Thoughts About Manumit

This is a long thread but worth reading through. Manumit was a complicated school and many of us needed the nurturing we found there. We, at least many of us, think we fortunate that our parents sent us there. I know I do. This can’t tell the story of Manumit but this thread does provide at least one flavor of our experience.

 

John Kramer
15 May 07

Eleven Manumiteers met this past Friday at the good ol’ White Horse. A warm spring day brought a group of budding actors from the HB Studio down the street and a smaller group of beer regulars to our backroom, so there was a din to the celebration. The lovely Judy Van narrowed her eyes at one group but thought better of it. Steve Maas brought us up to date on our ages. We’re all the same now; amazing how that works. Ira Deutsch drove a few smiles from the garden state to be with us. Dear Judy Rabinowise brought Agneta (how do you call a beautiful woman “Peppy”) Vuilliet, who coasted to our side the other day. Gentleman Al Essner has moved into the city so he could be closer to the Horse, I suppose. Swanky Sue Simmons kept remembering names I hadn’t thought of in half a hundred years, what a memory and of the camp, too. How many years did that go on? I was there a couple, I know. Ferdy, a long termer, said he wished he had learned to write an english sentence. I reminded him of the Fearing kid, but, he wasn’t referring to penning creatively. Mary Lathrop joined in for the first time since the first times we met at the Cedar and talked a long while with a Pawling and PA attendee and a newby to our gatherings: the distinguished Herb Adelman who also questioned educational value, but, that of The Wharton School
at Penn, not Manumit. All for one and one for all.
Best regards, JK

Judy Van
15 May 07

It was lovely to have a small group, and I hope we can do it more often. I was really sorry to leave so early (hated it), but an old dear friend we hadn’t seen in ages (from Boston) was stranded at JFK between flights and arrived at our door the day of the meet to catch up between planes. His trip from JFK via buses, subways and PATH was grueling and so…..

John.. when is the next meet…? Somewhere I heard something about a ‘summer lunch’? Next time I will stay on. Lovely to see Judy R., devilishly handsome John, Sue was vivacious, but I had a terrible time hearing anything over the din.. my hearing aids just couldn’t cope with it. I can’t believe I lost hearing… I never listened to electric music or went to places with giant sound. Probably the old Third Avenue L which I lived near when young. Anyway, please ‘speak UP’ when addressing me. Embarrassing but true. Love to all, wish I’d kept my wonderful house on the lake in Rosendale (not far from Woodstock). I would have loved to have hosted a get-to-gether there. By the time Liz Flynn found me (by phone) and told me about ‘the reunion’ we were already in the process of selling. Had I only known. Hope to see you all again soon. Love and fond memories, Judy Van

Craig Work
16 May 07

John, thanks for the reporting, which helps us to be more coherent. For all the literary Manumitters, include in you list Frank Conroy, who wrote “Stop Time”.
Best wishes,
Craig Work

Barbara Dutton Dretzin
16 May 07

Stop Time contains a pretty awful portrait of Billy & Amelia holding kids’ hands over boiling water to make them confess to some student crime. An ugly picture of the school we care so much about. And so unlikely! Successful author or not, can’t say I would like to promote his adolescent fantasy

Barbara Dutton Dretzin
17 May 07

I’d like to amend what I said about Frank’s description of having his hands held over boiling water with the threat of having them plunged in if he didn’t confess. It wasn’t adolescent fantasy, rather I think he used artistic license when he wrote this to express his extreme feelings about Manumit and Billy and Amelia. I really feel that whatever their faults, neither of them were capable of this. Barbara D

Thelma Obrien
17 May 07

I appreciate Barbara’s defense of her mother and stepfather but does she remember or even know about the smokers Billy used to hold? Those were pretty sadistic events. Billy and Amelia, no matter how much we might love them and be mostly glad that we knew them as our in-lieu-of parents, had serious alcohol problems that impaired their judgment from time to time, to be generous. I think Stop Time is a lot more than Frank’s “adolescent fantasy”. It’s a finely written book with much to recommend it. Thelma

Judy Van
16 May 07

Are feuds starting already and we barely see each other? So many different experiences seen thru the trauma of so many traumatic lives… isn’t that all part of the Manumit charisma? We could all write different stories about our experiences. I for one feel that Lilly (also a drinker) was responsible for Susan’s death. Susan had a temp of 104 for two days and it went to 105 the last day… for heavens sake, and Lilly didn’t immediately send her to hospital! Should have two days before she died. I’m sure there are plenty would argue that take. I for one am just so glad we have all reunited in memory and in person. What were the chances of that five decades later?. ps: Thanks Aulay Judy Van

