The Magazine

Their Town

The lost Washington of 1968.

Aug 11, 2008, Vol. 13, No. 45 • By EDWIN M. YODER JR.
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Stewart Alsop's writing is plummy with these elements. One can't read many pages in either book without encountering a snatch of English poetry or a reference to Winston Churchill, the subject of sparkling anecdotes in both. Stewart Alsop suggests that what he and his brother Joe called "the Wasp Ascendancy" reached a symbolic terminus with the death of Dean Acheson in 1971; but its echoes linger still. Those of us who grew up in that world, even in different ages and places, were steeped in its song and poetry, as a brief memory may suggest.

Four years ago this writer and several friends were visiting in the Lake District. After a long hike through the fells (and substantial refreshment at a neighboring pub), we were sitting in the backyard of native friends, writers themselves. Loch Lomond was mentioned and I began to sing, "By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes/ Where the sun shines bright on Loch Lomond .  .  ."

Our astonished host asked, "Where on earth did you hear that?" I said that it went back into the unsearchable mists of a Carolina-Georgia childhood. It was, I suppose, a minor Alsopian moment, and explains why I feel a deep affinity with the shade of Stewart Alsop, fellow journalist, fellow Anglophile. The transatlantic culture that nurtured this old tie is fading now, with few to mourn its passing. But it will be missed. It already is.

Edwin M. Yoder Jr., author of Joe Alsop's Cold War (1995), is a former editor and columnist in Washington.