As I mentioned in my an earlier post, my parents, Katie and Dr. Wilhelm Moser, went to Fred & Van’s for dinner every Saturday. Fred and Van came to our house for dinner every Wednesday and sometimes accompanied us on family vacations. We often picnicked at the arboretum on weekends. My mom helped Van in the rose gardens. Fred and Van were my parents' best friends. They were my earliest introduction to the notion that adults could be my friends.
In my last post, I remembered Fred. I cannot picture Fred without Van. Van tended his rose gardens and Fred tended nearly everything else, and they seemed to be at their respective labors every daylight hour; Van in his khakis, white tee shirt, and Dockers; and Fred in his jeans, white button-down shirt, and huaraches. In cold weather Van wore a tweed jacket and Fred wore a gray wool sweater. I don't recall ever seeing them in any other uniforms. Fred capitulated to wear socks in winter. After a time, they spent their winters in Mexico.
They got along well, with Van booming "Hells bells, Fred," at regular intervals, and Fred nearly always writing poetry in his head, or keeping records of his seed exchanges, or wherever his agile thoughts went. I do not recall them ever having a serious disagreement.
I do not know when Van came to the Arboretum (perhaps the Arboretum historian does). I do recall hearing my mother saying, approvingly, that Van had left a life as a Manhattan banker for the Arboretum. I thought it reasonable that anyone would leave the city life for Fred's paradise in the woods, but I also knew that Van left Manhattan for Fred.
Some local yob once made a comment to my mother about Fred and Van being "queer," a word that had not yet been repurposed by the gay civil rights movement. My mother fired off an indignant response, her Irish blood immediately provoked to boiling. She muttered about it for days, as she did when her intimate loyalties were invoked. Fred and Van, she said, had more dignity and intelligence than a hundred of the yob's kind put together; what business of anyone's was it if they were a couple or they weren't. They were just Fred and Van.
The Arboretum is a tangible expression of Fred's personal connection to the land where he was born and raised. But without Van, it would not have roses. Fred had no patience for roses. He was an admirer and scholar of their their more practical cousins, apples. Van was the Arboretum's financial advisor and guardian. He brought about the incorporation of the Arboretum as an educational institution, ensuring its longevity. But I was unaware of that all of the years I ran and played there. When I think of Van, I think of him straightening his back and wiping his brow with a white handkerchief while toiling in the rose gardens, and of a night on the deck of a modest rental cottage in South Bristol, Maine, in about 1965.
Van was an astrologer, and a bit of an astronomer. Like Fred, he talked to me no differently than he talked to adults. Because of this, I acquired a habit of seeking out other eccentric adults who did not seem to notice that I was a child; who never asked me what I did in school that day.
The deck of our little cottage in South Bristol stood on stilts over the ocean. Van and I listened to its crashing on the rocks and looked up at the night sky. Everyone else was inside. That was the beginning of his teaching me the constellations, their astrological significance, and the ancient origins of astrology. I embraced astrology for a few years as a teenager and then let it go, but I never lost the love of the night sky that I first experienced with Van. Now I live about five thousand feet closer to the stars, and I often think of Van when sleeping outside beneath them listening to the coyotes.