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Remembering Princeton: IV University Town in the 1940's (a poem)

Updated on January 27, 2019
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Before going to college, Richard F. Fleck grew up in Princeton NJ and summered along the coast of Maine northeast of Boothbay Harbor.

Nassau Hall

Remembering Princeton


What I remember most about Princeton

as a young boy is not the snobbery of

class consciousness nor even the island

reprieve of my father's bookshop where

German Jewish intellectuals, shunned by

other Princetonians, were most welcome

to give lectures at Parnassus on Monday

evenings--people like Erich Kahler and

Herman Broch as well as questing young poets

giving readings-- William S. Merwin and John Berryman.

No, what I remember most are not the taunting

school bullies and tough "townies," but the

blessed maple and oak woods above Lake Carnegie

where February buds emerged from grey ice and

snow still lingering on the damp ground from

fierce blizzards that almost blotted out the

town and Murray Dodge Theatre where my

mother, directed by Mario Silletti, acted in

"The Cenci," or "The Importance of Being

Earnest," or even Chancellor Green's circular

Reference Room, echoing my father's polite

laughter at some professor's or student's joke.

No, what I rember most is skating on Lake Carnegie

as free as Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond

and watching the dark woods race by or seeing

flickering flames of a shoreline fire warming

skaters who had had enough of pinched toes

and wobbly ankles and slips and falls on ice. But

of all the customers in Parnassus, Charles Bell

sensed most my need of woodsy relief and took

me on hikes to Devil's Cave and glacial ridges,

putting Princeton in a Pleistocene perspective.

There was also an ornithologist by the name of

Charles Rogers, known as the Bird Man of Guyot

Hall, who set up an exhibit at the American Museum

of Natural History called "The Birds of Shakespeare"

with well over one hundred-fifty species mentioned in

all his plays--well, Charlie Rogers took me and others

up to Hawk Ridge in the Kittatinnies to watch the

hawks ride the thermals above bright orange and red

forests on frosty October days--that's what I

recall the most of my Princeton boyhood days.

Both my brother and I had a difficult time adjusting to Princeton and living in the friendly little hamlet of Wernersville, Pennsylvania for the first part of our lives. We felt that Princeton was a very class-conscious town.

Do you like the hometown you grew up in

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© 2009 Richard Francis Fleck


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