GRINDSTONE ISLAND NEWS - August 23, 1998
This was a busy week, full of unusual celebrations. Most of them we managed to celebrate even though Toad, our faithful boat, was not on the go after its motor “seized up” on the 16th until the following Saturday morning. The parties began on Tuesday noon in rather cloudy, uncomfortable weather, inside Beverly Pope’s house on the shore in Thurso Bay, where the Thurso Bay Association families gathered to gorge on Beverly’s traditional peach and almond homemade ice cream and sing Happy Birthday when she, again, traditionally, blew out all of the candles on her cake. Beverly herself did most of the rebuilding of the little cottage the Pope family chose for theirs. Emmet Dodge had moved the second floor of the old island store (he said, though I can never make that fit with the photos that are in Audrey’s book) down to the flat ledge of granite chips left from the old quarry operations, and, a teenager, Beverly made a snug nest for her family.
That evening, a full load of islanders climbed into the church van to wind a roundabout way to the next event. Driven by minister Jane, and guided by Erma Slate as well as Buck himself could have done, we bumped over the little-driven base-line road and turned north to the Squash Court on Josephine Murray’s land to a celebration we had looked forward to for a long time. We knew it was to be a wonderful evening because we have heard Celina sing many times in Grindstone worship services, often with Tom, her husband playing cello, and her two daughters joining in on their instruments. It turned out to be such a lively, young evening that I asked Hugo Berkeley, who was spending the week at Wild Goose Island to write about it. Last Easter when he came to dinner with us in Princeton, Hugo persuaded me to sit in on an excellent course he was taking in contemporary poetry at the University where he will be a senior this year. He has spent the summer as a kind of intern on a small New York City newspaper, and has been asked to review Paul Muldoon’s new book in a coming issue. It seemed too bad to miss a chance to hear from him this week. So here is what Hugo saw and heard on August 23rd on Grindstone Island:
Last Tuesday night all of Grindstone’s many crowds rubbed shoulders in the recently restored hall that formerly served as the island’s squash court. Brought together at the invitation of Celina and Eliza Moore, islanders assembled to enjoy an evening of musical entertainment, with songs performed by the mother and daughter duo.
Particularly for those who spend only a few weeks a year on the River, invitations to musical recitals are a rare event, and, one would assume, usually mark some grand occasion or other. But this time around, as boats pulled into Cement Point and ramblers made their way across the pastures, no one was quite sure what they were soon to be celebrating. However, all Presbyterian anxieties over un-necessitated merry-making were quickly put to rest. The gathering audience was swiftly ushered past a well-stocked bar and into the resplendent “court” - a room so long under renovation that many had begun to wonder whether construction paraphernalia had not become a permanent fixture in its interior decor. Camilla Smith (of Pinquot Bay) kicked off the evening’s proceedings with a specially-composed poem, and her words of appreciation for the care devoted to the Squash Court by Josephine Murray found resonance in the stained wood walls. Packed together in a semi-circular shape around an aged piano, over sixty onlookers admired the improvements to the entire house’s structure and finish - and I, for one, was especially appreciative of the newly stabilized floor.
Despite a prevailing trend among small-talkers to discuss building matters, celebrating the “New” Squash Court did not prove reason enough for the recital. Cookie’s poem ended with a stirring couplet that asked us kindly to take our hats off to the two ladies of song whose talents were soon to impress us. Having been lucky enough to pass several evenings in the company of Eliza and her fiddle over the years, I had an inkling as to the musical talent that lies somewhere in the Moore gene-pool, but, like many others (judging by comments at the post-concert party), had been ignorant as to the breadth and depth of that talent. Singing selections from many of Europe’s great romantic composers (Faure, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, Mozart plus many others), Celina and Eliza displayed a formidable range of musical capability and linguistic dexterity, as well as impressive vocal stamina and discerning selection.
