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Grave Robbing 101

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

As the temperatures start to dip up here and the leaves begin their yearly change of clothes, I am reminded of a story.

Forty-five years ago, a buddy of mine asked me to help him rob a grave.

I had been out of the Army for about a year and had nothing else going on in my life, so I said, "Sure.  What the heck."  Oh, how many unpleasantrys we begin with those words.

Actually, we had been kicking the idea around for a while; sitting in the basement of my parents old, rented Victorian style house in central New Hampshire; the room shrouded in Holmsian-like pipe smoke. Empty beer bottles stood in yeastey disarray on a blackish-brown, thick oak table. 

I had gone through Kerouac, Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Jack Vances' "Dying Earth" lay, flaccid, on a leather covered chair, next to Leibers storys of Fafahrd and The Grey Mouser. "Mad" magazines lay scattered about.('Humor in a Jugular Vein') copies of "Help", and paper-backs of Harvey Kurtzmans' work were also were piled in the corners, along with 1940's editions of Life.

Plus, of course, strategically hidden Playboys.

Flamenco guitar music floated from my record player.

Oh yeah. And candles in empty chianti bottles. Lots of candles, usually lit. Even in the glare of a mid-summer day. We pulled the curtains.

So, anyway, my friend says. "I know a graveyard deep in the woods not too far from here".  His eyes glittered. "Wouldn't it be cool to dig up an old skeleton and use the skull to put a candle on?" Copies of Poe leered at us from my bookshelves.

Now, the word 'ghoul' never entered my mind. 'Igor', perhaps. Nor did the possibility that morally we would be treading on the edge of gibbering madness. Nothing like that.  Just......what fun to rob a grave!

So, nighttime came, and as I said,  it was just about this time of year. Cool. Crisp. And my friend showed up in his red Volkswagen. A real Volkswagen. Not the tin-cup mirages they sell now-a-days. With shovels and picks in the back seat. And flashlights, equipted with red cellophane. "So as not to mess up our night vision." my friend said. He was the brains of the group.

Off we rattled into the early fall twilight, hearts gay, although we were straight. Out onto a backroad. Up into the foothills of the White Mountains we puttered as the darkness of a New England night bled across the headlights. Oh, this was going to be fun!  Think of what we can tell our friends, years from now.

The idea that we could be telling our friends from the inside of a jail-cell never crossed our minds.

"Hey, check this out." My friend reached down and turned off the headlights as we sped through the stygian (a word that is used by Leiber) New England darkness. There was a full moon that night.  We were riding in a Volkswagen at about 60 miles an hour through twisting, impossible dirt country roads with no head lights. And just the white moon shining flat in front of us.

How cool.

Although.......at this point the thought that I might be headed towards my own demise DID cross my mind. A few years in Korea does that to a guy. I suggested, in a somewhat subdued voice, that he might want to slow down. "Hell, no" He guffawed at my skittishness and floored it.

We reached the old grave yard, of which there are hundreds in the back-roads of New Hampshire and Vermont, a-sprout with chalk white tomb-stones and surrounded by moss covered stone walls that meander off into acres of new-growth forest.

Hundreds, if not thousands lie forgotten and forlorn among the pine and oak  Many are just big enough to hold a generation or two of a  family that at one time farmed the surrounding land. They wrenched a living from the soil, spotted with gray-green stones dropped in the last glaciers wake.  

Then, when the west opened up after the Civil War and provided a less demanding land to struggle a living from, they picked up, left the house and all those before and followed the sun. This was one of those grave yards.

It was miles from any occupied dwelling, hidden deep down a road I had never thought existed, and I knew most of the surrounding area pretty well.

We turned off the key, the head-lights were already off miles ago and piled out, trembling with excitement. "Shut up, man. Your making too much noise with the tools." My friend hissed at me.  We fumbled toward the gate, the moon watching down and the crickets a greek-chorus in the background. Frankly, it was years ago, and I don't even remember the name of the guy whos' grave we finally approached. It was a guy. I was pretty sure of that. The idea of robbing a womans grave just didn't seem right to us.

