But probably not for the reasons that a number of his readers might assume . . .
|One of the buildings at Saint Paul's School|
Reggie grew up in a family where attending boarding school was the expected educational path to college. Both of his parents had attended such schools, as had their parents before them, and it was understood that he and his siblings would follow in their footsteps. It was what people of our class and background did.
|A view of Saint Mark's School|
Reggie is the youngest of four children. As a boy he watched with both interest and ambivalence as his older sisters and brother left home before him to attend boarding school. He found it interesting because they were embarking on a journey that he was expected to someday follow, and he was ambivalent because he (mostly) missed their company when they were gone. Reggie also found them to be near strangers when they returned home during school breaks, as they were different from how he remembered them. They had become more worldly.
Over time Reggie looked forward to leaving home to attend boarding school, too. It seemed like an adventure to him and the opening to a whole new world on the way to adulthood.
|An aerial view of Saint George's School|
By the time Reggie reached ninth grade he was the only one of the children in his family left living at home during the school year. While he had at times as a boy wished that he had been an only child—for the reasons that many children do—he found that when it actually came time for him to be the only one at home with his parents it wasn't the idyllic, cozy experience he had daydreamed about.
For by then ours was a less-than-happy household. My parents' marriage had sputtered into a loveless stalemate, and when they were around at the same time, which wasn't all that often, they were barely on speaking terms with each other. They were exhausted in their relationship and self-absorbed in their own lives, and they weren't all that interested anymore in the demands of parenting. It's not that they were overtly neglectful of me, it's just that they didn't have much time or attention left over for me. I was pretty much left on my own to fend for myself.
|The gothic chapel at Groton School|
It was a solitary and lonely existence for young Reggie, with little structure or direction. And it was a particularly frustrating one for him, too, because he is, by nature, a social animal, and he loves being around other people and in the thick of things. Reggie is most definitely not a loner. He likes being at the party.
When the subject of my applying to boarding schools came up I was stunned to hear my father, FD, say that he didn't think it was necessary for me, and wouldn't I prefer to stay at home? The prospect of spending the next three years alone at home with my remote and distracted parents and attending the suburban country day school I was going to at the time was appalling to me! So I mounted a concerted campaign to turn the tide. I was determined to get the Hell out of Dodge and get on with my life, and I saw going away to boarding school as my ticket for doing so.
|A view of a dormitory (or "house") at Middlesex School|
Through incessant cajoling, unbecoming near-tantrums, and never-ending churlish, surly behavior on my part I was able to convince my parents that it would be far better to get me out of the house and that everyone would be happier with me away at boarding school. While I didn't get into Exeter, which was my first choice and where my brother, Frecky, had gone before me, and I was waitlisted at Hotchkiss, where FD had gone, I was admitted by a number of what my father rather snidely referred to at the time as "the lesser boarding schools," including one of the Saint Grottlesex schools.
|I didn't get in to Exeter, much to my regret at the time|
For those of my readers who may not be familiar with the term, Saint Grottlesex refers to a group of five college preparatory boarding schools established in New England in the latter half of the nineteenth century, all affiliated with the Episcopal Church. The schools are Saint Paul's, Saint Mark's, Saint George's, Groton, and Middlesex—collectively known as Saint Grottlesex. Which one of them I attended doesn't really matter, but what does matter, at least for me, is that when I arrived there I found myself, much to my relief, and then joy, in an environment where I now had boundaries that made sense to me, where there was a definite routine I had to follow—whether I cared to or not—where I was challenged intellectually, academically, athletically, and socially, and where hard work and determination to succeed were actually recognized and rewarded by those in a position of authority. It also provided me with a religious education and framework grounded in the protestant Episcopal church that has been a sustaining force in my life ever since. All pretty good stuff, indeed.
|I didn't get in to Hotchkiss, either|
Another aspect of boarding school that I benefitted from is that it was (at the time, at least) a sink or swim environment where there was no mollycoddling of the students, who were expected to get with the program, and where slacking off was not tolerated. Saint Grottlesex wasn't exactly a cold-shower-and-fifty-pushups-before-breakfast kind of school, but it was a rigorous enough place where one was expected to learn and abide by the school's social, academic, and athletic codes and hierarchies. I quickly realized upon my arrival that I had entered a whole new league and that I needed to rapidly acclimate myself to the rhythms of the place or I would find myself sitting on the sidelines, which is where I most decidedly did not want to be. Fortunately, through a combination of hard work, perseverance, and the helpful mentoring of one or two of the school's admirable schoolmasters (that's what they called the teachers there), I was able to learn and master the skills I needed to successfully navigate Saint Grottlesex's highways and byways. I emerged from its halls a better disciplined, better adjusted, and far better socialized person than I would have been had I not gone there.
Some of my readers may have assumed at the outset of this post that I was going to write that I most appreciated going to boarding school because it provided me with entrée to an elite and socially advancing world and paved the way for my Ivy League education and a career on Wall Street. While I will admit that these may, in some cases, be pleasant side benefits of such an education and experience, it is most decidedly not why I am most grateful for having gone to boarding school. No, it is because attending Saint Grottlesex was a lifeline to me—as it was to many of my schoolmates who also came from less-than-happy homes. It freed me from a difficult and horizon-limiting situation at home and gave me the framework, support, and tools for managing my life's journey that I was not getting from my parents or at the school I was attending when I lived with them, and that I desperately hungered for at a vulnerable and formative time in my life.
And for that I am most fortunate and grateful.
All vintage postcards, with the exception of the ones of Saint Mark's School and Hotchkiss School, courtesy of CardCow.com; Saint Mark's and Hotchkiss postcards courtesy of USGenWeb Archives