely any lay person interested in a subject and wanting to get a better understanding of it without diving into too much technical jargon. Perfect for me. I am not a scholar and never will be. I get bored with one subject and eventually turn to something else. However, I always find myself going back to the same things. Case in point...Lepidodendron.

So, what is Lepidodendron? The casual reader probably doesn't have the foggiest notion what it is. I bet if my 8 year old self could return to his classroom of 1976 or 1977 and ask any of the teachers if they knew what Lepidodendron was I would get some puzzled looks. In the golden days of fossil hunting, strange stones were found in the coal beds that appeared to show the fossilized skin of an ancient reptile. However, it wasn't long before it was determined that the scale like fossils were not anything from the animal kingdom. They were the fossilized impressions of ancient trees that lived in the Carboniferous Era some 300 million years ago. Hence the name Lepidodendron. Literally meaning "scale tree." These trees were prolific and dominated the ancient swampy forests of the Carboniferous sharing their world with giant dragonflies and other primitive life. Lepidodendron trees rose to heights of nearly 100 feet and though prolific for millions of years, they eventually died out and became extinct sometime during the Triassic.

I must have checked The Forest out of the Hubbardston town library dozens of times in the 6 years that I attended elementary school. One of the images that I clearly remembered from this book was an artists depiction of a Permian forest with the scale like fallen trunks of Lepidodendron in the foreground and a rainbow arcing across the ancient sky. I must have studied that image every time that I borrowed that book. I left grade school in 1980 and forgot about the book. However, over the next 35 years or so I would occasionally find myself saying the word Lepidodendron. Sometimes it would just roll off my tongue for no apparent reason, and I wondered why it would just pop into my head at random times. Walking across a muddy Okinawan field with the Marines in 1987...Lepidodendron. A few years later in 1993 working on a train signal...Lepidodendron. In Paris on my honeymoon in 1997...Lepidodendron. The birth of my son in 2003...Lepidodendron. At the bedside of my terminally ill twin brother Jay in 2018...Lepidodendron. Just now...Lepidodendron. Am I the only one who does this?

A few years ago Jay received a box of books from someone, and in it there just happened to be a few of the old Nature Library books including The Forest!! I had not seen this book in nearly 35 years and suddenly here it was again. It brought back a flood of memories and when I opened it up I was 8 again. I found myself sitting alone at one of the tables in the Hubbardston town library. It was then that I realized what it was about Lepidodendron that caused it to stick in my head. It was extinct! For millions of years it had been forgotten as if it never existed. Then one day the fossils that were found brought it back to life. One day Lepidodendron will disappear again. This time for good, just as humankind. the earth, the sun and the whole galaxy will one day vanish into the recesses of time's lonely corridor. It is an unsettling thought, but I must have imagined something like it when I first stared at its lonely and forgotten life in the pages of  a book some 40 years ago. Now I remember. One day I too, like Lepidodendron, will be forgotten. I find myself looking up from the page at a blank space on the wall and then casually looking back at the fallen trunks. Lepidodendron... Lepidodendron...Lepidodendron...

Saturday, December 7, 2019

A Lost Moment in Time: Walter Johnson & the Baseball that Circled the Globe

By Craig: I watched some of the World Series between the Washington Nationals and the Houston Astros which finished up recently. To be honest with you I just couldn't get into it. First of all the games are on way too late for me. They don't start until after 8:00pm and sometimes don't finish up until after midnight. I am an early riser. I am often awake at 430am and going to bed after midnight does not fit into my schedule. Second of all, I find it hard to get into watching any professional sports these days. I don't know if it is all the money involved in it, or if it is the arrogance that some of the players present that turns me off. Maybe it is a combination of both. Not to say that these problems didn't lurk around in the past, but all the same, sports has lost its mystique with me.

The World Series did, however, bring to the surface of my mind something that I had not thought about since I was a child. My grandfather was a huge baseball fan and especially a lover of the  Boston Red Sox. However, he had a vast amount of knowledge about the history of the sport in his head that he enjoyed passing on to me and my twin brother. Some of the things that came out of his mouth, however, were totally absurd. He was a master storyteller and we would sit there for hours listening to his stories or “dreams” as he called them. He would always start one of the tales off with the phrase “I had a dream!” He would then start into the tale which was most of the time something that he would think up on the spur of the moment, but sometimes he would insert real historical figures into the tale. He would also tell us that the tales were real life events that actually occurred at a remote time in his past. During the summer of 1976 we were staying at a cottage at Wells Beach on the southern Maine coast. My grandparents came to visit us one weekend and of course my brother and I were thrilled because it meant that my grandfather was there to tell us his “dreams.”

