Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Ghosts of Star Island-The Story of Beebe’s Girls

In June of this year, I spent a week on Star Island with several friends.  Located seven miles off of the New Hampshire coast, it is one of the Isles of Shoals and in 1677 was first permanently settled, regardless of the Native American warnings to white men that “something evil was there that was not of this world”.  Yes, ghosts.  And a lot of them, according to what book, what television show or what old Shoaler story you listen to.
This was my second trip to the island.  Last summer, I did have two strange experiences in the small cottage I shared with seven of my friends.  I heard someone running up and down the hallway in the middle of the night, which was impossible since the hallway was only twenty foot long.  I also ‘dreamed’ I was thrown out of bed by someone claiming that I was in their room.  The next morning, I had a large bruise on my thigh, as if it weren’t a dream at all.  This summer, I saw the famous ‘unexplained red lights’ that appear off the island, lights that have been reported for over two hundred years.  I called to my friend, Jerri Clayton, and made sure she saw them too.  Others said it was just the moon, but I’ve seen a lot of moons in my days, and I’m claiming it was the mysterious lights.  Period. 

There are several ghosts that have been seen over the years, and I know most of the stories.  One of my favorites is that three little girls have been seen playing in their small graveyard that can only be reached by a rocky path away from the central area of the island.  While exploring, another friend and I wandered out to the graveyard.  The heavy stone wall that once supported the railing and metal arch now look like an old foundation. In the center, covered in green and brownish moss is a small obelisk. To the right of the obelisk are three tiny headstones: the graves of Jessie, Millie and Mitty Beebe.

The small island was populated by impoverished fishing families in 1857 when Reverend George Beebe was sent by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel Among the Natives and Others to minister to the residents.  He fathered a brood of children during his ten years on the island.  In 1863, Mitty Beebe was seven years old and had started going to school on the mainland, traveling by ferry.  It was there that she contracted scarlet fever or diphtheria, depending on the story being told, and passed it on to her younger sisters, Jessie and Millie, aged two and four.  

On the obelisk that stands in the graveyard are three inscriptions, one under each girls name.  Jessie’s is unreadable, worn over the years.  Below Millie's name the memorial reads: "Dying she kneeled down and prayed: Please Jesus, take me up to the Lighted Place.  And HE did."  Mitty's inscription says: "I don't want to die, but I'll do just as Jesus wants me to."   

Rev. Beebe built the family cemetery apparently intending to stay on Star.  But in 1867, four years after their deaths, the remaining members of the Beebe family moved to Littleton, NH, leaving the three sisters behind.

Did I see the three little girls playing in their graveyard? No. I tend to think ghosts know when you are looking for them and many times choose not to make an appearance. However, sitting in the graveyard, I was sure of their presence.  The sadness I had initially felt for them was replaced by another feeling, which I find hard to define, and can only describe as-- peace.  Three young girls, their family long gone. But they have each other--and an eternal playground to roam.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Letter to MFA Students and Graduates from Bob Begiebing

June 28, 2011

Dear MFA Students and Graduates:

Welcome back from your MFA residency.   I’m pleased to hear you all survived, in various conditions, Star Island, dormitory life, graduation, and a day with the advisory board.  I’ve been enjoying tales of your adventures and survivals from Diane.  Charles Stella’s blog added spice to the island narrative.  And Facebook (esp. Kelly’s gallery) gave me a look at the questionable, productive, and celebratory goings on.  So though I missed you all, you certainly have managed very well without me.  I couldn’t be more pleased that the residency worked out and you are now all launched on your new semester through December.

The real purpose of this missive, however, is to tell you how moved I was by your thoughtfulness in putting together that little gathering in Frost Hall, third floor, to acknowledge my retirement from the directorship of this MFA program over the past five years and from the university after thirty-four.  I was genuinely surprised, even overwhelmed, by all the gifts, handshakes, hugs, heartfelt good wishes, and smiles.  Not till the next morning, however, when I looked through your gift bag again did it really come home to me how much you all offered of yourselves and resources to give me a proper send-off.  The wine box, its inscription, and contents are superb; the GPS is something my wife Linda and I have been talking about getting for a long time; and then you go and add to all that gift cards to and my favorite bookstore (Water Street Books in Exeter NH).  Two bottles of good Pinot Noir—you all know my weaknesses by now!  I mean you really outdid yourselves, and I am very grateful to you all.  Mama Kelly, special thanks to you for setting up the send-off and working so hard behind the scenes with Linda and everyone on the gifts.  

