Reflections on the recent past. Probably no recent column received more comment than the one documenting my sojourn into the woods adjoining the Millstone River on the Sarnoff Corporation property. But before I recount those comments, allow me to share additional thoughts about last week's column, on the style of death notices, just in case I am called prematurely from this labor.
About those paid obituaries: One of our freelance writers, Richard Skelly, informed me that U.S. 1 itself was mentioned in an obituary in the Star-Ledger newspaper. The deceased was Marianne Previte of Milltown, who died June 28. Previte was a nurse who had worked for Johnson & Johnson and later taught health in the East Brunswick public school system. After chronicling her many career landmarks, the obituary commented on her life outside of work:
"An avid ballroom dancer, Mrs. Previte and her dance partner were featured on the cover of U.S. 1 Newspaper."
Sure enough, Marianne Previte and her partner were featured in the April 6, 1988, issue of U.S. 1, flying across the dance floor at the Nottingham Ballroom and illustrating Barbara Fox's story about "Dirty Dancing," the now classic movie. In addition, Skelly pointed out, Previte is the mother of Franke Previte, who wrote the movie's signature song, "The Time of My Life," which won an Oscar.
Other U.S. 1 staffers, meanwhile, pointed out that I did not have to stray from that same issue of the paper to uncover yet another wonderful way of expressing the passage from here to there, or from life to death. In the article on the rebirth of the Doors, the 1960s rock group, freelancer Barry Gutman referred to Paris as the place where singer Jim Morrison left this mortal coil. The reference is from Hamlet, referring to death as "when we have shuffled off this mortal coil."
In other words, in the 21st century as in the 16th, you may not simply die in peace. But whether you shuffle off or are plucked from above, it doesn't hurt to keep on the dancing in the meantime.
About that Rein column in the Summer Fiction issue , in which a fictional character attempts to write a grand opening to his novel and begins with "It was a dark and stormy night -- or was it?" E. E. Whiting, a contributor to the Summer Fiction issue (the third chapter of her novel, The Seven O'Clock Train of Thought, appeared this year), immediately recognized the reference as something more than a catch phrase from a Peanuts cartoon. The genesis of the line, Whiting noted, is the 1830 novel by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton titled "Paul Clifford," which opens like this:
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents -- except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."
Bulwer-Lytton's opening sentence has become such a poster boy for purple prose that a fiction contest now exists in his name, dedicated to celebrating the worst pieces of writing that can be concocted. Fortunately for U.S. 1 readers, no other parts of this legacy appeared in the Summer Fiction issue. For more consult www.bulwer-lytton.com
About those Millstone River bluffs: After my walk through the Sarnoff property, which may be the site of a four-lane highway to divert traffic from Washington Road in West Windsor, I suggested that the "bluffs" that environmental groups want to preserve might be more rhetorical than topographical.
The ink was barely dry before I was reminded by Lincoln Hollister, the Princeton professor and environmentalist, that he had offered to take me on a canoe ride up the Millstone to see the river for myself. Hollister gave me a second chance, but my schedule did not permit me to take advantage.
Meanwhile, though, Sue Parris of West Windsor sent me a Ruth Rendell novel, "Road Rage," set in an English town torn by a debate over a bypass.
Parris also sent a 1985 column in a historical society newsletter, written by a Florida retiree reminiscing about his days 50 years before swimming in the area known as the "sheepwash." Way back then, interestingly, the swimming hole was a principal recreation site and it was much more accessible than it is today: "A whole lace-work of braided roads [led] to the banks of the Millstone. As cars came to the river they would be parked under trees 10 to 15 feet above the water."
Whether the banks of the Millstone are truly bluffs, or 10 feet high as the retiree recalled from his youth, or maybe five feet high as I measured them a few weeks ago, they are worth saving. The good news is that Sarnoff already has agreed to site the bypass road 200 feet further away from the river than was originally planned.
At that distance even people without a canoe tied to their car might be able to amble on over and enjoy it. Obviously reports of the sheepwash's "passing" are grossly exaggerated.