They are, these Franconia schoolchildren, the last generation who will remember the Old Man of the Mountain and on their shoulders rests the mission of keeping alive the quintessence of the symbol of New Hampshire, through the stories and reminiscence they will tell their children\'s children.
Memories are all that will carry on the Great Stone Face for succeeding generations and at least in the minds of children who were raised in his shadow, it will be a lasting and fond remembrance.
Fourth-graders in Erica Sieberg\'s class at the Franconia Elementary School will carry the strongest memories the longest of anyone who ever saw the Old Man and it is a responsibility they take very seriously.
\"He\'s been here so long, it\'s weird that he fell down,\" said Nathan Locke.
With the discovery that Saturday morning one year ago, which dawned so clear and blue after days of wind and fog and torrential rain, that the Old Man was gone forever, he immediately became just a memory for anyone who had ever seen him.
\"I remember him always being there and watching over me,\" said student Paige Roberts. \"When he fell, I couldn\'t believe it - it was like my cat just died. I was depressed for a few days after - we had lost our trademark.\"
Last month, the dozen or so students spent an hour talking about their memories of the Old Man and how they feel about his loss. They all agreed that there should be nothing placed on that cliffside. When, in a few years, they are old enough to register their cars, they want to see this visage on their license plates.
What was most striking in these earnest conversations is what a paternal-like figure this granite profile was to these students.
\"I always wanted him to be there when I was old,\" said student Jack Williams. \"I think about how lucky we were to have had him. I used to think he was a real person - it\'s what everyone thought. No one thinks of a rock formation as a person.\"
The Old Man had protective qualities, too.
\"When I skied on Cannon, I would feel safe knowing the Old Man was there,\" Paige said.
Despite his stern countenance, the students felt affection for the profile.
\"He was always there for us,\" said Madeliene Hesler. \"He was nice because people came from all over to see him - he always reached out and touch us all, like he was part of the family.\" All of the children have stories to tell about the Old Man to their children.
Taylor Woodward simply said, \"He was like a father.\"
If his granite cliff was a front porch on Main Street, the Old Man was, too, like a treasured neighbor, one many felt they owed a greeting.
Returning home, it was past his gate everyone traveling north to home would pass.
\"The Old Man was basically our pride and glory,\" said Camden Johnson. \"When you would drive by him, you just knew you were almost home.\"
Since the fall of the profile last year, Taylor Boucher said he has a new tradition when he goes by the cliff.
\"I was very sad when the Old Man fell,\" he said. \"Every time I went by him, I stuck my face in the window to see him. It was a Gameboy break - now I just keep playing.\"
Ronnie Berlack also has his own way of acknowledging the Old Man.
\"He was really special - I would wave to him as we went by him,\" he said. \"I couldn\'t believe when he fell - it didn\'t seem right. I felt really sad - I didn\'t feel right.\"
The brooding sentinel of Franconia Notch, who never seemed bothered by hot summer days or cold winter nights, was a symbol of the state and the youngsters recognize that the loss of something so important in their own backyard had a mighty impact far away.
\"There is nothing else in the world like him,\" said Mae DesTroismaisons. \"He made New Hampshire really special.\" Her family collects Old Man memorabilia, she said, and she will keep some of it for her children. \"They won\'t believe that he was really there, so I\'ll show them some of this stuff,\" she said.
Jake Kelley said the fall took away part of New Hampshire\'s identity. \"New Hampshire is a small state and people talk about the Old Man when they talked about New Hampshire,\" he said. \"Now it\'s not there.\"
Robbie Moses agreed. \"I would say to my kids that he was like a brother of New Hampshire,\" he said. \"He was special to everybody.\"
Katherine Averle will always remember the anniversary of the fall of the Old Man. \"It was my brother\'s birthday,\" she said. \"While we were celebrating, we found out that he had fallen. He was New Hampshire\'s mascot - he was really special.\" The children agreed that it would be right for the symbol to continue being a state symbol.
\"I want the Old Man on my driver\'s license,\" said Tyler Best. \"It\'s not right to take him off just because he fell.\"
And, Woodward said, the Old Man should remain on the state quarter. \"If you took him off, it would be like taking George Washington off the dollar bill,\" he said.