Memorial Day

Here’s what I wrote in my essay “Memorial Day,” published about a year ago in Tablet, about a month and a half before my dad died:

Elizabeth Hopkins, my father’s mother, is buried in a cemetery in Lyndeborough. I called the town’s tiny government offices a few years ago to ask them about the grave, when we were trying to figure out what to do with my dad’s remains when he dies. The Hopkins family plot, the kind man who answered the phone told me, does not have enough room for another body, but it does have room for ashes and one more marker. Once the electrodes and wires and titanium-enclosed battery pack are at last removed from my father’s head and chest, and his body is placed in a plain pine box (“like Ann’s,” he wrote in funeral arrangement checklist, when he could still write), then cremated, it’s my wish to bury his ashes there. It’s also my wish to have a stone there with text carved into it that makes it both a headstone for my dad and a cenotaph for my mom—so long as I can convince myself that this will not offend the living or the dead.

And here’s what we did—which ended up being not all that different from what I thought we’d do, really—this past Memorial Day weekend; this is Emily, Toby, and me, honoring my son’s grandmother, grandfather, and great-grandmother:

May their memories be a blessing.

Memories of My Dad, the English Teacher

John Hopkins at the Pike School

I’m not sure who took this photo; it’s my dad, sitting at his desk in his classroom on the second floor of the upper school building of the Pike School. The kind folks in the Office of Advancement at Pike scanned it from a yearbook. I remember my dad taking many of the photos in the Pike yearbook each year; he was far more often behind the camera than in front of it (and quite often down in the basement of our house, in his improvised darkroom in the way back, near our washer and drier). His best friend was also an amateur photographer; perhaps he took it?

I love this photo. The thick glasses mean that it was taken after he had cateract surgery; before that, his eyesight was perfect. He was a Navy pilot, after all. But the glasses plus the mussed hair remind me of the New England Protestant Woody Allen character he had.

I don’t remember the mug with fish on it.

My guess is that he’s either reading The New Yorker or The New York Times Book Review, propped up on top of a few textbooks—can you make out the worn spines?

I remember those white cinderblock walls; I remember the sound of those locker doors; I don’t remember where the door in the back of the photo went—I think it just led to the classroom next door, which had picture windows that I think faced west, which might explain the late-afternoon light coming in through that tall rectangular strip.

Former students and former fellow teachers have written some kind and thoughtful things in his memory at the Pike School Facebook page. E.g.: “[A] wonderful colleague and human being!” Yes.

“Rest In Peace Hop.” Yes.

John Hopkins, 1932 – 2011

After a long, difficult struggle, my dad passed away this past Sunday night. What follows is the obituary we put together this past Monday, which I sent to the local newspapers up in Andover, Massachusetts. I hope that this small paragraph does the man some justice.

John G. Hopkins, 79

January 9, 1932 – December 18, 2011

John Goodwin Hopkins of North Andover, MA, passed away on December 18, 2011, after a long battle with heart disease and Parkinson’s disease. Loving husband of Ann Hopkins, who passed away in 1987. Devoted father of Thomas and Cynthia; father-in-law of Emily Barton Hopkins and Jeff Sugg; grandfather of Tobias. John also leaves behind his three sisters, three brothers-in-law, eleven nieces and nephews, many dear friends, and countless grateful former students. Middlesex School ’50; Harvard College, AB, ’54; University of Virginia, MBA, ’60; Harvard Graduate School of Education, EdM, ’64. His was a life of service to country and community: as a pilot in the U.S. Navy, and as teacher, coach, and counselor at the Peddie School, Adirondack Camp, Cushing Academy, and the Pike School. Pike’s John Hopkins Award is named after him: the award is given each year to a seventh grader for his or her commitment to athletics and for being a team player. In retirement, John also served as a volunteer, first in the Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Tonga, then at Crotched Mountain School in Greenfield, NH, and Horse Power at Pony Farm in Temple, NH. The family will inter his ashes near his beloved family farm in Lyndeborough, New Hampshire, in a private ceremony in the spring. Donations in John’s memory may be made to Andy’s Summer Playhouse, P.O. Box 601, Wilton, NH, 03086.

What’s the best way to remember John Hopkins? Andy’s Summer Playhouse is a marvelous organization that produces theater by and for kids; it’s where my sister first performed when she was a girl. But given how proud my dad was of his daughter’s accomplishments, and how much he kvelled over her successes as a musician and theater artist for the past 30 years, I think he would be absolutely delighted for folks to support Cindy’s current show, This Clement World, in his memory.

She’s raising money for the show on Kickstarter, which, as you may know, does all-or-nothing funding for creative projects. The project’s deadline for funding is Saturday, December 31. I’d be grateful if you’d consider supporting it.