Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tornado hits close to home

Whenever you drink a cup of coffee at a Congregational church function, you help desperately poor Latin American farmers stay on their land and support their families.

A theologian, economist, professor and prolific author, Rev. Dr. Stan G. Duncan initiated the United Church of Christ Coffee Project, a partnership between the worker-owned cooperative Equal Exchange and the UCC to promote the use and sale of fair trade coffee following Sunday services.

He currently serves as interim minister of First Congregational Church in Wareham, Mass.

I had the good fortune to meet Duncan last January, when I wrote a feature story about the humanitarian.

Raised in central Oklahoma in the Disciples of Christ denomination, he told me he received his call to ministry at age 6. He credited his vocation to a great mentor, Rev. Bill Alexander, who taught him that religion and God were not separate from the issues of the world.

In 1972, Duncan and a few buddies headed to Nicaragua to rebuild roads; and that’s when he saw little children begging in the streets.

Changed by the experience, he co-founded one of the first local chapters of the Christian hunger advocacy organization, Bread for the World, which today has half a million members worldwide.

Since that time, he has led delegations to visit small coffee farmers in third world countries. Six hundred million families lost everything when the price of coffee crashed.

This week I contacted Duncan after hearing the news about the deadly EF5 tornado that took a 50-minute 17-mile path through Moore, Okla., killing 24 people, including 10 children.

Recalling the interview, I knew that he and his family had lived in Oklahoma City, where he was pastor of Southwest Christian Church for five years.

“I did have some family members who were in the pathway of the storm,” he told me. “They are both safe but went through a lot. One cousin lost her roof and another lost her entire home. Both are now living with other relatives. They are all quite shaken up.”

Duncan had resided very close to Moore.

“We lived on the far south side of Oklahoma City, and all three of my kids went to Moore High School,” he said. “All of them reported back about friends of theirs who had their homes damaged. The amount of the damage is incredible – hard to believe.”

Duncan’s compassionate worldview is now focused on home.

He’s just an Okie from Moore.




Monday, May 20, 2013


In our front yard maple leaves unfurl in a backdrop of blue sky.
Planning a vacation to any destination can be just as sweet an experience as actually being there.

It is the anticipation of the journey that brings great joy.

When you have a summer home, you feel a heightened awareness in springtime and a delightful urge to relocate yourself.

Throughout the long winter months, I am landlocked and content to occasionally visit the seashore.

But come May I can no longer endure the long-distance relationship, and thoughts of my seaside home consume me. I listen to weekend weather reports with new interest.

During the weekly trip to the supermarket, I toss barbecue sauce, magazines, suntan lotion and bug spray into the grocery cart.

While at the library, I lose track of time, reading book jackets of contemporary fiction and checking out a stack of books.

I reread favorite parts of my annotated copy of Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden,” “The Country of the Pointed Firs” by Sarah Orne Jewett, “Gift of the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and “Charlotte Fairlie” by D.E. Stevenson.

I start making lists of things to do.

I let everyone know that I will be unavailable on weekends for the next three months.

Then one May morning dawns that justifies the advance preparation. I open the trunk of the car and pile in all those books and magazines, bags of groceries, sweatshirts, t-shirts, shorts and swimsuits; and I finally satisfy the longing.

The wait is usually over on Mother’s Day when traditionally we open the summer house. But this year unexpected delays postponed the ritual.

God willing, we will officially open the Fogland season on Memorial Day weekend.

In the meantime, I turn to the pages of one of my favorite books:

“They set out to walk through the little village to the harbor,” wrote Stevenson in “Charlotte Fairlie.” “It was bright and breezy. The sea was very blue with crisp white caps upon the waves; the sky was paler blue and cloudless. The land was green; the beach was of pure white sand with piles of bright yellow seaweed. Far in the distance there were purple hills, their outlines softened by haze. All the colors were clean – like the colors in a brand new paint box – and the sunshine was so strong that the very air seemed to glitter. Charlotte took deep breaths of air and smelt the faint tang of the seaweed drying in the sunshine – that unforgettable smell…”

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Driving to endanger: A young mother's escapade

This happened a long time ago, but it seems like yesterday...

A 1971 canary-yellow Mustang coupe and my husband’s prized possession, the sports car was fast and sleek, with its eight-cylinder 302-horsepower engine, tapered body and black sports slats that angled the low rear window. A shiny chrome horse at a full gallop detailed the grill. Black vinyl bucket seats, a two-spoke steering wheel and black dash panel with an electric clock made up the interior.

