Laudizen King Banner gathered along the way
long road home Signposts and Junctions      

Salters Pond, Beau Geste, and the Return of the Vikings

(this story appears in Old Roads and Shadows, an eBook)

Salters Pond, Beau Geste, and the Return of the Vikings

I did not always live near Salters Pond.

I remember starting first grade at the Lincoln School, which was located in the center of Manchester, Connecticut. My folks lived in a small fourth-floor walkup on Chestnut Street in the Centennial Apartments. It was during that school year (1956) that my parents bought the house on Parker Street. I can remember running around the empty cellar with my brothers, a cellar barren except for the furnace and oil tank. I don’t remember the names of anyone from the apartment or the Lincoln School.

The day after we moved in to the new house some of the local kids came over and asked my mom if the new kids in the neighborhood could come out and play. That was a common practice in those days. I was suffering through a cold at the time and my mother would not let me out to play with the neighbors but I remember sizing them up through the open door from where I stood behind my mother. The local boys were Larry Aceto, Ricky Gray, Dave Hindle, and Larry Saretto.

I finished first grade at the Bowers Elementary School. A path led from the rear of a nearby house on the other side of Parker Street and the path went down a hill and across a swale before rising up through the grasses of the field to join the large playground area of the elementary school. I walked to Bowers School on that path through the fields during all the years I spent there.

That summer, my mother brought me to my first swimming lessons at Salters Pond. She drove me to the pond and watched as the young kids got their first taste of the water. Lessons began early, before the general swimming public arrived, and we often drove up early enough to see the lifeguards throwing large chlorine tablets into the pond; these had to sit for ten minutes before anyone could go in. Those first lessons involved standing in the pond and working up the courage to put your face, and then your whole head, under water. An old metal Quonset hut was located near the pond, and this structure contained restrooms and two enclosed open areas that served as the men and women’s changing rooms. On the side close to the pond, a large metal flap opened to reveal a small snack bar that sold ice cream and candy.

During the next school year, the training wheels came off my small bike and the world opened up substantially. I rode my little 20-inch fat tire bicycle everywhere and during that summer after second grade I rode my bike to Salters Pond for my next series of swimming lessons. I would throw a towel around my neck or tie one to the handlebars and strike off for the pond. When I arrived, I would set my bike against the fence with no worry and no lock. This was my second year at the pond and I was more confident and aware as well, so I began to meet and form friendships with both the local kids and many others who made the pond their second home in the summer. As I had an older brother, I often met the older friends and acquaintances of his as well.

The names of the first people I met in those early years are still with me. I remember the Avery brothers, Ronny, Eddie, Richie, and Billy, along with the three Zwick brothers, Mike, Billy, and Bobby. I knew Keith and Kipp Miller, the Tuttle twins, the Dumas brothers, Chip Chiaputti, the Bieu boys, Ray Holman, the Brunolis, Bruce Blakeslee, and the Barton brothers. Later I would learn the names of many others, the names of siblings, cousins, and friends, and all of the people from the Bowers or Buckley elementary schools that lived nearby and gravitated to Salters in the summer.

Salters itself was formed by a dam that stretched across the west end of the pond and this dam had a long walkway built across the spillway. The walkway stood about three feet above the water and swimmers could dive or jump from it into the pond. On the side closest to the beach, a concrete projection called the ‘Keep Off’ jutted into the pond. We called it the ‘Keep Off’ because the town painted those words in large letters on the sloping side of the cement. On the other side of the dam from the ‘Keep Off’, just past the area of the spillway where the water could flow over, a metal ladder led out of the water and up to the walkway above the pond. To graduate from my swim class that second year, I had to swim over the deep water between the ‘Keep Off’ and the ladder, a distance which, at the time, seemed comparable to swimming the English Channel.

A brook led from the dam and flowed west to the Lydall and Foulds paper mill. The stretch of brook that led to the mill and flowed down behind it was teeming with tadpoles, crawdads, frogs, and small fish. To the east, in the woods upstream, hung a rope swing tied to a high branch of the same tree every summer. This tree stood at the water’s edge at the base of a steep slope. Swimmers would launch themselves by the swing far out into the stream. This area was the ‘B’, short for BAB (bare ass beach), and the 'B' was our favorite summer swimming hole. On the path just before the ‘B’ was the ‘G’, a place for the girls to sunbathe or swim without dealing with the madness that usually ensued when a group of boisterous males were engaged in the time honored arts of out-doing and out-daring each other on the swing.

