Witmer and Lillie Stone stayed with their good friends Walker and Laura Hand on many trips to Cape May over the years. Hand sent Stone a letter in anticipation of one such visit in September, 1925, telling him, “Come along, ‘the latch string is out.’” Hand also included a humorous poem in the letter. I quickly realized it wasn’t a classic for the ages, but I put it in Witmer Stone: The Fascination of Nature because it was a nice example of Hand’s humor. I had a distant recollection of Ogden Nash poetry from my junior high days, and there was something “Nash-ian” about Hand’s effort. Here is the passage from the book (“The Dr.” is Stone; “the Point” is Cape May Point):
“The north winds do blow and we shall have snow and what will the Dr. do then? Poor thing/ He’ll to go the Point, search out every joint, and see many birds on the wing, wing, wing.” Not exactly up there with Shelley or Coleridge, or even Ogden Nash, but give him points for trying.
Imagine my surprise the other night when I discovered it isn’t just “up there” with Ogden Nash – it is Ogden Nash! I came across “Ma, What’s a Banker?” in a Nash collection, and it begins, “The North wind doth blow, And we shall have snow, And what will the banker do then, poor thing?/ Will he go to the barn To keep himself warm, And hide his head under his wing?” Well, that explains why it reminded me of Ogden Nash.
Hand’s wife Laura had a sense of humor, too – in fact, she got her last laugh on everybody after she died. I found her grave in a Cape May Court House cemetery, and was puzzled by the incomplete birth date – just “18 ” with no decade or year indicated. I thought maybe the gravestone mason wasn’t sure of the birth year when cutting the inscription, figured he’d wait to finish it when he found out, then forgot about it.
Laura’s granddaughter, Laura Hedrick, cleared up the mystery for me: People used to ask Laura Hand how old she was, and she always refused to tell them. She imagined that when she died people with inquiring minds would run to the cemetery to read her gravestone and finally find out her age, so she arranged to have the year left off. Presumably, there were some disappointed busybodies visiting Laura Hand’s grave in the immediate aftermath of her demise.