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was almost eight years old. My brother and I started collecting things the previous year. I think it started out with bottle caps. We would scour the roadsides looking for them and were always thrilled when we came across a rare one that we had never seen before. Our collection grew and then we found comic books and baseball cards. This was back in the day when a kid could ride his bike down to the corner store and buy a comic book, pack of cards, a candy bar and a drink for under a dollar. I can remember one day I opened up a pack of cards and found one that was different from the rest. It was a black and white image of an old ball player named Walter Johnson that played for the Washington Senators in the early part of the 20th century. I had never heard about him, or the team that he played for which did not exist anymore. I took the card to Maine with me and showed it to my grandfather. His face lit up and I knew that another yarn was going to come from his mouth.
"Walter Johnson," he said. "Was the greatest pitcher to ever play baseball."
We were sitting on the porch at our cottage overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. He pointed out at the sea and told us that Walter Johnson's arm was so strong that he once threw a baseball clear across the ocean and it landed in Ireland. I can remember thinking to myself that this was quite an impossibility, but at the same time imagining that it really did happen. However, my brother and I were quite unprepared for what he told us next. He told us that Walter Johnson could throw a baseball so fast that he once threw one at such a rate that it went into orbit around the earth. "Believe it or not." he said. "It is still traveling around the world over 50 years later." He told us that some times on a clear night you might see it streaking across the sky like a meteor.

I can remember looking up at the sky and searching for it, not really believing that I would see it, but at the same time hoping that I would. Even today when I look up on a cool crisp evening and see a meteor flashing across the heavens, I think of Walter Johnson's blazing fastball, and my grandfather's absurd but magical tale of an impossibility fit only for the realm of mystical imagination.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Lost Moment in Time: Stamp Collecting & Ribbon Candy

By Craig: The other day I was going through my old humpbacked trunk with its brass bands and latches. It has been in my family for generations dating back to the 19th century. It has seen better days. The rope handles have long since disappeared and only the brass fittings remain. This is fine with me. It's days of being loaded onto trains or stagecoaches are now generations in the past. I first became acquainted with the trunk when I was a toddler. It sat neglected in my grandfather's musty attic. To get to it my twin brother and I would climb a narrow set of creaky stairs and push open the ancient door with its rusty hinges that groaned loudly every time that we opened or closed it. The trunk contained old letters and business correspondence from another time, along with old moth eaten clothes, toys and other stuff that escapes my memory. We enjoyed twirling the small brass stars on top of the trunk to see who could spin them faster! It was definitely a strange form of entertainment, but we reveled in it! When we walked into that attic it was like walking back in time. I previously wrote about this magical place, which you can find here:

I will therefore not bore the reader with a repetitive description of the place. Anyway, the trunk eventually found its way into my mother's house and from there to my house where it now resides in my library. I do not have a clue as to what happened to the priceless heirlooms that previously lurked in the chest. I shudder to think of their fate, but I know that when it was in my mother's possession it contained old clothes. Mind you, it wasn't the Victorian or Edwardian style that had previously rested in the box, but 1970s bell bottomed duds and wide collared shirts. When I took possession of the trunk it was my turn to dispose of these ugly artifacts and when it was empty it became the home for my stamp collection and old family photographs that date back generations.

I became interested in stamp collecting (Philately) at an early age. My grandfather would take me and my twin brother down to old Mrs. Coe's mansion to entertain her. She was a wealthy widow over four score in years and had trouble walking. My grandfather would bring her groceries and help her around the house. I can still remember her impressive stately home with its marble staircase that had a chairlift attached to the railing. Mrs. Coe would sit at the bottom of the stairs and watch us play. A 20th century Miss. Havisham! My grandfather would give us rides in the chair and we would wave to the smiling Mrs. Coe who dotted on us. Sometimes she would tell us a story about the old days that always fascinated us. Before we left, she would always give us some old stamps, and gingerbread or  ribbon candy and ordered us to brush our teeth after eating it.

Mrs. Coe passed away when I was about seven or eight years old and my grandfather went quietly to his grave shortly after that. Before he died he gave me his stamp collection, and along with the stamps that I received from Mrs. Coe, I amassed quite a collection. When I was about ten or eleven years old I found a price guide and was amazed at how much some of the stamps were worth! Recently, I found an updated guide and was astonished to see how little the stamp prices have moved in the over 40 years that I have been collecting them. It is all about interest in the hobby. Stamp collecting is dying and there are very few who engage in it today. I learned a lot about history from the stamps that I collected.

