Thu, 10/25/2018 - 7:45pm

Two years ago, I walked past a window and for the first time realized I could see from it one of the wind turbines that had been installed the previous summer. It was a surprise, I knew there was some visibility from the Mansion Beach, but I had never before noticed one from my house.

It had to have been a peculiar combination of direction of the wind which determined the positioning of the blades, and the time, of both day and year, dictating the slant of the sun. This week I saw them, again, brightly white, over my neighbor's hill.

The constant of this week's weather has been its erratic nature, sunshine turning to shadow as massive clouds move across the sky, sometimes different layers moving in opposition to each other, dark wisps floating below looming mountains of white.

The red jetty, so called for the light at its end, was illuminated one afternoon when I stepped out of my car in the parking lot of the Harbor Church on the hill; by the time I was able to reach for my phone camera the rocks had been swallowed by darkness, only the east wall was bright, and that briefly.

Rain has come in little bursts, falling from blue sky, then has ended quickly. I look to the east as sunset approaches and see banks of rose colored clouds holding the last light of day.

Yesterday, the forecast was fine but I walked out into rain, twice, on my way to and from the church where Roll Call Dinner would be served in the evening. Another year I might have worried about something over which I have no control but, despite the fearsome skies and increasingly obvious pockets of exceptional weather — later even a tornado on mainland Rhode Island — I decided all would be fine.

It is a community event, our Roll Call Dinner, made possible by the support of so many pie bakers and turkey roasters and gravy makers within and without our church. It began in 1900, initiated by the Rev. Dr. Horace Roberts, with the objective of raising enough money to erase the debt of the institution, then $728.15. (Nearly $300 was raised at that first Roll Call, and after the following summer there remained a balance of $274.62)

The event — services as well as dinner — was at the big Chapel Street church, the one that burned on a windy night in December of 1944 when so many of the men who would have been out fighting a fire were away at war. It likely would not have mattered, old photographs show a big, open space lined with varnished wood sheathing, with no walls to break racing flames. That the volunteer force was able to keep the fire from spreading to the surrounding buildings, is something of a miracle.

The structure had been erected by the congregation, then housed in a church at the old center, exclusively for summer use by visitors. After a few years, the congregation followed the shift of commerce to the east landing, added to seasonal chapel a winter addition and moved from the old location. Story has it the furnace proved woefully inadequate for the cold months, hence the debt and the start of the fall fund raising dinner.

This place is very different from what it was in 1900, people come and go, many of the names that were so common all those years ago have been virtually erased. Still, there are threads: one diner said it was the first time he had been able to return to a childhood tradition since he was in high school; another, more an attendee than a diner, was the tiny several times great grandson of Dr. Roberts, and arrived in a carrier on his mother's arm; a little boy goes by and I remember his great-grandfather at this same dinner, recalling it from his own youth.

The congregation moved to the hotel on the hill, owned by the church trustees at the time of the fire, willed to them to be used as a place where “worthy persons of impaired health” could come in the summer season. Partitions were removed and a stove installed to heat the space created to hold Sunday worship, at least until the location of the church to be built was determined and plans executed.  Almost seventy-four years later that room is our Fellowship Hall, where tables are set for Roll Call, among a multitude of other uses.

The meal that was once prepared in the kitchen could not be accomplished without all those off-site pie bakers and turkey roasters and gravy makers; the Swiss clock that is the kitchen staff draws from across the population and, blessedly, across generations, down to a little girl tasked by her mother with collecting the plastic salt and pepper shakers as clean up began.

Still, the turkeys arrive and the building quickly fills with the aromas of Thanksgiving, all those juices flowing as birds are carved, and as gravies poured into a sort of melding pot, merging as they are warmed. There is something wonderfully old-fashioned about the night, a simple gathering of friends and neighbors after the summer season has wound almost to an end. Every year someone proclaims they have never before been able to attend, have not been free or have never been on-island this late in October or just haven't gotten to it.

And every year, we either run out of something or come very close and every year it is a day before I realize it is only the tiniest percentage of diners who are off-put. They come for the meal, but most as much for the tradition, for the company; they turn a wait into an opportunity to sit and chat.

As our pastor, new to this tradition, kept saying, trying to pull us back to the reality that no more green beans was not the crisis we were making it:  “There is still plenty of turkey and. . . pie!”