GRINDSTONE ISLAND NEWS - JULY 15, 2001
Between those puffy, beautiful, slate- gray-blue, black clouds that, all week, unexpectedly spilled their ballooning bags of rain, people on Grindstone did a lot of things this weekend! There was a quilting bee at the schoolhouse (I think)- It was one of those bits of activity that I only heard mentioned, but I think it happened. There was the county teachers’ group that visited the schoolhouse on Tuesday morning and stayed for lunch and then stayed to take part in the children’s program Eliza Moore led. She is studying the history of music in the Thousand Islands under the auspices of the Grindstone Schoolhouse Project. So her workshop interested the teachers.
So, to begin the week’s story, the children’s workshop, at 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon was an introduction to the children’s study of the island music. The first meeting began with the story of Charlie Matthews who called the squares at Dodge Memorial Hall every Saturday night for years and years with his own mischievous sense of humor and his own kind way. After the reading of the story- poem, Eliza remarked that in Charlie’s day, dances were rhythmic, unified patterns everyone knew. All together, they followed the steps or patterns called out by the “caller” who usually was part of a small group of musicians in the neighborhood, each of whom played an instrument. Usually there was a fiddler who was the most important member, like the first fiddler in a modern orchestra.
Leon played fiddle for the dances in the 50’s and 60’s to Charlie’s calling. The children and some of the school teacher guests remembered that someone played the piano (“chorded it”), and one or two others played guitars or banjos. A few in the circle called out that in the Grindstone group, Bob Bazinet played the “gut bucket”. (This was a primitive, home-made instrument created from a big washtub placed upside down which made a resonant floor or sounding board. It supported an upright board into which another horizontal crosspiece was fitted to move like an off-balance sea-saw. A piece of clothes line was fastened through a hole in the long end of the crosspiece, and anchored like a hypotenuse to the bottom of the upright. The player stretched the line to the right note by pressing on the free end of the horizontal at the right intensity, as one tightens a bass viol string. Then he plucked the tightened rope. Amazingly, the thing supplied a bass harmony which gave a pleasant weight to the music.)
There was the fun of a community game in the square dances. And Eliza began, outdoors, in a very big circle to lead us all in patterns that resemble the movements in the macarina. The children were really better at following her than the adults, and they delighted in the game. They had fun practicing an “a-le-main left”, the “grand right and left”, the “promenade”, and finally made up a step to do in the eight beats (when each couple does the figure that defines the particular dance, the “ocean wave”, for instance). It was a wonderful two hours. So we all await the next session with Eliza at the schoolhouse this Tuesday at 10:30 am.
There, half way across the island, the little red schoolhouse is going to be busy all during these summer weeks. The annual potluck picnic will take place Sunday, July 22nd after church. Please bring both a dish to serve (and something to sit on to be comfortable during the picnic, the raffle, and the silent auction)! There will be transportation to and from the island: from the Antique Boat Museum at 9:30 am, returning at 2:30 pm. A bus will run from the church to the schoolhouse and from the island town dock to the schoolhouse. Call 686-4093 to reserve a spot on the boat.
On Wednesday, the children gathered in the morning at the carriage house behind the church to learn about Jesus telling the sea to quiet down, and the disciples’ astonishment that it did. They all came home with sail boats they made from the forms Mr. & Mrs Petry had whittled during their winter months in Florida. Our children found they sailed very well all around our “swimming rock” and back into the crook at the end of “Bertha’s Point”, if the wind wasn’t too vigorous! What will the children come home with this Wednesday? Dick and Mary know and will be there to reveal it on Wednesday, July 18th.
And on Thursday morning at 10:30, about fourteen children spent a couple of hours with Urch (Yes, mother-of-Urch, “Eileen”) Slate, doing equally enchanting projects. And, yes, Urch will be at the schoolhouse on Thursday, July 16th .So, surely, the children will be there too, to model a bit of clay, perhaps, clay dug right out of the sand at Salt’s beach! But Urch has lots of ideas for these hours, so you may be surprised..
