He lived & died alone, by choice
When the men in town buried him, they put his meerschaum in the casket with him.
Some time in the first quarter of the last century, he came to that small rural town and built a three-room cabin. We saw it before it burned down. It was neat and looked more like a cottage than a shack.
They said he was the son of wealthy parents and that he was a university graduate. He rarely spoke to anybody, so neither by articulation nor by accent could you get any hint as to his background.
For an income he drove horses hauling logs out of the woods or hoed out the town’s ditches. He couldn’t pay his taxes so the town abated them by hiring him to keep roadside ditches-run-off from causing erosion.
With an old-fashioned hand pump he drew his water up from a well dug next to his house. Somewhere in his boyhood someone must have disciplined him to keep clean. The overalls he wore when he came into town for his groceries were always spotless.
If it was true that he had a university education, he must have been among the first of the youthful idealists who quit the conventional to generate the hippie movement.
He eschewed society. Where hippies formed “extended families,” he chose to live alone.
At first, they said, he came with a wife. Cold water and an outhouse were too much for her, so she went back to the comforts of her home, leaving him to his log-hauling and ditch-digging. In one miserably frozen February he burned his house down.
He made a habit of piling his newspapers in the wood box next to his stove. Sparks ignited his Heralds and his Globes, and everything he owned was lost in flames.
Excitement didn’t have a chance to last long when his place burned. Volunteer firemen who got to it too late squirted a useless stream of water on the building and it quickly turned into a bed of glowing embers.
His meerschaum pipe, the most valuable possession he had, must have been in his pocket at the time of the fire, so it was spared the flames.
We children found his pipe at the foot of a tree where he had leaned to catch a cat-nap. We gave it to our parents to return it to him.
He rebuilt his home. His second place was an unimaginative tar-paper shack. He must have been dispirited. He shifted from being a self-sustaining back woodsman to the poor life of an out-and-out hermit.
His university education had been selfish. He did nothing with it and lived only for himself.
The biggest thing in his life came when he gave it up and died. All the townsmen turned out to give him a proper burial.
They dug a hole in the frozen ground in the back of the town’s cemetery and let the casket down with roses. In two minutes he was 6 feet under. They put a granite pillar on top of him to mark the place.
We have seen it in recent times during hikes. You can find the marker if you look hard enough. Blueberries have encroached and pretty much hidden it. That would be in this man’s biography.
When late-winter temperatures drop to zero, we remember him.
(Note: His pipe does play a meaningful part in this. Meerschaums are priceless. Pipe smokers have their briers and wish they could afford a meerschaum. In this composition the pipe symbolizes the wealth in the man’s background, and the near-poverty in the greater part of his life.)
Paul Seamans lives in Gill. His home on the west bank of the Connecticut River is a window on the natural world — his inspiration for Recorder columns since 1953. Some of his columns will have been previously published.