03 Feb A Long Journey to Woodstock School By Lawrence MacDonald
Lawrence MacDonald visited Woodstock in August 2015. His mother, Dorothy Lockwood and his aunt, Anne Lockwood Romasco studied at Woodstock. When Lawrence arrived at the Alumni Office, he seemed perplexed, almost lost for words and rather emotional. Little did we know why. Talking to him made us realise the poignancy of his visit. We encouraged him to write about it never quite expecting him to do so. But he did. We’d like to thank Lawrence for sharing this very personal and heart-rending story with us. Anyone who knows Woodstock or has experienced war or loss, and has only memories to build on will relate to this beautiful narration.
I probably first heard of Woodstock School as a young boy living in suburban California in the early 1960s. My mother, Dorothy Lockwood, would have been dead by then and perhaps my grandmother or father told me how she and her younger sister, Anne, had lived for a year at a remarkable boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas. The school, perched in the cool, steep mountains above the scorched Indian plains, was an exotic image from a romantic past that seemed impossibly far away.
I was 14 years old in 1968 when a music festival in upstate New York gave its name to a generation, transforming forever what most people imagine when they hear the name Woodstock. I thought that perhaps I had misremembered the name of the seemingly mystical school. No, my grandmother Muriel reassured me, the school really is called Woodstock. At my urging she explained again how Dorothy and Anne, the daughters of China missionaries, became students at a boarding school in India.
In 1938, she said, the family lived in southern China, across the Pearl River from Canton amid fields of chrysanthemums. My grandfather, Edward Lockwood, took a ferry across the river each morning to the Chinese YMCA, a moon-gated compound facing the Bund, where he served as general secretary, conducting business beneath a banyan tree in the courtyard. The YMCA had a swimming pool and a basketball court, and offered classes ranging from bible study to music and child nutrition.
What may have seemed to Dorothy and Anne an idyllic life was overshadowed by the threat of war. A year earlier Japanese troops had pillaged the Chinese Nationalist capital, killing tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in a massacre that became known as the Rape of Nanking.
Hundreds of miles up the coast, Nanking had seemed far away but suddenly in December the Japanese were bombing Canton and advancing on the city. The Lockwood family joined the exodus of government, businesses, universities, churches and anybody else who could escape the city, heading for Kukong, the wartime capital of Kwangtung Province, where the leadership of the Canton YMCA found a new calling in refugee relief work. In a bomb-damaged church with a leaky roof the refugees gathered for hymn singing and music recitals to buoy their spirits.
Muriel homeschooled her daughters and other children in an open air school beneath a tree. When the sirens sounded, students and teacher grabbed their books and stools and sought shelter from the Japanese bombs in a backyard trench. During one such raid, the pet dog of a little boy escaped his grasp and bounded out of the trench. The boy scrambled after the dog and was killed by Japanese shrapnel.
Muriel and Edward decided it was time to get their daughters out of China. He would stay and continue his work, just as he had done through sweltering Canton summers when other foreigners sought relief in the mountains. Muriel and the girls, then 13 and nine years old, would make their way across southern China by train, bus, boat and truck, staying with Chinese friends and other missionary families when possible, passing through Chunking, the Nationalist war-time capital, until they finally reached Kunming, the capital of Yunnan Province, a journey of more than 1,000 miles.
Kunming was the goal because it was the terminus for a remarkable US airlift that was resupplying Chinese Nationalist troops with fuel, weapons and ammunition to fight the Japanese. The transport planes came in “Over the Hump,” as the American pilots called the Himalayas, returning with space to spare. Pilots could, at their discretion, agree to carry civilians. Dorothy and Anne boarded one such flight.
Only now, Googling “the Hump” to check the veracity of family stories, have I discovered that these flights were surprisingly dangerous, lacking radio navigation aids, accurate charts, and reliable information about the weather. Prohibited from bringing luggage, the girls bundled up in multiple layers of clothing and coats. Passengers sat on parachutes around the perimeter, baggage strapped to the floor beneath their feet.
Soon after their arrival in India the girls were enrolled in Woodstock School where the found themselves among kindred spirits—including other so-called “Mish-Kids”—the children of missionaries. They also found a sense of peace and safety, a love of the outdoors, and a dedication to making the world a better place that impressed them deeply.
My mother loved to stroll from the school to the Camel Back Cemetery, established in the mid-1800s as the final resting place for English men and woman who died far from home, and look out at the snow-covered Himalayas. Here, she decided, is where she would like her ashes scattered when the time came.
Did she suffer even then from depression that later drove her to take her life? I will never know. People who are not deeply unhappy also consider the future disposition of their earthly remains. Whatever the case, she felt strongly enough to tell others that she wanted her ashes scattered near Woodstock School. When she hung herself, leaving behind my father and three little boys, getting her ashes to the foothills of Himalayas was low on the list of things to be done.