Barbara Dutton Dretzin
17 May 07

Thema is right on about their drinking – don’t I know. But the boiling water just doesn’t ring true – but here’s great a chance to verify it. Did it happen to anyone else?
Many of the commonly used punishments of those days we would now see as outrageous, and were not practiced at Manumit. But the smokers Thelma mentions were always used at Manumit while I was there – even before Billy’s drinking became a problem. They were seen as an appropriate deterrent. My own, quite sober and wonderful grandfather used a mini-smoker to stop my brother from smoking. Locked him in a bathroom with a stale cigar and wouldn’t let him out until he’d smoked it. He emerged pale green and deterred – Hank never smoked again. Not that I approve of this – just putting it in what I see as a generational perspective.

John Kramer
17 May 07

You know, we covered the “smokers” thing at our last gathering and thought it was pretty funny. I smoked my head off the entire one thousand years I was there and got sent home once. John Herald and I did have to star-drill holes in the cement floor of the then new study hall for our smoking sins. Never made it into the smoke-filled room.
Nope, no hot steam or water-boarding for me, either.
Seems like they made mistakes and then stopped making them. Progressive education for staff, too
Anyway, its good to know we didn’t start out in heaven, after all. Come and talk at our next gathering. JK

Barbara Dutton Dretzin
17 May 07

I’d like to amend what I said about Frank’s description of having his hands held over boiling water with the threat of having them plunged in if he didn’t confess. It wasn’t adolescent fantasy, rather I think he used artistic license when he wrote this to express his extreme feelings about Manumit and Billy and Amelia. I really feel that whatever their faults, neither of them were capable of this. Barbara D

Mike Speer
17 May 07

Comments on exchange:
I recall a “smoker,” probably 1945-46, where we older boys still at main house (i.e. probably 9- 11 years old) were invited to “earn” the right to smoke by surviving what seemed like hours in a room smoking cigarettes an cigars. As I recall we took it as a challenge, and no one actually quit smoking afterwards. I suspect that if we had thought it was Hank’s idea we would have been even more determined to beat the challenge although I think this “smoker” was before Hank arrived on staff at the school. If it was practice after that, I wonder if it work any better.I don’t recall the fact or “talk” of the boiling water during my years at Manumit — 1945-49. It does not sound to me like either Amelia or Billy.But, “Stop Time” does contain an essentially (I don’t have a copy at hand so can’t check details) accurate account of a terrible cruelty inflicted by children (myself included) on another child at Manumit . We beat the hell out of Mike Curtis for, supposedly, uttering a racist remark. It was a sort of mob scene although the beating was given by individuals, one at a time, to a standing and unresisting Mike. It took place on the third floor of the main house. To their credit, Ferdie and Bruce Fearing had the courage conspicuously to leave the scene. I don’t know if Frank was around as he was younger than the “gang.” Afterwards it was treated very seriously by Billy and John with each of us called in individually for a sober talk about mob violence and, I think, pointed reference to the Nazis. I don’t know if he was a refugee, but Mike was Jewish. I have been deeply ashamed of my participation to this day.

Ray Raphael
17 May 07

Hey Hildy–Studying at Manumit??!!!! Can’t recall that it was done…yea, completing assignments, but studying?? I do recall though being in that studyhall at least once, so maybe I was once forced.?! Never heard of the “smokers”– probably because my experiment with cigarettes as a ten year-old ( my first year at Manumit) lasted but weeks due to my forever coughing whenever I tried to inhale–Cools was the only brand I could halfway get down. Glad I got away clean! As for Billy and the rest of the staff, I never had any bad treatment nor heard of such and am surprised to hear of it now. best to all,

Hildy
18 May 07

Dear Mike, I think I understand how you must feel about this difficult subject. Having taught for many (MANY) years, I have been witness to many instances of cruelty between kids. At least you learned from the experience; I hope I was able to convey the same message, as John and Billy did for you, to my students. And thanks to you for sharing this with us all. It’s makes important food for thought. Hildreth