That is not even the beginning of the “doings” this week.
I insert that on Friday, so Caroline Larson reported, the sailing-skiff races were called off because soon after the two boats which entered got started at the Antique Boat Museum’s bay, the wind died, seemingly for the afternoon.
By Saturday morning at nine o’clock , Erma, at the carriage house, was putting to work her many helpers, Margaret Taylor had the turkeys there on time. And the whole ever-faithful Marra crew who, “if they are going to do something, like to do it well”, (and DO!) and her “Syracuse girls” set about stuffing the birds and peeling potatoes. They were preparing the annual turkey dinner. Others were out in the yard getting things set up for the auction.
By 5:30 the line at the door to the dining room was long, and by 6:30 every table was full and people were sitting in circles outside on the grass eating turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and pie and pie and pie. Phil Marra, who carved all the turkeys, was getting the auction started. But inside, the last stragglers were coming to the table. John and I were the last two because I had insisted on going for my swim after we got home from a long day when our son missed a bus, shopping to fill an empty refrigerator, and trying (not succeeding) to get a vacuum cleaner repaired. We cleaned up the very last shreds of the turkey and fixings! As we scraped the platters, the Davison clan donned their aprons as the cleanup crew! Phyllis Schwartz and I sat outside and watched the auction. For the first time in many years, we were not at the dish pans....And both of us were unrepentantly grateful for those ministers who were doing penance. They said, they were paying for the many meals when they had not washed dishes after dinners in churches where, as ministers, they’d gotten out of all the work—(that was their dead-pan explanation!) During the greeting in church this morning, Doc Schwartz announced that the dinner alone made $1,000 for the church. So the floor of the carriage house will undoubtedly be repaired because so many people worked so hard.
The auction is always a merry time. Phoebe Marks bought a fine folding stool for $5.00 which she spent several hours sitting on today, at her easel, where she is working on her first oil painting. It was a real bargain 10 year-old Phoebe thought! Malory, Gena’s tiny three-year old daughter, trotted happily up to the auctioneer to claim the doll she bought with the dollar bills she clutched in her little hand. Today I saw her walking down the road toward her house with the doll cuddled to her breast, happily singing to her. And we, and four others came home with elegant bird houses that Dick Petry had designed and built out of cypress wood. They are lovely creations with Key-West roofs. The auction, by itself, made $834.34. There was a good tent (all set up for examination) for sale, a foot relaxer, a child’s lawn chair, a fine dinner table with four chairs, and even a motor cycle ready, perhaps, for antique status.
During it all, people talked and talked.....and, in Grindstone fashion talked and talked. It was interesting to hear Debby Smith’s friend, Mary, and Eliza Moore discussing Indian lore in the Thousand Islands. Mary is an “Irish-Indian” woman who has studied a lot about the tribes in the area.
Across the road, Andy Davis, the Midnight Sun DJ, turned his music up loud and clear, luring the auction bidders to the dance. So, of course, they came. The children came in droves. And when we got there, the dance room was full of children and teen agers doing the Macarena! Everyone was in high spirits looking forward to the next day when they could thank Dr. Withington with a surprise party for him. And, yes, there will be a dance this Saturday! Come! Doreen called to say the cook books Dodge Hall is selling are going fast. If you’d like one, call either Karen Lashomb (686-2977 or 686- 4078) or Doreen Meeks (686- 3955 or 6114)
But between the dance and the lunch for Dr. Withington, of course, on Sunday morning, a great crowd of Saturday night dancers (and lots of others) filled the little church across the road. Since the Rev. Dick Petry, unmistakably, had laryngitis, Andy Davison and his brother, Jim, opened the service and led the worship so that Dick had to preach only the sermon. Yes, it’s the same Davison tribe that washed dishes on Saturday night! I’m sure the support they give Mr. Petry made him and Mary feel willing to come back again this year. Certainly the Petrys return has a great deal to do with our bursting-at- the- seams attendance! We do appreciate both them...and the Davisons. Our special guests this week were Alvin and Pat Taylor. Alvin sang “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” a cappella in his fine bass voice, and later another hymn advising us to follow the good Samaritan’s way. Pat led us in the Benediction.
