WILLIS A. BOUGHTON – A Reminiscence

He was a retired research chemist at Harvard, living alone in a downtown cottage filled with books.  He came to our weekly meetings (Wednesday evening, if memory serves) and to Sunday School.  And we were always welcome to stop in at his home for a visit. 

His hobby, outside of counseling youth, was photography.  If there  are any photos of me from those days, he took them.

But his great passion was the gentle friendship and counseling of youth, particularly young men.   He owned a small, rustic “summer camp” on a lake in Maine (consisting of a single-room cottage with attached room for himself and a small dorm room for the three or four of us), and drove a carload of us up there for a few weeks each year. 

We boys must have been around 14, because Mr. B (as we called him) drove all the way himself (which was somewhat harrowing – he was not a great driver). On the way up, we stopped in Boston for a tour of Harvard and the Freedom Trail, and a dinner at Durgin-Parks. 

Did I mention the camp was rustic?  There was water only from an outside pump, and a kind of camp toilet which required daily emptying and burning in an outdoor firepit.  But there were canoes and hiking trails and firewood chopping and reading and just plain hanging about on a warm summer day.  And across the lake was a classy (by comparison) resort, Chase’s Camp, with adult guests and charming young girls working summer jobs.  Pretty young Maine girls just about our ages, and just a short hike away. (The canoes were not used for this purpose, as our approach would have been spotted by the girls’ adult chaperones.)

So it was a great summer.  After we got back to Florida, Mr. B would start off with the next crew.    

Though he rarely shared it with us, he had another side as a poet, writing and self-publishing over 30 books.  When I finally got around to reading some of them, I found them well-crafted and often very moving.  (He was obviously influenced by A. E. Housman and Robert Frost, to whom he introduced me.) You can find them occasionally on Used-Book sites.

Mr. B was a phase in my life, deeply enriching but totally unappreciated by me.  Soon after those idyllic Maine days, I was off to college and my new career, starring in the movie of my amazing life as a moody young radical intellectual, smartest guy in every room.  I never saw him again.  He died in 1977, when I was 30 and he was 92. 

I now find that his story, retold in our decadent modern world, sounds like the buildup to a criminal case of a pedophile homosexual abuser grooming innocent young men, all the while masquerading as a kindly old churchman.   But there was never a breath of scandal about him. Mr. B was truly loved by everyone, because he was what he appeared to be: a generous, kindly, gracious Christian old man giving whatever he had to the necessary business of helping to turn young barbarians into men.   

Now, when I am as old as he was when I met him, I finally understand how much I miss him.

Here is one of his poems, from Many Candles (1950).

NOCTURNE

Across the silver lake the moon dies;

The night is touched with crowded solitude.

Deep in the distant shore the loon cries

                In evening mood.

From tamarack and pine drop faint scents.

The afterglows of red and silver fade.

The wood retreats into its dark tents,

                And stars are made.

Now from the thicker dusk rise night sounds,

A steady pulse of evening quietude

Spreading beyond the sight it still bounds,

                While shadows brood.

Soon to the waiting heart comes free peace.

Places of argument seem dim an far away,

And love beguiles the sense with surcease

                From the bright day.

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