By Gil. Sun, Sep 2001 (originally 1997)
He was my friend for almost 49 years, the first friend I ever had, my best friend from Lower Kindergarten through 10th standard. Our childhoods were completely entwined. He was part of almost every major adventure I had at Woodstock. I remember so much. I think I could talk for three days straight about him.
Meeting. I remember the day we met in May of 1947. My mother, my big sister and I had been in Landour for a couple of weeks and I had started Lower Kindergarten. I was very excited when I realized that another family was moving into the other half of Zigzag, the house where we lived, and that they had kids close to my own age. I walked around the corner of the house and there were Hugh and his sister Marian standing on the cistern whose concrete top jutted a foot or two up out of the graveled yard. I think Marian spoke first, introducing herself and her brother. I was five and half years old and Hugh was still a month short of his fifth birthday. And so it began.
We went to school together every day that first year. At noon, when Lower Kindergarten got out, our mothers sent the chowkidar from Zigzag to escort us home. We quickly decided this was too humiliating for boys as grownup as we were and we plotted our escape. We made our plans carefully and one day on the path just above Parker Hall we made our move. We dashed up the gully that, higher up, separated Zigzag and the Community Center. We thought we were home free when we weren't immediately pursued. We didn't realize, until the chowkidar, climbing slowly up, corralled us, that the gully quickly became too steep for us to climb.
So we were condemned that first year to being escorted to and from school and playing close to home under the watchful eyes of our mothers. Somehow, even at the age of five, Hugh knew about telephone exchanges and the plugging and unplugging of cables as operators routed calls. We found a tree growing out of the khud just above Zigzag that had a nice collection of skinny roots and dangling vines hanging down from it to serve as telephone cables. It was one of our favorite places to play and even as adults we talked fondly about the telephone tree.
The next year the Griffiths began their long tenure at Upper Woodstock and the Smiths returned from furlough to Redwood Cottage. Two became three and Hugh and Dick and I began to explore the hillside. We played in the Little Fir Tree, the Big Fir Tree and the Grandmother Oak. We looked longingly at the Grandfather Oak but all but the lowest of its giant fern covered branches remained forever out of reach. We discovered that we could move like monkeys from one tree to the next in a cluster of six trees near Zigzag. We went on picnics to Fairy Glen and the Haunted House and made our first trips to Smith's Swimming Hole and Prayer Flag Hill. We became intrepid khud climbers, once even climbing from the Eyebrow Path up to Dahlia Bank. We discovered the bazaars and began to go to movies at Picture Palace, the Rialto and the Majestic. One day, sitting in the top of a tree just past the end of the Smith's back yard we founded the Green Leaf Club, the greatest boy's club that ever was. We set ourselves the task of saving trees from encircling vines and spent hours hacking and cutting, hanging precariously from tree limbs. And when it rained we played indoors inventing endless varieties of card games that we could never play two days in a row because the rules were too complicated. We created a chessboard for three people to play the game at once. We even built a typewriter out of a Meccano set and entered it in the Hobby Show. We couldn't get the keys to all strike in the same place but they moved and the platen turned and we won a prize.
Hiking. I was gone on furlough for all of fourth standard and I had only three months with Hugh in fifth standard before it was his turn to go to the States. Sometime just before or after that furlough our serious hiking began. We would sneak out of Ridgewood before the rising bell had sounded and use the lights that ran out the first mile of Tehri Road so as to arrive at Jaberkhet just as the first light was breaking. We could not risk losing a moment of precious hiking time. We explored further and further out Tehri Road naming the round topped ridge a mile or two before Seakoli the Ice Cream Cone Mountains. The highest domes we named Mt. Everest and Kinchenjunga. We found a route up over that ridge, past a cave and along another ridge to the top of Pepperpot. Once we climbed Tope Tibba, the mountain just beyond Seakoli. I had a new camera I was trying out and I still have pictures of that trip.