Hildy
18 May 07

And, what the hell is a “smoker,” aside from Barbara’s description and my conjecture from that and other comments. In my 3 full years at Manumit, not quite John’s thousands, less the one week when John Lindlof, my cousin, had me suspended (for standing in the Long Cabin boys’ dorm doorway, with one foot outdoors and cigarette in hand), I never heard of the “smokers’ or any “hot water” except the kind we sometimes got OURSELVES in for overstaying “walk out” or some missed assignment to Joy Ray’s English class. And despite the comments of others, in my experience there were academic consequences for missed assignments or classes at Manumit

And as to “star drilling,” that was my winter assignment with Michel on Dixon Bush Days; hammering into the walls of the study hall and developing frigid digits which made HOLDING the cig difficult. It may have been punishing but not a punishment. Did the studs ever get bolted into those holes for the homosote (sp?) to be placed over? Did anyone after me – ’55 on – ever STUDY there?

Just finished my job, since Easter, on what turned out to be an unsuccessful attempt by the incumbent to recapture his school board seat. Pity! He was one of the good guys.

I’m sorry that but that job’s why I missed the White Horse and all who attended. Peppy – coming up to LA again anytime soon? (And, John, I think it’s a apt description for a lovely lady.) And again, John, thanks for your creative reporting – makes me feel more included – in absentia. And along with Judy, I’m hoping to make the Summertime Lunch Bunch.
Love, Hildy
P.S. I wrote of my suspension a year or so ago; Judy Van replied then to my note that it helped me graduate since I got to finish my senior thesis while at home – think I suspected a plot. But I never was sure whether I was sent home for smoking or for being in the boys’ dorm. Is this an example of “he got you coming or going”? HLS

John Kramer
18 May 07

Hildy: Star drilling was definitely a punishment for Herald and me; we had to do it every night for a week.

Thelma: I recall the Susy/Aunt Lilly disaster. At the time I came to the conclusion that a window was left open and that’s why she died and therefore it was Aunt Lilly’s fault, but, what did I or do I know? It shouldn’t have happened so there is fault. The parents? Wow, maybe they tried to have Manumit closed or something worse; who could blame them? I’m glad it was there for me, though.

Coddamn, Mike, It’s amazing. I was a fair-haired blue-eyed stem-cell when I went to Manumit. Had I been in Germany I would have been an oberlieutenant in the SS. I did buy a motorcycle jacket after I saw The Wild One, but, I had been at Manumit long enough to know better by then.

And Thelma, Manumit was flawed, but not deeply. I think Billy was an inspired and dedicated educator and I’ll drink to that

Barbara Dretizen
18 May 07

Judy – I don’t feel we have a fued here. I think it’s wonderful that we now have a chance to air all these things. Nothing more destructive than family secrets. You must have been wild about Lily’s neglect. I have my own reservations about Manumit, but I don’t dwell on them because, imperfect as it was, it changed my life and I cherish the good memories and friendships. Barbara

Neil Strong
20 May 07

Whomever This Reaches, I neither remember “smokers”, hand scalding, or “stardrilling”. I did once witness Amelia in a bad state of inebreation. But the thing that has set me off on Billy has only recently made sense to me. A few years ago my father showed me a letter that Ben Fincke had sent himasking his assistance. Ben was complaining that I was constantly disrupting clas by making puns. Everyone would breakout in laughter, thus breaking the continuity of the class.He had spoken to me about it, and I had agreed to stop. But then I continued to do it more effectively than before.That Ben had talked to me about itlet me know thatI was succeeding at my purpose. But I didn’t know what that purpose was. Now, nearly 60 years later, I figured it out. I was sending Ben a message: ” if you don’t let me sing, I won’t let you teach”. It began when I was in Public School. A teacher was so impressed with my singing voice that she interupted every class in the school to have them hear me sing. But she made a big mistake when she told my mother, who had no intention of allowing me to sing again. Then came the opportunity to sing a baritone part in a Grege cantata at Manumit. Billy wanted me to take the place of Phil Ray, who would be out of town. He joked that” I thought Phil was in Philly” when Bill heard me in rehearsal. But Bill made the mistake of the weekend.However, she promised that I would be back in time for the performance. It was all a lie. She held onto me until the performance was over. then she sent me back to Manumit.I wasn’t given any more singing parts after that.

Norm Leer
21 May 07

Hi, Everyone: I’ve been reading all the emails about “smokers,” Stop Time, Bill and Amelia;s supposed torture sessions, etc., and just want to add my plain and sometimes unknowledgeable two cents to the discussion. I think it’s good and important that we explore and share some of our less pleasant Manumit memories (“manumemories?” “manuries?”), because this will help all of us to think about who we were/are and to deal with what for some of us was a shame about coming from bad homes or being sent away. I’m glad, though, that Hildy, Mike, Ray and others are questioning the hot water torture stories, even while I also appreciate Thelma and others reminding us of Billy and Amelia’s heavy drinking.

