Reverend Doctor Stan Johnson was giving his sermon, the third of a series of six, on one of the four ends of the Presbyterian Church. This week he turned to truth, though he seemed to be talking an awful lot about the all-but-irreconcilable war between man and God. And just as he was about to get to the point, something happened. Ruth McColgan, a new grandmother for the third time, collapsed. I was immediately transported to Missouri, to my cousins’ church, one of those Methodist churches established in the revivalist spirit founded just before the Revolution and carried westward by Manifest Destiny. There it is not uncommon for a woman to faint and fit. There they have a volunteer staff of large, mostly bearded men charged to catch and cradle anyone who might run up to the altar proclaiming His return until, overcome by the Holy Spirit, she drops. This is only really dangerous if the local prophet hits a pew on the way down. Hence the large, mostly bearded men.
But we’re much quieter than that. Our church has a steeple, an organ and a grand piano, no electric guitar or overhead projector, and we only tithe once per service. Only the children are allowed to rush the altar, and then, only when called for “Our Moment with the Children.” So, Ruth gave the rest of the congregation something of a shock. And the accompanying seizures prompted three phone calls to 911 for ambulance service rather than alleluias and reputedly laudatory declarations in tongues.
His sermon interrupted by a grave medical emergency, the Reverend Doctor played it cool. Everyone did. Dr. Johnson called for prayer. Everyone lowered his head and took the hand of his neighbor. The organist provided soft, pastoral music to underscore Stan’s comforting words. The prayer continued until the paramedics arrived and ended shortly thereafter. Then the congregation joined their voices in an round of hymn 327: I Have a Friend in Jesus even though it was not announced in today’s bulletin. As soon as they carted Ruthie away, we did what we came to do: take communion. It was the first Sunday of the month, after all.
After church service ended, the lingering members applauded Allen’s postlude. He had chosen a piece by Franz Liszt, to whom Allen is directly related, in the music geneological sense. We joked about how much Ruth must not have liked what Stan was saying, how we were prepared, and about poor old Ben Wellington, who, a few years later, had finished a sermon during an ordination only to sit down in the choir loft, in the pew I normally call my own, and summarily died. This sort of thing happens about once a year. Jack Harris, who sits in the pew behind me, had had his heart attack there. But medicine is fairly miraculous. They put a stent in him and Jack was back at choir rehersal four days later.
I told my dad and sister about it at the Brockton Bickford’s afterward. Being on the Massachusetts’ South Shore, its sign boasts all-day breakfast, steak, lobster, clam, and beer and wine. What a mix. Then they took off to Sudbury to exchange a pair of my sister’s diamond earrings. She found a speck of carbon in one of them.
Someone about all this feels very New England to me. If there’s a problem crops up, fix it and get back to work. I can think of no better example of the Protestant work ethic. In fact, I’ve noticed a lot of typically New England things lately. I’ll give you only two, but I only expect you to read one. I’ll tell what they are so you can choose: self-service check-outs first, then Dairy Queen second. Both are short, and they’re related sequentially.
Last night, DJ came over because, and I can’t justify this, we have about two and one half dozen eggs and he wanted an omlette. The Grove store closes well before 6pm on Saturdays, so he was stuck to either do it himself or find someone else to do it for him and my will is fairly pliable. We met my sister at the Stoppy down the street. She and her friend April purchased ingredients for a home-cooked steak bomb, done properly with mushrooms, green peppers and onions. Somewhat coincidentally, we picked up a green pepper and yellow onion for the omlette, and told Janice to put hers back. As is, we still had too much pepper and onion. We also got maple syrup sausage links. I just ate the last seven as an after-dinner snack. Without the eggs, they’re a bit unsatisfying.
Not wanting to wait, no one inside of 495 does, we tried our hand at the self-service check-out. This thing is awful. Not only does it cheat real, living people out of jobs, it doesn’t work. We found the barcode for a yellow onion, placed it on the scale, and then moved it to the conveyor belt as directed. The belt ran backwards, causing the onion to hit some sensor bar, which signalled the computer to line-item void the onion, which we could have then easily taken, saving a full sixty-nine cents. We did not, however, steal the onion. Instead, we looked up the barcode in the produce catalogue one more time, weighed the beast, and dropped it on the belt. Having some practice, the belt figured out to run forward, the computer charged us the sixty-nine cents, and we proceeded with the easy stuff that scans without all that complicated searching and weighing.
DJ just visited Virginia, where, it seems, all the gas pumps are pay first and there are no self-service check-out lines at the supermarket. Here we’re on the honor system, and it must work. Otherwise, stores would have taken us off of it. I’m glad that corporate America trusts New Englanders not to steal onions.
After musing on this point exactly, we went to McDonald for, wait for it, a few double cheeseburgers and headed home. To the kitchen. To make the omlette. But, what would you know, Dairy Queen has opened for the summer. In fact, it’s been open since March first. We had snow March second. We drove right by, pulled into an empty parking lot, turned around, and went to Dairy Queen, debating Blizzard mix-ins along the way. The wind was bitter cold last night. And Dairy Queen, as you might know, is a shack with soft serve ice cream machines and freezers full popsicles inside and not much else. It takes two people to work the counter during the early season, three during the peak. While the girl behind the counter prepared DJ’s mudslide Blizzard thing, a couple got in line behind us. They were both bundled up, especially the girl. It was obvious that she was freezing and not especially happy about it. She haunched over to conserve heat. Her hands were placed firmly in her puffy jacket pockets. She scowled as she studied the menu. Despite the decidedly frigid weather, people formed a line outside the Dairy Queen at 7:30pm on a Saturday night in a small, suburban town. [Avon is only about one mile in diameter.] The man who owns the DQ, I am told, now lives handsomely year-round in his vacation home in Florida.