Labor Day weekend is a time when the soft ripples twisting in and out over the rocks are distorted by the thrash of waves from big boats running by out in the channel, when lilies get stalky, when lone scarlet leaves surprise in the underbrush, when insects are few, when goldenrod bunches with deep-purple asters in the fields. It is the time for closing up our summer cottages, for saying goodbye, for leaving the gentle and confounding river to return to our rougher but equally confounding city lives. Almost no one greets this holiday without regret, without some hanging back. We come to the weekend full of appreciation for the river’s gifts, full of sadness that we leave it once more.
It is also a time of friendly parties, parties made warmer by the knowledge that each might be the last until Memorial Day for most of us. Of course the winter islanders will have their get-togethers on Halloween and Thanksgiving and whenever else the mood strikes them. They will be visiting back and forth between the far- apart houses on their four wheelers, and calling each other on the telephone keeping in touch each day. But we migrants will change our skins and live quite other lives. So we love the easy parties of Labor Day weekend.
The women of Grindstone gathered on Saturday for a goodbye lunch for Mary Beer on Kitty Paxton Garnsey’s lawn that rolls lazily down to the river. We looked out on a view of islands layering out toward Canada in picture postcard balance. The potluck table was quite different from the affairs the men attend. Beautiful salads were arranged up and down both sides of the table, colorful and varied and tasty in the delicate way of women’s fare. We talked; sipped wine and sun- warmed ice tea, and enjoyed Mary. Mary Lou Rusho presented her with a burgundy afghan with “Shall We Gather at the River”, the nostalgic hymn we sing traditionally at the Aunt Jane’s Bay service, framing a silhouette of Grindstone Island to lure her back some day. Mary suggested that she might wrap it around her as she flies to Manitoba on Monday. We came from all around the island, women who hadn’t seen each other all summer met at the tables Kitty had set up. Even that faithful Episcopalian, Margery Dower was there. Our affection for Mary had brought us all together.
We went home, I for a swim on that balmy day, others just to enjoy the sun. Then many of us were back together again after dark when we heard the music of the Bandits calling us to the dance hall. Phil and Yuvon Marra, however, took a well deserved rest from the responsibility of running the dances which they have shouldered for three years, and enjoyed a camp fire at their house with Doreen and Donnie Meeks. John and I also find we don’t always want to go out on Saturday night. We’re not as young as we used to be and we seldom have what we used to call “cabin fever”. The cabin usually looks pretty nice when dark comes on. But this Saturday, we joined the huge crowd that gathered, and danced energetically to the Bandits’ music. Finally, about 11:30, I found Buck Slate, who had taken charge of the dance this weekend, and said I wanted to do a square dance before John dragged me home. So Buck and Bubby Bazinet persuaded the band to play some songs Bubby could call a square to, and the floor filled up with couples willing, if they didn’t know how already, to give it a try. We had three circles, just about as many as the hall can hold, and danced three old favorites, the grape vine twist, Duck for the oyster, and that one that makes all the ladies dizzy as they go round dancing with each man in turn. So, at the end of the call, John did persuade me, since Cavin Gray had already won the fifty-fifty drawing, to walk on down the hill home.
John needed to be alert on Sunday to play for the last church service of the year. By 9:45 am, he was at the organ practicing with Carol Marsh and going over the order of service Mary had planned for her last Sunday.
The very first event in the service was the baptism of Dillon Kendall Patch, and when all of his relatives had been seated, the curved pews were full. Dillon is the newborn son of Katie Bogenschutz Patch and Buddy Patch. Tom and Dale Hunt, and Cristin Meckes and Bobby Bogenschutz were Godparents. It was lovely all through the rest of the service to watch the pleasure Katie and Buddy have in Dillon. More, even, than that, Dillon’s baptism brought a sign of beginning to a service, which, for the most part was about endings. Such a sign of future good was welcome!
Then, after Carol Marsh had led us to sing the chorus as she sang the verses to one of our fine hymns, Mary read us a bit of Wind in the Willows, and proclaimed herself to be somewhat like the Mole, who on being introduced to the river became as much a part of it as the rat, loving its rhythm, its peace, its space. She described her first trip across the water with Salt. (Last week, we heard how he likes to tease …”I hear there are quite a few bandits on this island!” When I was teaching English I knew a big word for saying the opposite of what you mean, a kind of literary or poetic diction…I always find it fun) Mary told how he had taken her right, it seemed to her, under the bow of a great freighter, and, she laughed, “knowing him now, I think he probably did it on purpose!” I, knowing Salt, too, know that a ride with Salt is a cautious ride (as cautious as Mary now knows it is! ) and that the freighter was not about to bear down on whatever boat they were using that day. But I do remember how big those freighters seemed when we first came to the river. Next, on that first day, Mary said, she went down to explore Potter’s Beach by herself, and walked out to the slippery rocks on the point. Then, suddenly she found herself plunked to the bottom of the river. She came up laughing, but had to walk, soaking wet, all the way down the road where she might meet any number of her new parishioners. That first baptism proved to be a good beginning, however. It was like Mole’s meeting the river rat and becoming fast friends.