Reveling at the opportunity to entertain so many of her close friends, Celina appeared every bit the operatic diva (she sported a flowing salmon tunic), while Eliza’s quiet confidence was exemplified by the force with which she hit notes, both high and low. And, as Jimmy Chen (a sonic enthusiast) of Sugarbush was quick to point out, audio enjoyment was only enhanced by the squash court’s remarkable acoustic qualities.
Following an encore, guests made their way into the kitchen for a potluck supper, to which all had contributed. (At this point it might be worth mentioning that, contrary to our initial beliefs, improvements to the residence were not complete - the oven had yet to be repaired and, as a result, all food was consumed cold.) Socializing continued for several hours both inside the house and out on the porch, while several slightly more amateur musicians headed back into the performance space for their own turn in the spot-light - at one point during the evening, even the deep strains of Figaro could be heard from afar.
All in all, the Moore’s concert was both a wonderfully enjoyable and moving event. As Celina read translations to each song before it was sung, one could not help thinking it a fitting tribute to the memory of Tom Moore that his wife should sing such happy words of forsaken love on an August evening in the house that he adored.
It’s nice to read the new cadences and verbs of a young writer, isn’t it? Hugo is right, there was joy in Celina’s singing with Eliza that suggests a more immediate conception of everlasting life. I’ve been seeing it, also, as Brenda and Jeremy go about the work on Buck’s farm, doing his haying, making it, now, theirs, but respectfully, as if his eye still guides the tractor. After my father’s death, I remember my mother’s going happily about her daily life in the same house where she had lived with my father for so many years, as if he were about to appear. It’s like the river’s ripples that circle out from the leap of a frog, meet other waves, change shape, build, wash back from the rocks, and keep ringing out forever.
Wednesday came. And on Wednesday, this grandma and grandpa celebrated Elizabeth Rueckert’s thirteenth birthday at Midriver Farm where 20 of her aunts, uncles, and cousins were spending the week at Elizabeth’s other grandparents house. Again, there was cake after the grilled hamburgers and candles and presents. And there was a smile that wound twice around Elizabeth’s pretty face.
And still more. In the evening, the baby boomers gathered at Club Island for a ride in the museum’s handsome wooden boats to a party for Polly Haxall McLean in celebration of her fiftieth birthday at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton with band, dancing, dinner, and pleasure in her children and relatives and friends up and down the river, many of whom Polly grew up with. Husband John made it all happen.
Wednesday was also Norvin Hein’s birthday, and Mary Margaret Bazinet’s birthday, too!
August is a birthday month.
And finally on Saturday, there was a baseball game at Rum Point. Alice Berkeley took over the task of organizing, calling everyone to leave swimming, tennis, boating, and whatever, to gather for only the second time this summer in the tradition carried on at the head of the island for many, many generations. Joan Ruekert, watching comfortably as Alice kept score and kept the batters in order, as Joan did for several years after Betty Haxall had to give up the work, said, that though she had found being “baseball commissioner” a chore, it is too wonderful a tradition to give up. You could tell by the enthusiasm of the sluggers and fly-catchers that everyone agrees.
Nadinka White, hostess at Rum Point hopes that we have now begun a new tradition of hearing Celina and Eliza sing. Traditions sometimes seem a bit of a burden, but they enrich families and communities more than we often realize.
Then Saturday night arrived, and the traditional Saturday night party at Dodge Memorial Hall. Here, as we were at the squash court, we are grateful for Josephine Murray’s, and her mother’s generosity in encouraging a recreation at the hall where island young people can “party”. The building belongs to the church, but it was Mrs. Murray who provided the first record player for the first dances. All traditions require great generosity of time and money and enthusiasm if they are to continue.
On the 22nd, the Ray-John kept everybody hopping. Bubby called a square, and in the drawing for the 50-50, Susie Marshall was the winner. Robert Smith had a sore throat on Thursday, but when, in the morning, her remembered it was Friday, he decided he was well. Robert would hate to miss a dance. And so would most of the young people on the island.
