June 25, 2017 (Sunday)

by Yule Heibel on June 24, 2018

That irritating moment when you realize you’ve forgotten what you think was an absolutely brilliant idea you had, which you were going to write down but didn’t because you foolishly thought you would remember… Whatever the idea was, it wasn’t about going to the Wenham Museum yesterday for a birthday celebration of Bennett (“Ben”) Merry, Jr., although that too was most interesting.

Ben Merry has been the founding force behind the museum’s extensive model train collection, and yesterday was his 90th birthday. The demographic was mostly older people, especially older men (model train aficionados), although, astonishingly, a young girl stood out, barely seven years old I would say, and a devotee of model trains and train making.

The festivities consisted mostly of speakers honoring Ben’s life and work – he taught electrical engineering at the college level, also math at middle school. His wife of over 65 years was there, equally hale as he. Another guest and close friend was Beverly’s oldest living World War II veteran, Hardy Prince (obviously of the extensive Prince and Ober clans, and Hardy, with which this area once abounded). He is 98 years old, not a patch on him. When Ben, speaking at the podium, pointed him out, he sprang up (really!) from his seat, not using his arms or hands, just his clearly still strong leg muscles and core. Just bounced up. Furthermore, he’s “all there,” sharp as anything. His son was there, too, a retired fighter pilot. Strong people.

It was a pretty good cross-section of a white America that used to be standard issue, but has worn away. This generation tended to stay put; if anyone moved even five miles from their birth town, it was a big deal. They were and are veterans of a winning side, and proud. Their kids in general didn’t lose their minds to idiotic popular culture, perhaps not least because they were forced into every single school sport on offer. Yet even sport has changed now, since their day. It, too, is infiltrated with super-stardom, nonsense pop-and-consumer culture (celebrity-endorsed logos and branding on all the gear), and adumbrated if not eclipsed by a plethora of rules and regulations. Those men and women at yesterday’s event didn’t have to play by these new rules, and they didn’t think it was incumbent on them to “game” life. You lived life by doing the right thing.

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