For my take on this fifth day of Holy Week, see my post from last year:
Category Archives: Community
Ukraine Sunflowers in the Snow
I’ve been struck by how much the Ukrainian flag resembles a field of golden sunflowers under a brilliant blue sky. Was it so inspired, I wondered? No, apparently not. The blue over gold bands were first used in the flag of the Slavik twelfth-century Kingdom of Galicia-Volhynia, located in what is now portions of Ukraine and Belarus. Sunflowers were a later addition to the landscape.
The sunflower, of course, is the national flower of Ukraine, and the country is one of the world’s leading producers of sunflower oil. Native to North America, the seeds were brought to the old world by early explorers. Ukraine’s general lack of humidity and its dark, rich soil make it an ideal place for sunflowers to flourish. Big fields of the flowers began to be planted there in the late 1700s in response to the Orthodox Church’s prohibition of the use of butter or lard for cooking during the Lenten season. There was no such ban on sunflower oil, and the golden fields became widespread.
Any image of a field of glowing sunflowers now evokes for me a vision of the Ukrainian flag. I felt moved to paint my own version of sunflowers beneath a blue sky. By the time I completed it, a late winter snow had fallen in our area, a product of the “bomb cyclone” that moved up the East Coast over the weekend. It seemed fitting to display the painting in the snow, propped against the ragged remnants of the old maple stump in front of our house. The Ukrainian flag, like a bright field of sunflowers, has become an emblem of hope in the midst of terrible adversity. As I watch the crisis intensify and become more tragically dire day by day, I feel helpless. I hear that line of the Lord’s prayer over and over in my head: Deliver us from evil.
May the sunflower-field flag of Ukraine continue to fly as a beacon of hope, and may the people of Ukraine be delivered from evil.
Ash Wednesday, Again
I wasn’t going to write about Ash Wednesday this year. I thought I’d exhausted the topic, never a crowd-pleaser, in years past. Didn’t I write about it just yesterday? See here for last year’s post. These days it seems like it’s always Ash Wednesday.
The pandemic has put us in a holding pattern of perpetual Lent. Just when we think the deliverance of Easter is about to arrive, it vanishes like a mirage. Perhaps, finally, the light at the end of the covid tunnel may no longer be that of the oncoming train. Could it be that this long, limbo season would at last be brought to a joyful conclusion? It seemed like a real possibility.
And then Putin began his invasion of Ukraine. Our Ukrainian brothers and sisters, anticipating the rebirth of spring, as we all do, are faced with the desecration of war instead. They must confront terrible choices: whether to fight or flee, whether to stay or to pick up hurriedly and go, leaving homes, businesses, farms and beloved animals behind. The enormity of the emerging loss must be confounding and overwhelming.
The path ahead is perilous and forbidding. For the Ukrainians most emphatically, and to a lesser but still substantial degree, for those of us who watch, anxiously, from afar. No easy solution is at hand, no matter how much world-wide support is forthcoming. There will be no feel-good, happily-ever-after ending to this crisis, which will have long-lasting global implications. Lives are being lost, and the losses will multiply as the conflict escalates. It’s hard to imagine any scenario in which Putin might back down.
These are dark days. But Ash Wednesday urges us to look, steadily and without flinching, into the darkness so that we can rediscover the grace of God that searches us out to lead us back into the light. It reminds us that hope remains, even during the darkest days. Even in death. Ash Wednesday tells us not to underestimate the power and persistence of love, light, and life.
Today I saw an interview with a Ukrainian woman sheltering in a communal space in Kyiv with her children, the youngest of whom was an infant, asleep in her arms. She said that the presence of her tiny daughter was a blessing to her and all the others there with her. The baby, she said, was living proof that innocence, that something good, something kind, still exists in the world. Ash Wednesday tells us that evil, despite its bravado and air of military might, is no match for true goodness.
This morning I came upon a patch of bright white snowdrops among the dead brown leaves in a friend’s garden. I hadn’t seen these humble little flowers in years past.
Their sweet, quiet beauty reminded me of the sleeping Ukrainian baby.
