Head for the Steeple

Thu, 04/11/2019 - 7:30pm
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Martha Ball is out sick this week. This column was originally published in April 2011.

You can’t go wrong when you head for the steeple.

Sage advice, it was, from my cousin the mariner, he still so belonging to the world of deepwater he will not park close to the supermarket door. He acknowledges only that his wife has gently questioned the rationale of this “anchoring out” hold-over from his sea-faring days.

I had hitched a ride with him after driving down to Essex, Connecticut with a friend who was not coming to the island that afternoon. We were returning from a Service in Memory of one of the men who made the North Light shine for us last fall, when the lamp, sharp and white, was relighted while cool weather settled.

We barely made it to the service. My friend and I were unfamiliar with Essex and had been following directions on the navigational system so many people who drive anywhere today have in their vehicles. We missed a turn, we both knew it as soon as it happened, and when I looked up from the dashboard there was what had to be our destination, a building high and white, on a hill overlooking much of the town.

It was a “final good-bye,” from a beautiful church with old-fashioned windows, of clear glass and multi-paned, 24 panes over 24, still clad in winter’s plastic, an indignity of age and the sparse funding common to small, old congregations.

The space was crowded that day, the white pews with red seat cushions filled by the time we arrived. There was possibly room, we were told, upstairs, in the balcony.

That “perch” was a good choice, from it we could easily see down to the pulpit and before it red flowers flanking the neatly folded veteran’s flag, and the running photo montage of a life well lived. There was the trumpeter playing “Amazing Grace” and the organist, leaning into her work, making soar the songs sad and sacred that have come to be a part of so many remembrance services for men who have loved the sea, especially “Eternal Father strong to save, whose arm doth guide the restless wave..”

There is a bit of a lighthouse in these old churches, built high and visible even when the GPS is ignored; I like to believe that would have pleased Gil Plumb. That and the gathering following at the tavern I knew only from a bumper sticker on his funky little truck, the one he insisted would make it to the North Light and back without getting stuck, and if it did he’d just let the air out of the tires. By the grace of the God who looks after men determined to do good deeds, all was well.

The grass is greening but the daffodils remain tightly budded against the cold; the ocean is blue but touched with white, chop kicked up by too much wind.

This is the twentieth spring I have been writing about this season that comes so slowly and only to race to a finish.

This column began, or its forerunner was the submittal of a piece of which I was quite proud and which, despite promises, was not run. Finally, there came the admission it had been lost. I was annoyed and sent in several musings with the declaration “if you can print the $&^ so-and-so writes...” Managing Editor Cynthia Hammett decided it should be a column and there I was, in a place I’d never expected, then above the fold on page three back when the paper was all black and white.

I used the typewriter still on the closet floor, and quite literally cut and paste paragraphs put on a page with the imprint of a ribbon cut by individual keys. A black correctable ribbon was quite a miracle — and the beginning of the end of my never especially good typing skills.

Type, cut, paste — or tape — and copy, produced the appearance of a clean sheet of text to be taken to The Block Island Times office. Next, came my word processor which made unimportant that the typewriter had been borrowed and returned without a cord, a necessity for an electric machine. I thought, at the time, it would some day matter; it hasn’t. My words went onto an inflexible disc called a floppy, which were, again, hand-carried to the office.

Always living a decade or two behind the rest of the world (wait long enough it’s possible to skip whole trends in technology) I resisted electronic communications. My introduction to e-mail came with the death of my beloved Uncle Cash. When his family brought his ashes home to be buried they brought his Webtv (I still have the little television that came with the box). It put me on the internet, opened the World Wide Web, but provided no capacity for writing. I thought about a computer, I looked at them, I thought some more as the increasingly outdated and obsolete word processor sputtered and threatened to shut down but I did nothing until it went dark.

Even with the new computer, with internet and writing tools, with everything in one place, transmitting documents electronically seemed such a cheat. It was too easy, but, eventually, the lure of writing even later into the night won me over and I began e-mailing my words.

Now The Block Island Times has gone to a different system which doesn’t, in truth, sound all that different. Just more complicated while all the time they tell me how much easier it is. (Note: that change proved short-lived).

I do not want to go back to cut and paste — I’d need a typewriter with a cord — and neither do I want to go back to the discs they tell me no one uses anymore.

Still, despite the ease the electronic world affords, sometimes I’d rather ignore it all and simply head for the steeple.