Saturday, December 10, 2016

Fran Hamerstrom

Experimental cut and paste here, from a yet- unfinished autobiographical essay called "A Braid of Memory"  If it works, there will be more, This one refers directly to the one below, and explains Dr Frances  Flint Hamerstrom's connection to my old grammar school...

The Letterman video runs long.Turn it on and jump to her segment. I wish I had the first...

in 1907, Frances Flint is born on Louisburg Square in Beacon Hill in Boston, to a family both wealthy and intellectual. She would claim in her autobiography that she took up smoking cigarettes four years later while crossing the Atlantic, saying to the adults  “I ADORE my evening cigarette!” (She got the phrase from a visiting actress).

The Flints soon move, after some academic work in Germany, to an estate on the north side of Brush Hill Road in Milton Massachusetts, about a wooded mile square, west of the old north- south post road, centered on a huge but not inelegant half- timbered pseudo- Elizabethan mansion. The front door, reached from the northeast by a meandering drive through rhododendrons of Himalayan proportions, at least by the fifties, culminated in circular drive and a door flanked by huge windows protected by stone porches. The room on the right was the Flint ballroom, and overhead hung the most magnificent chandelier I have ever seen. Young Fran, smoking like a fiend as she always would, orders a .22 rifle by bribing the servants, shoots and traps small birds and mammals, and keeps her scientific collection of study skins in a hollow tree. I don’t think she is ten yet. Given she was a born hunter- gatherer, she doubtless soon found the thirty - foot deep, vertical- walled quarry in the woods north of the house, home to many things with niche habitats. In her childhood I bet it even had the legendary Blue Hills timber rattlers, though in the sixties and seventies we would search in vain.

Frances Flint, in her late teens, meets another Boston Brahman scion, Frederick Hamerstrom, who loves hunting and nature and science. They fall madly in love, and will remain so until he dies in 1990, stating when she got his attention by stripping to retrieve a duck he shot— on their first date. Here below both, young grad students, with Aldo Leopold— I think ”Hammy” is mocking him.


Fran, on the other hand, never got called “Muffy” or some variant of that. People dumb enough to try that never made it to her circle; she insisted on “Frahn”, in a Mid- Atlantic accent like William F Buckley’s or George Plimpton’s. Or Betsy’s. When I finally caught up to her in the Golden Spur Bar in Magdalena, it was a hoot to see her diminutive figure (although she had worked as a model, standards were different then; she stood five foot nothing in cowboy boots), standing at the bar with one booted foot on the rail and a cigarette in her hand, glass of Spanish brandy in the other hand, talking to huge Wade Dixon in his giant black hat, and listen to that hard – core cowboy addressing her as “Miss Frahn”.

Cowboy on skates; Wade Dixon back in the day
More, more, all necessary background if you are going to see this… time, twisting and braiding to make an unlikely figure, almost a Moebius strip or a Klein bottle, too complicated for a straight narrative highway. Back, deep into the past again: Aldo Leopold marries a New Mexico Spanish aristocrat, Estella Bergere (Bergeres are Lunas and that is all you have to know here in NM), to the utter horror of both their families, the one solid prosperous Midwesterners, the other the OLD horseback landed gentry of New Mexico. (My friend John Davila, of similar background, says of his people that they came up the river after the Pueblo Revolt and “… took the place BACK.” Gotta love that BACK. Less “country” individuals might be more politic, but I doubt any child of that heritage lacks self- esteem, manners, or riding ability).

Luckily, it turned into another dynastic happy family, producing three brilliant scholars. One, Starker, who ran the Wildlife Biology department at Berkeley, may have his place in the braid ( if I use enough thread…) as a mentor of my friend Kent Carnie, wildlife biologist, Colonel in Army intelligence, long- time resident in “Persia” as he always called it, falconer and anachronistic player of the Great Game...

They return to Wisconsin, where Leopold founds modern wildlife biology. The newly minted Hamerstroms go there too, where all of that generation will live for the rest of their lives. The Hamerstroms are part of his legendary first class, and Fran is the only woman. They make the Prairie chicken, the iconic game bird of the Great Plains, their life’s work. She also discovers falconry, will become the first female to train her own eagle [See below for other contenders; Nirgidma, who probably didn't train her own; Jule Mannix, mostly her husband's assistant] .They will spend the rest of their lives in a Victorian farm house without any "mod cons"- no toilet, running water, or central heating, but a first class ornithlogical research library. Fred said "We have all of the luxuries of life and none of the necessities".