With the reading of the scripture lesson about the Good Samaritan , Grindstone Islanders began to think of Dr. Withington, and the party for him that was about to take place across the road at the hall.
There was a tent. There were two grills burning. There was food and drink. And there was Dr. Withington, surprised. And moved, he said, as he seldom is.
And there was a great crowd of people to say “Thank You” to him.
Jeff Marra made our formal statement of gratitude to “our long-term friend and caregiver”, and to Rose Ann who came with him to the party. Jeff said, “When I see the EMS I (the Fireboat) on the river, I know Doc Withington is with the firemen, a good Samaritan driven by his sensitivity to our needs. (That last sentence, Jeff said, he “grabbed off Dick’s sermon”) But all of us had grabbed the Samaritan image as we heard the story again and leapt ahead in our minds to bestow the metaphor upon the guest who was about to arrive.
Patsy Parker told us about Dr. Withington as a “boss” always attentive to his aides. Patsy came across the river one morning in thick fog, and, though arriving late for work at Dr. Withington’s office, was there in time to put in a good day. But next day, the good doctor happened to meet Patsy’s brother, and entreated him to tell Patsy to stay off the river when there is fog....appointment to work or not!
People stood up all around the hall, each one to say almost the same thing. “He is always there”. “He sees that we get the help we need”. “Just a minute” he says, “ I’ll be right there.”
“He is there”, he says, “just to be there for people”.
Jeff and Patsy then presented a handsome mantle clock engraved “to Doctor Withington, to thank you for your care and concern. from Dodge Hall, Grindstone Island, 2001.”
Dr. Withington, himself, told about his life as a doctor on the river. His parents had a house at Sackett’s Harbor when he was a young boy, and every year the family made the trip up the Rideau. He can remember coming to Grindstone in 1952, to the north side to visit Dr. John Chambers. Dr. Henderson is also dear in his memories of those early days on our island. Dr. Withington can remember three friends, once, when he was a teen-ager learning to handle a car, driving, like a committee, an old battered junker over the dirt roads. .John Crosly was big enough to see over the windshield, one boy handled the gears, and a third something else, maybe brakes! Luckily, they got where they were going. He doesn’t advise trying to imitate that trick now, though. Our roads are much busier now.
So the boy became a man and a doctor. And after he had gotten his bachelor’s degree at Holy Cross, his MD at Columbia University, and after he had done his internship at Dartmouth in Orthopedics, he came to Watertown as a young orthopedic surgeon.
Then, in 1978, Rose Ann said, when their children were teen-agers, that she wanted to ‘find a house on a rock with a dock”. And so they did. Round Island became their home. And from there, Doctor Withington became THE River Doctor.
One of the people on Grindstone who gave him encouragement is Marjorie Rusho who, even in a wheel chair did her own gardening, her own cleaning and her own cooking! It was Marjorie who pushed faithfully until the fire department had gotten the smallest grant in federal history ($200) to outfit the fireboat with the proper equipment for becoming an emergency boat that fulfilled all righteousness. And after the boat was on the water, to have a doctor fully qualified to go along on the calls, Doc Withington joined the Clayton Fire Department
Grindstone has always, “Doc” said, “Been dear to his heart, and to Rose Ann’s. Before Buck died, Dr.Withington got Buck off in a corner of his pasture and told him “If you ever have a piece of pasture you want to let go, save it for me”
There have been many inspiring and moving encounters in his doctor’s visits on our island, miracles he’s witnessed in courage and resourcefulness, people unbelievably faithful and full of amazing grace. “There are” said Dr. Withington, “stories too good not to tell, but too precious to be told.”
So it is. Aminta Marks