Across the pond to the north sat the Cushman property, strawberry fields, fruit trees, and large gardens. Some of the older local boys told tales of courage and gallantry based on sneaking into the fields at night to steal fruit or corn and having the old man shoot at them with a shotgun loaded with rock salt. I never knew if this really happened or not, but I did not want to find out. Later, the town rerouted Parker Street around the paper mill and some of the land north of the pond was developed; houses sprang up on streets named after the Cushman kids. It turned out that the same Cushman family moved into the house across Parker Street; the path to Bowers School now began in their back yard. The Cushman's were always kind and generous to me.

In the fourth grade I moved up to a Schwinn 26-inch bicycle and now had a machine that made getting around town that much faster and easier. In 1960 came the accidental fire in the warehouse at the paper mill and I was forever linked in infamy with Ray Holman and Kevin O’Neill. I still made Salters my summer home though, but I did not go near the paper mill and I did not venture down the brook that ran between the mill and Ray Holman’s house anymore. The town built a pool at Salters in the parking area near the dam and they incorporated the old Quonset hut into the design as the metal building housed the showers and restrooms. Now we had the best of both worlds, a pool with clean deep water, lifeguards, and a diving board. Down the path by the pond sat the traditional swimming hole with the rope swing hanging down from the high branch.

My brother was a big fan of comic books; because of his collection, I had the opportunity to read a wide variety of stories. It wasn’t just cartoons in those days: there was Batman, Superman, Aquaman, Tarzan, and all of the wonderful stories in the Classics Illustrated series. My mother didn’t care, reading was reading she often said, and she was right; I carry a lifelong love of literature from reading those stories. Many of those comic books contained the stories of secondary heroes and characters that I remember fondly today. One of my favorite series was ‘Turok, Son of Stone’, a continuing saga that covered the lives of Turok and Andar, two Indians lost in a forgotten valley where dinosaurs and prehistoric men still lived. Another collection of tales was ‘Brothers of the Spear’. Those stories ran in the Tarzan comic books and they described the lives of two kings who had lost their thrones in Africa and detailed their adventures as they struggled to regain their honor and prestige. The ‘Brothers of the Spear’ stories were far ahead of their time as one king was black and the other was white. I enjoyed other characters as well, such as J’onn J’onzz, the Manhunter from Mars.

I enjoyed all of these characters and their stories, and I played out my own fantasy life, in the water, along the shores, and in the fields that existed in those days along and around Salters Pond. And sometimes, when I rested alone in the grass of the fields or lingered awhile on the bank of the pond, I would wonder about my own life, where I was headed and what the future might hold for me as an adult.

I was in the sixth grade at the bowers Elementary School when I experienced a memorable moment in literature. It was the novel ‘Beau Geste’ by Percival Wren, which captured my imagination. Beau Geste, which means ‘grand gesture’ in French, is a story of family honor centered around three English brothers who end up running away together to join the French Foreign Legion. Today, the book’s prose is considered dated, but its description of life in the Foreign Legion is an authentic account for its time.

One of the major themes in the story involves a Viking Funeral. In such a funeral, the Viking chieftain goes to his final rest in a flaming Viking long-ship with a dead horse and dog laid at his feet. As children, the three Geste brothers placed a lead toy soldier and horse, along with a small china dog, on a bier in a wooden ship floating on a pond near their home, and then set the small boat ablaze. Digby Geste and his twin brother Michael (Beau) then make a childhood promise to give a Viking Funeral to the first to die. Later in the novel, the three brothers are grown and have run away to serve in the French Foreign Legion where, after many incredible adventures, Digby fulfills his childhood promise to his dead brother Michael in a besieged Legion fort in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Before setting the kerosene-soaked funeral bier on fire (where the dead Michael is laid out on a mattress), Digby drags a sadistic dead Legionnaire sergeant over to the foot of the bed to serve as the dead dog in the Viking’s Funeral.

This story enthralled me and I marveled over its romantic adventures in the French Foreign Legion. Before the end of the school year and leaving Bowers forever, I built a Viking’s long-ship out of Popsicle sticks for an Arts project. At least as close as the flat and round-ended Popsicle sticks could fashion a Viking long-ship. It was an ungainly thing, glued together with gobs of Elmer’s, and the sticks still carried the red, purple, and orange stains acquired when the frozen treats melted around them during eating. This strange creation was about two and a half feet long, pointed on each end, and had a small rectangular open-cabin in the center.

After receiving a mediocre grade for my creative effort, I made my own plans for a Viking Funeral. I made the ship as waterproof as possible with glue and plastic layered along the inside of the craft. At home, I grabbed half a dozen small plastic Army figurines out of a large bag filled with assorted toy soldiers. I did not have a dog so I made up for the omission with the volume of soldiers. I had a can of lighter fluid and some Boy Scout fire starters, things I would not want my parents to find me carrying. I secreted everything in a scout pack and headed out on my bike for Salters Pond.

