Dark Hollow in Tunkhannock

Bill Jr:

Following my older sister’s death in 1947, it seemed to me that there was a loss of energy in Dad.  Marcia had been a vibrant person who, in Ohio, had organized unions, started nursery schools, was accused of being a ‘Red’ and still managed to start a family. She died, very quickly of polio at the age of 27 on June 1st, her birthday.

Shortly thereafter, Bill and Dot moved to Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania. I was executive secretary of the C.L.I.D. for that brief period and had convened a weekend retreat at the camp of St. Stephen’s Church, Wilkes-Barre, which was located along the Susquehanna River, for purposes of setting goals and planning program.

One of the attendees was Davis Hobbs, a local attorney, member of the A.C.L.U. and, eventually, Spofford family and Episcopal Church Publishing Co. lawyer. The ‘Squire’, as Dad always referred to Dave in letters, drove Dad around the area during a conference break and he was enormously attracted to the area’s ‘ENDLESS MOUNTAINS’. So, too, he was driven past the Wyoming County Press office, a struggling paper and odd-job shop. I am guessing that, sometime on that tour, Dad’s mind fantasized…..’what if we got our own printing shop, got other contracts than THE WITNESS, and slowed down a bit?’

At any rate, by 1949, Bill and Dot had a lovely piece of property on Dark Hollow Road, a mile and a half up a mountain from Tunkhannock. It included the site of an old house, which they fixed up most comfortably, and which looked like a replica of the Portland, Connecticut., home from which they were married. It was, in a way, a ‘going back’. The land had on it an abandoned school house with a bell that they moved close to the house and painted red. The bell they detached and mounted at the entrance of the property. And they owned the mountain in back of the house as well as the deteriorated apple orchard to the side.

In short order, as a fine gardener, Mother had things in picture-perfect, post-card order: flowers around a working hand pump on a well, wicker furniture with lovely yellow cushions on the porch, newly refinished antiques balancing some of their regular things. It became, if you will, mother’s retreat and, in some sense, her prison, while Bill was building, organizing and ‘selling’ the print shop.

Dad scouted for press equipment and bargained for it.  He said, when it was done, that he had built the most modern print shop in Pennsylvania. Alas, he also didn’t reckon with developing technology.  He had all he needed but, even as he got it, the technology of printing became cleaner, quicker and more efficient.

He contracted with dioceses like New Jersey and Washington to print their monthly magazines which, in format (although not in content), simulated THE WITNESS. It is obvious that he was highly responsible in both printing, laying-out and delivering on time their productions. So, too, local print jobs were available.

He was a compulsive worker and, therefore, a very hard boss.  If someone missed deadlines, and he had to cover for them, it was difficult. He had build in to the employment contracts that, if the company grew to a certain size, there would be obligatory membership in a union. The operation, of course, never got close to the required size.

It was a struggle to keep enough work on hand, however, or else it would pile up. At the same time, except for the first week in January, THE WITNESS was to come out every week. When the move was made from the print shop in Chicago to Tunkhannock, the format changed a bit.  Color was introduced mildly on the cover; pictures were clearer; sizes were adapted. Comparing the production with other church publications of the time, it was still –.at least to Dad — the “W.G.W.,” the World’s Greatest Weekly, that he had called it way back when he became its young interim editor.

But, in a sense, the move to Tunkhannock was an isolating experience. The original plan was that, although they would live in the mountains near the Wilkes-Barre – Scranton area, they would get to New York regularly, via the train, for editorial board meetings. Briefly that worked. But, shortly, the crack train, “The Black Diamond”, discontinued its run, never to be replaced. The drive by auto became more difficult and neither of them really appreciated flying. And, besides, advancing years and accumulating duties on the property and at ‘The Shop’ brought different priorities.

Dad kept in touch by letter and, occasionally, by phone. His network of friends and opponents was extensive and he had only to look up at ‘The Gallery’ on his wall to have leads. But, by and large, he became a desktop editor, using ‘stringers’ and the Religious News Service to cover things, and enriching the mix by writing editorials and his column, ‘Talking It Over.’

Also, local talk about his leftist activities, much of it years earlier, but invigorated by testifying before the Subversive Activities Board, had a chilling effect on their winning their way into the community. The local rector and wife, Bill and Happy Schmidgall, were close friends.  Ralph Weatherly, diocesan rector, was most supportive, as was the bishop, Fred Warnecke, who had been editor of the Episcopal Church News and therefore knew something about ‘the trade,’ and members of nearby churches where he often functioned as priest, including the one attended by Governor Wm. Scranton.