1992: I go to Idaho to read Querencia at a benefit for the Sun Valley Library at the behest of Russ Chatham, who published it. He hires a woman named Libby Frishman to cater the feast and drive me there from Bozeman. To a house owned by Sana Morrow, who is good at separating tight- fisted rich people from their money for a good cause. Meanwhile, Fran Hamerstrom has just showed up in Magdalena. Sharon Harris, a friend who was watching my house and animals has left a message to call. Sharon, who I checked with just yesterday:

“ FRAHN Hamerstrom is living in your house for a week on her way to Mexico. She retied your Peregrine’s leash, turned the thermostat up to 80, and edited the manuscript on your desk. She says you are NOT poor because you have a good shotgun, and good boots. Yesterday an 18-wheeler came through town too fast and broke a stray dog’s back. She examined it and quieted it down and took a 38 revolver out of her pocket and shot it."

"My boys think she’s a goddess. She’s at the Spur now drinking Spanish brandy with the cowboys.”

She was 84. 

Fran's and my friendship began epistolarily about 6 years earlier, in '84, when she gave my first book, A Rage for Falcons, a scathing review in the stuffy but important ornithological Journal the Auk. Looking back it was not all-- AT all-- bad; in fact she gave it the backhanded compliment of having style-- "his tough sportswriters prose". But she accused me of commercial exploitation, and the coming destruction of all birds of prey because of people like me.

Fran's and my friendship began epistolarily about 6 years earlier, in '84, when she gave my first book, A Rage for Falcons, a scathing review in the stuffy but important ornithological Journal the Auk. Looking back it was not all-- AT all-- bad; in fact she gave it the backhanded compliment of having style-- "his tough sportswriters prose". But she accused me of commercial exploitation, and the coming destruction of all birds of prey because of people like me.

 I honestly think I would have let it go but for the fact that old Albany academic and hawk breeder Heinz Meng did something very different in HIS review. Heinz gave his buddy, retired and now departed Field & Stream editor Jack Samson's, execrable book on falconry a rave, right below my equivocal one. Samson had never been a falconer, said things like "Harrises hawks are useless mouse hawks", advised kids to break numerous laws-- and when criticized, sent xerox copies of his bare butt with a set of lips drawn in lipstick. I got one. Obviously a class act, not to mention one who would brag about his Nieman fellowship in a hunting book.

So I wrote the only letter to an editor that I ever did complaining about a review. But Betsy didn't mess around with flunkies; she sent a note to Fran.

If it still exists, it is in Fran’s papers. I only know B claimed to have called her a "bitch". Too polite for her if she were genuinely angry; like many "U" women she had an angry or amused vocabulary worse than a construction worker’s. Snobbish old bitch my ass; she probably called her a "twat", or worse.

But I do still have Fran's first plaintive reply, and Betsy's to her, and many more during Betsy's and Hammy's last illnesses, and B was always just a little smug, quoting Wilde; "In friendship it is always best to begin with a little aversion..."

Big point: Fran sent me the galleys of her autobiography, and it became immediately obvious even before I saw Elva's drawing that the "ROMAN nuns" Fran spoke of, who bought their estate, were the French- based, multi -ethnic educators of the RCE, who turned the Flint-- actually Slater, which Google--  the ones who brought the Industrial Revolution to New England-- mansion into classrooms with statues of Joan of Arc in every room: My Old School.

Fran on Letterman, '89, with Letterman being typically rude to Fran. Quote from her, when I complained and threatened to punch his lights out in her honor: "Stephen, Stephen: when you get as OLD as I am, you will find that for a WRITER,  ALL publicity is GOOD publicity!"

1 comment:

Karen Carroll said...

I surely wish I had met Frances. I heard lots of stories about her from the Robinsons who knew her well. Speaking of the modeling. From what I've heard (and seen in old magazines and catalogs), models back in Frans day were the "5 foot two, eyes of blue'. But from what I've gathered over the years, Coco Chanel changed that. Coco was hiring tall leggy/lanky women to model her designs (like her tall lanky build). And coming back from the Rivera all golden bronzed and tanned on one of her excursions, started the tanning trend that now has found to be quite un-healthy.

I looked into modeling. I was plenty tall enough, but found I was too 'broad shouldered) (not fat at only 12% body fat when I applied). They want all women to be one size (about a size 8 in my day). So all women can fit in the same attire. And I was too broad shouldered (size 14) for their clothes. And size 8 in pants. So is is really economics, not anything else that drives this industry. I've always said that women athletes should have a side business as fashion models. They are often a variety of sizes and builds (like the Serena Williams and her catsuits she wears while playing tennis, or Jessie Graf of American Ninja with her superhero outfits). And physical fitness, NOT fitting into those size 4 jeans, should be the goal.