Snowdrops, like God’s grace, like God’s love, are persistent. They’ll be blooming before long in the forests of Ukraine.
May our country and our world unite behind Ukraine:
in support of democracy and freedom, over tyranny and oppression,
unity over division, and good over evil.
An Old Love Note Inspires a New One
Several years ago I wrote about opening an old childhood stationery box to discover some vintage love notes written to me by a fellow classmate, when we were both in third grade. Recently I came across another such note, by the same sender. I knew him back then as Danny. We’re still in touch on social media, and now he goes by Dan. In this one, young Danny had opted for the uniquely inventive approach he had chosen in another of the letters. Typed on onion skin paper, it began boldly, with an all-caps declaration of love. What third grader was typing in 1970? An urban sophisticate like Danny, that’s who. He’d recently gained access to his mother’s cutting edge IBM Selectric. Below the greeting, the top quarter of the page is occupied by identical lines like this:
Below these lines appears the word TIMES.
That’s a lot of love times.
And then this humble admission: I LOVE YOU MORE THEN YOU LOVE ME.
And, typed, but then unsuccessfully erased, is this:
Kiss me After School Greg ? or Danny
The absence of all-caps suggests that this is more of a whimsical wish than a demand.
The reference to a possible after-school kiss appears in another of the notes, and it baffled the adult Dan. He thought of himself a shy kid, certainly not one to request, or to expect, such a thing. Greg’s name is found in another of the notes, as well. The adult Greg cannot remember conspiring with Danny in the composition of love letters. That’s not surprising, considering that Dan and I have also forgotten many of the circumstances surrounding the making, sending and receiving of these decades-old dispatches.
The notes were compelling enough for me to save, and to keep, for all these years. They’ve become artifacts that bear witness to past selves, even though memories of that past have dimmed.
And they still have power. My husband was impressed. No matter who was responsible for the “kiss after school” line, it struck him as a great idea. This Valentine’s Day, inspired by the youthful audacity of Danny, or Greg, or both, he made me a card that read:
Want to kiss after school? With who? (Select one)
Below were three boxes to check, each beside his own name.
What would my third-grade self have done? Probably kept quiet, done nothing, except file the paper away safely, as I did with Danny’s letters. But the older me knew what to do. I checked all three boxes.
For the earlier love-letter posts, from March 2014, see:
Young Love, Old Love Notes, Part I
and Part II
Return of the Live Nativity
The animals were back, after last year’s absence, at our church’s live nativity this Christmas Eve. Joining us again were a burro, a small ox, a sheep, a goat, and, of course, a camel. Because of ongoing covid precautions, no human actors were featured in the tableau. . .
. . .except for camel’s handler. Delilah was the camel on duty this year; her colleague Samson was engaged elsewhere. She was as friendly and patient as we’ve come to expect her to be.
Kiko enjoys the live nativity primarily for the multiplicity of smells it affords. The animals responsible for them are of less interest. Our dog rarely looks up, and the camel’s great height puts her well out of Kiko’s radar. He seems oblivious to her presence.
Delilah isn’t especially curious about Kiko, either, but she never seems to tire of posing for photos with a parade of curious onlookers. If encouraged, she offers a welcoming nuzzle.
The furry little donkey has a cuteness quotient that rivals any dog’s.
Evidently the group had a busy holiday schedule. The sheep was drowsy, and the goat was sleeping soundly, until Kiko got close and woke him. The goat was startled, and Kiko was even more so.
One family brought along their big white bunny, whom they eagerly introduced to Kiko. The rabbit didn’t appear enthusiastic about the meeting; his air was more akin to that of a sacrificial victim. Our dog had never seen a bunny before, and he wasn’t sure what to make of this new creature. Should he consider it an equal, as he does the sheep, goat and donkey? Or is it more like a squirrel, something to be pursued? After several encounters, he seemed possibly inclined to think it was the latter. At that point, we made sure he kept some distance from the bunny, who was, no doubt, relieved.
Delilah opens her mouth for a big yawn. Her shift is coming to a close; it’s nearly time to get back into the trailer for the next gig. She wishes everyone a lovely Christmas Eve and a merry Christmas!
