Peter Shelton

Pilgrim’s Progress

Posted in Confessions of a Grandpa, Watch columns by pshelton on January 20, 2011

Ah, New England.

I had to call Adam when his Patriots lost to the New York Jets on Sunday. I knew he’d be devastated.

Our dear son-in-law grew up in Massachusetts in the 1980s and played football from middle school on, while the Patriots mostly stank. They were crushed by the Chicago Bears in their only Super Bowl to that point, in 1986.

Adam is through and through a New Englander. Which is to say a stoic and a loyally emotional person both at the same time. He suffers for his teams. He likes riding his mountain bike in mud and over slippery roots more than he likes riding in Albuquerque’s clear-blue desert. He misses the humidity. He stares at the humidity numbers in the house he shares with Cloe and our two grandchildren. It might read 15 percent, leading Adam to shout with exaggerated, but real, alarm: “Unbelievable!”

He calls a cabin a camp. His father’s people come from Maine, where family feuds last for years. His mother pronounced father “fathuh,” as in “your poor fathuh.”

Cloe and Adam met on a road-bike ride in Hanover, New Hampshire. And that is where my New England connections come in. My grandfather Henry Wood Shelton taught at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth in the early years of the last century. He proposed to my grandmother on the Connecticut River in a canoe that is still in the family. My Uncle John was a baby when their house on the Dartmouth campus burned down on a 30-below night when the hydrants were all frozen.

Cloe and Ellen and I went looking for the spot on a break from Cloe’s med-school graduation festivities. The best we could tell, there’s a chemistry building there now.

The Sheltons are related to Nathan “I only regret I have but one life to give for my country” Hale. And even farther back, in the 17th century, we had a relative (this one on my mother’s side) who was hanged as a witch. She was convicted of influencing the path of a hunter’s bullet (I picture her mind-bending its trajectory) that did kill an innocent Puritan in his field.

I grew up on the West Coast, as did my siblings and 17 of my 19 first cousins. But I still feel a tug from ancestral New England. Something about maple syrup and single chairs.

Fourteen years ago I was assigned a travel story on the Mad River Valley in Vermont, and its iconic ski hill Mad River Glen. (They call it the Mad River because unlike most rivers there it flows north.)

The folks at Mad River Glen thought to hook me up with Bob Leupold, a Mad River fanatic of the first order. He lives and works outside Boston but never misses a weekend of skiing at MRG, even though it’s a four-hour drive one way.

Bob generously guided me though the trees on either side of Mad River’s now 63-year-old single chairlift. He and his friends carry folding saws in their packs to lop off a maple branch here, a deadfall there. Over the decades in this way they’ve created scores of surreptitious Hobbit trails through the hardwoods. When the snow is good, the place is magic. When it isn’t, you can’t tell the difference between the green ice and the Green Mountain granite. New Englanders refer to this type of skiing as “character-building.”

I know it was 14 years ago because Leupold emailed a couple of weeks ago and invited me to join him for a day of snowcat skiing out of Durango Mountain Resort. He was the same bespeckled powder gnome I remembered. He brought me a bottle of Vermont maple syrup, Fancy Grade. In his uninflected, understated New England way, he repeated a deadpan proclamation I’m sure I heard him say in 1997: “Nobody has more fun than we do.”

(He also said of humidity out West, as we stood on a blue-and-white ridge at 12,000 feet: “The air is dry here even when it’s raining.”)

The family connection with the New England is going to continue. Cloe has been accepted to a fellowship program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston next year. So Adam will get to breathe deeply his saturated air once again. Ellen and I hope to visit once or twice during the year. Maybe get up to camp in Maine during the turning of the maple leaves. Maybe go skiing at Mad River Glen.

Adam had actually emailed me minutes before I called him on Sunday night. His message was heavy with concealed disappointment: “Just another day in the life of a Pats fan. Records, statistics, MVP’s never mean a thing.” Unbelievable!

2 Responses

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  1. Richard Carlson said, on January 25, 2011 at 1:55 pm

    Mr. Shelton,

    My uncle was in the 10th Mountain Division and was killed at Riva Ridge. His name was Edmond Hiney and he was from Elmhurst, New York.

    Your book, ‘Climb to Conquer’, was a revelation to me. My mother always told me about him; what a great guy he was, how he knew he had to enlist after high school although he wished he didn’t, but once in how he volunteered for the 10th and looked forward to deployment. After reading your book I better understand these guys’ heroics.

    Wonderful job, and thank you. The book holds an honored spot in my library.

    Rick Carlson

    • pshelton said, on January 25, 2011 at 4:21 pm

      Rick, so glad you liked the book. Working on it opened my eyes to much about my father’s world, and your uncle’s.

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