When I founded this writing program six years ago I didn’t know if we could make it work, didn’t know whether we could build an exceptional community, didn’t know what working with a bunch of writers and artists would be like (or even if tolerable), didn’t know if we’d be taken seriously among the national competition, and didn’t know if I had the psychological or cardiovascular system to do endure such a mostly administrative position (something new to me in a long academic career).  Well, somehow, mostly thanks to wonderful, hard-working students and faculty, the whole thing worked out.  And here we all are starting the program’s sixth year, all systems “Go.”

Board member Lissa Warren said at the faculty dinner for the advisory board June 17th (where I was given yet another send-off) that being a graduate of an MFA program herself and familiar with a number of others, our MFA program is the most non-competitive, respectful, and supportive community of writers she’s ever seen.  To the extent she’s right, we have all the members of this writing community to thank.  It’s the character of the people who create such healthy communities, and we’ve been most fortunate in the people we’ve attracted and retained.  Your generosity toward me earlier that evening also reminded me of that good fortune.

To those of you who expected to see me at the after-graduation party, I apologize for being a no-show.  After graduation I could see that Diane needed a little down-time, needed to talk to me about a number of things in the heave, as Emily Dickinson puts it, between two storms—the campus residency and Star Island residency.  So I took her out to a quiet spot for dinner and we talked for two hours.  Then she asked if I’d help her pack and load her truck so she could get home and repack for Star.  By the time we were finished it was getting late, we were both wiped out, and we just went our separate ways home.  But by all accounts you had a great time without us.  I guess that’s one thing we never have to worry about.

Again, my heartfelt thanks to you all.  I am going to miss you and the labors and joys of working as a teacher and administrator in this MFA program.  The faculty gave me a card with all their signatures and delightful little sayings at the board dinner.  I’ll quote you just one, from the inimitable Craig Childs, who summed things up for me in a way I’d like to share.  “Your presence is already missed, a spitfire is sitting in your chair, and what you’ve created is sailing.”

My warmest best wishes to you all on your continued voyage,

Bob Begiebing

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Post Residency Poem by a non-Poet-Trying to Rhyme without Touching Myself

Captain Merle, Captain Morgan and Captain Jack
My GA bombed in a seagull attack
You wake ‘em you take ‘em
Can we just shake ‘em and bake ‘em?
A hammered dulcimer, a guitar, a classic blues song
Grizzly Adams on high octane Rock Star danced in a sarong
An impromptu rendition of the Hokey Pokey
Learning that ghosts like to spoon with an Okie.
Diane called Elk with her unusual horn
A new genre--SNHU-rotica—was illegitimately born
‘Imagine’ from the Chapel, we can only wish
Rick’s new craft book ‘How to Write from the POV of a Fish’
Searching for meat, a snuggly rat in the bed
Sooner Born and Sooner Bred, when I die I’ll be Sooner dead
Is that a wig?  Are you famous? Are you from the Navy?
Believe it or not, the cook calls that gravy.
Telling jokes with Uncle Wiggly, trying not to be noisy
Air Force does a quasi-striptease, and we learn to pronounce ‘Boise
A shy little Texan got up to dance
A well deserved award for Pratima Cranse
A Cosmo reading made the Desert Father turn red
At least Ken woke up in his own little bed
Emma keeps her rat in an unusual place
There’s nothing like that smile on Natalie’s face
Extra crispy or original
Don’t get sucked in
Kim and the corn
Turtles.  Enough said.

Saying goodbye to old friends, and hello to the new
We are Writers.
We are Wet.
We are Trashy Women.
We are Pirates.
We are Goddesses.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pre-Residency Thoughts

Last week, I had a list with twenty-six tasks that needed to be completed before I disappear for two weeks for my last MFA residency.  Today, I have one left.  A day ahead of schedule. 

Tuesday morning, I will get on a plane and go to Manchester, New Hampshire where I will spend ten days with talented writers, friends and several others that I’ve never met, yet know they, too, will be counted as friends by the end of the residency.  It’s a wonderful experience for any writer.  But is it worth it?

I leave my husband for a total of 12 days, during which time he is scheduled for surgery.  He will be spending Father’s Day alone.  I will miss two weeks of pay, which is going to make the month of July very challenging.  My youngest son is scheduled to leave for Air Force Basic Training on July 2, so I miss that additional time to still treat him as my baby, before he goes off to really become a man. My oldest son is home from college, and again, I will miss precious time to be with him.  And then there’s my dog.  I will really miss my dog. 

When I return, I will have to make a new list, things that need to be taken care of due to my absence. 

But this I do for me.  And it so often seems that my life is consumed with doing for others. 

So is it worth it?

I may not think so in July, but for now…

Yeah.  It’s worth it.   J