For my part, I certainly didn’t experience or hear anything about hot water or other kinds of coercive punishments, and I always found Uncle Billy kind and supportive – even when he had to deal with my total inability and/or refusal to learn algebra. I think I was a few years younger than most of us who are emailing now – and more scared – so I didn’t get as involved in some of the shenanigans. I’ve read and liked other work by Frank Conroy, but not Stop Time, so I can’t speak on this one. If I put together my memories of Uncle Billy, some of the things I’ve learned from the website and our emailing – his academic papers and poetry, the closing of the school in 1957 after much political harassment, his drinking problems – and my own experiences as a college English teacher who didn’t always fit or like “the system,” I get a sense of a dedicated but very frustrated and often unhappy idealist. I begin to see Billy and the rest of the Manumit faculty and staff as role models in more ways than I’d guessed – not only their successes, but also their sometimes brokenness and failures – their humanness. How many of our own lives have been uncomplicated?

Come to think of it, Manumit was the first place that allowed – taught – me to accept my own humanness, to find ways to use it creatively. So why should it not be human?

I’m moved, Mike, by your remorse over beating the hell out of Mike Curtis. I was beaten up a lot at other schools – not Manumit, though I think John Crowther threw me out of a doorway once when I thought I was being friendly and must have bugged him. I do think Manumit taught most of us to think beyond violence most of the time. I don’t think the honest way we talk to each other on email would happen with alums of most schools I know of.

Interesting how the Manuchatter seems to flourish after each of the get-togethers, even with a lot of us who can’t usually make it to the Horse.

Barbara DD
21 May 07

Norm – I agree that we should share the dark side – or the truth – along with the great memories we all have. Family secrets, as we all know, are destructive…the elephant in the livingroom that people are afraid to acknowledge. I e-mailed this thought to Judy, who was afraid a feud was brewing over the hot water story. It’s great to get anything out here to be refuted or confirmed about people who were so central to our lives. As I’ve said elsewhere, I believe Frank made this up using artistic license to express his hatred of everyone and everything connected with Manumit

Thelma
21 May 07

Dear all, Once again, I do not believe in this virulant hatred Barbara keeps saying Frank had. He had some bad experiences. He was phenomenally well-respected as a writer, for many years the director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and not especially consumed with hatred, at least not expressed in his fiction. I know about the rather sadistic smokers. I know nothing about any boiling water and it is nonsense, strictly made up. It’s silly to think otherwise and no one really does. Can’t we drop the boiling water stuff? We loved and hated and were happy and miserable at Manumit but in much better ways than in most communities and the experieces we shared, good and bad, made us in large measure, the rather decent people we are.

Wally Watson
22 May 07

Dear One and All, So, here is my dilemma. While attending Manumit School in the mid-fifties, I did things there that were not meant to be mean. I did not steal anything from anyone (although Ray and I did obtain a duplicate key for the candy store located in the quad and managed for two years to sate ourselves with candy and drink — does that count??) There were other rules I ducked and avoided — making nocturnal visits to the main house in the dead of night (mostly innocent); sneaking off to the hoagie hut; meeting Hildy at pre-dawn to run around the pasture (so much fun…); and, of course, along with everyone else at one time or another, hitting on the kitchen in off hours to pilfer a can or two of fruit cocktail. My point here is that not once, not ever, was there an adult directed consequence for my actions. I lead my life at Manumit the best as I could, and somehow not only survived, but persevered. Here is the rub: I believe these days it’s a whole lot different. After a very satisfying forty-three year career as a teacher and principal in elementary and middle schools, I have come foresquare to the conclusion that today’s children need the very consequences that I (and you?) did not encounter very often in our youth way back when. A million times over, I struggled with parents to set clear limts for their children; for them to set up healthy rules for their conduct and behavior (hello — shut off the television set once in a while); and while you are loving them to pieces, make sure they know that ultimately they are responsible for their actions when they go astray. So — that is my dilemma: I (and you) grew up in an era when, I believe, we were moving around and doing things more on our own, and in the case of Manumit’s environment, man, lots and LOTS of latitude, and things seemed to work out okay. And yet, today, so many children seem to need more structure and direction, otherwise they wind up doing dope and droppong out… What would Ben, John Lindlof, and Billy think? Love and Apples,

Wally
22 May 07

Dear Hildreth, You SMOKED while at Manumit? Somehow, I missed out on seeing you ciggie in hand or in mouth. But, I do remember you hanging out near the coop and barn. That was a good thing..

