The Ghost Of Sagamore Hill

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I haven’t said anything about nostalgia or the sadness of his loss, but of course we all felt that. I always missed the grandfather I never really had. There is a picture of him beaming down on me as he held his latest grandchild in his arms [see page 73], but I was still far too young to know he was about to leave me. I used to feel saddest about this on the porch in the evening, sitting in an old rocking chair as he must have done, looking down over the broad fields toward the woods, listening to the katydids.

For his presence was almost as strong outside the house as in it. Outside the North Room we played on the cannon from the Spanish-American War, then tramped through the autumn leaves to the garage. This was the domain of Grandfather’s genial black coachman, Charlie Lee. He was Clara’s husband, and he now drove Grandmother’s limousine for her trips to church and her other infrequent sallies away from Sagamore Hill.

I shall never forget the delights of Grandfather’s farm, with its fruits and chickens and cows, to say nothing of the wonderful old barn where, burrowing through the hay, he used to play hide-and-go-seek with his children, just as our fathers did with us.

The fields were perfect for playing, and my father and uncles led us in the same strenuous games Grandfather had played with them. To work off a big meal, there was “shinny”—ground hockey, well named for the many blows borne by the shins. I remember a sort of blindman’s buff we called “Still Pond No More Moving.” One field was reserved for rifle practice, and all of us male children were taken there by our fathers to learn to shoot, just as their father had taught them.

Farther afield were other holiday pastimes of Grandfather’s—the point-to-point walk, the paper-chase, and the run to the seashore down Cooper’s Bluff. We were left in freedom in the lovely woods surrounding Sagamore, just made for children. Grandmother never ventured far, preferring the rose arbor, where she cut a Victorian figure, dressed in white chiffon, basket in hand, and accompanied by her aged, nasty-tempered little dog, Shady.

And then there was the beach. We walked down an overgrown path, passing through an orchard gone to seed—the “Fairy Apple Orchard”—where we could still see little gardens laid out by our parents when they were our age. Before we got to the beach, we passed a long, somewhat smelly salt-water creek, where we used to roll in the mud and chase fiddler crabs. We could also dig clams on the beach, or more exciting, seine for shiners, flounders, and eels. And we knew the joys of an oldfashioned picnic just as Grandfather had loved it—a nice bonfire, steak, and potatoes roasting in the coals, with plenty of sandwiches thrown in and a little sand in everything. At nighttime Grandfather used to tell ghost stories. My father inherited the talent, building up suspense by the tone of his voice, which grew lower and more ominous as the story reached its climax, until we all shivered in excitement and not a little fear. On those nights a susceptible younger sister would have nightmares, and Father would be reprimanded by Mother, as his father must have been before him—with just as little effect.

So, though I passed a youth without grandfathers—my other grandfather died at almost the same time—this was in the physical sense only. Actually my Sagamore Hill grandfather was with us all the time and enlivened our young lives with his gay spirit even after death. We never knew him except as a ghost—but what a merry, vital, and energetic ghost he was. And how much encouragement and strength he left behind to help us face the terrible half century that has passed since his death.