By far the best place to hold a first grade Halloween party is an old English Castle, which is where our Air Force bus delivered 27 supercharged 6-year-olds on a fall morning in 1973.
During my practice teaching stint at the Lakenheath Air Force base north of London I took weekend motorcycle trips across the English countryside to identify unique Friday field trip destinations. I had found this castle keep, a five story structure replete with winding secret passageways, on a lofty hilltop spot where students could overlook the sea from the keep’s roof lookout.
My politics in those years centered on opposition to the Viet Nam war. I took part in many student demonstrations, and was a bit surprised to find an anti-war group of Air Force airmen on the base. Hidey-holes in the castle this Halloween day were populated by giggling children; an evening before our field trip found me meeting with five brave airmen in their own perceived refuge in a small room above an English village pub.
Enjoying childhood joy by day, looking out the window of this room and seeing the Air Force police in unmarked cars on the street below by night – seemingly opposite experiences helped me illuminate a possible answer to a tough question. How do you maintain energy for the to-often fruitless fight against the machinations of the political machine?
Much of my life’s energy has been sourced from working with children; as an elementary school teacher, as a father and as a day care director.
As our class settled in to their Halloween lunch around a huge round table mid-way up the castle tower they did not notice the disappearance of both of their teachers.
The men meeting in this dank upstairs pub room had noticed the steady disappearance of their fellow war protestors. They related to me the long list of their lost friends – many were in military prison, others had received the lifetime mark of a dishonorable discharge. One by one the Air Force was picking them off. This evening’s discussion centered on what the end might be for these five ring-leaders.
Every person who was forced to commit to this conscription fed war, either by serving in the military or by giving up friends and family with a one way ticket to Canada or by going to Federal prison after burning their draft card was impossibly brave in the face of the war machine. My escape from this nightmare was by “winning” the very odd lottery which decided who went and who escaped the Viet Nam war.
My supervising teacher was a sweet woman who loved her students enough to allow me to constantly push the educational envelope. As the children enjoyed their Halloween feast she snuck up the castle stairs where she dressed up as a witch. Her shrieking descent from above induced a mild panic in the costumed crew – calm returned relatively quickly as the group recognized her familiar rotund shape.
The group remained a bit on edge as I came howling up from below, masked with a rubber ghoul face. One excessively imaginative young man disappeared during the melee as children ran toward an exit through the assorted secret passageways. Unmasked, I found him worming his escape from a perceived doom by slithering up the chimney of the great hall’s fireplace.
England was a revelation to a young man on a political and educational mission. Pub fuel of bitters, lager and dark pints also helped me understand my beloved Coors was more spring water than beer. Civil conversations in sedate pubs which closed at 11 in those days were also a distinct contrast to the odd fights I witnessed in Fraser bars. Protests were similarly civilized. Bobbies did not pack heat; their calm demeanor helped make our march one evening in London to protest at the American Embassy much calmer than the melees American protest marches often transformed into.
Commitments to public service both as a Fraser Town Trustee and as a journalist are out-growths of a life-time fascination with the political process. Journalists bring us history in the making, with the bonus of not knowing the end of the story.
But how do you maintain emotional health while being bombarded with the increasingly bad news of the day? Children are a great antidote, both because you can tap into their joy of discovering what really is an amazing existence, but also because they remind us of our critical commitment to improving the world we are building and they will inherit.
Local politics is an excellent antidote as well. I do remain committed to learn about and do what I can to solve problems with the planet we all share responsibility for. I find involvement with the town hall level of societal organization results in enough successes (and a few failures to be sure) to keep an eye on the prize of planetary preservation.
Consider taking part in town government. Petitions for April town board elections (my Fraser seat is one of four to be selected) are available from town offices on Jan. 2, to be turned in by Jan. 22.
As another year ends I hope we can all maintain our commitment to preserving and improving our world. To paraphrase Gandhi; history has many ups and downs, but ups do outscore downs – leading to a steady improvement in the human condition as generations pass the historical baton. It may be hard to be convinced today but things really are getting better – especially if we all work to ensure a positive ending to an admittedly troubled chapter in the human story.