Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by John Howard Farmer

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The Way It Was; The Way It Is Now

The oddest things catch my eye, entice my imagination. Occasionally it will be just a sideways glimpse of something that lingers in my psyche. Usually it is not an object bold. Things that loom directly in front of me are easy with which to deal. It tickles me sometimes how the slightest movement (or lack of same) in my peripheral vision will latch on to me and give me great gobs of time just imagining this and that.

Route 3, often called the King’s Highway, is a path I am oft want to trod. All along its path stand monuments of my yesterdays. Here and there stand houses in which childhood friends once dwelt. Over there was a service station; there a grand spot for teens once to gather. From the town of Kilmarnock to Lively I am taken home again as I go home again to Millenbeck. Right here is where I had my very first flat tire—changed it myself too. ‘Round that bend, just off 3, was an old tomato cannery, which in late summer smelled sweet, sometimes putrid.

In my collection of the way it was, I am forced to compare to how it really is now. I miss the faces, long for the fellowship; yet count the blessings ‘long life’s path.

I vacillate from humor, to remorse, interest to downright nosiness at what is going on over there now…. Hmm, I wonder what they are building there?

I excitedly remember the first time I drove dad’s car onto the Merry Point ferry. Such an adventure: Boat and barge built of wood, tethered bow and stern.

Some years spent ago I measured a church sign. I could almost swear I saw it move. I don’t mean a swinging placard tossing to and fro—I mean it looked for all the world as if the timber lurched as I drove on past. So, for the next dozen or so times driving by I stared with keen interest. You know what I discovered? The post actually moved and not from being tossed about by the wind either. It was too proud a post for that.

That beam which used to hold out the sign for Trinity Episcopal Church, Lancaster, had a memory of standing tall in a forest somewhere. It waved to me with sounds of antiquity, of peoples long gone. Depending upon the moisture in our environment the post stretched, or bowed. It twisted this- and that-a-way, almost imperceptible. But because it once caught my eye it required constant measure as I drove by again and again.

On some bright mornings, the post would hang its head a bit to allow the sign to droop toward the neighboring asphalt. At other times it stood tall, chest out, banner high; seemed to have been called to attention by authorities unknown, unheard. The tree is long gone from which he was hewn. Her branches withered, leaves rotted. The chap who took her life may be gone too. I suspect the saw that cut her from life is dull, maybe abandoned. The mill which drew and quartered its harvest probably was dismantled and moved to more fertile a forest.

I only imagined that the post, though dead, lived again. It could be moved and twisted by the whisper of our creator’s voice. I imagined it singing: “alive, alive again, living still. I have a job to do. Here I stand to announce the name of the family of faith who worships here.” Alas that post has retired…

Another post came to mind as I bid adieu to the Trinity sentry.

My dad built a sumptuous condo for purple martins, which used to live all along our Corrotoman shore. It was a three-decker, with round holes on four sides and a nice railing an inch or so tall that fenced in the perimeter. It lived atop a four by four.

Somedays the unit would bend toward the river. On other days, it would snap erect. I imagined that it sometimes turned a bit just to play with the martins, to see if it could confuse them as to which hole was home. The martins went away. Dad got too feeble to keep the structure fit. The paint blew off. The railings failed. A storm snapped the cross beam, dropped the house into the river where it washed ashore on Grandma’s beach. Later, it deteriorated on a pile in the back lot, eventually fueling a brush fire. For a few years longer the post, bolted to the seawall, less straight, though held firm, then also retired. Dad died.

Those posts remind me of another. It too once lived in a forest but found new life. It is sung about in my mind and heart, even when the church is silent. “On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross… that old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me… for ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died… So, I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross and exchange it someday for a crown.”


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