Wally
22 May 07

Dear Michael et al, Yeow, what a frightening experience. I never witnessed real violence at Manumit (probably because I avoided confrontations at all costs). The only incident I recall involving physical confrontation happened when Ben got into a shoving match with Al Martinet. I have no idea what the issue was, but Ben wound up throwing Al into the shower, and as both of them were being pounded by ice cold water, they burst out with uncontrolled laughter. Given the Manumit context, does this behavior really sound all that bizzare??

Barbara
22 May 07

This something I’ve thought a lot about over the years. Was it simply permissive or was there a different philosophy? Looking back it seems to me discipline at MAnumit was very creative and compassionate and tried to make the punishment fit the crime. In some cases the punishment seemed more like a reward.

I and other culprits used to ‘swipe’ stuff from the drugstore in town. 5&10 cent stores were the victim of choice, but there wasn’t one in Pawling. So it was the drugstore. The owner didn’t confront us, he reported us to Billy. Our punishment was to be told how theft hurt the owner, who was a very nice man. That didn’t work. Next our parents were asked to open a charge acct for each of us at the store. Then two of us were put in charge of the school store. We were never shamed over any of this. It was assumed that we didn’t understand the harm in what we were doing. For me, the lesson was learned. What I had done (frequently) was wrong, but I was a good person capable of taking responsibility.

I suppose we all remember being spoken to – privately, the best in us called out. Going downtown with Billy for a soda (mine was a malted). Additionally, we (I anyway) hated disappointing our teachers or counselors – if we loved them. I recall discipline being mostly carrots. And the big stick for seriously breaking the rules was being sent home; given the state of my home, that was the last place I wanted to be. If you taught in public school, Wally, I imagine you didn’t have the in locus parentus (sp?) community control one has in a boarding situation.

We kept on breaking rules, but did develop a socialized sense of right and wrong. My big complaint for years afterward was the lack of acedemic discipline even though that was counter-balanced with a high priority on creativity. I now know that whatever academic problems I had later were not because of Manumit – many of my classmates did fine, some making it into Harvard.What I retained was a deep love of music, art and nature.

Sorry this has gotten so long! Could go on about the changes within generations – Victorian , Hippie. How parents started wanting to be pals, not authoritarians, etc. But i won’t! Barbara

John K
22 May 07

Manumit taught humanity and maybe not too much else, certainly not spelling, but, it is our greatest gift and most of us got it. Mike Speer got it after a hard lesson, Tough Thelma got it though she insists the smokers were sadistic when everyone else thinks they were funny, yet knows that we are “decent people”. Wally, the nicest guy on the planet, you got it, So don’t worry about limits, expand horizons. My Carol is going to Buxton next year so she can learn the consequences of her actions amongst her peers in a controlled environment. Ruth “moms” Rosner learned it back when it was almost new. Barbara Dutton got it and is not afraid to ask some of the hard questions about the tough times that were also Manumit. I think its quite a remarkable group of people; accomplished in the art of living. People I talk to are astonished that we “reunionize” more than one time. More, much more later,

Norm Leer
22 May 07

Hi, Barb and Everyone: The dark side and the light. I’ve been reading all the emails: Judy Van’s cogent sense of what being with other people at Manumit gave us, Mike Speer’s reflections on the sometimes violence, Wally’s thoughts on discipline, your thoughts, Barb, on Conroy and the value of putting all this stuff together. I wish I had the time (it could take a week) to reply to everyone of these emails – some from people I knew, some from people I didn’t. They all spark thoughts and feelings and memories, and I think it’s amazing what we’re all doing.
As I wrote to Hildy, the education at Manumit was sometimes haphazard – to me this doesn’t necessarily mean lax. I think Manumit was part of something that was in the culture at that time – a transition between socialist/labor union activism and a self-reflectiveness that was coming out in the work of people like Paul Goodman, Camus, Erich Fromm, etc. I think this self-reflectiveness is part of what Manumit gave us, and you can feel it surfacing in all the emails – in who we are. Re: Wally’s points about discipline, I think it’s the self-reflectiveness – so discouraged or non-existent in today’s speed media – that’s missing in some of the kids. It can be more important than discipline. If you reflect on what you’re doing – maybe about the other person – you can still be a nutball (who me?), but I think you do less damage in the world. Think about Camus’ refusal to be a judge, his aversion to political violence, and even his ironic sense that to refuse to judge was a kind of judging, and could be a power game.Oops…too many words.Warm regards,

