When I walked up to get the mail from the Association box a couple of days ago, Buck and Salt were talking at the crossroad, Buck comfortable on his tractor, Salt in the mail truck. When Buck saw me, he said, “You can tell people that we’re going to have a party next Saturday night, that same band. I hired them myself. I thought something ought to go on that weekend; it’s the end of summer.”
“You mean the Bandits,” I asked.
“Yup. Everyone liked them, They weren’t so loud and they played a couple of squares.”
“I hear there are a lot of bandits on this island”, Salt piped up, hoping, I think, to stir up a reaction. When he repeated it, Buck changed the subject to fires. During the thunder storm last weekend, lightening struck the island in several places, a tree on the Midriver front lawn…leaving splinters in heaps on the grass, on the roof, all over; Salt’s electric fence; and on a big rock out in a field Buck pointed vaguely to. It smoldered all the next day, and then when a breeze came up, burst into flame. “It looked as if someone were having a campfire out there,” Buck said. “That’s what I thought it was. I worry about people walking those new paths through the woods in dry weather. A fire could get started and take this whole island.” Salt and I nodded, thinking of how dry it has been this summer.
Walking back down the hill with my mail, I thought of Salt’s remark, and remembered that Mary had said on Sunday that several people had been talking to her about their fear of vandalism. I wondered if it was TV reports that were causing worry or island reports. I thought of the first year I taught high school in Princeton, in 1970. The worry was the same as today, not fires, an ever-present and very real worry on Grindstone, but bandits, which seemed to me then, and seem to me now, a not-so-present, not-so-real worry. Bobby’s bicycle was taken by someone from his mother’s, Carolyn’s car, but Carolyn’s response to that is what stuck in my mind. With Bobby almost asleep on her lap, she had answered, when I said, “I don’t like hearing that,” “We were disappointed.” That seemed like a just-right, measured response.
Thinking further of how you live on an island, I thought of the disruptive student I sent to the principal’s office back in 1970. When I met the principal in the hall at the end of class, I asked if Roland had gotten to her. “Yes,” she answered, “Everyone sends his or her problems to me.” I knew then that discipline in my classroom was between my students and me. And together we solved it. A good basketball player and serious student moved his seat over next to Roland’s. A girl, the daughter of a liberal civic leader who seemed, for some unknown reason, to challenge Roland, was amazingly mature for her age, and just shifted her seat slightly to give him distance. That’s about all we did. In his senior year, Roland did an extra curricular laboratory investigation with a group of students especially interested in biology. It has always seemed to me that island disciplinary problems get settled in ways that are as personal and as subtle as ours with Roland. We’re here together, and we have to live together, so we figure out a way together. It takes sympathy and fearlessness, and pleasure in each other. And it would be ridiculous to say we can always make our lives secure.
So, to go back to the beginning. There is going to be a party next Saturday night, August 30th, and the Bandits are going to play. This Saturday night, D& S Disc Jockeys played comfortable old songs for the few of us who came to the hall in spite of the rain. Mostly we sat around talking. Everyone has been so busy all summer that we had a lot to talk about. Finally, Buck and Brenda danced one of the nice slow numbers, and I persuaded John to dance with me for a few of the nostalgic pieces before we wandered off down the hill. Not long before we left, I had enjoyed watching the young men standing outside under the window telling one story after the other to whatever friend was standing beside him. A couple of young women joined in the obviously good conversation, so whether inside or outside, everyone was having a relaxed evening. Sometime after eleven o’clock when we went home, Debby Donaldson was doing the can-can to amuse Sis Matthews. So Sis, from her chair, joined right in, tapping her feet and kicking her legs as if she were part of the chorus line. At church on Sunday, Debbie asked Sis how she felt. “I feel good” , she answered. “It’s all that ‘New York’ I did!”
John and I spent some time looking at the new photographs on the walls around the dance floor: a 1938 group of several Grindstone families at a church picnic; Elizabeth and Savanah Slate, great grandparents of Erma and Buck Slate, and Yuvon Marra; a picture of the island basketball team of 1912; and Bob Garnsey’s boat, the “Mary E”, unloading cheese made at the Grindstone factory onto the Clayton dock.(Yuvon, Phil and Jeffery Marra, not long ago, made a trip to the Sandy Loam Cemetery and located the grave of their great, great, great grandfather, Soloman Slate who was born in 1775 and lived until 1832. His son, Chester Slate, was also buried there where they lived, in Pamelia, NY.
Another of his sons was Sylvester, father of Savanah.)