A Pilot in the Family, on Veterans Day, 2021
Thank you, this Veterans’ Day to all those who put their lives on the line to defend our country and our freedom. My father is the first veteran in our family that I typically think of on this day set aside to honor those who’ve served. My Uncle Bill is the second. Daddy was stationed in Regensburg, Germany, with the U.S. Army Occupational Forces following World War II. My mother’s brother, Bill, enlisted at sixteen and served as a Frogman in the Pacific.
While looking for a photo of Daddy or Uncle Bill to post on Veterans’ Day, I came across a picture of another family member in a military uniform. I don’t recall my father ever mentioning his distant cousin, Hunter, above. According to the inscription on the back of the photo, in Daddy’s neat handwriting, Hunter was a Lieutenant in the Air Service during World War I. He was born August 30, 1895 in Jane Lew, West Virginia, which is also my grandmother’s home town. He survived the war, and died at age sixty-five on May 9, 1960 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. He’s buried in Arlington Cemetery. The photo bears no date, but it must have been taken in 1917 or ’18, when he was twenty-two or twenty-three. When he was my daughter’s age.
I learned from another cousin that Hunter was the son of my great-grandmother’s brother, which makes him my grandmother’s first cousin. He was married in 1922 to a woman named Marion, and together they had at least one child, a son. I wish we knew more about Hunter’s experiences during the war. I wish I could read some of his letters home, as we’ve read my Uncle Bill’s. I wish we knew more about Hunter’s later years, as well. I hope he has grandchildren now keeping his memory alive. I hope they have photos that document other notable stages in their grandfather’s life. But I’m grateful that at least I have this lone visual record, this window into Hunter’s young adulthood, when he was a dashing pilot in jodhpurs and goggles, striking a jaunty pose before climbing into his plane to do his patriotic duty. Thank you, cousin Hunter, for your youthful confidence and courage. I hope it stood you in good stead throughout your life.
The last time our daughter was home for Halloween was in 2017, her senior year in high school. Her return for the recent holiday weekend therefore seemed extra special. Slim was eager to see our daughter, as well. He recognized her as his ideal partner in preparing for all things Halloween. She is nearly as big a fan of the day as he is. Ever since she was a toddler, Halloween anticipation has begun for her in the summer. (See Friendly Ghosts of Halloweens Past, October 2013.)
In 2020, because of Covid, young parents in our neighborhood organized a Halloween parade, with all trick-or-treating outside. The kids progressed from one end of the neighborhood to the other, to tables set up by families in front of their homes. It worked so well and was so enjoyable that they decided to do it again this year. I liked it because it made it easier to appreciate the costumes and gave more time to chat with kids and their parents.
Our daughter was determined to make our Halloween display as thorough as possible. Slim was equally zealous, of course. Together, they hauled out all the old, mostly homemade decorations that D recalls fondly from her childhood: Fred, the stuffed dummy, the tombstone and graveyard fencing, various skulls and bones, jack-o’-lantern votives, spiders and spiderwebs. They festooned our tables for treats in appropriately witchy garb. They set up the fog machine and an outdoor speaker for projecting spooky sounds. They rolled out the love seats from the garage so we could be comfortably seated during the parade. This persuaded even my mother to join us. When we began to see the children approaching, Slim climbed up in a cherry tree, and D, wearing the gorilla costume that we just happen to have, hid herself from view.
As each group of children chose their treats, my husband, holding a heavy chain, would ask, “Has anyone seen my pet gorilla?” Then D would pop up from behind the love seat and jump around. The performance was well-received, usually with genuine surprise. No one was overly frightened, which was as intended, but one little boy asked his mother to remain close by his side as he got his candy. Several trick-or-treaters, and possibly one parent, wearing an inflatable T-Rex costume, engaged in high-spirited dance-offs with the gorilla.
