As The Bluejay Shapes the Forest

Bluejays collect acorns and bury them in semicircles around a landmark like a rock or a stump, and so the trees in an oak  forest grow in semicircles.

Back in the 1940s, three girls made friends at a school called Rosemary Hall in Wallingford, Connecticut:  my mom, Sarah Dickson, Barbara Burroughs, and Lydia (Lydge) Thorne.

These three friends, together with Charlotte Crocker, my mon’s friend at Vassar, wound up grafting their families together in the shadow of Mt. Chocorua, and that nexus of families, the Hartshornes, the Lloyds, the Lucys and the Clevelands defines, more than anything else in the world, who I am and where I come from.

The family names come from their husbands, Bob Hartshorne, Bob Lloyd, Chester Lucy and Tom Cleveland, but the real bluejays in this scenario are the three school friends from Rosemary Hall, and their Vassar pal.

Lydge and Chester lived in North Conway all along, and Barbara and Sally and Charlotte had summer homes nearby. Their husbands and children became as close as friends can be, fishing and climbing mountains and camping and taking canoe trips.

And all three families (Lloyds, Hartshornes and Clevelands) retired there when it came time.

The husbands had friends, too, who joined in the fun, but they were never as consequential. Like I say, the real bluejays here were the old school friends.

We gathered in the Lloyds’ house on Chocorua Lake this weekend, on Kentucky Derby Day, to celebrate the life of my dad, Robert Doremus Hartshorne, Jr. My mom passed away in September, and Charlotte and Bob Lloyd passed away several years ago.

My mom was lost to us, mentally, two years before, and my dad died in February after 12 years of severe anxiety and depression, so my brothers and I were not grieving in the same way as the many friends of Bob and Sally who had only recently received the news.

But it was great to hear their reminiscences of Bob, which always gives you a different perspective than you could ever get as a child, and the touching letter from his brother (my godfather) Nat Harthorne,  gave many more new insights into who he was and where he came from.

I felt so comfortable in Barbara’s house, built with love from the ground up, and it was so inspiring to reconnect with all the other kids from these families, now parents with kids of their own, who grew up in the same world I did.

How I love them all, and how we all love one another.

Barbara shared with us the story about Bob Lloyd’s death, when he asked to be taken home to his own bed to die. He had a problem with his kidneys, she said, which they could treat with dialysis, but this would only postpone the reckoning with cancer, which would be far more painful.

And so, they made the right choice and he died in his own bed looking up at Mt. Chocorua. This is what right-wing idelologues call “death squads,” families deciding about death with dignity.

We faced so many of those same decisions with our parents, and if that makes us a death squad then so be it. We did what was right., but it meant so much to hear someone else made the same decision.

Barbara, our hostess this weekend, has organized a network of volunteers to give rides to people in the community who need help with shopping and doctors’ appointments. Why am I not surprised?

These four women planted a forest of friends that will last forever.