In High School we really hit our hiking stride. We made two disastrous attempts on Nag Tibba our freshman and sophomore years. The first year we got to Dhalsari on the flanks of the Nag Tibba range and discovered that we could no longer tell where the mountain top was. Hugh and I argued with Jack and Norman, our hiking companions, about which way to go and we agreed to split up and meet again on a ridge we could see across the stream and up above us. We waited on the ridge. Jack and Norman who had our lunches and all the water never showed up. We thought they might have missed us and we spent part of the day searching for them higher up the mountain before thirst and hunger drove us back to our camp. There was no safe water for us to drink and so Hugh and I opened and drank every can of evaporated milk that we had brought along to be a special treat. Jack and Norm had met someone who told them the way to go and assuming that we would do the same they continued on and spent all day climbing through the fog. When it finally lifted they discovered they were on top of the wrong mountain.When they got back they were exhausted and angry at us for drinking the milk but not nearly as angry as Hugh and I were for being abandoned without food or drink. The next day we made our way back down to the Aglar and then up to the pine forest below Mugru where we camped for the night. Four of us crowded crosswise into our one pup tent because it looked like it was going to rain. Everything was so damp we weren't able to light a fire and we all went to bed hungry. At four in the morning we woke up in a pouring rain and discovered that our feet and the bottoms of our sleeping bags, which were sticking out the side of the tent, were all soaking wet. We got up, packed up and struggled the rest of way back up to Tehri road, cold and wet and hungry. When we got there we opened a can of cheese, the only thing we had left to eat that didn't require cooking, and cut it into four pieces. Jack's hands were so cold he dropped his share in the mud and in his hunger he begged us for a little bit of ours. We refused and told him to rinse his piece off! Somehow we all remained friends. All is fair in love and hiking.
Our sophomore attempt on Nag Tibba was even less successful. It rained from the very beginning and having learned nothing from our first attempt we cleverly brought nothing to eat that didn't require cooking except for a couple of apples. We went hungry the first night camping again in the same pine forest where we'd spent the final night the year before. Thoroughly discouraged and terribly hungry by the time we reached the Aglar the next day we decided to give up and take a short cut back up over Pepperpot. All our packs were terribly uncomfortable to carry and we tried to ease the pain by taking turns carrying each others loads. Hugh was carrying my pack as we tried to cross the stream separating us from Pepperpot. As he jumped from rock to rock he lost his balance and he dropped my pack in the water rather than fall in himself. I groused at him the rest of the day for putting his life ahead of keeping my sleeping bag dry. Our shortcut, of course, turned out not to be a shortcut at all and at the end of the day we had climbed almost all the way up Pepperpot and then circled around it and descended to a camp just above Smith's Swimming Hole on the far side from Woodstock. The only food we had had for a day and a half was two apples a piece but that evening we finally managed to light a fire. We had one of the finest meals I can ever remember, hard boiled eggs, rice and bouillon, all cooked together in one pot. After that, sleeping in my still damp sleeping bag didn't seem nearly so bad. Our junior year I avoided disaster by staying home for the four day holidays and playing monopoly but Hugh tried again and this time made it to the top of Nag Tibba. I had to put up with his success for an entire year before I too finally made it to the top during our senior year.
In my memory we must have made a hundred hikes together most of which are now blurred together in my mind but our hike down Witches Hill was unique not only in our experience but in the experience of anyone else we knew during our days at Woodstock. We had climbed the two summits of Witches Hill many times but we had never explored the ridge that descended from the second summit and led off towards the Tehri Hills. One Saturday Hugh and Kiran and I decided we had to find out where it went. We followed it further and further east descending ever lower, the weather getting warmer and warmer. Finally we were so low and so far away from Woodstock we decided to descend to the Doon and take the "easy" way back across the plains and up the Rajpur Road. Unfortunately we had forgotten the dry stream beds where monsoon rains had gouged deep rocky channels as they poured out of the Himalayas. We spent all afternoon clambering down rocky embankments, crossing acres of loose rock and scrambling up other embankments. It was almost dusk when we finally started back up the Rajpur Road. It was completely dark when we passed Oak Grove, St. Georges and Allen Memorial. There was something going on at school that night that we wanted to go too but it was too late and we were too exhausted to make it. But we were triumphant. We had gone almost all the way to the Tehri Hills, descended to the Doon and returned!
