Saturday, 30 October 2010

As I walk out (5)

(I use full names when I know folks well.  I use initials when folks are simply acquaintances of mine).

Every once in a while I encounter A and R as they walk around the lake.  They have been wed for 42 years.  They hold hands as they walk.  I like that so much.  (I am a bit of a romantic!).

I hadn’t seen them for a while until Wednesday last.  We chatted for a bit and they allowed that they had been visiting family members in Newburyport, MA.  (That happens to be one of my favourite Towns in Massachusetts, and had I been a bit wealthier I would have been happy to retire there).

A and R told me that they had lived for many years in Natick, MA, and I told them of my sojourn in Cambridge, MA.

A asked if I had been a teacher (there are a couple of well known Universities in Cambridge!), and of course I let them know that I had served St. James’s Church there.

A responded with something which made me very sad:  “We are Jewish”, he said, “and we hope that you will not hold that against us”.   

My sadness arose from the very idea that as a Christian Priest I would “hold something against Jews”; and also from the knowledge that “historically and generally speaking” Christians have been extremely hostile to Jews.

We talked a bit about the evils of Antisemitism.  That led A to tell me that as a young child in Belgium he had escaped probable transportation to a death camp because he and other Jewish children had been given shelter by Belgian Nuns in their convent.

A’s parents (of German and Polish backgrounds) refused to wear the yellow star, and continued to live in an apartment in Brussels.   Their common language was German and they used it in their at home conversations.   

The tenants who lived in the apartment below them overheard these conversations in German.

Immediately after liberation those  downstairs tenants reported them to the restored Belgian Gendarmerie, stating that “there are German spies who live in the apartment above us”.  The authorities very quickly discovered the real truth.

It is quite amazing that these two Jewish people in Brussels were never betrayed to the Gestapo, simply because their downstairs neighbours thought them to be German spies.

I’ll be having coffee soon with A and R to hear more of their story. 

In the meantime, A sent me this remarkable video from England.  It is entitled “Dancing under the Gallows”. It is all about the 106 year old woman who is the oldest living survivor of the concentration camps.  She was in Theresienstadt.

Friday, 29 October 2010

As I walk out (4)

Two wheel chairs, and a walker.

B. is an ever smiling octogenarian.  His chief means of mobility is an electric wheel-chair.  He sets out most days in the chair as he takes his lovely Welsh terrier for a walk.  He has urged me to draw nearer, even as he assured me that his dog was a “sweetheart and a lover”.

In due course I was able to convince him that my Penne is also a sweetheart and a lover, but that she is totally afraid of other dogs.
So these days B. and I exchange an enthusiastic wave and a hearty greeting even as we allow our dogs to keep their distance.

R. also uses an electric wheel chair.  It belongs to her husband who needs it to “get around”.   

R. is well able to walk, but she uses in the wheel chair at a fast clip, so that her four Sheep-dogs can get a vigorous work out.  She holds on to four leashes, as the four dogs trot in unison.

They are the most gorgeous and well behaved dogs imaginable.  It is a joy to see them with R.

The story/rumour is that R. was a dog trainer for a circus.  That seems more than likely.  The sight of her four trotting dogs is a joy.

C. is a walker,  i.e.  she does not need a “walker” (“zimmer” in England), but she walks every day with great intensity and a fine pace.   

She and I had a brief “on the fly” conversation a few years ago.  Her accent betrayed her origins.  She was clearly from Boston!

So we rejoice or commiserate depending on the success or failure of the Boston “Red Sox”. They have just completed a less than stellar year.

That’s too bad, but we have rejoiced in a silver lining.   

The dreaded “New York Yankees” did not advance to the Baseball World Series this year. 
We can live with Red Sox failures well enough, but we positively gloat when the Yankees also fail.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

As I walk out (3)

She is as vital and feisty as they come.  At aged 86 she walks two miles each day, and never dawdles! Once in a while she’ll sit on a bench to catch her breath.

Her name is Betty and she is legally blind.  So as we draw near I call out with my best cheerful voice “Betty, it’s Michael and Penne”.

Penne knows who likes her, and who could not care less, so she always strains at her leash, tail-a-wagging, to greet Betty.  They have a mutual love affair. 

Betty and I chat about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, or about the weather.   

She has a great sense of humour, and responds with a broad smile to my silly jokes. 

She also has a phenomenal memory, and in early part of the week she will ask me “how was your sermon at St. X’s?”  when on the previous Thursday or Friday I’d told her of an impending Sunday gig.

Betty had been in the Marine Corps. She had started war time service as a “Rosie the Riveter”, but had found factory life to be too dull -  so she enlisted in the Corps.  There she met her husband, and they enjoyed 56 years of married life. ( He had died some time before I moved to SRQ).

About 4 years ago Betty encountered an intruder in her home.  The young man had broken through a screen.  When Betty saw him she yelled “get the hell out of my home”.  And he did.

I would have done the same!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

As I walk out (2)

It all started this way.  

