REVISITING Corey Ford and The Boys
Last weekend was a celebration of the 70th anniversary of Dartmouth Rugby. Alumni of all generations gathered at the Corey Ford Rugby Clubhouse to cheer on the Dartmouth RFC in a decisive victory over Northeastern University.
Yesterday was National Writing Day, according to the National Council of Teachers of English. So, in honor of Corey Ford's important part of collegiate rugby history, and to mark National Writing Day, I thought I would reprise this piece from a few years ago. I do so in memory of my high school English teacher, Frank Nash, known to all as FN.
May I never dangle another participle, nor misspell lugubrious. Enjoy.
The wooden screen door slammed as Guy strolled out to his car to fetch the book. It slammed again a moment later as he came back into the cabin. He held up his copy of The Best of Corey Ford, waving it in the glow of the propane lights. The Boys of the Grant were sitting around the big table in Sam’s Cabin at the Dartmouth Grant in northern New Hampshire, sipping potent beverages after dinner, each waiting for someone else to get up to start the dishes.
“It’s uncanny, I tell you!” Guy said, “It’s like we’re practically channeling Corey Ford’s writing in our book. But the weird thing is that I had never read any of his stuff until this month.”
“Yeah, Guy and I were down at the Orvis store signing books,” Quartermaster Bob added, “and I met this retired English teacher, Bill, who worked in the fly fishing section. When he heard we went to Dartmouth and wrote about fishing, he started going on and on about Corey Ford. Seemed to know all about him. We mentioned that we’ve all read John Gierach and Robert Traver, but Guy and I were a little embarrassed that we weren’t familiar with Corey Ford’s stories.”
“I knew he was a writer, but never knew he was an outdoor writer. All his books are out of print,” explained Guy “so I ordered a used copy on-line as soon as I got home. I started reading and, whoa! It boggles my mind how our stories in the The Confluence feel so similar to many of Corey’s stories. His characters in the Lower Forty Club sound a lot like us. Kindred spirits, at least. Yeah, definitely embarrassing, especially with the rugby connection.”
“Have any of you read Corey Ford’s stories?” Quartermaster Bob asked the group.
Everyone exchanged glances, a clear indication that they had not.
“What about you, Uncle Phil?” asked Young Conway, as he reached for a piece of cheese. “You’ve been familiar with Corey Ford as long as Guy.”
Uncle Phil sat there, forcing an enigmatic look, trying to make The Boys wonder, but after a few moments finally came clean with a grin. “Well, I have read about him. I know he was wicked famous from the 30s to the 50s, sort of the Frank Deford or Andy Borowitz of his day. And that he wrote for The New Yorker and Field & Stream, among others. But I don’t really know of his work. No, I’ve never read any of his stuff, I hate to admit.”
Klingon pushed back in his chair with a loud scrape on the wooden floor. “Actually, this is pretty pathetic,” he declared, “We’ve got four of us who played rugby at Dartmouth, and we gave money for the Corey Ford Clubhouse, but none of us, including me, has actually read his work! That’s something we should never admit in public.” He poured himself a little more bourbon.
“Well, his stuff isn’t easy to find…” Guy offered lamely.
Uncle Phil added “when I saw the blurb that Sully wrote for our book, I thought it was nice of him to mention Corey Ford as ‘inspiration’ but I thought it was more an inside reference to our rugby days. He also mentioned Moe, Larry & Curly as inspiration, so I thought maybe he was goofing with us.”
Guy reached up to scratch his head. He managed to prick his finger on the streamer fly embedded in his hat. “Ouch!” He winced and stuck the grimy finger in his mouth without a second thought. “It’s kinda like we are intertwined with Corey Ford’s life in sort of a double-helix thing. One strand was Dartmouth rugby, and now the other strand is our writing.”
“I see your point, Guy” said Stormin’ Norm, eyeing the fly in Guy's hat. “I just scanned through a couple stories while we were talking. We don’t do the bird hunting thing, but the antics sound pretty familiar. This one here- ‘A Real Old-Fashioned Clambake’ sort of reminds me of Bob’s ‘Quartermaster’s Lament.’ And ‘Potter’s Fancy’ has kind of a ‘Hag Trout’ ring to it, at least with respect to the epic trout.”
“To me, Uncle Phil’s ‘Year of the Kids’ reads just like one of Ford’s stories where the adventure goes awry at every turn,” Guy responded. “And ‘Boys, Wine and Bullshit’ is classic Corey Ford. Same wry wit. Philip, are you sure you didn’t study his stories? I know we talked about summoning our inner Gierach, but nobody ever mentioned Corey Ford.”
Uncle Phil scanned the quizzical expressions down the length of the table. “I didn’t. Honestly, it never crossed my mind. How could it?" He cracked open another Bud. "And about the rugby thing. You guys knew that Corey Ford called himself the unofficial “coach” of the Dartmouth Rugby club and sponsored their first trip to the UK back in the 1950s, right? Well, because of Ford’s connections in the media, the Dartmouth players all became minor celebrities as the first US rugby team to play in England. Now here’s the helix Guy was talking about: twenty-five years later, Guy and I went on the spring rugby tour to London our sophomore year, which was when he picked up the nickname Guy. Interest from Corey Ford’s bequest to the club paid a portion of the cost. So, we were the direct beneficiaries of his generosity, reliving that famous tour,” Uncle Phil explained.
Young Conway was now flipping through the introduction to The Best of Corey Ford. “Wow, did you know that Ford was close friends with Sid Hayward? Isn’t that Bill Mitchell’s grandfather? It says here that they even wrote stories together. Guy and I swamped the canoe at Sid Hayward Ledge. Now, thaaaats bizarre! I wonder if Corey Ford ever came to the Grant?”
At that precise moment, Quartermaster Bob muttered “that damn mouse is back again, up on the shelf.” When Klingon turned around to look, the mouse scampered and knocked a glass off of the shelf. Klingon deftly one-handed it before it hit the counter. As he set the glass on the table, the cork on the bottle of Maker’s Mark popped off mysteriously.
“Probably a change in air pressure from that front coming through,” observed Lucky Ed, soberly.
“Orrrr…” Young Conway drawled, “this isn’t the first time I have felt a ghost in the cabin.”
“We know your house is haunted, Young.” Uncle Phil shot back. “But… well, I guess it’s not too far-fetched if some of these old cabins have some spiritual residents in addition to the mice. This wouldn’t be a bad place for Corey to hang out for eternity.”
“Ha, and you know the line in Young Conway’s ‘Standing Waves’ story?” Guy snickered, “After we emptied out the canoe and started paddling again you wrote something like ‘and suddenly the Dead managed to help the living.’ Maybe Corey’s spirit was helping us out on our woeful misadventure. And with our writing.”
“I do believe in ghosts, I do believe in ghosts…” chuckled Lucky Ed.
Guy couldn’t help himself. “It always seems like that giant portrait of Corey in the rugby clubhouse is watching me. Maybe he has been keeping an eye out for someone to keep his reputation alive, and keep his legacy going.”
“Guy, it watches everybody. The friggin’ painting is 6 feet by 6 feet,” Phil pointed out.
Klingon refreshed everyone’s glass with a couple fingers of bourbon, and added a ceremonial splash into the empty glass he had caught. “Boys! A toast to Corey Ford! May his memory and spirit live on, with many more stories still to be told.”
Guy raised his glass, took a belt and remarked, “This whisky has to be better than the Old Stump Blower hooch that the Lower Forty club drank, thank goodness. And it's nice to drink in such good company.”