We did other things besides hike of course. One of the high points of high school was the trip to Kashmir with Hugh and his parents during the 10 day holidays in 1957. It was a trip on which everything went wrong with the happy result that we had a better time than we could ever have planned. The trouble started right away when we tried to take a bus through the Siwaliks to catch the train at Saharanpur. The monsoons were beginning, it was a stormy evening and a tree fell and blocked the road. We sat in a long line of traffic while the tree was cut up and removed and ended up missing the train on which we had reservations. This meant we had to wait until one in the morning in Saharanpur and then crowd into a third class compartment. We tried to nap sitting up through the short night and finally arrived in Pathankhot around noon the next day, too late for the plane that would have flown us over the mountains to Srinagar in about an hour's time. Instead we got on another bus and began the long trek over the two ranges of mountains into the Vale of Kashmir. The first night we stopped at a village on top of the first range and slept in our sleeping bags on charpoys (rope beds) in the village huts. The next day we descended into the valley separating the two ranges and discovered that there had been a landslide forcing traffic over the second range to run only one way at a time. Unfortunately traffic was running the other way and we had to wait for several hours until it was our turn to go. It was late afternoon before we began to descend into Kashmir at which point the other passengers, over our protests, bribed the driver to make a detour to a Hindu shrine. We finally arrived in Srinagar after dark two days after we had expected to get there. By the next morning I was running a fever, the result of an insect bite on my face from the night on the charpoy and I spent the next several days in bed on our houseboat. Hugh, however, visited the Shalimar gardens, tried out water skiing and generally had a great time. Our allotted time in Kashmir was almost over before I was able to be up and about and so the Griffiths arranged for us to stay an extra week even though this meant missing the first week of our junior year of school. We spent most of that time in the mountains in Pahalgam camped out in a big tent. It was in a beautiful valley surrounded by snow peaks and filled with the scent of pine from the logs being cut to build tourist cabins. Hugh and I spent days horseback riding, one day doing a round trip of 20 miles or so to a place called Arlu (potato). We returned sore but happy. Another day we climbed up the hill behind our camp and came out in a little meadow just below the tree line in the saddle between two snow covered peaks, a place so beautiful it took your breath away. Finally we went back to Srinagar and were sent home with another missionary couple, the Rices. We flew to Amritsar, a trip that made me desperately airsick but which didn't seem to affect Hugh at all. It was 114 degrees in Amritsar where we were met by the Rice's driver with their Landrover. We had only one further adventure when the car broke down half way to the Rice's bungalow in Jullundur. We flagged down a bus which was hot, over crowded and reeking of gasoline fumes but which got us to Jullundur where we spent the night. The next morning the repaired Landrover was waiting for us and we spent the next day driving back to Mussoorie with wet towels draped over our heads to keep us cool.
When we graduated in June of 1959 we said goodbye to the rest of our classmates and set out on one last grand adventure together, the trip to America. This time Hugh and I traveled with my parents. We stopped to see the Red Fort in Delhi and to climb the Qutab Minar and then went on to Agra where we saw the Taj Mahal both by day and by moonlight. The monsoons had not yet broken and the heat was oppressive so we were glad when we boarded the air conditioned Italian ship Victoria in Bombay. We watched together as the Gateway to India faded from sight not knowing that this was the last time Hugh would ever see India where he had spent the happiest years of his life. The next day we reached Karachi and the crew went on strike. After a few days during which we saw the movie "Around the World in 80 Days" the shipping company flew us to Rome which gave us an extra week in Europe. We visited the Coliseum, the Catacombs and St. Peters climbing to the top of its colossal dome. We went to Naples and toured Pompei before returning north to Rome and then to Milan where we saw Leonardo's Last Supper. In Switzerland we took the cog railway up to the Jungfrau Joch. The train stopped partway up the long tunnel and we walked down a rocky passageway to peer out at the Eigerwand, the most famous and dangerous rock wall climb in Europe. At the top we debarked inside a hotel built at 11000 feet. We astonished the other tourists by running up three flights of stairs without even breathing hard. Our hearts and legs were still acclimatized to Landour. In Paris we visited the Louvre together trying to see everything in one day. We thought we had succeeded only to discover late in the afternoon that we had spent all of our time in just one wing! We did manage to see the Mona Lisa and other famous paintings. Another day we went off to climb the Eiffel Tower. We were greatly disappointed when we reached the second level and discovered that we would be forced to take the elevator the rest of the way. When we came back down to this level we argued about which direction our hotel was in. We ended up walking down opposite legs of the tower and going off in different directions. I was wrong and Hugh was right and I ended up lost and had to take a taxi to get back to the Terminus Nord Hotel for my dinner of crow. In Brussels we visited the site of the 1958 World's Fair and took escalators around the arms connecting the atoms in the giant model of an iron molecule called the Atomium. In London we saw the British Museum, Westminister Abbey, the crown jewels in the Tower of London and the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. And then it was on to Southhamptom and the Queen Mary for our trip across the Atlantic to New York. Hugh and I shared a cabin. It was the last time we roomed together. The Griffiths were waiting for us on the dock in New York and so Hugh and I parted to begin our new lives on opposite sides of the continent.