I believe that Dad gave up Christ Church, Middletown, with a dream but never truly stopped being a parish pastor and priest. For, in many correspondences, he is seen suggesting to small congregations, and their bishops, that he might be able to help them out two or three days a week, just so long as he had time to get out THE WITNESS.

So, too, during the 6-10 years after they moved to Tunkhannock, the Episcopal League for Social Action, which the Church League for Industrial Democracy had become (actually as a result of the discussion at the retreat at the camp along the Susquehanna,) lost its focus and withered away. Dad tried to save it, in a sense, by saying that he would be willing to give some time and energy to it from his office as, once again, acting executive secretary, but the Church was moving into the Civil Rights era and the issues of ‘Industrial Democracy’ were not primary. As a matter of fact, by and large, labor unions tended to be viewed as protectors of privilege and job security rather than agents of justice and change, at least by the press and citizens at large.

Most of those who were in the ELSA group were active in the struggle for interracial justice and equality and, later on, in the concerns for the urban church and issues of peace-seeking and peacemaking during the S.E. Asia war years. The editor of THE WITNESS, from his roll-top desk in Tunkhannock, was always supportive and, actually, through friendship with and permission by ‘Izzy” Stone, helped with using many of I.F. Stone’s brilliant analyses of current events.

Mom and Dad were extremely happy at the house and the shop in Tunkhannock, just isolated and divorced from their usual stimuli. That is an issue in all retirement planning and since my sister, Suzanne, and I were living elsewhere and were busy, it was difficult to be reinforcing as a family. Their home was a spot that grandkids enjoyed visiting, first because Mom was a good Connecticut cook and, second, because Dad had a Jeep and loved to take his grandchildren for rides down to the shop or around the Dark Hollow area.

When they first got the property, the apple orchard was a tangle of debris, black-berry briars and host site for innumerale ‘critters’. It was unsightly. First, the fallen apple trees and branches were sawed up and ‘cured’ for fine fires. Then, having heard that it was efficient and easy, Dad got a ram and two or three ewes. They did a great job of cleaning up the orchard. Also, they did an adequate job of reproducing.  But, this basically urban land-owner really didn’t know that lambs get born in February and March in the cold…it doesn’t say much about that in Luke’s Nativity story!  He muddled through, swearing all the time, I am sure.

Since the orchard was on a hillside, often, when the ice-freeze was hard, he would get up in the morning to find all of the flock piled on top of each other against the fence in the lower northeast corner. Their hoofs could not hold them on the glare ice and, zoom, down they went.  So, still cussing, Dad would get them on their feet and eventually on to a place where they could stand.

He was, biblically, a ‘good’ shepherd — he could call his own by name. That was o.k. when it was shearing time, because the wool was useful to Mom for her rugs and weavings and countless lovely sweaters. It was definitely NOT o.k. when it came time to think of the other ‘utility’ of lamb and sheep…namely roasts and lamb-chops. If you call your sheep by name, it is impossible to kill them, even if you send them away to do it. Ultimately, he had someone come in and buy the increasing flock and a sigh of relief was heard, not only along Dark Hollow but, probably, down in Wyoming County’s agricultural extension office.

Following Marcia’s death, the folks went up to Lake Sunapee and scattered her ashes in the waters. They brought back a small pine tree and planted it along the fence line running from the Red School House to the mountain fence. When last seen, the Marcia Tree was still standing, although now reaching high into the sky. It has a lot of family meaning for, beneath it, mixed well, are the ashes of Bill and Dot Spofford, known to their son and daughter and grand-daughter, Lynn, as Dad and Mom and Grandparents.

When we last checked with Dave Hobbs, who entered into his eternal adventure in April of 1993, the property on Dark Hollow Road is well kept and, thankfully, is owned by the president and secretary of the Wyoming County Historical Society. That indicates that the spirit of the laughs and stories and adventures of the past is cared for and honored, even if the present owners don’t know anything about it, and that should be sufficient.

In my office is the roll-top desk from Dad’s printshop, which he inherited from the first Bishop of Eastern Oregon, Robert Paddock. Every time I write something, as the retired fourth Bishop of Eastern Oregon, I have to reflect how small and intimate God’s world and creation really is, or should be!