I was raised by my parents and teachers thus: 

(1) to “doff my hat” when greeting any woman in the street; 

(2)to  be on the street side when walking with a woman; 

(3) to stand up when any woman,  (or a man older than I)  entered a space in which I was already seated.   

 I cannot shake these old habits
As I walk out with Penne each day I am an inveterate “hat doffer”.

I did so a couple of times when encountering a woman who not only walks, but “stops to smell the roses”.  She was never in a hurry, but seemed to savour every bit of beauty on her walks.

One day I walked t’wards her and as I doffed my hat, she proffered a wee curtsy.  

We each grinned and as I confessed my English heritage, so she told me that she was Swedish.  

She went on to say that in “her day” in Sweden, as a man doffed his hat, so a woman would effect a little curtsy.

So it is that each day we enjoy the hat and curtsy dance.  And we have begun to chat.

She told me that her beloved husband died six years ago.  She let me know that she has a lovely daughter and some grandchildren
Then she added that she also has a son, whom she has not seen for many, many years. 

With teary sadness she went on to say that she has no clue as to where he lives.

I wanted to hug her but I refrained from doing so.  We are but “strangers in the day”.  We do not even know each others’ names.   

So each day I doff my hat and greet her as “Mrs. Sweden”.
Then she curtsies and calls me “Mr. England”.

“Walking out” has its own gracious conventions.

A "lost son" has its own deep sadness.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

As I walk out (1)

Penne and I encounter some interesting folks as we take our walks.

Early each morning we encounter L.  She is dressed to the nines even as early as 6:30 a.m. She is greatly perfumed, so much so that I know that she is in the vicinity some 25’ before I see her.  

L. has a dog, a Shih Tzu named Archie.

“Archie”, according to L is stubborn and opinionated. Therefore she named him for the lead character in the old T.V. series “All in the Family”.  

I believe that this gorgeous looking canine deserves greater respect.  So I always greet him not as “Archie”, but as “Mr. Bunker”.

Tomorrow I will tell you about “Mrs. Sweden”

  This is a web picture of a Shih Tzu, not of "Mr. Bunker"

Monday, 25 October 2010

Back in the pew (2)

Some of the music at yesterday’s St. Boniface Church Eucharist led me down memory lane.

The choir sang a spirited setting of the hymn “Fight the Good Fight”.  I “grew up” on the hymn in both elementary and high school morning worship. (The school day in the U.K. started with Christian worship – “way back then”).

The hymn has gone out of fashion, perhaps because of the perceived militant tone of the first line.  But it’s not a bad text, based as it on words from Scripture.

Fight the good fight with all thy might;
Christ is thy Strength, and Christ thy Right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the Path, and Christ the Prize.

Cast care aside, upon thy Guide,
Lean, and His mercy will provide;
Lean, and the trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its Life, and Christ its Love.

Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear.
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

The Eucharist ended with another “classic of my youth” -  “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”.  It is another hymn which has gone out of fashion.  I doubt that I have sung it in more than 40 years.  But it was a crowd pleaser for yesterday’s congregation - we sang it with vigour and volume!
I think that I know why this was so.  Almost always when clerics and musicians ask parishioners to pick out favourite hymns, the ones chosen are those from the parishioner’s childhood and youth.  I am willing to bet that at least  57.5% of the folks in Church yesterday grew up on “Stand up, stand up for Jesus”.

The militancy of the text may have been all well and good during the years of Protestant triumphalism in the U.S.A and the U.K.  (say 1850-1914), but the words seem thin in current days when “Protestantism” has all but died, and dialogue between Christians and adherents of other Faiths is the received norm.

My memory bank was most acute as we sang the hymns “How lovely is thy dwelling place”, the first two stanzas of which are based on Psalm 84.  

 The trigger point was the tune - called “Brother James’ Air”

“BROTHER JAMES' AIR” was composed by James Leith Macbeth Bain (b. Scotland, c. 1840; d. Liverpool, England, 1925), the healer, mystic, and poet known simply as Brother James.

I find it to be a haunting tune. 

I first sang it at Eastville Junior Mixed School, Bristol, U.K. when I was 9 or 10 years old.  There it was arranged for trebles and altos.  Later I sang it at Fairfield Grammar School, Bristol, U.K.  in an S.A.T.B. choir. In each case the tune was matched with the words of Psalm 23.

Yet it was not only the tune which seized my memory.  The text of Psalm 84 itself also took me back many years.

In about 1969 I went with my good friend Geraldine Humpidge (a woman who was some 45 years my senior) to Beaulieu Abbey in Hampshire, U.K.:  (see ) to visit the National Motor Museum.  

Whilst we were there we wandered around the Beaulieu (pronounced “Bewly” in England) Parish Church.  

 There we saw and commented on some birds which had made the interior of Church their home. 

Both Geraldine and I were immediately reminded of a few words from Psalm 84 viz:  3Yea, the sparrow hath found an house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even thine altars, O LORD of hosts, my King, and my God.

Just to think that these three bits of Church music at St. Boniface Church yesterday triggered so many memories.