Friday, May 9, 2008
Farewell to Hal
The Mosquito has lost a family member. Hal Shneider, who worked with the paper for more than 20 years, died at age 86. (See obituary, page 3).
When Hal retired from his engineering job, he volunteered at the Mosquito, then located in Mary Diment’s crowded garage on South Street. Hal did layout, selected graphics and resized photos – all painstaking work in those pre-computer days.
He was also the wizard of the waxer – an often cranky machine that enabled the pasting and repasting of pages on layout sheets. It took ages to warm up, and often on a Wednesday morning Hal would arrive to a cold waxer – “Someone forgot to turn on the waxer,” he would grumble – rightfully so – and switch it on. When the waxer was clogged with old wax, Hal patiently cleaned it.
Wednesday is production day at the Mosquito, and Hal liked to refer to himself as the “token male” on the production crew. Our other “token male” is Captain, a chocolate Labrador who escorts Ad Manager Marcy Guttadauro to work every Wednesday. Hal and Captain bonded as only good ol’ boys can. Before lunch, Captain would patiently trail Hal as he worked, silently reminding him that it was time to eat (a steady drool was part of the reminder). Hal and Captain would retire to Hal’s office and eat lunch together, just the two of them.
Not long ago I overheard a conversation between Hal and an MIT student, the son of a staff member who had dropped in. Hal’s eyes sparkled as he told the student of his own training as an engineer, asked the young man about his courses and future plans, and was genuinely interested in him. Not all octogenarians could have spanned the generations so successfully.
In recent months Hal was often ill and had to miss Wednesday at the Mosquito. He hated that. His wife Bea, our invaluable proofreader, knew how important it was for Hal to do his work. Important to the staff, important to Hal. He would recover from his illnesses and through sheer willpower, he would come to work, chauffeured by Bea.
Then came a longer hospitalization and last Wednesday we heard that he had died the night before. Now the jobs Hal did at the Mosquito are being absorbed by others, and Captain eats his lunch with the staff. But the quintessence of Hal is irreplaceable – his humor, his interest in each of us and our families, his quiet determination to do a job well, his love of Carlisle.
Hal was devoted to his family – to Bea, their four children and seven grandchildren, whose accomplishments he often shared with us, proudly. He was devoted, too, to his Mosquito family, and we will miss him.
Talk of the generational town
These days one often hears laments about the high cost of housing in Carlisle. One web site currently lists 48 houses on the market, median price $865,000. On one hand, senior citizens on fixed incomes can ill afford our rising taxes. On the other, our children will not be able to afford a Carlisle house for decades, if ever. As it turns out, I know one younger Carlisle family in which not only did both spouses grow up here, but both sets of their parents still live in town. Now that my friends have two children of their own, three generations abide in the same small town. In the past this arrangement was fairly common; today, it’s fairly remarkable. I decided to pay the middle generation a visit and get their take on life in Carlisle.
I met my friends one evening recently around the fire pit on their stone patio. They had just returned from a week’s vacation without their two children, both in the Carlisle school, grades five and two. With both sets of grandparents nearby, they can easily enjoy solo getaways several times a year, while their children ride the bus to their grandparents’ home. My friends emphasized how well their children know their grandparents and how comfortable they feel in their homes. Most of us grew up visiting grandparents on holidays, or occasionally visiting for a week in the summer. My friends’ two children know their grandparents more as second parents. While both parents enjoy careers, they have never had to rely on daycare or au pairs. Life’s blessings, in case you were wondering, are not distributed equally.
Not only did my friends both grow up in Carlisle, they also share the same Carlisle class. Teachers they had in their primary and middle school years now teach their children. Last year the child of a former teacher taught their second child. Both my friends vouched for the excellence of their own educations, as well as the excellence of their children’s current experiences in school. Whatever troubles the school has endured, they feel that the core of the faculty has remained outstanding through the years.
They also painted a portrait of an idyllic rural childhood: making forts in the tick-free woods, collecting fresh eggs at the Swanson Farm, ice skating on Milliken’s Pond, biking to Bates Farm for ice cream, unsupervised playing in the summers. Despite this egregious lack of structure (to contemporary sensibilities), both my friends managed to attend accredited colleges, enjoy careers with healthcare benefits, and pay (I assume) their Carlisle taxes. “We always hear,” they said, “that new developments are changing the character of the town. In our day it was the Deck Houses. New people are always coming into town. They add to the fabric of the community, rather than change what’s core to the town’s values. That’s part of life here.”
Last year my friends hosted a gathering for their Carlisle class. Fifty percent of their classmates returned. There were no emotional fireworks. Instead, they felt that everyone had forged a closer bond because of their shared memories of growing up in a small town. The years following their Carlisle days had highlighted for them the qualities unique to their childhoods.
We focus on trying to give our children the best money can buy, from crayons to computers to colleges. But the most precious gifts may be simpler and more fundamental: home and hearth and heart.
© 2008 The