This week, August 22nd, The Bandits will play, and Bubby will again call a square or two. Maybe we can make the whole hall roll like the ocean wave, this Saturday and next Saturday, and next…
So Sunday morning came, and the church was full, as it traditionally is. And another tradition was observed. This was the week given over to music. Joan Flint played her flute, Nancy Waterman, minister Jane’s sister, sang two solos, and Carol Marsh sang two.
more, and the children’s choir dramatized another song! Jane had placed a box at the rear of the church several weeks ago where people could place their requests for favorite hymns, and each one who made a request had a chance to sing at least one of their most loved hymns. Each of us came out humming a tune.
At nine o’clock, the committee for the reconstruction of the church had met with the church board to begin to formulate precisely how we want the church to look when we come back in the spring. We are such an eclectic congregation, with so many independent souls, with so many talents and varied experiences to bring to the decision that, as you can imagine, another meeting is needed to come to the carefully honed statement we all hope for which can be acceptable to everyone in the congregation.
So: Next Saturday, the reconstruction committee will once more meet with the church board to continue the work they couldn’t finish to their satisfaction on Sunday Morning. Karen Lashomb made me decide that this column is a useful tool for such moments. She has been off the island several weekends and wouldn’t have known about the board meeting if she hadn’t read the T.I. Sun. So, in this time of fury at reporters and columnists, perhaps we can all take heart that we do some good, too.
Once more, this reminder: All members of the Reconstruction Committee and all members of the Church Board will meet in the church on Saturday, August 29th, at 9:00 AM to formulate, finally, the plans for the interior redesign of the Grindstone Methodist Church.
After church many of the congregation went to the Grand Reopening of the Schoolhouse for a potluck lunch, (as good as they always are), and to see what has been wrought by the committee in charge of the project. Franny Purcell introduced Fritz Potts who presented the school with a check for a thousand dollars from the Rotary Club of Clayton to be used in building a collection of artifacts and Thousand Islands history and lore, and in the program of tutoring and recreation and study programs for island residents. These programs will be formed as island people voice their wishes and dreams. Perhaps, if we keep the building alive, someday more families will again winter on the island, and the school can once more reopen as a regular school. Who knows what can happen in such a place? Jeremy and Tom and Urch are keeping on Buck’s tradition of island living. Nothing is impossible. And certainly it is good to see the little schoolhouse alive again.
We all relished hearing Reggie Carpenter, the first intern dramatically retell the story of the Tar Baby. Years ago, when I was painting her portrait, I remember Char Cupernall with real enjoyment, telling the stories she had read in school that year. Surely the story telling is another wonderful tradition that may be happening again at the schoolhouse. This Friday evening at six o’clock, Reggie Carpenter will tell some more stories.
And after that, this Friday, August 28th, there will be a shower for Urch, Harry Slate’s wife-to-be, at the Hall at 7:00. Everyone is invited. So come to wish them much, much happiness!
I skipped next Thursday. Minister Jane has invited all who will, to come on Thursday, August 27, to the parsonage with paint brushes and cans to hold paint in hand, to paint the woodwork in the house and to consume as much fried dough as you can eat!
Next Sunday is the charge conference (and potluck lunch) of the Grindstone Island Church. The district superintendent will be here, and the report will be made to the congregation of the plans for the reconstruction of the church.
Here is a letter from Ken Larson about their progress: “The Sanctuary Reconstruction Committee and the Board of trustees met before the service on Sunday to hammer out the final plans for the sanctuary reconstruction. A constructive give and take followed the presentation of the committee’s report. The combined group will meet again on Saturday morning to finalize some basics to present to the congregation. Progress is being made, and the reconstruction should proceed on schedule.”
Again, Sis, “Hello!” Toad is back in working condition, and when the kids all leave on Wednesday, we’ll make that treck down to Alex Bay to see you that we’ve been trying to make for two weeks! We miss you. I told Jada to read you the note I wrote to you last week, and she promised she would.
So it is