Sunday morning broke sunny and blue. At breakfast we were surprised by our three Rueckert grandchildren who came up in the little whaler on the silky river to say “good bye” before they set off for Fairfield and home. Earlier in the morning Norvin and Jeanne Hein had left with Chris, who was catching a plane for California, and Margaret, who was returning, with her parents, to her job in Connecticut. David Marsh left in the afternoon with his two boys. The departures have begun.
But there were lots of people left to fill the church pews at ten- thirty. Katie Carlisle had wanted to bring her worm, but Nancy, her mother persuaded her to leave it safe at home. The Aquadros sat in front of us, the Larson family, all but Caroline, were in their pew, and toward the back, were Karen and Stub Lashomb with Jada. They haven’t been able to spend much time on the island this summer, so we were particularly glad to see them. Mary brought us word that Phil, Sarah, and Jesse have arrived safely in Manitoba, and are settling in happily, though it is hot there. When they went across the river to Gananoque for the last time, as they were tying the boat, they looked back from the dock over the river to Grindstone. And stood, awestruck by a rainbow arching over the whole length of the island. One has to be careful about putting too much stock in signs, especially voodoo dolls, hexes, palm readings and such, but the rainbow, always a joy, is somehow, a reminder of God’s promise of kindness to his creatures, and at a moment of departure, it is like a blessing. It was for the Beer family.
Carol Marsh sang the lovely George Herbert song arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams, “Come My Way, My Truth, My Life”, and the children came back from Sunday School , (taught by Debbie Donaldson) with bouquets of flowers on which were printed their own prayers. They walked in with the dignity and sobriety children bring to a bridal entry, and, gathering at the front, repeated some of their prayers. Bobby Bazinet, Katie’s good neighbor, thanked God that there are so many snakes in the world. (I’ve always thought that the snake enlivened Eden, so I shared Bobby’s gratitude!)
After the benediction, we retired to a short coffee in the carriage house and then returned to the church for a long board meeting. Since next Sunday is the Charge Conference when the new district superintendent will visit us for the first time, and since Mary is leaving and one of the superintendent’s tasks before next June will be to appoint a new minister for Grindstone, Doc Schwartz and Mary Beer wanted the board to think about what the job of minister on Grindstone is like, how its being on an island makes a difference, how its being a summer church makes a difference, how the diverse congregation makes it a special congregation, and what the congregation hopes for in its minister. We enjoyed doing that because Mary has in many ways shown us what we want: a minister with a family to bring life to the parsonage and enjoy it, a minister who is present and enjoys us and the island, who will join our family. It is, we realized, the Sunday morning worship service which centers the whole life of the church.
There was one more thing on the agenda: BATS. After discussing the problem off and on all summer, we were presented with a motion proposed by Manly Rusho to gut the inside of the church, taking down the whole ceiling which is weighted down with guano, strengthen the structure with new uprights and beams, (Ken Larson added that the beams should be scissor- constructed so we can replace the arched ceiling), seal all the small entrances the bats have found, and live with the open interior next year until we are sure how we want to finish it. The board voted for the proposal with many misgivings. It is such an old structure that we fear it will collapse under the stress of the pounding and the shifts in balance. However, most of us feared that in 1990 when the building was raised to put in a new foundation. So we ended the meeting letting the voice vote stand, fearing for our dear old church. And how will the newly restored windows fare during the construction?
I’ve said before that I believe in walking into my fears. So I guess that is what we are doing. That can be called living by faith.
So to the week’s notes: Marjory Rusho is, as she always is, cheerful and optimistic and making life for her family easy and pleasant. We miss her in her pew when we gather to worship. She has given our church many kinds of gifts for many, many years.
The annual Aunt Janes’s Bay picnic was held on Saturday on the Larson’s lawn, during a hole in the rainy weather. The food was as good as it always is, and, I’m told, the being together was as pleasurable.
On next Saturday noon, August 30th, Kitty Paxton Garnsey has invited all the women of the Grindstone Church to a potluck lunch in honor of Mary Beer at her house on the north side of the island.
The charge conference for the Grindstone Methodist Church will be next Sunday, August 31, at 10:30 am. The new district superintendent will be with us to help us plan for next year and receive the congregation’s reports for this year.
After church, the congregation is invited to join the annual potluck Squatters’ Picnic on the Marra lawn to say a final farewell to Mary Beer. She will be off for Manitoba by late afternoon.
And we’ve almost, as Ken Larson says, used up summer.
So it is.