The Great Northern Express is a tale not of two cities but, give or take a few, of one hundred. Specifically, it is the story of the
monumental book tour I made the summer I turned sixty-five.
That journey was inspired by a much shorter trip: a walk up the
street to our village's tiny post office, where I received an unexpected
This is also the story of how my wife, Phillis, and I came to settle in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It, too, began with a journey: this one when we were just twenty-one, to interview for teaching jobs in the remote mill town of Orleans, in the northern Green Mountains just south of the Canadian border, where we planned to teach for a year or two, save some money, and then move on to graduate school.
I have divided The Great Northern Express into three parts: Faith, Hope, and Love. Certainly, faith, hope, and love are what sustained me during a sojourn I feared might be my last. The sixty-five chapters here suggest how, upon reaching an age when many people think about retiring, or already have, I set out to rededicate myself to what has been my profession for more than four decades. Since I am, by both trade and personal inclination, a storyteller, each chapter tells a story.
I have changed the names of a few of the people I have written about. In two or three cases I combined characters to further conceal actual identities. Like Henry David Thoreau, who in fact spent slightly more than two years at Walden Pond, which he compressed into one calendar year in Walden, I have also occasionally used experiences from earlier or later times in my life.
The Great Northern Express is the story of how, as I traveled from coast to coast and border to border in the summer of my sixty-fifth year, two journeys seemed to meld into the narrative of one writer's search, in his life and work, for the true meaning of home.
The Trip Not Taken
My first home was a ghost town. Hidden away in a remote hollow
of the Catskill Mountains, the company- owned hamlet of
Chichester went bankrupt in 1939, three years before I was
born. A few families, ours included, hung on for several more
years. But without its once-prosperous furniture factory, which
reopened a couple of times in my early boyhood only to shut
down a few months later, Chichester was just another dying upstate
mill town. By the time I turned five, the place was on its
last legs, and looked it.
While many of my happiest memories date from those years in the Catskills - I caught my first trout in the stream behind our house when I was four, shagged foul balls for older kids at the overgrown diamond on the village green - from the fall when I entered first grade until my first year of high school, my family moved, by my count, ten times. My dad, a schoolteacher, had itchy feet, like Pa Ingalls in Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. After leaving Chichester, we Moshers would strike out for new territory every year or so. And although I never wanted to leave any of the towns where we temporarily alighted, I don't recall thinking there was anything unusual about pulling up stakes at the end of every school year and relocating. In those days I was a ballplaying, daydreaming, reading little guy with a slew of imaginary companions, mostly from the books I devoured - Huck Finn, Treasure Island's Jim Hawkins, David Copperfield.
So long as our family stayed together and I could find a nearby trout brook, a ball field, and a steady supply of books to read, I didn't care how often we moved.
Still, I have always regarded Chichester as my hometown. If asked for a favorite early memory, I'd recall sitting between my dad and Reg Bennett in the front seat of Dad's old, battleshipgray DeSoto on the mountaintop behind our house, trying to dial in the Yankees - Red Sox game on the car radio. As the house lights of the town below began to wink on in the twilight, and Mel Allen or Curt Gowdy waxed poetic about the Bronx Bombers or the boys from Beantown, Reg and Dad would talk baseball. Reg - my father's best friend, fishing partner, and teaching colleague - was a second father and honorary uncle to me. In temperament, Dad and Reg were as different from each other as lifelong friends can be. My father was a big, outgoing, nonjudgmental man, comfortable with himself and others.
Excerpted from The Great Northern Express by Howard F Mosher. Copyright © 2012 by Howard F Mosher. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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