Morality amongst grave robbers. Go figure.

We started digging and I never realized how hard the ground was. We kept digging. And waiting.every now and then. Liistening. Was that a car? No. Dig. Chop. Dig.

That was a car!  No. No it wasn't. Dig. Shovel. Pick-axe. Pause. Sweat. Dig some more. The night crawled by.

 I wiped my forehead and looked at my friend. We had barely dug down six inches. "This is too much like work." 

He looked at me. "Yeah." He paused. "Much too much like work." He suddenly siffened. "Headlights!" He yelped. We grabbed everything and ran towards the car. We clattered it all inside and my friend started the engine. Off into the night we sped.

There was no car coming. There was no grave robbed. There was just a couple of nerdy-jerks who thought they would be cool. All they ended up doing was raising a few blisters and almost wetting their pants.

To this day, I realize that Igor was a better man then me. Hump and all.

"Hump? What hump?"

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Age: 81

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It was 1960 and I was fresh out of high school. I had left rock and roll behind for a while after Dave Guard and the Kingston Trio crept up to whack me with a "Tom Dooley"-stick in 1957. Then came "The Brothers Four", "The Highway Men" and "The New Christie ." and I was hooked. I joined the Army because Uncle Sam promised he would send me to Public Information School to learn journalism, photography and a smattering of radio broadcasting. Hootenany was in the air. I followed my favorites, including the heart-breaking clear voice of Joan Baez to Korea while I wrote for "The Cavalier" and "The Stars and Stripe". I was a correspondent and photographer. Then it was on to New Mexico where I found "Peter, Paul and Mary", early" Bob Dylan" and some scratchy "Jimmy Rodgers"('The Singing Brakeman'). I bought my first guitar while I was producing radio programs for "White Sands Missile Range" and learned a few chords. I recorded a few live concerts, using purloined equipment in Coffee houses through the Southwest. Places like "The Don Quixote" in El Paso, Texas. And I listened to performers, gaining knowledge along the way. When I got out, the 60's and ྂ's came hurtling at me, dressed with songs from new writers and performers. I went to broadcasting and drama school for a season in Boston and began to listen to the likes of Dylan, Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, Donovan, Mark Spoelstra, Patrick Skye, Jim Kweskin and Phil Ochs. I traded my $30 red and black Stella for a Gibson and began haunting places like the "Unicorn" plus "Club 47" in Cambridge and numerous clubs in New Hampshire. Then a group called "The Beatles" changed my view on everything. I became lead singer and rhythm guitarist in a band called, "The Notables". I bought a more expensive Gibson and an electric 12 string. We did 'Stone's' covers and 'Lovin' Spoonful'. I plunged into James Brown. A 22 year old white kid doing James Brown. I was nothing if not audacious. I went into commercial radio in a small market station back in NH. I wrote news, sports, rip and read weather off the teletype and interviewed everyone from William Shatner to Eugene McCarthy.and George Gobel. I got another twelve string. I got married. I acquired 4 children, and lost everything in the war. And I stopped playing for awhile. Then I met my passion. The love of my life. We married. We produced 5 children together. I was writing in earnest, after I began a spriritual journey. I started telling stories. Childrens tales, Anansi, Coyote and all the worlds mythical characters were part of a woven tapestry I still am adding to today. A friend gave me a Martin D35. Another gave me a Yamaha acoustic/electric 12 string. A few months back I sort of 'retired'. That's another way of saying I was let go. It was then I received my 'Dana Fligg' long neck banjo and am now writing for a local literary mag. I sold the Martin. I bought a Washburn acoustic/electric. My wife gave me a fire-engine red solid body Epiphone electric. I have five beautiful grandchildren. There is much more to say and much more to sing about, but I am glad to have found this place.

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