A continuing tale of life in the boonies
(Continued on Page 94)
FARMINGTON – The Corner would like to say a fond goodbye, this week, to Harold Bowden, a man who wound up on Page 94 of The Rochester Times more than any other single contributor.
Harold was a character who could be as crusty as the best of ‘em, and he had a whole stable of hobbyhorses that he would regularly exercise in his own column, Veterans’ Corner, which he founded in 1993, and contributed to right up until the week of his death on July 14.
What made Harold special though was his ability, while railing at others, to pause and laugh at himself – a rare and precious quality.
He took to writing rather late in life – a kind of Disabled American Veteran equivalent of Grandma Moses. In fact he was in his 77th year when he drove up to the Times office one day and offered to bring in a weekly account of veteran doings in Farmington.
And for nine years, except for bouts in Frisbie Hospital, he did just that, personally delivering his copy every Monday morning, copy full of earthy opinions and nuggets of wisdom, odd turns of phrase, diatribes against this or that practice, endless jabs at Washington politicians, and, oh yes, some veterans news. His neat and legible longhand would fill both sides of a lined sheet from a yellow pad.
Harold was installed as Commander of DAV Chapter 23 early on in his writing career, and used his column to publicize a Herculean task that he and his fellow veterans had embarked upon – to collect one and a half million aluminum cans, crush and bag them, and haul those suckers down to Madbury Metals or where ever gave the best price. The purpose was to accumulate about $18,000 and use the money to buy a van with which the vets could convey sick comrades to hospitals, clinics and doctors’ appointments.
The task, with help from many friends, organizations, businesses, hedgerows and ditches, was achieved in about three years, to the astonishment of the state and national DAV. The can collection continues to this day, and the vets are now on their third van, using it to serve the whole of northern Strafford County, and clocking up several hundred thousand miles in the process.
At this point, it is appropriate to pay tribute to all the vets involved in this effort, including those like Danny Burrows, who passed on before Harold, and folks like Bill Hunt and Ray Garland who are still fighting the good fight.
Anyway, back in Veterans’ Corner, Harold would blast away at that selfish breed of motorists who will not put on their headlights in a rainstorm, and loom suddenly out of the mist and spray to spook the bejeezus out of old guys.
Harold also used a lot of ink to berate someone he habitually referred to as "Our Fearless Leader." The Commander of DAV Chapter 23 had little patience for those who went to Oxford but not Vietnam.
He also waxed just as fiery whenever knuckleheads pushed over gravestones in Farmington cemetery, and offered on several occasions to stay on guard all night with a shotgun.
But Harold reserved his ultimate wrath for those drivers – and they know who they are – who are too lazy to push the snow from the tops of their vehicles after a storm. Then they hit 60 mph on Route 11 and great, white, icy chunks break off and land on the car of a veteran motoring behind.
Sometimes Harold would devote most of his column to these verminous citizens and only just remember, near the bottom of his second lined page, that an American Legion bean supper needed an inch or two of publicity.
There were times, too, when the Commander, in a particularly bristling mood, would blast snow on roofs, no headlights in storms and fearless leaders all in the one humungous and endless paragraph, and it was on these occasions that he was … (continued on page 94.)
Many other Commanders would have taken umbrage at this, but not Harold. He could chuckle at his own foibles, and that’s one reason why we, and many readers, loved him. Even in the last few of months of his life, after his last medical operation had knocked the stuffing out of him, and he couldn’t really tuck into his beloved Kentucky Fried Chicken, or gain back weight, he was still ranting sufficiently to be sent up to his Page now and again.
He liked to reminisce on the past and was proud that he and six brothers had served in World War II.
Harold was also the person who raised the alarm after a Farmington train caused a small brush fire that, two days later, swept inferno-like through Rochester into Maine, destroying a number of homes. The Commander would often repeat the words of the Rochester Fire Chief of 1947 who, when appealed to for mutual assistance, reportedly said that, "Rochester would take care of it, if it got to the Rochester line."
His last Veterans’ Corner contribution (which is now buttressed by an excellent lady from the Auxiliary) was atypically short, low key and tinged with a little melancholy, but it was neatly written on yellow lined paper.
He mentioned the Legion Bean Supper on Aug. 3 right up front, said that he would like to see Veterans’ Corner continue, and closed with these words: "So, until next week, may the Lord bless us and keep us well."
Harold Bowden died in his 86th year. He was a writer.
August 8, 2002
Astronomical note: The planet known as Page 94 was first discovered by the British satirical magazine Private Eye.
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