Thanks to our friendly neighborhood, the parade, to the presence of Slim and our daughter, this Halloween was one of the happiest I can remember. It was rewarding to see just how many children live among us. We were impressed by the innovative costumes, on both kids and adults. How satisfying it was to see neighbors out socializing as they provided treats. As Slim likes to remind us, Halloween has evolved from an ancient Celtic harvest festival into a day when we affirm our common humanity through a love of sugar. It’s a day to welcome back, unapologetically, the child that abides within us, no matter our age. A time to share some sweetness and joy with others, simply because we’re God’s children here together. After all, it’s the custom to give candy not only to those we know personally, but to everyone who stops by.
It was a perfect top-off to the evening when a small Superhero jumped out of a highly decorated SUV and brought us a festively wrapped bottle of sparkling wine. We’d won one of the prizes for best display. Our daughter’s and Slim’s efforts had paid off. We’d given treats, and we got a treat. That, my friends, is Halloween, isn’t it?
More fun with the Skeleton Crew
Slim was more than excited to learn that Trunk or Treat at our church was back on this year, after being Covid-canceled in 2020.
He jumped for joy when he heard that our daughter would be returning from Maryland for Halloween weekend. He hadn’t seen her since he popped in on her unexpectedly in Charlottesville in 2018 for Trick or Treating on the Lawn. (See here and here.) On a beautiful Saturday, with perfect fall weather, D joined Slim, me and the pack in the church parking lot, to greet and provide candy fuel to a large and enthusiastic crowd of happy, creatively-costumed kids and their families. After so much isolation during the darkest days of the pandemic, the gathering was especially cheery. The rousing music provided by our church pianist from a keyboard in the back of his pick-up truck served to further heighten the mood. Slim sang along with every tune, as his musical reportoire is vast.
On the ride home, he was simply giddy. I repeatedly had to remind my rowdy passenger to remain seated. He waved eagerly at passing cars and emitted celebratory whoops, hoots and hollers. He belted out a steady stream of snippets from his favorite party songs: Cel-e-brate good times, come on! . . . Let’s paint the town! And shut it down! . . .We’re gonna party like it’s 1999! . . I got me a car, it seats about twenty, so come on and bring your jukebox money! . . .Well, I’m just out of school, like a real, real cool. Gotta dance like a fool, Got the message that I’ve gotta be a wild one, Oh yeah, I’m a wild one. . .
Yes, that Slim, he’s a wild one. But his is a sweet, innocent wildness, like that of a child. And his humor is infectious; he can bring a smile to even the dourest of faces. I’m glad he’s here. Everyone needs a friend like Slim.
Once home, he whistled for the pack to join him in the annual Halloween joyride. The gang piled into my VW in a flash. Even Kiko moved briskly, which is unusual for our elder statesman these days. Time to cruise the neighborhood to promote more Halloween fun! The big day approached!
Walking Provincetown, Continued
In one of my longer Provincetown walks this summer, I got as far as the hilltop apex of Bradford Street, where the tall, narrow Gothic revival cottages above are located. With their sharply peaked roof lines, the structures could well be the home of friendly witches in a children’s book. The neat, enclosing hedge and abundant plantings further enhance the compound’s charming storybook aspect. Built by a sea captain in 1850, and home to several artists over the years, the cottages are now owned by a local art and antiques dealer.
The view toward the bay from the upper windows of the buildings above must be spectacular. I took this photo from just across Bradford Street, at the edge of a precipitous drop.
Flamboyant orange tiger lilies stand out against the weathered shingles of another hilltop Bradford Street home.
Back on Commercial Street, near the heart of town, is the elegant wedding cake building above. At the time of its construction in 1860 as the Center Methodist Episcopal Church, it was purported to be the largest Methodist church in the United States. Its original, emphatically tall steeple was removed after it was damaged in the severe winter storm of 1898. Since then, the arched belfry alone has topped the building. Once the congregation left for a newer, more easily manageable building in 1958, the church became home, for about a decade, to the Chrysler Museum, and later, to the Provincetown Heritage Museum. Following an extensive renovation, completed in 2011, the building now serves as the town’s Public Library.
