One day last week, I drove to the Freedom Valley Worship Center to tour the indoor equestrian arena it operates in partnership with Shining Stars Ministry. I interviewed Rachel Stoner, program director for the ministry, which uses the therapeutic value of horseback riding and horse care to improve children’s lives. While I was talking with Rachel, the Gettysburg Times staff photographer Darryl Wheeler stood nearby, waiting for an opportunity to take a few pictures. He was obviously hanging on my every word as I asked several questions while the equines studied us from the other side of the ring.
Rachel explained that they run classes for students of all ages five or six days a week.
Afraid I might think the horses were overloaded, she added, “They only work two or three days a week.”
“Looks like Jeff,” Darryl chimed in without missing a beat.
It’s not really true, but it was hilarious. Rachel and I chuckled.
After spending nine hours at the Class 3A Sectional Wrestling Tournament last Saturday at South Western High School, fueled only by a Twix and a Kit Kat, I was ready to devour some food. Any food, as long as it was fast.
My idea was to drive to Chik-Fil-A on the other side of Hannover and grab a sandwich and hot fries on the way back. Unfortunately, my wonderful plan was shared by a host of other people who had filled both lines of drive-thru. No worries, I thought, it’ll only be a minute.
Not so much, but I understand and I have patience to spare. What I also have is a new name, apparently.
After I placed my order, the polite employee, as is policy, asked for my name. “Josh” I say.
Arriving at the booth, the girl taking the payment asked me if I was Jeff. No, but the order was mine. No problem, it was crazy cold and windy, and the poor kid looked half frozen.
Later, when I got to the window, the lady said, “Order for Jeff?” Again I said my name is Josh but I thought Jeff was on the order, no problem. Also, I was ready to chew on my own fingers at the time, and might have had some Chik-Fil-A sauce to dip them in.
The lady laughed and said it might be hard to hear through the headsets in the drive-thru line. Again, no big deal.
After giving me my food, she forgot the drink. She quickly excused herself and handed me the soda, saying “Good night, Mr. Jeff”.
All right then, it was Jeff.
Rather than counting sheep while I lay awake in the wee hours a few nights ago, I counted all the places I’ve lived since leaving a college dorm 50 years ago. The total comes to 24 apartments and houses in seven states and one foreign country.
It wasn’t that I moved so often to stay ahead of the debt collectors. Since my wife and I worked in different cities for most of our marriage, we almost always lived in at least two places at once. Add to that a few places to get away from it all while we lived in on-campus housing, and the number of residences adds up.
As I imagine all of these residences, I can still see the basic layouts and some details of how we furnished them. Although I can’t remember all the street addresses, I could probably still find my way to the bathroom in the dark in one of these places. Human memory is an amazing thing, which probably won’t be surpassed by artificial intelligence anytime soon.
As I looked into the rearview mirror of memory, faces encountered at each location also appeared. I remembered friends, neighbors, guests who crossed those two dozen thresholds. Growing larger, each home had a television or two on which we watched world events unfold. Now we watch the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as the Bible says, “with sighs too deep to utter.”
Coming home from work Thursday night, it was late, as usual, and I was tired, as usual. When I left the office, it was raining. Although my car was frozen, the sidewalk and parking lot were just wet.
With the forecast for icy conditions, I was tense. I don’t mind driving in snow, but ice is another matter. As I drove into town and out the other end, the roads were still nothing but wet, so I sat in the seat; I didn’t realize I was leaning forward with a death grip on the steering wheel until I relaxed.
I also dislike radio, preferring quiet, time alone with my thoughts, whether to reflect on the past, current affairs, or the future, or consider my to-do list. Thursday evening, I listened to the rain on the roof of the car. Being a soft, slow shower, it was a pleasant, rhythmic tapping on the windows and the metal roof. I found myself driving the speed limit so as not to muddy the sound or cause it to pound rather than flow smoothly. It was quite pleasant.
Savoring the pitter-pat, I wished there was an attic separating my bedroom from the tin roof of my house, making it impossible to hear the sounds of rain.
