'The most comforting spot in all America'
South Lee, N.H.
I went into the bank at New Market and demanded to see my grandfather. The tellers smiled and sent me up to the board room. Yes, there he was, the one with the full beard and venerable look (I don't know why, my wife says that if you cover the beard I look like him.) He was president from 1900 to 1907 and used to bring Susie (my mother) over to the New Hampshire mill town where Grammie Harvey kept house for her and Aunt Edna while they went to high school. (When Susie presented herself at the new college for females at Northampton the authorities said She couldn't enter: She hadn't had her Greek, so Susie spent an extra year at the New Hampton Literary Institute and Commercial College where she fulfilled the Greek requirement in a year and triumphantly graduated from Smith College in 1891 in its 10th class, a remarkable feat for a farmer's daughter).
So then I headed the car over to South Lee, past Sarah Hailey's post office, along the Mast Road. The Mast Road? That's where, before the Revolution, His Majesty's timber purveyors went through the primeval forest and marked with a royal sign the specimen pines for His Majesty's navy. Samuel Pepys (who was connected with navy supplies in London) mentions in one of his dairies an enormous trunk just received from "Massachussetts" (it was all one in those days) with its girth and all. Probably a century old. They felled it and hauled it down with three ox teams pulling, and another yoke snubbing behind, and floated it at the bay off the Lamprey River, and took it off to London, for iron men and wooden ships. For all I know Nelson stood before a Lee mast at Trafalgar.
The Mast Road crosses the turnpike at the blinker, and not a driver in a hundred remembers, as I do, that the turnpike is the old route of the Boston & Maine Railroad that went right over the Lang lower pasture, down by Plummer's store. Susie went down to see the frightful thing -- the first train -- round about '75 and the monster frightened her so that she ran home, petticoats and all. There was the water tower, and the freight house, and the South Lee depot and Will Ryan who handled the switch for the milk train, and Plummer's store. The rails are gone, the depot is gone; Plummer's store is occupied by a couple of students from the university over at Durham, and Plummer's dog, that used to fight our Jack with unrelenting ferocity, is gone, too. It used to be a place of animated social and commercial activity; in my boyhood it seemed like Broadway. It is just an old shack now and one farmhouse and a blinker at the crossroads. But on a dark night, if you are sleeping under the slanting ceiling in the upstairs bedroom of the Lang farmhouse -- white with green shutters and the big barn behind -- you can still hear, I am told, the rumble-rumble- rumble of the Bar Harbor express getting closer and closer from Epping, and then the two long toots and the two short ones calling eerily to the departed depot and then rattling off to Maine.
. . . I know the way. Through the trees, up the bank, there it is: They are resting there under a sweet butternut tree, a little family plot, with a flag over Lieutenant Thomas Lang who was the first one to come, round about the Revolution. His son was George Lang, Esq. I have taken the latter's framed military commission off my study wall as I write this to look at it again, signed by Governor John Taylor Gilman in 1814 (the year the Star-Spangled Banner was written) "and of the Independence of the United States of America the thirty-ninth." The commission lists him as ensign; mustered out in 1819, after that little dispute with Great Britain was finished off.
Across the mown pasture is the red farmhouse where Susie was born; and this is where she returned, 98 years later, with George (my father) beside her, the most serene and comforting spot I know in all America. Five generations of Langs. . . A breeze stirs the leaves, a chipmunk appears and disappears in the stone wall going briskly about his business, and it is very calm and peaceful and content.