I rode down Lydall Street to the fields by the tobacco sheds between the road and the watercourse, and followed a path that led from the road down to the woods that lined the south edge of the pond. After securing a long piece of twine to the stern, I placed the paraffin fire starters and the plastic Army figures around the boat, gave the vessel several long sprays of lighter fluid, and set the craft adrift on the water blazing. The plastic Army figures sent out a thick black smoke as they began to burn. The boat stopped burning when the water made its way in and turned everything into a smoky black mass. I tugged the wounded craft in closer to shore and ‘dive-bombed’ the stricken vessel with rocks until the pieces were floating away. I had more fun dispatching the boat than I did building it.

When I began my first year at Illing Junior High School, I met more people from the Salters Pond area and formed new friendships. Most everyone who walked to Illing from the houses north of Buckley School and near the Salters area convened at the businesses located where Parker St and Woodbridge St crossed each other and Green Rd led off for the north end of town. Located in a small one-story brick building at the beginning of Green Rd were Wallach’s Market, a barbershop, and Marie’s Diner. Leaving the street, the various groups of kids walked up the dirt path through the woods behind the stores and climbed up the hill next to ‘the Ditch’ before spilling out onto the dead end of Henry Street just below Bowers School. This group now mixed with all of the old Bowers students and formed new friendships and alliances.

During the summer before my second year in junior high school, a group of us explored the stream that fed Salters Pond by following it on both sides of the watercourse all the way to a large body of water on the east side of Lake Street and back. This was a tiring all-day adventure, and we marveled over the swath of wilderness that existed so close to our homes and places of schooling. Returning to the Salters area from our explorations, we washed ourselves up with a good swim at the ‘B’.

A new sound was in the air during those teenage years as every radio station that catered to the younger set played the music of the British Invasion. Transistor radios were still in vogue and I can remember the music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones blasting away at poolside or at the ‘B’.

Skating at Salters in the winter, especially at night, was always an adventure not far removed from a spectacular wipeout. We built small wooden shacks by the ‘B’ and had fires at night so skaters could enjoy some heat and get relief from the wind and cold. I enjoyed the tales told by the older boys and I measured my progress to adulthood against their adventures, real or imagined. Someone always had a recipe for hard cider that involved putting raisins or some such thing into apple cider. Knocking off the ice that formed on the top of the cider each night supposedly accentuated this process. A plastic jug was always undergoing the ‘process’ at the wooden shack by the ‘B’ in winter. I don’t think I ever had any hard cider there, but I did drink some foul tasting apple juice. I always enjoyed skating at night on the wide frozen stream from the 'B' down towards the Dam and back. You had to be careful skating close in to shore because small pieces of debris would fall onto the ice from the trees above and it was easy to do a face-plant if you had too much speed going when you skated close in to land.

Above the ‘B’, in the fields that bordered Lydall St, sat a couple of old tobacco barns. We enjoyed sneaking into the tobacco barns on late afternoons in winter. Once inside, we would build a small fire on the dirt floor and clamber around the posts and beams that reached to the highest levels of the barn and from which the workers hung the shade grown tobacco during the growing season.

In 1967, I made my last summer swim at Salters Pond with a few swings off the rope down at the ‘B’. I was playing a lot of pool in those days and hanging out downtown. On the weekends, I enjoyed going to the ocean and frolicking in the bigness of the tides and waves that pounded the beach at Misquamicut. The older boys were graduating from high school and going away to the service, college, and careers. As far as the crowd I knew at Salters went, I was a younger member of an older group that was now going out into the world; I was soon to join this Diaspora. A new and younger generation was making Salters and the area around it their home. I would still visit the pond on occasion as many friends from Buckley and Bowers were in my graduating class at Manchester High and I would attend gatherings and parties at houses located near Salters during my final year in school.

When young, a person does many things for the final time without actually knowing it; one doesn’t realize they are making a life-changing transition, nor does one think about such occurrences at the time. When enough of these events happen close together, you realize that you have passed through a portal and have embarked on a new direction in your life. So it was for me, for eleven years Salters Pond and the surrounding area had been the fulcrum for so many adventures and friendships, and now I was slowly and inexorably, moving away, a small satellite lost in space and drifting away in an ever-widening orbit.

Forty-two years later, in February of 2009, I talked with Christine Chiaputti, a name I remembered from my early days at Salters Pond when I was a youngster living on Parker St. We caught up on friends and places, and she told me her brother Chip was no longer with us. During that talk with Chris, I also learned that Ed Avery had died during the summer and that a small group of family and friends had mourned his passing at Salters Pond.

