Thursday, September 27, 2012

Called back

If you are a really good at literature or have a thing for Emily Dickinson like some of us do, you might recognize the title of this blog as the epitaph on Ms. Dickinson’s headstone in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Story has it the phrase ‘Called back’ was the content of the last note she wrote to her cousins just before her death in 1886.  Her brother and sister thought it an appropriate aphorism to set in stone by which the rest of us could remember their sometimes odd yet thoughtful sister.  

Quoting Emily’s last written thought seems appropriate today as I memorialize a couple of fine folks who have made a difference in the world and just recently have shuffled their way off this mortal coil. 

First, Dayton lost an adopted favorite son early Monday morning when Rev. Gordon S. Price, rector emeritus of downtown’s Christ Episcopal Church, took his final leave from this earth at Hospice of Dayton.  Gordon was 95 and in poor health recently, but that surely didn’t stop him from being involved in life.  

Rev. Price served the people of Christ Church and the downtown community from 1958 to 1982 as rector with perhaps his most lasting impact his spearheading the renovation of the 1870s-era church building, known affectionately as the Great Lady of First Street.  

Those who knew him well, however, would probably point not to the building, but to the impact he had on the community as his biggest contributions.  During his tenure, Gordon stood with Daytonians in the ‘60s as civil rights issues tore the town apart.  He was at the church helm when the Suicide Prevention Center formed there, as well as the Other Place, designed to help local homeless, still operating today as Homefull.  During his time, too, with the help of parishioner Doris Miller, American Sign Language began to be ‘spoken’ every Sunday at the 10:30 service with the ASL program coming soon thereafter to Sinclair Community College, under the guidance of Ms. Miller.

Aside from his church work, Gordon was one heck of a gardener.  Stopping by his and Ruth’s house any day from spring to fall, one could expect a little lecture tour on just what was happening in the side yard plots.  Unfortunately, it was that working in the dirt that impacted a knee with a nasty infection a few years ago that he never quite got over.  

Even though Gordon was no longer Christ Church’s rector, he was still very much engaged in parish matters.  I can’t tell you how many Waffle Shop meetings the guy attended.  Most recently he called and wanted to meet briefly to discuss what should happen to the Great Lady’s chapel space, recently determined to be so seriously undermined that taking it down brick by brick was one of the proposed solutions.  Gordon, of course, wanted to keep the room standing, and even had a list of ideas about ‘reconciliation’ that parishioners could discuss and thus renew enthusiasm for retaining the room.  

Rev. Price ran Christ Church during an era when downtown was the financial and commercial center of the Miami Valley.  He knew so many important people in his day, and even assisted in their pastoral care, regardless of their religious affiliation.  He liked to tell the story of being with David Rike during his final days.  

Needless to say, Gordon Price will be missed, though knowing how much he was involved in life over his long tenure on the planet somehow softens the blow.  Rest well, Gordon.  You deserve it.  You showed us all how to witness love for each other in our lives.  


On that July night in 1969 when Neil Armstrong first stepped on the moon, I was going to be nowhere near a television set.  

I was 19 that summer and was invited to attend an evening religious event in Cincinnati with a good adult friend and co-worker.  Even though I wanted to be anchored in front of the old black and white Westinghouse on Fauver Avenue, I didn’t know how to say no to my pal.  

Sometime during the evening, though, the topic of the moon walk came up, and I made it clear that I really hated to miss the event.  My buddy heard me, and on the drive home, he pulled off at some long-gone restaurant at the Paddock Road exit just north of Cincinnati where we found a booth and sat for an hour or so with Cokes and a roomful of proud strangers watching live images from the moon.   Oh, such pride Neil brought to all Earth-bound folk!  

It was a nice moment, too, when I was able to get grandkids and a son-in-law to Woodland Cemetery here in town this past June to see Neil Armstrong celebrate another great American hero, Wilbur Wright, upon the 100th anniversary of the first flier’s passing. 

And so it is with sadness that I offer this farewell to Neil Armstrong, a guy gone before his time.  (Eighty-two doesn’t sound near as old as it used to!)  

Such a humble guy who never wanted to take much credit for his first-in-civilization accomplishment.  Over the years in the few interviews he gave, he made it clear he was just part of a much bigger team working together to make moon flight possible.  I learned recently that the Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins names do not adorn the official Apollo 11 flight patch at the direction of Commander Armstrong.  He didn't want the men remembered.  He wanted the first moon landing notoriety shared by all Americans.  The patch features a bald eagle landing with olive branches, not arrows, in his talons.  Truly, Terrans left the safety of their own world in peace.  

True enough, I suppose, but Mr. Armstrong will live in my heart the rest of my days as a true American hero.  He's the man.  

Today’s Elder Idea:  It is the role of the church to give of itself for the world's reconciliation, not preparing man for heaven.

