WASHINGTON D.C. —It was a little over 55 years ago in August that Edgie Russell and I set out in a wooden rowboat to bring some clams home to our families. Bear with me, because this is going to be like Mark Twain’s story of his father’s ram.
Edgie, you say. That’s a funny nickname. No, it’s a real name. My childhood friend was Thomas Edgie Russell, III. His great-grandfather’s life had been saved by a sea captain named Edgie, so the name came into the family in the next generation. His parents were friends with mine, and they lived up the street. So when we both wound up going to the Gilman School, we walked together.
His house was a block closer to the school, so I would leave a little early to arrive at his house during breakfast. His mother made fresh cinnamon toast out of raisin bread. That was a rare and terrific combination, and I took maximum advantage.
Some strange things happened in that kitchen. Edgie’s father, Dr. T. Edgie Russell, Jr., was an obstetrician and gynecologist who had his office in a wing off the house. Well, there came a day when Edgie had been out mowing the lawn. He was hot, sweaty and thirsty. He came into the kitchen, opened the fridge and there was a tall glass of cold water right in front of him.
He grabbed it, and started chugging it down. He was halfway through the glass when the texture of the water told him this was not water. It was a glycerine. He never did find out why his father had put a glass of glycerine in the refrigerator. He did acquire a firm understanding of why it was a bad idea to drink that. I really understood his distress, two decades later, when I made the mistake of drinking a glass of water in a bar in Tegucigalpa, the capitol of Honduras. The next four days I could not be more than three steps away from the bathroom in the hotel room. But I digress.
Dr. Russell delivered three of my four children. My first child, Dorigen, was born in San Francisco. The doctor was a professor at the University of California Hospital just a few blocks from Haight-Ashbury. He was, of course, a progressive. He did’t ask whether I wanted to be present for the delivery. He said, “Gown up and come in here.”
It was an unforgettable experience to be there when a brand-new human being like no one else who had ever existed, came into the world.
When my second child, Karen, came along back in Baltimore, Dr. Russell insisted that there was a rule at the hospital that would not allow the fathers to be in the delivery room. Later, I smoked out the truth that the hospital had no such rule. Dr. Russell just didn’t want to have three patients at once ”“ the mother, the child and the father who fainted on the floor. Once I reached an understanding with Dr. Russell, I was there for the births of my other children, Jamie and Jonathan.
Edgie Russell’s first wife was from Louisville. It turned out that I had met her before he did. In the winter of 1963 several of us decided to go to Fancy Dress at Washington and Lee and meet classmates from high school. Pete Woodward was going to fly us down in a light plane. The weather closed in, we couldn’t fly; so we drove from New Haven to Stanton, Va. It took forever.
Fancy Dress was over, and our dates were gone in disgust, by the time we got there. So we drove to the Greenbrier to see what’s up. There we met a group of girls from Hollins who had come over for skiing. I took a shine to a young lady named Anne who had a brand-new cast on her leg. I carried her around, and wrote a nice note in one of her books. A couple years later, Edgie met and married her. The marriage, alas, did not last.
Edgie’s clams, you cry. What about Edgie’s clams? Well, we rowed from Ocean City over to Assateague Island with rakes, and started digging up clams. We threw away all the little ones, and kept only the monsters. Our mothers thanked us profusely and then, as they told us many years later, they chopped and boiled those clams for the better part of day to move them from the texture of shoe leather down to edible bites.
Lesson learned: It’s a good idea to find out what you are doing BEFORE you set out to do it.