The building’s light-filled interior is well worth a look. It’s high-ceilinged upper floor still contains a sixty-six foot long, half-scale model of the Provincetown schooner, the Rose Dorothea, winner of the 1907 Lipton Cup Fishermen’s Race. The model, completed in 1988, by a group of volunteers led by Francis “Flyer” Santos, is a tribute to the long tradition of New England shipbuilding and to the intrepid fishermen of Provincetown.
The library, with its large windows, is a lovely place from which to survey the surrounding town. Above, we look across Center Street to the home built around 1870 as the parsonage of the Methodist Church. The current owner is the proprietor of Provincetown’s Shop Therapy, which bills itself as a “world famous alternative lifestyle emporium.” The wild spirit of the sculpture garden that surrounds the house is similar to that expressed in the brightly colored murals that adorn the facade of Shop Therapy. The Pilgrim Monument rises in the background.
This view above shows Commercial Street shops, the harbor, pier and breakwater.
I like to walk the town’s short lanes that connect Commercial and Bradford streets. They offer unique perspectives on enclosed gardens and quiet enclaves mere steps away from the tourist crowd.
Provincetown’s government center is Town Hall, built in 1886 and situated at the very midpoint of the town. Every registered, resident voter is a member of the town’s legislative body. Town Meetings, as well as concerts and special events, take place here in the capacious auditorium. The Victorian building underwent a massive renovation, completed in 2010, after portions of it were deemed structurally unsound. The current green and white color scheme mimics the original palette.
Following the sale of the Center Methodist Church, the congregation built their new home on Shank Painter Road, a bit removed from the town center. The spare Modernist building opened in 1960. The sanctuary, with steeply sloping redwood walls, resembles the upturned hull of a boat. Provincetown United Methodist Church is a vital hub of community life. In addition to Sunday worship, the congregation runs a Thrift Shop and Soup Kitchen. The church hosts a number of twelve-step groups and serves as a rehearsal space for some theater groups. Our family has been attending worship there once every summer for many years. It has become our church home away from home. We looked forward to being back in the company of the small, welcoming congregation, to an uplifting sermon by the Reverend Jim Cox and to a moving anthem by the delightful “Joyful Noise Choir.” When we arrived on our annual Sunday morning in August 2019, we were surprised, and somewhat alarmed, to see that Reverend Jim was not there. A guest minister presided. Toward the end of the service, she seemed to be stalling for time. Before long, Rev. Jim was proceeding slowly up the center aisle. Gravely ill, he’d come to say goodbye. He died just over a month later. We’re grateful that we could be among the flock that day, to thank him for being such a source of kindness, wisdom and good cheer, for walking the walk of faith and love of neighbor in all circumstances. Appropriately, his Celebration of Life included a New Orleans-style brass band “Second-Line Procession” from Town Hall to the Church.
The Delta surge of Covid prevented us from attending church this year in Provincetown. As of June, the pastor is Edgar Miranda. God willing, we’ll meet him next year.
This large Bradford Street residence, built in the 1870s, stands out for its dramatically peaked gable roof and Stick Style ornamentation. It was home to a succession of artists and merchants before opening its doors to paying guests. Currently operated as Stowaway Guesthouse, its pleasant rooms are brightly painted, and the spacious grounds are lushly landscaped. It’s one of Provincetown’s many inviting, privately run inns.
On every return walk to Truro, I pause again to look back toward Provincetown. The familiar elements are there: the white house, the bay, the curve of the town. When the distinctive features of the Provincetown skyline, such as the Pilgrim Monument, the towers of the Library, Town Hall and the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, are visible, it calls to mind a decorative miniature village in a model train display. On cloudy days, the buildings blur together into a vague impression, a palette knife rendering in tones of gray and white. Sometimes, as in the view from our cottage in Truro, dense fog obscures the town altogether, and the white house could be perched at the very edge of the world. At low tide, the home looks out to a vast, low basin of sand. At high tide, the waters of the bay seem to lap at the base of the porch. The view is never the same, yet always the same. I find this somehow comforting. I know it will be there waiting for me next year. And it reminds me that even in the most mundane of life’s daily routines, there lies the potential for endless variety, for boundless possibility.
I didn’t make it to Provincetown’s far West End this summer. I’ll save that part of the tour for next year.