Friday, July 09, 2010

Greenwich Village Remembered at Woodsong

Monday was rather scary because when Erin woke up all alone at their Georgia home, she was extremely sick and thought she had food poisoning. Her dad was directing her by phone to drink Gator-aid, and her momma was arriving back there at 6 p.m., but Erin was having to face that she might not be able to leave on her scheduled flight out of Atlanta the next day for Austria. However, by the time Vickie’s flight arrived in Atlanta and she drove down to Watkinsville, Erin was better and she had her mother there to help her finish packing. She caught all her scheduled flights and she was in Austria ready for her first softball practice with the Sharx. We all breathed a sigh of relief and a prayer of gratitude.

Once again my dining room table has been covered this week with papers, music, and booklets with plans for Vacation Bible School at our village church. Becky Belt and I will be working together in the room the children will come to for their Bible story. Each day we will see all the children enrolled as they rotate by age groups through our room. I am reviewing the Genesis story for the first day—God not only created us but made each of us unique and special. Then there will be a lesson the next day on Joseph, one on Zacchaeus on Wednesday, and one of Jesus on Thursday. The last day will be from Philippians and we will think about how we can live in ways that honor the God who loves us.

I cleared the table yesterday, however, for Eric and Ann Levin were coming over and I wanted to put out some fruit for munching, and it was all because of Red Room, a writers' site on the Web.
Somehow Eric had found my website here, where I mentioned that I went to Greenwich Village the summer after college graduation. I wanted to be a writer, and I thought the proper thing for me to do was to collect experiences. So going to Greenwich Village, where I had heard writers hung out, seemed like an interesting experience to have. I applied for an interdenominational summer project called “The Church in Urban Life” and was accepted. (If it had not been for Gerald coming along and our getting engaged, I probably would have stayed in New York for a year or two. At least that was my intention. But because of our engagement, I settled on just going there for the summer as already planned but teaching the next school year in a Chicago suburb.)

Recently I have been looking at old scrapbooks and trying to decide what to do with them. One scrapbook was on my summer in Greenwich Village. Those in the summer project stayed at Judson Student House, a cooperative, near Judson Memorial Church, which was one of the project’s sponsors. We each were on our own to seek out a job and support ourselves. I found summer secretarial work for Dr. Martin Siegel at The United Synagogue of America in upper Manhattan beside the Jewish Theological Seminary.

At the student house, where we all pitched in cleaning and doing kitchen work on a schedule, we would have seminars, discussion groups, and lecturers on city politics, economics, and the church’s response to city challenges. On weekends we would go to different activities, the museums, and plays. On Sunday we’d visit different churches, such as East Harlem Protestant Parish, Christ Church, and Riverside Church, or we’d attend services at our sponsoring church, Judson Memorial.

Eric Levin, who was born and reared in New York City, where his father had a cigar store in the Village, phoned out of curiosity after seeing that I had spent that summer in Greenwich Village. Gerald took the first call and they became acquainted. I was home to get acquainted when the second phone call came. Eric has lived in our very rural community for years, but because he works out of the community and is not native born like many here are, he said he had not met too many local folk. He came to the Friends of the Library presentation, where I spoke on the Trail of Tears, and we became better acquainted.

He told me about his father’s smoke shop and how he worked there in his teens during the 1960s and met many of the writers who shopped there, so of course I was fascinated. I told him I had just looked through this ancient scrapbook for the first time in years and he would have to drop by and see it. So last night was the night we chose, and we were able to meet his wife Ann.

He had told me on the phone he had gone to school in Berkeley and then came to Pomona, a tiny village southwest of Carbondale, the home of Southern Illinois University. I imagined that he came from Berkeley to one of the communes which sprang up in that era in that beautiful hilly country, but he didn’t. He just wanted rural life. He was very tired of cities—especially after being the victim of a hold up—and someone told him about Pomona and he came here without knowing anyone and rented an old farm house without running water and became a true country man while he finished his degrees.

He also had told me he had married a local girl, who died young. Imagine our mutual surprise when conversation last night led us to realize that this first wife was from the same Godwin family that Gerald’s mother descended from. Eric’s father’s ashes were scattered at the Jerusalem Church cemetery, where his first wife’s had been, a cemetery where many Godwins are buried.
I liked hearing Ann tell about her interesting career as a social worker who works with dialysis patients. We found out that she was from nearby Johnston City, where I taught part time for a couple of years not too long before she started high school there, so we just missed each other. Though she did not know Gerry’s family, we did know several of the same folk.

Eric’s 90-year-old mother is now living in assisted living in Marion after just having been moved from her duplex there at Liberty Village. An accomplished pianist, who studied psychology along with his sister at New York’s New School of Social Work, but who had a business career with a corporation, she sounds absolutely delightful. She loved having a place to grow flowers and feed birds. For the first time in her adult life, she was driving a car. Now friends make sure she still gets to all the concerts at SIUC.

Altogether it was a fascinating evening comparing and contrasting urban/rural lifestyles and sharing our experiences. . We did look at the scrapbook and Eric showed me on a city map in there where his father’s shop was on 7th Street and where he went to grade school across the street from Brooklyn College. We saw the playbills for The Trial, Victor Borge’s comedy, The Boy Friend, Fanny, The Teahouse of the August Moon, and The Pajama Game along with the $l.75 ticket stubs for the cheap balcony seats where I would sit.

After the Levins left, Gerald went to bed, and I came down to check email and Facebook to see what time the Eilers—Jeannie and Rick, Elijah and Cecelie got away from Freeport. But I could not get on the Internet. A phone call located them on Interstate 57 near Mattoon, and I figured they would not arrive until 2 a.m., so I started this belated blog. Actually they arrived at 1:30 so I am just now finishing the blog. I woke up to Jeannie and Rick laughing with Gerald in the kitchen. That was before Rick took his morning run and Jeannie rode her bicycle over country roads for her morning pleasure. Then we had a good visit before the six of us sat down for lunch and a final time together before they repacked the van stuffed with all their camping gear and bicycles and the dogs Lucky and Leah. Now they are on their way again to visit Leslie at Barefoot Republic Camp in Kentucky and then travel with her for the rest of the weekend in Nashville.

It is time for me to get out the VBS materials and return to my studies at the dining room table. Although the number of grandkids coming is shrinking as the kids have moved away, taken summer jobs, and so forth, there will be three teens here, and instead of being students at VBS, they all three will be helpers with the younger kids. Down through the years, as the children have matured, they have pitched in and helped. They like helping and they love being together for whatever projects they cook up to entertain themselves for the rest of the day at Woodsong.

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