Craig Work
22 May 07

As I have said, Manumit saved my life. I arrived as a hysterical and ferocious resister, and what I learned was absorbed without real understanding, just absorbed. On reflection, now I understand what I learned:
Society’s representatives may demand my submission to Society’s discipline, but what Society truly values is my self-discipline. This enables me to implement any coherent understanding I might have of “good and bad” , “right and wrong” without the necessity for supervision from the powers that be.
Once I achieved self-discipline, people stopped trying to command me

Craig Work
22 May 07

Thanks, Judy.
I think there is a simple principle that makes the “self-discipline”
requirement sufficient to produce a working social system. It’s not
universal, but the overwhelming majority of all people want to be good
people, to be good human beings. We may see tragic disagreements over just
what is “good”, but society survives on the (nearly) universal drive we have
to be “good” human beings.
Because of that, societal discipline is not required; self-discipline is.
Then the serious discussion moves from the requirement to control people to
the requirement to obtain people’s agreement over what is good.
How does that strike you?

Norm Leer
23 May 07

Hi, Hildy, Barb and Everyone: At the risk of getting long-winded, repetitious, pompous or all of the above, I’ll just add a little more to this ongoing discussion. Hildy, I agree with your points about the within/without balance as a basis for self-discipline. Most of us who’ve taught have always tried to goad our students into making personal connections with the material. At the same time, we hope they’ll see that it’s not all solipsistic – that there is material – and there are persons – out there to be responded to in a personal way. I’m still mucking with this balance as I teach a humanities course to my older students. I’ve called the course “The Sound Between the Notes,” borrowing an idea from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and I’m trying to teach how the arts try to say what often can’t be said and how a reader, viewer, listener has to meet the work half way with his/her own experience to begin to “understand” it.

Barb, you say that Manumit encouraged creativity. I agree. Somehow the personal teaching and the caring encouraged me to begin to write – and hopefully to read and listen – and this gave me a way to bring out all the stuff that was pent up inside me until I got to Manumit. Peg Hundertmark barely managed to get me to learn English grammar, but she gave me a copy of Conrad’s Victory to read, and I barely understood it at the time but the prose opened up some kind of blocked line inside me. I never learned grammar until I started teaching – and even though I tried to teach it humanely, I suspect many of my students, even the good ones, had a similar result (or lack of it) from my own teaching.

Almost all the writers from whom I’ve learned teaching over the years – Martin Buber, Carl Rogers, Albert Camus, Rollo May, Parker J. Palmer – all get at something similar – teaching is primarily a relationship, as much an encounter with what we don’t know as with what we know. Someone once wrote that all the research shows that what students remember are the personalities of teachers who moved them, either positively or negatively and, almost as an after thought, the subject matter they thought. And that’s the effect that Uncle Billy, John Lindlof, Peg Hundertmark, Bob Smith and some of my later teachers in college have had on me. I still wish I could tell them, face to face. Hildy, at least I feel I can tell John a little indirectly through you.