Our adult lives were as separate as our childhoods were connected. I think we saw each other seven times in 37 years. We had no contact at all until I traveled down to Palo Alto from Oregon in 1968. Inevitably we immediately went on a hike in the redwoods. We talked as we walked about the struggles we had both had in adjusting to our new country. We were both angry at the community we had lost and been unable to replace. We were both looking for ways to break out of our isolation and to connect with our new communities. Hugh showed me the lab where he worked and the huge apparatus he was using to do his research. I don't remember if it was then or on my next visit in 1970 that he told me about the rock band in which he played drums. It was clear to me that he was realizing more and more clearly that a PhD in physics was not going to bring him any happiness. He came up to Eugene twice later in the 70s. The first time we went hiking again in the Cascades with some other friends of mine. The second time was after he had had a breakdown. It was becoming clear to me that our lives were moving in different directions. My life seemed to be getting better as his was getting more difficult. I saw him one more time in San Francisco when I was attending a conference there with my first wife. He came and visited us in our hotel room. I was pleased that he and Marilyn liked each other. The next time I saw him was in 1982 in Tennessee at the first reunion of the class of 59. He seemed to have a very good time and I was glad to see him again. We were 40 and he seemed to be doing better. We did not meet again until 1992 when Martha and I spent two days in Asheville visiting him. I had called him for support after my first wife's death and I had started calling him on his birthday and after his Christmas trips to Philadelphia. We were now 50 and he seemed worn down. He showed me his home, where he worked and the cemetery where his father was buried. He seemed very alone and I felt terribly sad when he told me he didn't ever expect his life to get any better. We walked in a garden at the university, we were always most comfortable walking together, and I tried to suggest some ways he could meet people. But I knew I was only going through the motions to let him know I cared. I knew that he was smart enough to have thought of everything I was suggesting. We had dinner in a German and Indian restaurant, a perfect combination since Martha had spent four of her adolescent years in Germany, and the three of us had a wonderful evening together. The next morning we parted not knowing we would never see each other again. I continued to call two or three times a year. My last call was just a week before he died.
To Hugh: Hugh, do you remember how you used to infuriate me when we were kids by questioning things that I thought were so obvious that nobody could question them. You would ask me why I thought something was true and I'd say that everyone just knew it was true and then you would insist on reasons and I'd find that I couldn't come up with reasons and I'd realize that maybe my assumptions weren't so obviously true after all. Well, old friend, you've done it to me again. I assumed that our lives had gone in such separate ways that your dying would not affect me much and once again you proved my assumptions wrong. I should have known that you who grew in the same soil as I, who was my best friend for so long, who shared so many of my happiest childhood times, lived in my heart and not just in Asheville. I don't have to close my eyes to see you striding across the playground at Woodstock your book bag slung over your shoulder, to hear your laugh and the sound of your voice, to feel your stubborn determination. Remember the old school song that says "With a pack on my back, there is nothing I lack, with a friend whose true". I never had a truer friend than you. I don't want to think that you're gone. I think I'll believe instead that you couldn't wait for our next hike and that you got up before dawn and stole out of the dorm while I was still sleeping and started off down Tehri Road knowing that one of these days I'll come after you and I'll find you waiting somewhere, and once again, "we'll hit that winding trail and I'll go hiking along with you".
GilBack to the top
Last update: Wednesday, 17 January 2007.