We are all Vikings, you and I, sailing through the years on our own long-ships as we traverse the strange and dangerous waters of the world. As adults, we must find our own way in life. Some appreciate the family ties and familiar faces of the hometown and settle down close to where they were born and raised. Others venture some distance away where they can lead private lives yet return quickly when the desire or necessity calls. Still others set an initial course and go where the tides and currents of life take them. There is no correct way; the paths and choices all belong to the individual who must navigate the seas of change and opportunity to find the meaning of their existence and bring happiness and fulfillment into their life.

Ed Avery set his initial course in the Armed Forces; he joined the Air Force and that decision took him to duty assignments in the Philippines, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. He retired from active duty after twenty years and went to work as a civilian technical representative and inspector for engine repair for the Department of the Air Force, and in this capacity worked on a variety of leading-edge aircraft. He was living in Alamogordo, New Mexico when he died.

Fulfilling Ed’s wish, his wife and three children brought his ashes east to be scattered on the ocean at Cape Cod in Massachusetts. She gave a portion of Ed’s ashes to Barbara, Ed’s sister, to carry back to Manchester where they could be scattered at his home by friends who could not attend the service on the Cape.

Barbara still lives in the old Avery home across from Salters Pond so it was only natural to have the gathering there. Other friends and family joined her: Barbara’s son Josh and daughter-in-law, Ed’s brother Richie and his wife, Chris Chiaputti and her husband, and Ed's cousin, Arlene Gregory. Ed’s lifelong friend, retired Army Colonel Kipp Miller was there, along with his sister Emilie and their mother, Cis. In this setting, the conversation soon revolved around Salters Pond and the people and events of prior years. People were grateful to have lived in the neighborhood around the pond, and to have grown up in an area where they were only limited by their imaginations.

They took the ashes and all walked across the parking lot to the pond, where they remembered Ed and days gone by in the bright warmth of summer. Emilie Miller said, “It was the kind of summer day you read about in stories of boys and fishing and swimming holes.” They continued up the path to the ‘B’, slower now because of age. Barbara’s son Josh had built a small raft, about 2 feet long and a foot wide, with four posts in the center that supported a small sling of fabric that held Ed’s ashes. Josh poured gasoline on the raft and sling, and then set the craft on fire as he nudged it out on to the water. On the bank, everyone spoke aloud their feelings of love and final wishes for Ed as the small burning raft drifted on the water of Salters Pond.

This celebration for Ed at the ‘B’ on Salters Pond tugged at my emotions in unexpected ways. The description of the events that day touched me deeply, and I felt connected once again to the old names and places of my youth. A parade of faces flipped through my mind like the index-cards in a rolodex, and in some ways, I felt renewed. I thought about Ed and the other friends from those days who have already passed on, and I wondered about my own passing and of the people that would mourn and remember me.

I recalled the words of others who talked about the passing of friends and the celebration of death. Archdeacon Hudson Stuck, a member of the first team to successfully summit Denali in 1913, had this to say about death on the great Alaskan mountain, “One cannot conceive of grander burial than that which mighty mountains bend, crack, and shatter to make, or a nobler tomb than the great upper basin of Denali.” This may well be true for some.

Yet I appreciate the sentiments of love and respect that stand behind this final ‘Beau Geste’ for Ed on the waters of Salters Pond. That remembrance, celebrated by his friends and family one last time, sent on the final voyage with the words of love and memories of days gone by ringing out in the fullness of summer, marks this as a passage into a different kind of noble tomb. To shine for one more bright moment on the river that tested him as a child and served as the palette from which he painted his journey into manhood seems, to me, fitting and natural.

And just as the words of Archdeacon Hudson Stuck celebrated the physical grandeur of Denali, the memorial for Ed celebrated those years at Salters Pond as well as the man, for the pond was a major influence on the young man’s life.

Emilie summed up the moment this way, “Salters was a brilliant day, truly. If you closed your eyes, you could smell the strawberry field and the apple orchards, hear the paper mill, and see the tobacco sheds through the trees. And if you listened with your heart, as we all were, you could hear the boys of summer laughing and cheering each other on as they swung from a rope high above the pond free and fearless!”


“So lay out a new course, North, South, East or West,
Make weigh your anchor, sail on your last quest,
Steer for the one port you're sure to find rest,
Lay alongside with all skill,
Home is the sailor home from sea, and the hunter home from the hill.”
Robert Louis Stevenson  - (1850–1894)  
A Child’s Garden of Verses and Underwoods

Dedicated to the Avery and Miller families, in memory of Ed Avery and Keith Miller

Laudizen King
March 2009
Los Angeles