Then it was the congregation’s turn to thank Mary. Debby Marra danced a praise of love, of what love can give the loved one, of what Mary’s loving ministry has given the congregation, and Ken Larson joined Karen Lashomb giving Mary a print of the Grindstone Island Methodist Church done in 1990 by Judy Bacci. Its walls are formed by the names of parishioners throughout the many, many years of the church’s life. John Marks, when Mary had received the print, stood beside his seat at the organ and read this poem for her:
We must say a Dieu.
She reminds us of Nellie; of Nellie, whose door
Was always open, who always sat a spell
And talked with us,
Of Nellie, whose kettle never came off the boil
While Emmet moved her house up the hill a far piece,
Almost, it seems, as far as Manitoba.
Nellie was jolly and good natured. Her dog attested
To that … as she pumped the little organ in the church,
Always on-the-job, watching out for her children,
And others’, that they be heard, be safe, be hugged
Against her warm breasts.
Then, good mother, she let them go.
She liked the island’s quiet
As she sat looking down to the river
From the window beside her kitchen table
Over the orchard meadow,
Naming each boat which passed
(as Mary names each car going by).
Nellie was a little afraid on the wide rough water
With fearless Emmet, so when the wind blew off
The fine new hat she’d just bought in town,
As, coming round the Head,
They hit a big sea up there by Churchill’s,
And Emmet asked her, “Why didn’t you tell me?
I’d of gone back and got it,” she laughed,
“I was just afraid you would!”
But she’d go-or stay-with him through rain or sleet or ice!
Mary’d do that too. We’ve seen her make these decisions.
Nellie was always home, though, when you came.
Erma, Buck, Bertha, Bill,
Her children,…they all remember that. And
In these last four years, Mary, too, has been home
For us, leaving her busy city hat adrift on the river,
Making her porch our porch, her bread, our bread.
Some women, (and men, for that matter)
Have a knack for making time.
Now when we are asked to say who,
Whom do we want in the parsonage next summer,
By a like of Mary, part of our family, someone home,
Keeping our church whole, a strong ridge pole,
Keeping us in step dancing our quadrille as it is called,
Speaking out, arguing with us, hugging us, watching us
Hearing us, eating with us,
Patting out the flame on her ironing board, and going on
Pushing her blue kerosene iron as it smoothes white linen,
Offering fresh bread from her oven.”
At the end of the service, after Carol had sung a last prayer, the congregation joined hands in a huge circle in front of the church around the cottonwood tree, passed the peace, and received Mary’s final benediction…for them… for now. Then all those who could, regrouped in the carriage house for the annual meeting with the new district superintendent, the Reverend Wendy Rhodehamel.
Mary gave her report, and special thanks to Doc Schwartz for his guidance of the congregation in both financial matters and organizational affairs. Doc presented the financial report, Yuvon gave the Dodge Memorial Hall report, and Wendy accepted the reports. So, we were free…and hungry…to go down the road to once more gather round the tables at the annual Squatters’ picnic in the Marras’ yard. And here, the food was hearty! And very very good.
Underlying the whole of Saturday night and Sunday, however, there was a great sorrow, as everyone on the island awaited news of the collision of two boats in the main channel near Governor’s Island, and grieved with the MacDonalds who have summered on the south side of the island for many years, over the drowning of their son, Andy, and a friend who had been in the Whaler with him and his sister, Lisa, as they were returning home just shortly after dark on Saturday evening. Lisa, who was wearing a life jacket, was the only one rescued. The young people outside at the dance had grasped for news from every new arrival. Sunday morning everyone in the congregation prayed for the family, not only in the congregational prayers, but as they talked among themselves. The river is so dear to us that it makes our sadness sharper when it takes a life from us. Mary didn’t immediately come the picnic. Rather, she went to visit the MacDonalds and relayed to them the sympathy the congregation feels for the family.
Finally, rain drove us all home from the picnic. Mary packed the last of her luggage into her boat and, saying goodbye to Grindstone, began her voyage to Manitoba and her new ministry on the plains. We know she will be as happy there as she has been here, and as much a blessing to her new congregation, that Jesse, who was homesick last week, will find new friends and joys there, as Sarah already has, that Phil, who has led his family forth, will welcome Mary with more joy than even he can imagine! Our love goes with them, and we await at least a long letter at Christmas- time to tell us of their adventures.
There are only a few notes this week:
I met Leon Rusho in the Big M when he had just come from visiting Marjory. She is weathering the radium treatments well with her amazing courage. “She’s a tough old bird,” says Leon, admiringly. “ And grateful for the long and good life we have had together. We know we can’t live forever. We are content.” He also told us he cooks for himself…” with a minimum of dishes…a cup, a plate, a spoon and fork”…or maybe it was a knife.
Milton told us a lovely story about his father. Paraphrased, Milton said, “He is doing really well. He does everything she needs, keeps the house in order, prepares the meals, everything. But one day he came over (this was in July) and sat down at the table and said ‘I’ve got a terrible problem… ..I’ve got to pick all those raspberries that are ripe out there.’ I laughed and told him to let the birds eat them. ‘O, Dad said, I can’t do that. Your mother would have picked them.’ I finally persuaded him to make the birds happy, but he wanted to do everything Mother would have done.”
Aleatha Williams said to tell you all that Christopher John, their second child, will be one year old on September 24th!
Mary and Phil Beer’s new address is:
Canada ROM 1X0
And on Thursday, John and I go back to Princeton. Until next June,
So it is.