Today, when I visit my ancient trunk I twirl the stars and imagine my late brother Jay on the other side doing the same thing. My son will one day inherit the trunk along with the stamps, but what about the memories that come with it? He will in turn hand it over to his children and it will go on in perpetuity until one day it might end up in a lonely landfill somewhere, the memories lost with it! I still think about the long dead Mrs. Coe and when I get near the trunk I swear that I can sometimes detect the familiar scent of freshly made gingerbread, and taste the sweetness of ribbon candy...the senses acute with nostalgia, and a time now lost as the days, months and years continue to roll forward...

Sunday, September 8, 2019

A Certain Encounter: Sir Francis Drake

By Craig: I have often wondered what a person from another century would think about life in the current one? I recently read a biography of Sir Francis Drake, the 16th century English explorer, knighted by Queen Elizabeth, privateer and hero of the Armada. Drake was, and still is a controversial character. In one sense he was nothing more than a pirate and an opportunist who took advantage of his social standing, and with a bit of luck and skill managed to reap a fortune. In another sense he was a hero to a nation who was the first of his country to circumnavigate the globe, and later on played a large role in defeating the great Spanish Armada. 21st century historians and the average person have a tendency to judge people from another time period by relating them to their own. This is looking at things blindly and subjectively. The mores of society along with the cultures that they belong change over the course of time. Certainly there are certain maxims and beliefs that have mostly been adhered to throughout the ages. Murder, for instance, has never been highly regarded. Neither has thievery or treason. However, the degrees as to how these crimes are interpreted has evolved over time. Drake has been accused of some of these crimes by some modern historians who cannot look past their own time.

I believe that I first heard about Sir Francis Drake when I was in elementary school. My grade school teacher was an avid historian and spent a whole class on Drake and his adventures which included his raids on New Spain and his part in the Great Armada of 1588. I was intrigued. My teacher made Drake come alive and sort of glorified his life. I can clearly remember pretending to be Drake on the deck of the Golden Hind, sword in hand (usually a big stick) swapping blows with my twin brother, who frequently, but not all the time got the best of me!
My mind wanders back to the late 16th century. I am a child again, but serve as a cabin boy on the Revenge. I can see Drake standing on the bow of the ship. He has just ordered the cannons loaded and is preparing to fire on the Spanish war ship San Martin. I can see the frantic sailors on the San Martin scrambling to man their battle stations. Hatches open and cannon prepare to fire on the English fleet. I am  anxious, but not in the least bit concerned. Francis Drake is present. His name causes panic to spread among the ships of the Spanish fleet under the Duke of Medina Sidonia. King Phillip has a bounty on his head. He is the plunderer of the Spanish treasure ships, and is directly responsible for enriching Queen Elizabeth's coffers as well as his own at the expense of the Spanish king. He stands there on the deck stroking his red beard, a hint of a smile on his grizzled face. His confidence in his own abilities is great, and his reputation has taken on a life of its own. The order to fire is given and there are great explosions followed by giant puffs of blinding smoke. There are screams and the loud din and smell of battle is overpowering. I find myself being hurled across the deck of the ship. I can taste blood in my mouth, but I am still alive. I look up and can see the billowy sails of the Revenge, and then there is Drake still standing on the bow looking out toward the great Spanish crescent. He looks over at me and smiles.

I come back to reality. I am on the back deck of my father's house, stick in hand. It is 1977. My twin brother Jay stands on the railing waving his stick at the imaginary line of Spanish galleons. A large white pine in the backyard becomes the mast and sails of a Spanish ship. I have become Drake. My twin brother has manhandled a log onto the deck and pushed it through two of the boards to act as a cannon. I give the order to fire cannon and there are loud sounds coming from my brother's mouth. Otherwise, it is a quiet day. It is late summer, maybe early autumn. Somewhere, I can hear the sound of a morning dove's call. I am still hearing it today.

Monday, September 2, 2019

A Lost Moment in Time: 1976, Fred Lynn, Butch Hobson & a Trip to Fenway Park

By Craig: The final score said it all: Athletics 7 Red Sox 6. The date was Sunday August, 22 1976. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was getting ready to celebrate my 8th birthday in a few weeks and my grandfather and father wanted to take my brother and me to Fenway Park to see the Red Sox. This was my first time going to Fenway, and I can clearly remember being excited. My grandfather was also looking forward to it. He was a boy when the Red Sox had last won a World Series, and I can remember him telling me about Red Sox legend Harry Hooper, and of course the Sultan of Swat, the legendary Babe Ruth who was at that time known more for his pitching than his batting.