Denise Poncet
28 May 07

Dear Thelma and all Manumitters on what I hope is the correct list, I have just finished reading fully all the emails that have been generated since the last meeting at the White Horse on May 11. Sorry I missed everyone, I broke my toe the previous night. Also, I don’t know if I have the complete and accurate Manumit mailing list but it will suffice for now and when I have time I will edit my group list. I never heard of nor read “Stop Time” by Frank Conroy so I cannot comment on the contents. Never did I experience the “smoker” or “boiling water” treatments at Manumit. I smoked and I stole and I cursed and was genuinely obnoxious and selfish. However, I was happy to learn that Thelma thought I have turned into a decent person and Thelma, I agree with you. My most powerful sense of Manumit was safety. MY mother was an alcoholic I had not seen from the age of seven until about twelve when my parents attempted a disastrous reunion. I had witnessed bloody brawls, saw my father attempt to throw my mother out a window been swept out of bed in the middle of the night because some adult’s unreasonableness, never knew where we (my 2 sisters) were going to wind up. MY aunt took us in for a while and my uncle sexually abused me. By the way, during most of these happenings I was in Catholic boarding school. I can’t imagine what might have happened if this had not been the case. I decided to quit school when I was 13, got a baby sitter’s job and also got in trouble with the cops. As a result I had to go to children’s court where I pleaded with the Judge to send me to reform school anything but stay “home”. Fortunately the court sent me to a therapist and she recommended Manumit and my world changed. Adolescence is difficult so there were many problems but there were also, by far, many rewards. First off, I was able to graduate from high school. More than that, I was introduced to literature having read little more that “Elsie Dinsmore” and bible history stories. Manumit offered terrific outlets for creativity. I had never drawn a picture before or worked with clay, thanks to Elna Nelson. Virginia Hall Smith enriched my life and strengthened my ego with her enthusiasm and love of theater. Not only did we do plays but she also had us do radio with special effects. Victor Vick has us playing basketball like guys and actually getting us to a winning season. I learned to share work experiences because of Dixon Bush days. We rode horses and played softball and slide into bases that were submerged in puddles. Glee Club was another fantastic endeavor as well as our accapella (sp) group. The camping trips at the end of the school year, The camaraderie and food fights in the dining rooms. Hanging out and playing cards and jacks on any given day. Sunbathing on the terraces. Smoking in the huge pine tree behind home plate. The general store and the airport hoagie hut. The Indians and home guard in that all day game. Or fox and hounds with toilet paper trailing the woods. The movies and the temperamental projector. Fires in the upper forties. And then there was school. John Lindlof taking us through Geometry for the second time in a year. History with Stan Sussman. Manumit may have been lax in certain areas of learning but the atmosphere of the school encouraged learning for enjoyment or reading for enjoyment not just an assignment. How many high schoolers today can write a 40 page paper on the Haymarket Square riot using 30 references. I did that and I loved it. Was Manumit a perfect place? Of course not! But compared to where I came from and where I was heading, it was the best thing that happened to me and gave me some chance for becoming a “decent human being”. And, Wallace, we didn’t always have structure or limits or consequences to arrant behavior but the society we lived in generally, as well as at Manumit, had greater structure and restrictions than those of today. We did not have such easy access and inundation of media and excesses of consumerism that swamp our kids today. I’m grateful for my Manumit experience because I am certain without it I would have been dead or in jail. That’s it. Denise PS Steve and Marsha I am relieved and happy your son has returned safely to you.

Hildy
28 May 07

Dear Denise, Wow and Amen! And an enormous thank you for filling out the picture of the Denise I didn’t know that well, but always wanted to, that long time ago. What a wonderful kaleidoscope of the Manumit we shared. The section from “Adolescence is difficult…” to the end would make a great “General Intro” to one of our major sections on Manumit. AULAY??? Besides literature, theatre, art, music, and basketball, there must have been someone back then who encouraged your writing skills, also, unless that talent was innate; Joy Ray or perhaps, our own, Sue Powers? We both had a strong connection to many of the same people. I’m very glad there was a Manumit there for you, the alternatives being completely unacceptable. Love, Hildy P.S. Upon checking quickly, think your list is A OK with 72, including yourself. If not, my “cc’s” will be a back-up. So put your time and talents to better use than list updates.

Norm Leer
29 May 07

Hi, Denise and Everyone: I just want to second Hildy’s points about your writing skills and honesty. You describe the positive effects of Manumit in a very cogent and compelling way. Since I think you were there a bit after I left in 1952, I assume that your creative writing teacher might have been Sue Powers, whom I met at the reunion last summer, or was there an English teacher in between Peg Hundertmark and Sue Powers? Peg was the spark for my interest in literature, and she encouraged creative risk taking and exploration in just the ways you describe. I still remember how she picked up Joseph Conrad’s Victory for me and some other books at a second hand book store in Philly and got me going. I’m still into used book stores and all that goes with them.

Your description of your “family” background is harrowing, but I can also remember being woken up by my father and stepmother in the middle of one of their fights. My father was about to storm out on the street at 3:00 in the morning, in his underclothes yet, and I remember blocking the door. Manumit was a surrogate family for many of us – we often tried to “fix” our own families, until we learned the futility of trying this, and Manumit taught us that we could do some things right. If the people were “flawed” and still compassionate and creative, maybe that was part of the learning. Sometimes our families were flawed good people too, but it took the courage and encouragement we got from Manumit to enable us to learn that and eventually reconcile to whatever was.

