Frequently at bedtime, I read old issues of the Pinkerton Critic. This publication has been the school’s official literary journal for almost 110 years. My favorite issues are from the period of 1909 to 1911. Those were the years when Robert Frost was the Critic’s faculty advisor. Mr. Frost would frequently give his students the assignment of writing anecdotes from their own family’s history believing it was always best to write about what you know. His constant command to his students was to take events that were “common in experience” and tell about them in a way that was “uncommon in writing.”
Mr. Frost believed the purpose of literature was to make the reader say, “Oh yes, I know what you mean.” For example he wanted the reader to see through the words on the page the pigeons on the ground, the rhythmic bobbing of their heads as they walked on by, the iridescence of the feathers on their neck, and the red beads in their eyes. The author should “tell them something they know but hadn’t thought of saying.” And like his hero Henry David Thoreau, Mr. Frost wanted his students to “simplify, simplify.”
Here are three stories from the March 1911 issue of the Critic. They are certainly a credit to both their student writers and to Mr. Frost as a teacher. The first was written about 102 years ago by Adeline Nesmith of Londonderry:
“A teacher in a country school was about to dismiss the pupils on the first day of school. She said to them -- they were little children -- ‘Now children, you may go, but go out quietly, just like little mice.’
“One little boy who had never been to school before, pondered over what she had said a few seconds before and then cried out exultantly, ‘I kan do it! I kan do it.’ The teacher looked up and saw the little fellow going out of the room on his hands and knees.”
The second story is by Hazel Curtis of Derry:
“A man, who sometimes got so interested in telling a story, that he exaggerated it, begged a friend to step on his foot if he got to telling too big a yarn at a dinner party they were going to.
“During the dinner, the talk ran on snakes and the man said, ‘I once saw a snake big around as a barrel and ...’ Here he felt his friend’s foot pressing his -- ‘and half an inch long,’ he finished.”
The third anecdote is by Clarence Alexander of Derry:
“A little child was mourning over the death of his cat.
“‘I suppose your kitty is in cat heaven now,’ said a friend, ‘isn’t he?’
“‘No,’ sadly replied the child, ‘he’s in the ground.’”
Rick Holmes is the official town historian of Derry. His office hours at the Municipal Center are Mondays from 8 a.m. to noon and Wednesdays from 4 to 7 p.m. Several of his books on local history are available at Mack’s Apples and Derry’s libraries.