Remembrances: Alfred Myers

Alfred Myers
John Bellairs and I were very close friends who saw each other on an almost daily basis during our four years at Notre Dame and two more years at the University of Chicago. We remained friends thereafter for the rest of John's life, though our very different career paths made personal contacts more infrequent in later years.

I used to joke with John that I had met him before he met me. It was during a gathering of our class in Washington Hall during Freshman Orientation Week. Little did I realize that I was about to witness an archetypal Bellairsian moment. A golf tournament had been held earlier in the week, and the winners were announced from the stage. Then the announcer continued, "The last place prize in the tournament is awarded to John Bellairs!" To the roar of a standing ovation, up he trundled to the stage with his rotund shape and a broad, slightly bucktoothed grin, partly embarrassed but mainly delighted at being the center of attention.

Only a day or so later I was visiting the room of a fellow freshman who had graduated from the same high school as I did (Fenwick, of Oak Park, Illinois) and for some reason which is now lost to history I chose to recite to him the longest geographic place name in America, a fact which some years previously I had encountered, probably in one of Ripley's "Believe It Or Not!" cartoons, and had taken considerable pains to memorize. My friend said, "I know a guy who's gotta hear this!" He took me next door. There was Bellairs, and the first word I ever spoke to him was:

Chargoggagoggmanchaugagoggchaubunagungamaug

This by the way is a very real place, a lake in Massachusetts whose residents take a real pride in its name and defend it against any attempts at simplification. The name means, "You fish on your side, I fish on my side, and nobody shall fish in the middle." In the interests of textual accuracy, I must admit that I looked it up a couple of years ago in The Guinness Book of World Records. It's there all right, but with a somewhat different spelling and pronunciation. But I know what I memorized; it took me long enough! Interestingly enough, once John heard the name, he could repeat it immediately. In fairness, when you hear the name spoken, in my version at least, not Guinness's, it has a certain regular rhythm to it. If a song could be written about Popocatepetl (in the American mispronunciation at least) the same could be done with Lake Chargoggagogg....