Chautauqua is a 425-mile drive from Westport, if it’s not raining. It rained, making the drive considerably longer. You know what I mean.
We arrived on Saturday afternoon, August 5, and moved into the minister’s housing building, fortunate to have gotten a room with a bath. We were assigned the middle shelf of a refrigerator, and half a table in the common kitchen area downstairs.
I wanted to scope out the Hall of Philosophy, where I would be leading the service for the Unitarian Fellowship the next morning. I hadn’t realized it was outside. It’s covered by a large roof with Greek columns on all four sides, and when we looked at it there was a lecture in progress so I couldn’t step behind the podium to get the feel of it.
I arrived fifteen minutes early on Sunday morning and when I stood behind the lectern I felt lost. I asked Bob Adams, the Fellowship President, if there was anything on which I could stand. After a quick search he came up with a plastic milk carton, which put me up there with Wilt Chamberlain. Almost.
When I stepped on to the soap box, to put myself at ease, I said, “I’m not really this tall. But I aspire to be!” I was reminded of another time when I stood on a similar milk carton. I said, “When I was 14 I had asked Ralph Bishop for a job in his take-out, fried food restaurant several times. Finally, one day he said, ‘You are persistent!’ and took me to the kitchen and said, “Let’s see if you can reach the sink to wash the pots.”
“I didn’t reach. But I saw a plastic milk carton, pulled it over, stood on it and said, smiling, “I can reach now!” He said, “You’ve got the job!” For the next 14 years, all through high school, college, grad school and teaching, doubling my time on earth, I worked for Ralph, advancing from pot washer to food preparation to fry cook.”
On my Sunday morning at Chautauqua it was raining. Again! So I took opening words from Donald Babcock’s piece about the duck. Remember? “Now we’re ready to look at something pretty special. It’s a duck, riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf.” The last line says, “I like the little duck. He doesn’t know much, but he’s got religion.”
You won’t be surprised to hear that I delivered religion in the form poetry, reciting from what I referred to as ‘the gospel according to Sandburg, Frost and Cummings.’ I confessed to being nervous and promised them I’d relax and enjoy myself.
I did enjoy myself, and they seemed appreciative. I ended the sermon by asking, “So, did I get the job?” They laughed and several said, “Yes,” out loud. I’m looking forward to getting back in my own pulpit, and looking at your shining face! I hope you’re well. I am. See you soon.