Years ago now, a doctor friend in the city (doesn’t that sound posh, at least more than my sixth cousin or first cousin six times removed, depending upon which one of us is drawing the chart) started sending me dire predictions of the pandemic just creeping into this part of the country, complete with charts and narratives of the great influenza of 1918.
Back then in the late winter of 2020, summer seemed far away, years ending in different digits were unimaginable. And yet here we are, still not rid of this plague for all our pretending everything is normal.
Summer colds and the allergies that come with the contrast between heat and unnatural cool make us uncertain test takers, half hoping for a positive to give us a respite from the crazy summer. (Result: negative.)
This has been a long spell of heat. Back in July I was thinking of the blasting heat that so often came other years that week preceding the fourth Saturday in July when we held a big fair at the Harbor Church. There was consolation
remembering the when-it-was-so-bad until about four in the morning on Saturday, when the thunder rolled and the rain fell and the wind blew and I awoke feeling, at first, the blessed cool, then almost immediately thought “the tent!”
the pink and white behemoth that had been carefully assembled, ropes tied to stakes, and finally raised with the great center pole pushed up with brute strength.
It was crazy, I know now, and I had an interesting role for several years, being in charge but not in charge at all, my purpose telling people not to move, not to adjust, basically not to do anything unless the man in whatever color
shirt he was wearing that year said to. I would proclaim I had no idea what rope went there - it was the truth, I didn’t - but he did and when all else failed I’d pull out the unarguable “it’s all about tension, and he’s the engineer!”
It was not so long ago in years, I found a Facebook memory of finding ourselves short a sledge hammer and boldly going off to a place I knew there were a few, expecting to have to evoke the spirit of a grandmother or some island magic. I didn’t have to get beyond “we need a sledge hammer down at the church” to receive that for which I had asked, probably with an “as long as I don’t have to do” chuckle. I hadn’t thought about that little moment for years when it popped up last month and it reminded me I need to post more little stories of gratitude, more of the dad with his two little girls on the corner by Rebecca, debating who could sit on whose shoulders, the children still young enough that everything dad said was “silly.” More of that and less honking of horns.
More of leaving yesterday after a long, slow, still hot day and going up to the church for a meeting and during it receiving a text from one of the cowgirls telling me when she had come to feed the horses she had let Autumn out
to romp a bit, which meant I didn’t have to hurry home and could stay to help serve at the dinner for the international student workers.
It had been a long time since I’d done it, quite a while before Covid, and I was assigned the simplest of tasks, serving food. We were out in the back yard of the church, where the dining room for the Adrian Hotel once stood, where in
the early evening the green grass was shaded by a high hedge and trees grown tall in full leaf. There was a bit of a breeze and just enough separation from town to feel apart from it. Young people with varying accents arrived, to sit and eat, several to take food to their friends who were working. Some wore shirts proclaiming their place of employment, most did not. They were to a person, polite and gracious and grateful, expressing that gratitude for an easy summer meal of pasta and pizza and salad and a dessert assortment that seemed odder to the adults than the visiting students.
There was a feeling of normalcy in the evening and a good reminder that it was one more thing our little church couldn’t continue to pull off on our own. From the start of this program, I do not know how many years ago, I have been astonished at the generosity of people, wanting to help us put our collective community’s best foot forward, bringing food, helping serve what has been provided by others, offering a friendly greeting, putting together and taking apart those wobbly plastic tables a former minister got on sale on-line, I think, but ones that last and last and at this point certainly owe us nothing.
It made for a long day but coming home I felt fleetingly settled, or at least moving back in the right direction.
Sometimes the final result had little to do with the initial intention. At least when Lucretia Mott Ball, my step-great grandmother, willed her father’s farm to be the Nathan Mott Park, it was so. Until the airport took part of it, but a chunk of land remains, the first dedicated green space on Block Island, intended for use by residents and visitors alike. Her antiques meant for an institution preferably in New England led to what the late Ron Gill called “fast footwork” on the part of the administrator of her will who had incorporated the Block Island Historical Society, which this year celebrates its 80th birthday.
It was the Adrian Hotel that took the sharpest turn, from a place where “worthy persons of impaired health” could come in the summer unless circumstances changed and the owners she named, the Trustees of the First Baptist Church, saw other needs.
They did, although I doubt they - or Lucretia - ever envisioned the little institution would welcome international guests. Or model trains.