Rev. Gordon S. Price
quoted in The Magazine
Dayton Daily News (28 March 1982)

For an earlier Back Porch blog on Neil Armstrong’s visit to Dayton in June, see:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hog3: Expectations

When Cindy Lou and I decided last winter that one of us -- that would be me -- could take grandson Noah to Hog Island’s Family Camp this summer, the wheels started turning in my head. 

I don’t think any singular place on the planet has made a greater impact on my life than Hog Island.  Certainly my home places have formed who I have become, but finding myself on Hog in 1981, when I was 31, and finding it intertwined with Emily Dickinson’s story, changed my life.  Ever since I’ve been writing poetry myself and collecting whatever I could about Mabel Loomis Todd and her family of island benefactors.  And, of course, there is the book I am writing about the Todd Binghams, most particularly how Mrs. Todd was a Nature lover, not unlike her reclusive neighbor in Amherst, Emily Dickinson. 

So it won’t be any surprise for you to learn that following my first fortnight on Hog Island, I immediately wanted to share the place with those I love.  The year following my going to camp, my then-spouse, Chris took her two-week turn in the Audubon program there, thanks to the generosity of a Dayton Audubon Society scholarship, one like I had been awarded.  Things didn’t turn out for us like I had hoped, but upon marrying Cindy Lou ten years later, one of the first places I had to take her was Hog Island.  It didn’t take Ms. Cooke long to understand what the place has meant to me.  

So after we got permission from Noah’s mother for me to steal him away to Maine and points east for a summer adventure, I began one of my favorite winter practices:  planning upcoming summer travel.  And with Noah?  On Hog Island?  Heart be still!  

I think I have admitted here on The Back Porch somewhere how I have miscalculated plenty of times what Noah should be capable of doing at his age.  When he was 3, he took up shovel with me and dove right in to digging the hole for our little backyard pond.  Ever since, I suppose, I’ve figured him to be my junior partner

So on this trip to Maine -- to that place of magic I have known for half my life -- I figured he would be my front seat traveling buddy.  You know, scope out the maps and know exactly where we are; have change ready for tolls; enjoy the pastoral countryside of northern Pennsylvania passing just beyond our windshield.  Didn’t turn out quite that way.

Instead, Noah wanted nothing more than to lose himself in electronic gaming.  Let’s see:  He had his iPod, broken glass and all, but somehow still operational.  If the power went low on that one, he could always use my iPhone.  (‘No, we’re not going to buy another game for the phone’ x 25)  And, of course, next on the hit list was my music-filled iPod loaded with a few of his favorite games.  

By mid-day two of travel east it was obvious Noah wasn’t interested in scenery as he contorted all over the seat next to me, seat belted, trying to get a better view of his broken iPod screen.  When he eventually got upside down, I became a bit exasperated and told him to jump in the back seat and make a little ‘nest’ for himself.  Off he went and with the two pillows we brought, propped himself up in a corner.  As far as I can figure, travel for him was a whole lot better the rest of the way with the new arrangement.  

When we got to camp, as mentioned in my last blog, I figured Noah and I would be paired up doing lots of stuff over the week.  But on Sunday afternoon’s first activity, he had already broken from me and found a new buddy to play with.  I was taken aback, but immediately realized that with Noah acting out with another, I could have amazing photo ops all week.  Trust me, I got some good stuff!

I titled this entry ‘Expectations,’ because I had a few when the Hog Island adventure with Noah began exactly one month ago today.  Still, I was much aware that this island event was really about himWhat would Noah find?  What would really turn him on?  How would he do with other kids?  Would he end up loving Hog Island like me?

The very human grandfather in me so wanted to connect with the kid and have him see some things special in the spruce woods and upon the lovely lobster-floated Muscongus bay waters.  And yet I knew that my experience would be enhanced by just letting go -- of him and my expectations -- and just be present for the week.  There was a warm zen mindfulness to such an approach, and I have to say, I am glad I embraced it.  I got to feel that I was a kind of home base for him on island, and that he could range far and wee to discover what he could with friends and on his own.  And he did it well, too.

I don’t know what Family Camp will mean to Noah in the long run.  I do know that we had a damned fine time while we were gone.  Cindy Lou senses something deeper between us.  I do like the sparkle in the kid’s eye and the smile on his face.  

I know, too, that Noah has been an amazing source of surprise for Grandma and me over the years.  Just when you think you know the guy, he pops off with some little nugget of wisdom that makes the two of us look at each other and smile.  Sure, we expect Noah to be an upstanding human being, but beyond that, we’re open to where he will take us.  

Today’s Elder Idea:  This island is so beautiful it really makes my heart ache!  Why, it seems to me God's own heaven can hardly be more perfect. 

                        journal of Mabel Loomis Todd
                        August 9, 1924

images:  Thanks to Trudy Phillips!