But her love of Woodstock School and the sense of peace and security she experienced in the mountains stayed on in family memory.
When I first travelled to India as a college student, my father encouraged me to visit Woodstock. He wrote a poem that recalled her love of the mountains. Never published, the poem was lost for many years until I discovered it among family papers as I was completing this essay. Titled “How You Live After All These Years” it begins:
In the Himalayas the pines below treeline
scatter cones down a slope
where I promised to scatter your ashes
years–a fortnight of them–ago
and concludes with a metaphor that alludes to me and my two brothers, then nearly grown:
three pine cones: seedlings, then saplings
now trees in the soil and ashes of the slope.
I did not visit Woodstock School on that trip in the early 1970s, nor did I go some 30 years later, when I travelled to India for a conference in Bangalore.
When I again had a chance to travel to India last August, this time in a new role as vice president for communications at the World Resources Institute (WRI); Anne, now 82, a resident of Brooklyn, NY, and regular reader of the Woodstock Alumni Newsletter, encouraged me to finally make the trip. It didn’t take much to persuade me. Nor was it hard to find somebody to make an introduction: half of my Indian friends, it seemed, knew somebody who knew somebody connected to the school.
A colleague with WRI India wrote to her aunt, Dr. Amrita Dass, a member of the Woodstock School Board, who in turn generously wrote to the school on my behalf.
I did not attempt to exhume my mother’s ashes, which have been buried beneath an oak tree in southern California for more than half-a-century. At the last-minute, while packing for the trip, I came upon a small black velvet bag of smooth white moon stones I had gathered years ago on a California beach. These would stand in for her earthly remains.
And so it was that I found myself outside the gates of Woodstock School on a sentimental journey to the girlhood of my mother who had lived at the school for just one year, more than 70 years ago. I was warmly received first by Lalitha Krishnan, communications associate, and the next day by Monica Roberts, alumni secretary. Lalitha helped me to find the 1943 yearbook, where I discovered pictures of Dorothy and Anne and learned that my mother had served first as secretary and then as governor of Standard Eight. Monica led me on a tour, pointing out classrooms that had been dorms in my mother’s time.
I met Principal Jonathan Long, and Krishnan Kutty, director of the Hanifl Centre. I met with a group of college-bound seniors and delivered a guest lecture in Ian Fried’s earth sciences class where, he wrote to me later, his students were pleased to learn that a non-scientist like me (and their future selves) could have a career helping to solve urgent issues at the intersection of the environment and human well-being.
Monica gave me Lives Entwined, a marvelous collection of essays by Woodstock alumni published to mark the school’s 150th anniversary. I eagerly devoured it back at my room at Rokeby Manor, especially the essays by graduates who were at the school around the same time as Dorothy and Anne, people who had gone on to lead lives of scholarship and service. These were my mother’s kind of people and I realized for the first time that she had loved Woodstock not only for the peace of the mountains but for the companionship of diverse but like minded classmates.
Sitting on the terrace at Rokeby Manor I suddenly imagined being there with my mother, if she had lived and we had travelled together to visit the school some 20 years ago, when she would have been in her sixties and I in my forties. I decided she would have been excellent company, as well read and as passionate for life as my Aunt Anne; I grieved anew for her loss more than 55 years ago.
In another epiphany I realized that I had been thinking all along that I was making the trip in memory of my mother and yet I was also making it for my father, also now gone, who had so often urged me to make the trip and passed along to me the story of his first bride’s love of Woodstock School and the surrounding mountains.
My last day at Landour I went back to the school to say goodbye to Monica and Lalitha and to collect pieces of the Lyre Tree, a harp-shaped pine that for more than 100 years served as a symbol of the school. The Lyre Tree died two years ago and was finally being cut down. A piece of it, Lalitha suggested, might make a good memento for my aunt.
There remained only a final stop at the Cemetery, which I learned at the last-minute was not beside the school at all but back down the road toward Rokeby Manor. I asked the taxi driver taking me to catch the evening train back to Delhi to make a brief detour. The gate was locked but a caretaker appeared and unlocked it, tailing me closely as I walked among the moss-covered stones, using his few words of English to offer his services as a guide.
It was still monsoon season, so clouds obscured the snow-clad foothills of the Himalayas that my mother had so loved. Perhaps, too, the forest has grown up to block the view. At a moment when the caretaker’s back was turned I shook the moon stones from their velvet pouch into my hand and flung them out across the graves.
Photo of Dorothy taken soon after she left Woodstock to attend high school in the United States.: Courtesy Lawerence MacDonald