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The Ghosts of Paradise: In My Old Pew (Written on this day two years ago)

In My Old Pew / American Digest November 16, 2016

My corner of Paradise. Buschman and Scottwood, in 2016, now ash.

For over five years since my heart stopped and was, as they say, “rebooted,” I have always been grateful to the Lord for every extra week I have been granted. This Sunday, however, I woke up to discover that at the end of THIS week I felt especially grateful to the Lord. To make this feeling more formal I decided to attend services at the church nearest my house. In Paradise, this happens to be the Craig Memorial Congregational Church. And Craig Memorial Congregational Church happens to be the last church I attended in Paradise. Sixty years ago.

The last time I was in Craig Memorial Congregational Church was to sing “Oh Mine Papa” while my grandmother accompanied me on the piano. Although I have no actual memory of singing the song I am assured that I did and, as a boy soprano, was a great success; so much so that my grandmother’s tea-drinking coterie complimented her for the rest of her life. What I do remember about that long-lost Sunday afternoon some six decades drowned is that I proudly wore my Boy Scout uniform. I’d recently emerged from the Cub Scouts and the ascension from Cub to Scout was as close to the “Today I am a man” Bar Mitzvah moment that a rural WASP was likely to get. I don’t know how I felt about the song, but I do know I loved showing up in the Boy Scout uniform with all the flare I could find.

This morning I walked up to the entrance to Craig Memorial and was greeted warmly and shown inside. I walked down the aisle towards the altar and noted that it had not been altered. I sat on the outside edge of the second pew back from the front.

Looking in front of me and to the left, I saw the piano my grandmother had played, the pew that I’d sat in waiting, and the place where I had stood in my uniform and sang my song.

As I sat there thinking about that 60-year deep memory, a family came in and sat in the pew in front of me to the left. When they settled in there he was. He was sitting in the same place I sat waiting to get up and sing, waiting in my new Scout uniform. I quietly took his picture but I already knew who he was.

The boy I was came back again today in 2016.

“I knew a lad who went to sea and left the shore behind him.
I knew him well the lad was me and now I cannot find him.”

If this essay pleased or informed you DONATE HERE to help me recover after being burned out in the Paradise fire with my thanks.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Phillipa Crawford November 16, 2018, 10:07 AM

    Sad to read at the link that the church was lost in the wildfire. Gratified to read that church members are meeting elsewhere and continuing their worship and fellowship.

  • Marica November 16, 2018, 10:56 AM

    Thank you so much for the reposts from your life. I’m pretty new here and it’s a nice way for me to get to know you.

  • John Condon November 16, 2018, 11:02 AM

    “I knew a lad who went to sea and left the shore behind him.I knew him well the lad was me and now I cannot find him.”

    You’ve had a long journey, Gerard.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1n3n2Ox4Yfk (* Something you shared with us and I am returning it to you *)

    And I think its not yet over.

  • Joe Krill November 16, 2018, 12:12 PM

    You have a God given talent with words. Thank you.

  • ghostsniper November 16, 2018, 12:44 PM

    As I scrolled down over that picture the words, “In Remembrance of Me” scratched open an ancient memory on my brain. A memory at least 50 years old. That same table, the “Offering Table” sat in front of the alter in the church I used to attend when I was a boy. On that table sat some large wooden bowls, 2 for the offerings, and 2 that held the tiny communion crackers. There were also 2 of the, I don’t know what they are called, round appliances that held many very small, thimble size glass vessels of grape juice. The offering bowls and thimbles were brought to the end of each pew and passed down and each person took one cracker and one thimble. After being dispersed, at the appropriate time, each of us drank the juice and ate the cracker. The juice tasted like Welch’s always tastes and the cracker seemed tasteless.

    That was a very long time ago, I was maybe 13 or so, but that memory of that table and all the other things there, is as clear as if I seen it this morning. As I sit here and think about this I remember the organ was on one side and the piano was on the other and next to the piano was a large upright bass, Kay brand. The guy that led the hymns when I went to that church was Jack Bandy. He was old then and most likely dead now.

    At some point I stopped going to that church, other things filled that space I guess, and never again did I sing church hymns. The last time I was in that church, Emmanuel Baptist Church, was on 17 June 1974 as I was the best man at the wedding of my best friend who was the son of the pastor of that church. I have not seen or talked to that friend in more than 30 years and his dad, the pastor, was the pastor at my dad’s funeral in July 1980, the last time I seen him. I have mentioned this church, Emmanuel Baptist Church before, here, on the thread about McDonald’s in Fort Myers, FL.

    2 days after that wedding in 1974 I joined the army and my life was forever changed from that choice as 10 months later I became a disabled vet. My former best friend is still married to his 1974 bride but he never took over as pastor of that church when his dad died. We all have our own paths to follow I suppose. I looked him up online but has seemingly vanished. Just as well I guess. For most of us we can never go home again, for home is just a memory, a ghost.

  • Phil in Englewood November 16, 2018, 6:34 PM

    Gerard seems to have an amazing theme to his life, of being reborn repeatedly. Coma, phoenix, time traveler…. It’s more appropriate than I imagined that he has a companion with nine lives, and a mother with – dare I say it – an infinite life. And then to share it with the writing… oh, the writing!

    I feel I’m in the pixel-manifested presence of a very special being.

  • Phil in Englewood November 16, 2019, 9:59 AM

    I had an interesting thing happen today, 16 Nov 2019. I opened a new tab in the browser, went to Google Maps and located the intersection of Buschman and Scottwood. I dragged the little yellow man and dropped him on the intersection to get a street view. It showed what looks like the view today – burned houses, burned trees, empty spaces. I clicked to rotate the view 360º to see more of the same.
    Then, as soon as I clicked to move up the hill on Scottwood, everything went to lush green, houses were all there, a pre-fire picture. One click and it went back in time, from burned to paradise…

  • Auntie Analogue November 16, 2019, 10:46 AM

    Lovely to see you’d aptly quoted the Roger Wagner Chorale’s opening credits song, words and music by Ward Costello, from the 1960 film The Gallant Hours.

  • curtis November 16, 2019, 11:24 AM

    that worked. that was good.

  • Joe Krill November 16, 2019, 3:15 PM

    Too many of our memories seem like only yesterday. I do not like this getting old routine. It is going too fast.

  • ghostsniper November 16, 2019, 5:17 PM

    “I do not like this getting old routine. It is going too fast.”

    Life is like a roll of shit paper.
    The closer you get to the end the faster it goes.

    Just think, only 28 days til christmas, even though the last one was just a couple months ago.
    When you were 10 years old waiting 28 days til christmas was eternity.
    Funny how that works, eh?
    Perspective is everything.

  • Snakepit Kansas November 17, 2019, 5:39 AM

    Getting older…..labrum repair surgery next month. I started writing left handed last week in preparation. With my Dad’s failing health I realize that I am only ~25 years behind him. I am certainly deep in the third quarter.

  • ghostsniper November 17, 2019, 7:39 AM

    Jeez Snake, what’d you do to cause that?
    I looked it up and viewed a video on the repair process.
    I’m fascinated by surgical processes and have viewed hundreds.
    Looks like the cartilage disc (glenoid) has pulled away from the scapula and is reattached with screws and cord sutures. A pretty straight forward process using trocars. With dedicated PT I expect you’ll be back to new pretty fast. Think positive, eat well. Good luck!