It was a magical sunny day when we arrived at the park and my grandfather told us that we could each buy a batting helmet. There were three teams available to choose from. There was the Red Sox, of course, but then there was the Athletics and the Orioles. My brother immediately chose the Athletics helmet and I picked up one with the Orioles logo. My grandfather was confused.
"We are here to see the Red Sox!" He said. I can still hear his voice booming. "Don't you boys like the Red Sox?"
I cannot remember how we responded. I can remember cheering for the Red Sox, but my brother and I always had to be different. Every kid had a Red Sox helmet. No one had one with the Athletics or Orioles logo on it. He mumbled something, but reluctantly shelled out the money to the vendor and we walked away smiling, with our prizes atop our heads. My father had bought seats along the third base line. They were good seats, but the sun was a scorcher that day. As a fair haired ginger I never fared well in the sun as a child and still do not to this day. I do believe that the helmets helped us some.

The ballpark that day was alive with action. It is strange how after all these years I can remember only snippets from that day. Images impressed into my mind forever.
"Cracker Jacks! Get your Cracker Jacks!"
The smell of hot dogs and beer.
I can still see the field of play. Before this day I only knew the players from the cardboard cutouts sold in packs at the store, or from watching them on television. Now here they were come to life for the first time! There is Bill North of the Oakland Athletics. I can see the name on the back of his jersey. N-O-R-T-H. He was standing at the top of the dugout leaning on a bat. I have his baseball card! Then there is one of my favorite players Fred Lynn of the Red Sox. The image is as clear today as it was on that day 43 summers ago. He stands at home plate, bat in hand. He is angry with the umpire for a called strike. His young face illuminated by the afternoon sun. I can still hear the sound of that ball entering the catchers glove. Reluctantly he walks from the batters box back to the dugout. There is Yaz and Bert Campaneris. Campaneris is everywhere. He is destroying the Red Sox at the plate and in the field. Then there is the rookie Butch Hobson, another one of my favorite players. My grandfather is heckling him.
"Quit throwing like a girl!"
Hobson seems to look over his shoulder toward the taunts. Does he really do this? Or did I only imagine it?

We left the ballpark early. It was a Sunday and my father had to work in the morning. The game went into extra innings. I was mad and my brother was mad! We wanted to get Fred Lynn's autograph, and maybe meet Butch Hobson. My grandfather told us that they probably wouldn't want to meet us anyway because we were wearing Athletics and Orioles helmets. I felt bad. To this day I still feel bad. We should have gotten the Red Sox helmets. We disappointed my grandfather, but I realized why he let us get the other helmets and I smile. He died a little over a year after this game, and we never went to another one with him, but we didn't have to. It is the memory of this one sunny summer afternoon that lives on. It was a magical time now almost a half century in the past. As we left that day and headed out into the street I heard the sounds of the ballpark receding in the distance. I can still hear it today.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Elements of Time: Roman Soldiers Comic Book Ad

By Craig: Ok, where do I begin with this one. As some of my readers know, I have been a comic book guru since I learned how to read. My readers might also know that the comic books that I read are not typically of the superhero genre, although there was an occasional exception. For instance, I always enjoyed reading the Fantastic Four, and the old Marvel Two-in Ones starring Ben Grimm (AKA The Thing) who always managed to find trouble wherever he turned. I especially enjoyed it when he got his own comic book in the early 1980s. I don't think that it lasted that long, but I enjoyed it while it did. When I made it to high school I lost interest in comic books, and only returned to them a few years back when my son was in elementary school, and I started to live vicariously through them again. They seemed to transport me back to another time, a simpler time. At least simple for me. My parents might not have thought so, but to me it was a good time.