Three years of savings were handed over to buy the car, but my husband got his money’s worth. Behind the wheel he felt 17 again; he revved up the engine, angled the mirrors and peeled out of the parking space with smoking tires.

Every day my husband drove our other car, a metallic-blue Ford Econoline van, to the factory, picking up passengers-for-pay along the way; and I was stuck with the sports car.

A new mother, each time I left the house I had to squeeze into the tight confines of the back seat to strap my daughter into her baby carrier. I did contortions to secure the black straps of the belt to the seat. When I went grocery shopping, I had to jam the bags into the pint-size trunk, wedge diapers and bags on both sides of my daughter in the back seat and secure one bag in the bucket seat on the passenger side.

I stayed home a lot.

One morning I decided to bolt to destination unknown. I knew it was dangerous, but I easily strapped the baby carrier to the front passenger seat. I cranked the engine and cruised down the main city thoroughfare toward the highway. This was what this car was made for. The dazzling yellow vehicle attracted admirers like bees to sunflowers, and I basked in their gaze at every stoplight.

Bearing onto a side street, I waited in traffic, braking constantly on the steep hill that led down to the highway extension. On my right was a housing project, and I noticed a young man running directly at my car.

Grabbing the latch of the passenger door, he pulled with all his might on the handle. The lock held, and my daughter continued to sleep peacefully on the seat. He ran around the car and tugged at my door with equal force to no avail, and he grew angrier.

I screamed at him, blew the horn, willed the cars to move out of my way; but I was hemmed in. That’s when he jumped on the back of the low sports car, hanging on to those damned black slats for balance.

The cars ahead of me began to inch forward, and without thinking, I hit the accelerator and quickly slammed the brakes. He tumbled off the roof of my car in slow motion, landing on his feet. I stomped on the accelerator, and the engine roared. The Mustang careened down the street, and I watched him in the side-view mirror disappear from sight.

That night I pleaded with my husband to trade in the sports car for a larger family-sized vehicle. Over and over I listed all the inconveniences I endured, including the ill-fitting baby seat, lack of grocery space and the obvious fact that the neon yellow, ground-hugging sports car had attracted an insane carjacker. But he wouldn’t listen. I was still stuck with the sports car.

I stayed home a lot.

Then one day backing up and having great difficulty as usual seeing out of the black-slatted rear window, I heard the sound of crunching metal as the front grill of a Cadillac became permanently affixed to my bumper.

My husband bought me a dark green SUV.

I went out a lot.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

A fish out of water


I have something in common with blueback herring: We have a natural urge to migrate to Tiverton in May.

Since childhood, I have always measured time by the herring run at the Nonquit Fish Ladder.

Scores of New England fish species spend their lives moving between salt and fresh waters.

Anadromous fishes, like the blueback herring, are notable for their mass journeys between marine and fresh water environments, living the greater part of their lives in salt water but spawning in fresh water.

Reaching a maximum size of about 16 inches, they are believed to live up to eight years. They also are capable of migrating long distances of over 1,200 miles.

But pollution, river damming and especially overfishing have drastically reduced their populations, and they are a U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service “Species of Concern.”

The Nonquit Fish Ladder is now closed; and I have to rely on my memories of the springtime ritual to recreate the local herring run.

In early May I drive to the summer house, turning onto Pond Bridge Road and inhaling the familiar earthy scent of freshly tilled soil and sea.

As I approach the Nonquit Pond Dam, I am sandwiched between the sparkling fresh water of the reservoir, the brackish water of the salt marshes and the ocean waters beyond.

Completed in 1943, the dam is 200-feet wide and 8-feet high.

Getting out of the car, I join the other fish-watchers who have come to the shallows where the great schools of migrating blueback herring may be seen.

Arriving in early May, schools of silvery herring go up the Nonquit Fish Ladder, jumping and splashing at the base of the dam on the final leg of their journey to spawn in the pond.

Climbing on the dam, fishermen cast their lines into the water at its base. Most of the buckets are already full of the morning catch.

But just as the fish are nearing their destination, so am I.

Returning to the car, I drive up the hill past the llamas in their paddock and round the hairpin turn that leads to Fogland State Beach.

Taking a left onto High Hill Road, I come to the end of my journey and gaze at the private beach that my family has held deeded beach rights to since 1969.

I am no longer a fish out of water. I am home.