Keep It Going – Pete
Most of the emails I get from Coach and later teacher, Peter Bragdon end: “Keep it Going – Pete.” Some end: “Stay Young” and occasionally one will end with both.
Fast forward nearly six decades after the events described in The Goal and The Exam. I lured a St. Paul’s form mate, Jos Wiley, from his farm in New Jersey to join me on a road trip to Exeter, NH.
Diversity was not a “thing” in the 1960s but, if it had been, Jos and I would have checked the box. His Christmas wish list included an axe and a crosscut saw. He was Bragdon’s other fave in our form and they often spent afternoons cutting trails through the woods near the cove, scene of The Goal.
We wanted to visit Pete and his wife, Dottie. They have been retired for some time now. The baby who accompanied them when they arrived from Melbourne lives near Philadelphia, has children of his own and is probably asking insightful questions about retirement.
Coach Bragdon lives in his father’s house in Exeter, New Hampshire and I am not sure very much has changed since he moved in. Or even since his father lived there.
We had spent the day touring the Exeter campus, pretty much the gold standard of boarding school excess. We also toured the campus of Governor’s Academy, the school he headed, which is a considerable distance down the financial food chain from the mighty Exeter.
His time at Kent school, between St. Paul’s and Governor’s, must have been a terrific relationship builder because many of the buildings given during his tenure as headmaster at Governor’s were funded by Kent graduates.
It is a bit of a head scratcher to imagine quite what Kent school thought about their rinks and libraries migrating from Connecticut to Northeastern Massachusetts, and a fine one act play could be written about acrimonious phone calls among trustees at the two schools.
No matter. I would only be a spectator in those discussions.
What was clear was that I was far from the only teenager to be impacted by Peter Bragdon. In fact, I was one of the least generous, if the buildings named for him are any guide. The plaques shamelessly touted the Kent origins of the naming level gifts.
Enough of that inchoate contretemps since it is playing out entirely in my head.
After dinner on the last night of the visit, I mentioned the two stories I had written some months before (now The Goal and The Exam) and asked if Peter and Dottie would like to hear them. Peter and I sat in chairs facing each other across a wall-sized fireplace and Dottie made the triangle between us. I opened my laptop and began to read.
There were two problems.
The unedited drafts had been dictated but not proofread or cleaned up. Dictation technology in 2019 is good but still choppy so many sentences required sounding out to determine what the proper words should have been.
I dictate often so, when you are reading my stories or emails, “if in doubt, sound it out.”
Problem two was more an observation then a problem.
Buttoned up WASP standards have changed considerably in the last five or 10 decades. Before then, the reading would have been devoid emotion and delivered through clenched teeth in either “Long Island lockjaw” or Boston’s “cranky Yankee” equivalent. There would have been no pauses for sniffling. WASPs were not (and still aren’t) known for emotion. Fortunately, such lapses are now forgiven. I say fortunately because, in my reading, there were many of them.
Nonetheless, the goal was again scored. The race was again rowed. The reader of an emotional tale is often more choked up then the listeners, but it was close at times.
When I closed the cover of my laptop, Peter added to the tale.
Apparently, I was right. Coaching that team to the championship was a big step for a newly arrived young teacher. The faculty took notice — at least of his coaching skills — a big deal in boarding schools.
After the 1962 game, Peter and Dottie went out for a celebratory dinner in Concord, but they did not return to St. Paul’s afterward. Instead, they continued past the school gate and drove the hour or so to Exeter to report the day’s events to his father, a lifelong boarding school veteran.
He described the scene in the very same room with his father sitting in the chair where Peter sat and the young coach sitting in mine.
A few days later, I received a handwritten letter that ended: “Thank you for charging through the dusk to provide a championship for the Deserving Doormats.”
We had come full circle, which is not a bad run for a pretty meaningless athletic achievement.
I’ll change his signature hyphen to a comma and end this series: Keep it going, Pete. Stay Young.