I don’t recall John Lindlof teaching geometry. It must have been a very multi-talented faculty group.

Jen Polcari
10 June 07

Hi, I have been very quiet here for awhile. It suddenly occurred to me that with the Manumit memories taking a turn to the darker side that I should chime in, lest you all think I am upset by some of the talk about my father. I have always known that my parents had a drinking problem. In the early days the drinking was only at night and it was possible to sort of compartmentalize it and not have it affect my daily life at school which was wonderful.Amelia began to have trouble with her heart in the mid 50’s and had to give up alcohol but that only made their relationship more contentious.Dad started drinking more. About Stop Time; I remember when it was going to be published, a copy was sent to Uncle Ben and he was very upset by it. He and I had several talks about it and it was clear that Ben felt that the hands over the boiling water bit was not to be believed. I never did. Billy was not that sort. His lapses of judgment were never cruel like that. I have really enjoyed hearing all the discussions on what Manumit was like for each of you. Oh, Grae and Larry Johnson should speak up about their experience with a “smoker”! I believe it was Uncle Ben that supervised that one… Jenny

Hildy
11 June 07

Dear Jenny (and ALL the Manumitters – Pawling and Penna – see the series below) Thelma’s alerted me that you’re having trouble sending out your message to the complete list, so I’m doing it for you on this one. Perhaps for future reference you can just piggy back the list of those to whom I’m sending your email now, into own.for any further emails. I’m not sure what the problem you were having is, but at least you’ll have a complete list to work from. I’m glad Thelma alerted me that I’d been missed from your email (as well as others) so that we won’t miss the communications with you. As Billy and Amelia’s daughter, you’re in a unique position to share info with us all, who also loved them so dearly. I didn’t know your mother that well but Billy was my advisor for my first of three years at Manumit and so occupied a very special place in my memories, as I met with him on a weekly basis. I’d known your dad first through my grandmother, Johanna Lindlof, his friend and one of the members of Manumit’s Board of Directors. Since John, Joanne and Carol Lindlof, my cousins, all went to the Pawling Manumit and came home to MY house for all their vacations, Manumit was a vivid part of my growing up before I went to school there. I visited Pawling when I was just a small child. I went there also when I made a trip back east to visit John Herald in spring 2004. A man who had been the mayor of Pawling drove me out to see the old campus – I checked with a realtor in town and she directed me to this nice man. I actually remembered the main building and the dam and swimming hold at the creek. Don’t be a stranger, Jenny. Glad to hear from you. Hildy

Denise
11 June 07

Dear Jen. Its funny when you are raised a Catholic – you assume the blame for everything. I held Bill and Amelia in very high regard, with a special love for Bill. Knew they drank but never heard of all the other “dark” stuff. When I learned in the past year of all the difficulties they were going through to keep Manumit going, I feel rather selfish for some of my behavior way back in “adolescent time” The Finckes and Lindlof’s held our lives together admirably and in so doing allowed many kids to reenter the world feeling better about themselves. Denise

Hildy
14 June 07

Dear Jenny (and ALL the Manumitters – Pawling and Penna – see the series below) Thelma’s alerted me that you’re having trouble sending out your message to the complete list, so I’m doing it for you on this one. Perhaps for future reference you can just piggy back the list of those to whom I’m sending your email now, into own.for any further emails. I’m not sure what the problem you were having is, but at least you’ll have a complete list to work from. I’m glad Thelma alerted me that I’d been missed from your email (as well as others) so that we won’t miss the communications with you. As Billy and Amelia’s daughter, you’re in a unique position to share info with us all, who also loved them so dearly. I didn’t know your mother that well but Billy was my advisor for my first of three years at Manumit and so occupied a very special place in my memories, as I met with him on a weekly basis. I’d known your dad first through my grandmother, Johanna Lindlof, his friend and one of the members of Manumit’s Board of Directors. Since John, Joanne and Carol Lindlof, my cousins, all went to the Pawling Manumit and came home to MY house for all their vacations, Manumit was a vivid part of my growing up before I went to school there. I visited Pawling when I was just a small child. I went there also when I made a trip back east to visit John Herald in spring 2004. A man who had been the mayor of Pawling drove me out to see the old campus – I checked with a realtor in town and she directed me to this nice man. I actually remembered the main building and the dam and swimming hold at the creek. Don’t be a stranger, Jenny. Glad to hear from you. Hildy

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