One night in October

Fri, 10/23/2020 - 10:30am

On the long list of things I need to replace is a computer; it is old even by my standards, and keys stopped working over a year ago. It’s a MacBookPro, a plug in keyboard was absurdly expensive then someone suggested I try a generic, an “Amazon Basics” which even by my standards was inexpensive.

It was a matter of making a decision, it was easier to reach over and hit the numbers pad then, this past summer, a few letters. On the list.

Then I broke my arm and, weirdly, the keyboard proved useful in a way I had never imagined: I can prop it against the open laptop, and touch the keys without reaching up and over, not an issue this week, but one at first, and now I’m getting used to it, the downside of gerry-rigging.

This coming Sunday is Roll Call at Harbor Church and despite it being 2020, or because it is 2020, there will still be a dinner, take-out only, next Tuesday, details elsewhere in this paper.

There have been pared-down versions of the dinner, but Roll Call came before the fire that destroyed the Chapel Street Church in 1944, and by the next year’s the congregation was in its “temporary” quarters, the Old Adrian House hotel, where, in Block Island tradition, it remains to this day.

Those dinners are among my earliest memories, sitting with my and a few other dads with children, as the women toiled in the kitchen, then a small, dark space. The south end of the present kitchen was a separate space, a panel in the wall that opened up, making a space workable for one night in October.

Memories are always about color, the dark green of that kitchen, the red and white checked oil cloth that covered the plank tables brought out of the old dining room, turned a storage building, behind the hotel, a few times a year. It was a curiosity, why it was called the dining room when no one ate there, what was on the upper floor, and I remember following my dad, in his “good” plaid Woolrich shirt, as he and the other husbands/dads carried the tables, and the pipe legs which supported them, into the dark space.

That back building was torn down, yet another casualty of the cycle of hurricanes and a bleak economy. It shows up in photographs, occasionally, but easily missed if one doesn’t know where to look.

It seemed a quirk of the Adrian, this separate dining room, then, only this year, going through historical photographs I remembered the Vaill, on the bluffs, had a dining room apart from the hotel proper. It was, and is, separate at the Narragansett but I never considered that strange as I knew even when I worked there in high school that it originally had been a shore dinner hall, even closer to the wharf, moved up the hill — another constant of Block Island stories, a building or section thereof relocated. The dining room predated the main structure.

At Harbor Church, Fellowship Hall, which today seems the obvious dining room, was created when the congregation moved there at the end of 1944, removed a few petitions and brought in a stove. It was only temporary, after all.

Now, Roll Call and Roll Call Dinner have been at the church building and around the Adrian Hotel decades longer than the Chapel Street edifice at which it originated. This year it just won’t be the sit down gathering it has been, an expression of community and — if only for one night — cohesiveness.

Back in the late winter and early spring, when we had hoped for a solid August and September, it was impossible to imagine we would still be in a state of uncertainty in October. Yes, we heard “next year” before there would be any return to normal, whatever normal even means anymore, but it seemed worst case scenario that couldn’t possibly prove true.

It has been mild this week, if not as sunny as forecast, and the field in the mist looks like spring time, the green grass taking attention away from the fading trees. Even the earth looks like spring, the same soft damp that shows imprints too small and sharp to be from the shod horses, the familiar deer prints that remind me Autumn has been out there barking excitedly but only sporadically chasing them before prancing back, quite prideful to have reclaimed her territory and earned herself another nap.