Henry Putzel, Jr.
From Grapevine-2, June 1992

The subject of writing families – that is families that have produced several authors -would be an engrossing topic all by itself. In England we have the Bronte sisters, the Sitwells, Nicolsons, Woolfs, Powyses, among others. In this country there are far fewer writing families. But don’t underestimate Nelson – for here we have the Tolman family of authors.

The most prolific of the Tolman clan was Newt who with his wife Janet lived at Greengate, which as you all know is close to the top of the world. Bill and Carolyn Rainer have refurbished the old place, where Newt produced North of Monadnock, Our Loons Are Always Laughing, The Search for General Miles, and The Blue-Tailed Skink, among other works. The first two I have mentioned are vintage Newt, especially North of Monadnock, which brims over with engaging yarns about people – both real and imaginary – mostly from this part of the world.

Fran Tolman’s piéce de résistance is Mosquitobush (which had previously appeared in a larger format with different textual material under the title of Up Our Way). Mosquitobush is a collection of New England vignettes, fetchingly illustrated by woodcuts that Fran rendered himself, thus reminding us that the Tolmans were (and are) a versatile lot. In addition to being writers, they were – among other things – partridge and woodcock guides, raconteurs, carpenters, and even musicians. Newt played the flute, Fran the piano. (As Fran used to say, he could play anything – as long as it was in the key of C.) And while on the subject of music, be it noted that Newt wrote Quick Tunes and Good Times and, in collaboration with Kay Gilbert, The Nelson Music Collection, comprising three score scores of melodies, many of which are familiar to local square and contra dancers. And Newt’s first wife, Beth – along with the famous square dance caller, Ralph Page of Munsonville – wrote The Country Dance Book, which Fran Tolman illustrated. This is a “complete handbook on how to do and to enjoy the old square dances.”

Next there is F. B. (“Floppy”) Tolman, who like Grandma Moses came into her own (in Floppy’s case, her literary own) at a late stage. Floppy’s More Spit Than Polish at Tolman Pond was published in 1987 by Yankee Books. More Spit continues the tradition of Tolman anecdotal writing, centering on denizens of Tolman Pond, notable her mother-in-law, the redoubtable Ma Tolman. Mabel (Bobby Curtis’s mother) also occupies a prominent role in Floppy’s book which has become a “best seller” in these parts.

Still another Tolman is about to enter the literary domain. Renn, Newt’s son, who has forsaken Nelson for Homer, Alaska (though he returns now and then to check up on us), is soon to publish a book on boat building. He knows whereof he writes because he builds boats in Alaska.

(Perhaps we should reserve a special category for inchoate literary works by Nelsonites.  Stacia Tolman, for example, is hard at work on a novel. Are there any other budding Nelson authors out there?)

A work of particular interest to Nelson was written sixty-odd years ago by the Reverend Roderick Stebbins, who lived in a charming dwelling (built by Pop Tolman and others) which has been incorporated into Dave and Louise Patek’s house not far from Tolman Pond. Dr. Stebbins was Dave’s great uncle. This book is called The Hill Mowing and describes life on the hilltop and environs where the Stebbins’s spent many happy days. The names of people and places in this appealing little work are often disguised but are generally not hard to identify.

We can’t leave Tolman Pond and vicinity (including “camps” that belonged to Rodger and Gordon Tolman or their successors) without mentioning the impressive output of certain “summer folk.”

Perhaps many of those hereabouts who know Len Tucker for his prowess on the tennis court are not aware that he is also a distinguished historian. But Louis Leonard Tucker is the Director of the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) and previously held a similar position in New York State. He has written most recently Clio’s Consort, which is a biography of Jeremy Belknap, who founded the Society in 1791. He is now working on a history of the MHS itself.  His previous works include: From Elkins to Washington: The Life of James Allen; Connecticut’s Seminary of Sedition: Yale College; Puritan Protagonist: President Thomas Clap of Yale College; Cincinnati’s Citizen Crusaders; Cincinnati During the Civil War; and Our Travels, which deals with the Knickerbocker writers.

Sam Osherson, who is on the staff of Harvard University Health Services and is a practicing psychotherapist, has written Finding Our Fathers: The Unfinished Business of Manhood; Finding Our Fathers: How a Man’s Life Is Shaped by his Relationship With His Father; and Holding On or Letting Go: Men and Career Change at Midlife; and, come spring, will be publishing Wrestling With Love: How Men Struggle With Intimacy With Wives, Children, Parents and Each Other.

Roy Edelfelt, an educational consultant and advisor, has written Careers in Education, and, in collaboration with Brooks Smith, Breakaway to Multidimensional Approaches. Roy is also co-author of Assisting the Beginning Teacher; Teacher Centers: Where, What, Why; and Development: Staff Liberation.

Brooks Smith has also co-written books on education and American history for young people, such as The Coming of the Pilgrims, Pilgrim Courage, Exploring the Great River, The Quest for Columbus, and Riding with Coronado.  He has also written extensively for graduate students on language teaching.

John Guilbert, Anita Clymer’s son-in-law, a geology professor at the University of Arizona, is co-author of The Geology of Ore Deposits, a widely used textbook.

Read Our Write Wing: Part 1

Read Our Write Wing: Part 3