I thought back to other houses I’ve lived in and fondly remembered Vermont’s second house, with its metal roof and limited insulation. The house was built before it was the United States. The rooms were rather small, but I liked this old place. I deliberately took the smallest bedroom – giving the children the largest, best insulated and warmest bedrooms – so that I could hear the rain on the tin roof above this sleeping chamber where it was not There was no attic to obscure the music of nature.
I seriously, briefly, considered sleeping in the RV on Thursday night. Although its roof is made of fiberglass, the rain is almost as pleasant as if it were metal. But, with the cold in the air, I reconsidered how cold it would be without heat and abandoned that idea almost as quickly as it developed.
Deep in thought, I was heading home on autopilot. I had noticed that the appearance of the wet road had changed, but I hadn’t given it serious thought, until I came to the stop sign for Table Rock and Shrivers Corner roads, which I pressed on the brakes to slow down and I almost slide through the intersection. Fortunately, no vehicle arrived.
I was arrested, so no harm, no fault. The rest of the way back I drove well below the speed limit, once again leaning forward in the seat with a white grip on the steering wheel until I slid into the base, l driveway to my house.
The moment I unpacked my lunch box, fed the goldfish, changed clothes, loved dogs, prepared my bowl of cereal for “supper” and sat down at the classroom table to enjoy my eating and reading for a while, the ice on the road ahead had given way to mere dampness.
With the temperatures rising, I would have done better to work an extra hour rather than try to get home at midnight. Live and learn, or not.
“Writing is the Latin of the 21st century.”
Someone I respect told me that recently. It froze my heart. I haven’t recovered yet.
I’m afraid that’s true.
Attention spans are shrinking across tweets and texts. Few things garner more scorn on social media than insisting on correct grammar. Texts made up of complete and punctuated sentences are eye-rolling. “Big words” put people off, but, as Orwell’s “1984” teaches us, when the words for the concepts are missing or corrupted, the concepts themselves disappear.
My heart froze not only because the craft to which I have devoted my life may soon become one with the dinosaurs, if it is not already a fossil. On the contrary, I fear that the habits of mind associated with good writing are disappearing, and potentially democracy with them.
Good handwriting encourages, even enables, clear thinking. Grammar is a technology for the precise expression of complex ideas. Prose can anatomize and dissect complex issues – and reveal deception and manipulation – with a power that no mere fragment, image or emoji can even approximate.
Voters need such analysis. Without it, ballots are too often cast out of ignorance on the basis of biases, presuppositions and groupthink, as if supporting a football team rather than bringing to life a government of the people that can thrive. in a world of competing interests and values. Worse still, a citizen who is unaware of the implications of the issues or unconvinced that voting matters may not vote at all, or even decide that a single strong leader is more effective and satisfying than endless talk of democracy.
I’m not saying everyone should write and speak like a 19th century poet, but we should remember Orwell’s terrifying warning. If we the people lose the means to examine our desires and beliefs, to articulate our dreams, to uncover and refute deception, and to reach consensus through informed deliberation, then our future is “a boot trampling a human face – forever”.
On Sunday, I ventured into several stores and purchased a few items from each. When I was at the last store, I went to the cookie aisle and spotted the regular Oreo cookies on the shelf. I looked around and out of the corner of my eye, on the top shelf, I noticed the new Oreo Cakesters. It is a soft version of the Oreo cookie. I bought a box of these and took them home to try. It was very soft and sweet, just like a little whoopie pie. They were very tasty, but I try to limit the amount of treats I consume.
On Monday, I attended Marlin Shorb’s visitation, service and funeral at Peters Funeral Home in Gettysburg. In the coffin were several copies of the Gettysburg Times which had his picture and the story of his passing on the front page. Several retired employees of the Gettysburg Times attended the viewing and paid tribute to Marlin. It was nice to see them and talk to them. After the service, Harry Hartman and I were two of eight pallbearers who carried the casket to the hearse. When everyone arrived at Oak Lawn Memorial Gardens, we also helped transport the casket to the grave. The service was short, but deserving for all the years he gave to the Gettysburg Times.