One of the things that always fascinated me about comic books back in those days were the ads. I previously wrote about the famous Sea Monkey ad a few years back in a post that you can find here
In 1976 my twin brother Jay approached me one day and said "look at this!" I can still remember the excitement in his voice. He handed me a copy of Grimm's Ghost Stories which in those days was published by Gold Key comics. I looked at the comic that he had given me. The cover showed an elderly man holding a knife over a ghost sitting in a wheelchair. The caption read "His brother was dead-but that wasn't enough! His ghost had to die too!" I remember looking at it and then Jay told me to turn it over. I was amazed at what I saw. It was a full page color add of a battle scene from ancient Rome complete with chariots, catapults and archers. At the top in bright red ink it said 132pc Roman Soldiers Set. Underneath this bold print it gave a vivid description of what you might be able to do with this set of soldiers.
2 Complete Roman Armies! Fight again the battles of the old Roman Civil War-Roman against Roman! Or mount your own attack against a town or city. Every piece of molded plastic-each on its own base. Two complete armies, one in blue, one in yellow! Your satisfaction guaranteed or full refund! 
Of course, I have no recollection of reading this fine print, especially the part where it states "satisfaction guaranteed." At eight years of age we hardly knew what this meant. No! Even if we did read this part of the add we merely glossed over it. It was not important. The fascinating battle scene is what had our attention. In the foreground was a muscular soldier holding a sword out in front of him, his mouth wide open as if he were issuing a command, or perhaps he was so intent on meeting an opponent that he was in the process of a barbaric yawp as he charged at his victim. For his opponent would surely be a victim as this soldier could never die. He was Julius Caesar or Augustus. He was too formidable a force to ever lose his life in battle.  I could only imagine how the next scene would play out! And wait! The best part was that Jay and I could decide the outcome if we rushed a filled out coupon along with $2.25 to Roman War Soldiers in Westbury N.Y!!
This was a no-brainer. We simply had to have this playset. The only trouble was how we would come up with the formidable sum of $2.25 to get it. I have absolutely no recollection of how we managed to get come up with the money. I do remember at about this time going door to door selling seeds and pens and hustling for cash so that I could buy comic books and baseball cards. Perhaps this is how we came up with the money, or maybe it was the dollar that our grandfather gave us every week when we went in to visit him in the city. I do not recall, but it doesn't really matter. What I do remember is Jay stuffing two well worn dollars and a quarter into an envelope along with the coupon and licking a stamp. We placed it in the mailbox, pulled the red flag up and waited. It was unbearable! Every day we would wait for the mailman Mr. Meagher, and then rush down to the mailbox to see if the package had arrived. One day, as if a miracle had just happened it arrived. The package was nothing fancy. A small white box that fit into the mailbox, but we immediately knew what it was. It had arrived from Westbury N.Y.! It was addressed to Jay Hipkins of Ragged Hill Rd. I tried to grab at it, but Jay was quicker and snatched it, and took off running toward the house with me in full pursuit. I remember the day as if it happened only yesterday because it was on a Saturday and we were going to Vermont. I followed Jay into the house and he was already attempting to tear the package open as if it contained the holy grail! Dumping the contents onto the counter we stared at it. I can only imagine the expressions on our face when we saw what the package contained. It must have been one of confusion and disappointment. 
"Is this it?" I can remember thinking. My twin Jay repeated this same question in his mind as the disappointment turned to anger.
"This is a rip-off!" I remember Jay saying. 
In front of us were these cheap thin yellow and blue pieces of plastic that fraudulently claimed to be Roman Soldiers! What we did not know at the time was that we had learned a valuable lesson in marketing. 
"Do not always believe what you see!"
What did we expect? Did we actually believe that the Roman soldiers would look like the heroic warriors captured in the ad? Looking at the ad today I am brought back in time over 4o years. As I stare at the ad some part of me still believes that it just might be able to come to life. The screaming warrior charging forth with his sword drawn rushes past the border of the page followed by other fearless helmeted soldiers slicing their way off the page until the colorful battle rendered in ink is finally complete, leaving a dusty blood soaked battlefield behind.

 I can still see my brother's disappointment and can still see him attempting to set the soldiers up on the counter in the kitchen. Half of them would not even stand on their bases. I do not recall what happened to them. I imagine that they disappeared in the closet and, eventually found themselves tossed in the garbage during one of our many moves. A quick search of E-Bay found these cheap pieces of my childhood memory selling for a lot more than $2.25. Today they are considered nostalgic items and I imagine that if my brother Jay were still alive today he would once again be anxiously awaiting the arrival of a small white package. This time purchased not under an illusion, but for sentiment and memory of a time now lost. 

Friday, March 8, 2019

Astrolabe: A Novel by Jay S. Hipkins

By Craig: I have been plugging away on a novel. I came up with the idea the day after my brother's death. It was an epiphany of sorts. A surreal moment, as if my twin brother Jay was speaking to me from another world. The novel is a sequel to his novel Astrolabe which he finished only weeks before his death. It will be called Adalbert. The setting is mid 12th century France and England during the reigns of Louis VII of France, and Henry II of England. It takes place twenty years after the events in Astrolabe, and focuses on the youthful adventures of Astrolabe's son Adalbert. It is chock full of action and adventure with knights, castles and even a sea voyage into the icy waters of the northern sea where our protagonist encounters a massive sea serpent. A few of the characters from Astrolabe return in the sequel including Robert de Langton, Asperia and the good priest Adonorus. I am almost finished with the rough draft. I hope to have it completed by June. If you are into reading medieval fiction start with Jay's book first. I promise you a good read! Please visit my website at where you can link to our books on Amazon.