The death of Noel Perrin is duly and sadly noted
With the arrival of our first grandchild this week, my thoughts quite naturally turn to legacies. I wonder what impression I will leave with this delightful new descendant once I take my final leaving.Surveying the gifts I have been left by dearly departed family and friends, I easily recognize the benefits of our nonmaterial bequests.I have been the beneficiary of so many inherited treasures from folks who have passed through my life at one time or another. These mentors who have meant so much to me are honored each time I integrate their teachings into my daily life. That would be the goal of any gift I leave for this child.While this welcomed birth heralded my hopes for a legacy of some lasting value, a recent death brought home a reminder, once again, of the gratitude I have to others for their gifts along my way. I never met Noel Perrin, not face to face anyway. But through his essays and books I was invited into his life and found a friend there. Perrin was well known as a gifted professor at Dartmouth and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker magazine.
His profound influence on me came in the publication of a little book entitled: “First Person Rural,” a collection of autobiographical essays that documented the triumphs and tragedies of life on his small Vermont farm.Perrin’s knack for detail and his delightful and very dry wit made these little accounts of life as a not-so-gentlemanly farmer, literary treasures. And treasure them I have, still entertaining ridiculous dreams of doing what Noel had done if not in Vermont then somewhere west of Buenie. But more influential than the accounts of agricultural challenges was Noel’s writing style, a combination of hard New England wisdom matched with a sometimes very subtle wink. As a budding essayist myself, I found his writing to be a goal worthy of a decidedly amateur’s study. And study him I did, reading through everything I could get my hands on including the aforementioned “First Person Rural” along with two subsequent books of similar essays entitled, cleverly I think: “Second Person Rural” and “Third Person Rural.”He wrote a delightful little book on his own favorite volumes that I would recommend to avid readers: “A Reader’s Delight.” Numerous essays and articles filled the gap between books. A quick “Google” will enumerate dozens for your reading delight.
Here is one brief example of his exemplary style and one that, I suspect, many in these Colorado mountains will appreciate:”One New Year’s Eve I was at a party in a farmhouse on a hill above a small Vermont village. By midnight the snow had stopped and the moon had come out. It was 1 degree below zero. Almost everyone at the party threw on a coat, shoved on boots, and came outside to look at the new snow. “All around was a silence so total that the world seemed not merely cleansed but newly created. Nowhere was there the sound of a car in that hushed world, or so much as a dog barking. The clear moonlight revealed no mess, either. Men live in Vermont; no doubt there were plastic bags and even abandoned refrigerators within easy walking distance. They were nullified by the snow.”To be outdoors on such a night is to experience that awe which modern man is said to have lost the capacity for, but which he has really just ceased to look for in the right places.”Lake Dillon Assistant Fire Chief Jeff Berino hails from New England, and one night at dinner some 20 years ago, I mentioned to Jeff that one of my favorite authors happened to live somewhere in Vermont.
“What’s his name?” Jeff asked. When I told him, he casually announced that Noel was his parents’ next-door neighbor. I immediately launched into an oratorical tribute that quickly put a dull glaze over my friend’s eyes. Jeff knew Noel the farmer. I knew only the icon. In any case, not long afterward I received a package in the mail. It was from Vermont, a book with the inscription: “For Rich Mayfield – he’s my connection in Colorado, I’m his in Vermont.” – Noel Perrin, 2 June 1985. Noel died on Sunday, Nov. 21, but he left a legacy to thousands of readers, certainly including me. Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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