Monday, October 08, 2007

Just Relishing Fairhope

October 8, 2007

There are moments when all the petty complaints about the changes in Fairhope, or the changes in the world, its new generations, the erosion of a way of life -- all just disappear as we are surrounded by loved ones banding together to share memories of the past and hope for things to come. The Centennial Reunion of the Marietta Johnson School, the Organic School, was just such a time.

We gathered Friday night, as you see above, at the former campus of the school. Some of us were standing in spots where we had played in some 50 or 60 years before, in that longed-for childhood of our memory. But Friday night was a time to look into faces almost forgotten, erase in our minds the wrinkles and white hair, see the essence of eternal youth, look into the spirit of the grown person before us and cherish the fact that we were back together for a moment. At any reunion there is always the bittersweet phrase in the back of our minds, "Maybe for the last time..."

After the first gathering we went over to the new building that replaced our beloved Fairhope-tile Arts and Crafts Building, an auditorium with all the charm of the wedding chapel of a Holiday Inn (not my phrase, but I had to steal it here), and recited the prayer of the school, probably written by Marietta Johnson herself:

Give us thy harmony, oh Lord,
That we may understand
The beauty of the sky, the rhythm of the soft wind's lullaby,
The sun, the shadows, of the woods in the spring,
And thy great love,
That dwells in everything.

I read a chapter of my book Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, to trigger memories and kick off the event with a positive punch. A speech of gratitude followed, and I was surprised with a beautiful silver bowl, engraved to me for the work I've done in holding the school together in recent years. I could not have been more surprised and touched, and will keep this trophy in a place of honor.

The feel-good events continued without a break from then on. We had a varied potluck supper and time to mingle until late in the evening. The next morning the new library hosted a talk by Dr. Paul Gaston about the role of the school in his life, and the place of the school in the context of the educational system. He is a gentle, wonderful speaker, a citizen of the world and a favorite son of Fairhope (whose grandfather, E.B. Gaston founded the town). Afterwards, people all over the hall spoke up about their memories, capped by a dynamic comment by the indomitable Elsie Arnold Butgereit summing up the need for continued support and attention to the school as well as personal heartfelt gratitude for the benefits all who attended it, however briefly, have reaped all their lives.

There was an Open House on the campus, managed by a dynamic group of younger people who happen to have children at the school today. The students demonstrated the folk dancing that they have been taught by Melanie King, a sprout from the Arnold strain, who happens to have a daughter in kindergarten. Melanie is a single mom whose child is being raised, not only by her and her huge, loving family, but by the village that is the Organic School.

Saturday night we all folk danced at a party in the Methodist Fellowship Hall. I went to that one with some trepidation, but as soon as I heard that familiar music from the past, you couldn't stop me dancing.

We wound up with a brunch, more mingling, hugging, and the reassuring news that we had reached our fund-raising goals for the time being.

I went in to the Museum, expecting to stay an hour, not expecting any traffic. There was someone waiting there when I arrived, and just then Edna Rockwell Harris showed up to donate some pottery made at the school in the 1940's by her and her cousin Helen Baldwin Telfer. Then Dr. Donald Rockwell dropped in to see if we could scan his graduation photo. Everybody was sitting around chatting when Shaw Smith Waltz came in with her husband to see if we needed any of the things she had saved, including a 1945 Organic Merry-Go-Round (the school's mimeographed newspaper), which we didn't have. Then two young ladies, one who had attended the school in the 1ate 70's and 80's, came in. The graduate confessed that in 1983 she had checked out a book about Shakespeare and Francis Bacon from the school library and then came in to return it. We looked at the old volume and noted it had been published in 1916!

Everybody began strolling out when Malcolm Campbell (SOE 1942) and his wife Jeanne dropped in, and we all had a wonderful chat.

It was quite a day, the end of a wonderful weekend. I'm still too tired to sleep, but don't worry. That will come.

Oh, I forgot to mention this. I sold two books.

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