found in rare places
beauty being fugitive
how to possess it
I feel lucky.
Know what I mean?
I feel lucky.
I have lived in three places in my life.
For the first 50 years of my life I lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
On the North End of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
I used to say I lived 1 mile from the house where I was born.
Well I wasn’t born there but where I lived, after coming home from Butterworth Hospital.
Come to think of it, Butterworth Hospital probably wasn’t much more than a mile away either.
Growing up in Grand Rapids and going to an elementary school where 90% of the kids came from Grand Rapids, I remember one of my teachers going around the room and asking each kid which hospital they were born at.
There were three possbilitlies.
Butterworth was the most mentioned and the coolest as it made you think that was where the pancake syrup came from.
But Blodgett was such an odd sounding name that we all decided that had you been born at BLODDDDD-ghet you yourself were kind of odd.
And then there were the few Catholic kids who were born at St. Mary’s.
There were so few Catholic kids at my school as most Catholic kids in the neighborhood went to Blessed Sacrament.
BUT they didn’t go to Blessed Sacrament until 2nd grade.
So these kids were part of our class for two years and then mysteriously disappeared from school.
They disappeared from school but not from the neighborhood.
We would still see these kids in the park and such.
And the word would spread, ‘They go to Blessed Sacrament.’
As my only other exposure to Catholic churches and schools at that time was St. Mary’s Hospital, I figured ‘going to Blessed Sacrament’ meant they got sick.
It was weird too because in the morning after school started we could look out the windows at the Blessed Sacrament bus as it stopped at the corner and we would see these kids line up and get on the bus and go off to therapy I guessed.
That bus stop was at a corner right next to our school, Crestview Elementary.
The Blessed Sacrament bus in the morning came by that corner, as I mentioned, after school had started.
The Blessed Sacrament bus in the afternoon came by about 10 minutes after our school got it.
Over the years it had become part of social schedule of Crestview Elementary to gather at the corner and when the Blessed Sacrament Bus stopped at the corner, exchange greetings with those kids on the bus.
Language used in these greetings was most unusal.
It would have been okay had you been deaf as both groups of students also used sign language to express themselves.
That it was the B.S. bus was just a gift of the Gods.
In the short story, I Went to Sullivant, James Thurber writes, “Now and again virtually the whole school turned out to fight the Catholic boys of the Holy Cross Academy in Fifth Street near Town, for no reason at all–in winter with snowballs and ice balls, in other seasons with fists, brickbats, and clubs.“
I knew just what that was like.
This exchange lasted as long as the bus was at the corner and then satisfied that honor had been upheld, everyone went home.
When I got to sixth grade and was a member of the school safety squad, that was my corner.
Most of the time, being so close to the school, the kids who had to cross came and went quickly and I could take off.
But every once in awhile I stuck around … just to observe don’t you know.
That year, the Crestview Greeters must have got louder or more persistent or something because neighbors complained to school.
I never figured out how it came about but the Principal, Mr. Domagolski, arranged with Blessed Sacrament to have his wife ride along on the B.S. Bus.
Mrs. Domagolski road the bus and reported two things to Mr. Domagolski.
The first thing she said was she had NEVER heard such language.
Mrs. D needed to hang out on our playground a little more often.
The 2nd thing she said was, “AND THAT SAFETY JUST STOOD THERE AND DIDN’T DO A THING.”
I know this because both Mr. Vanderwheel, the teacher/coordinator of the school safety squad and I got called in the Principals office together.
When you think about it, this was again irony on the greek tragic play level.
It was in Mr. Vanderwheel’s class that I was awarded around 364 demerits.
And now both of us were in the Principal’s office.
Mr. D repeated the line, “the safety didn’t do anything” and glared at me.
I can’t remember what I said or if I melted into the floor.
This was big time crime.
And I was in for it.
I think I did ask what could I have done?
And what was I supposed to do?
I was about 5 feet tall and weighed about 47 pounds.
Any 4th grader could have beat me up and most of the mean 4th graders already had.
I was supposed to stop this crowd and make them shut up?
And besides that, how was this NEW to anybody?
It had been going on for as long as I could remember.
Mr. D stared at me then looked at Mr. Vanderwheel and back at me and said slowly, one word at a time, “YOU ARE OFF THE SAFETY SQUAD.”
In my mind I remember that he walked over and unhooked my orange cross belt and let fall to floor but that may not have happened but it felt like it.
You remember the TV show, BRANDED, where the show’s opening depicts Chuck Conners getting drummed out of the Army and and his sword taken away and broken over someone’s knee?
That’s what it felt like.
And we left.
Mr. Vanderwheel kinda sorta said he was sorry but there was nothing he could do.
But he did do something.
He let me stay on the squad a substitute.
Which was kind of funny as a safety had a corner every other week.
As a sub, I was getting calls almost everyday.
I never ever got that corner by school again.
I am pretty sure that once or twice Mr. D say me on a corner with my belt.
It seems to me like I waved.
But it was never mentioned again.
ANYWAY, as I was saying, I lived a mile from the house where I was born and a mile from the cemetery where I would be buried.
That was Fair Plains Cemetery, a City Of Grand Rapids Public Cemetery where my Father and Grand Father was buried.
My Dad said so many people from the North End in general and our Church, Berean Baptist, in particular, were buried at Fairplains that Resurrection Day was going to be like a Sunday School picnic.
From where we lived at the time, a small triangle connected my house, my mom’s house and the cemetery and that was my world.
Once when I was working at WZZM13 in Grand Rapids, there was a general conversation in the newsroom about travel and traveling.
General Conversation in the newsroom was one of the best things about working at WZZM13.
Here was this great big room, crammed (pre-covid) with desks, TV’s on everywhere, radios and cop scanners blaring and everyone would be engaged in a general free for all conversation on anything but the news.
Never knew what we would be talking about and what might be said, but everyone contributed.
I remember once to make a point, I raised my voice in song and sang the ‘WHERE OH WHERE ARE YOU TONIGHT’ song from HEE HAW.
I got to the second WHERE and the entire newsroom or at least all those who knew the song, joined in.
The best part was the look on the face of the people who didn’t know what was coming and when we all hit the “THHHHHHPTTTT You Were Gone” people screamed.
So into this conservation on travel, I interjected my “I live a mile from where I was born and I mile from where I am going to be buried” and Jenn, the noon show anchor, tears up and says, “That is so depresssssssssssssssssssssssssssssing.”
Little did I know or ever imagine that my job would take me to Atlanta, Georgia and then to the South Carolina coast.
I now live almost 1000 miles from where I thought I might be buried.
The plan today is ashes in the ocean but that’s another story.
I am living in a place I had never heard of before.
I am living on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean that I had only even seen twice in my life.
And I am lucky.
I have met a few local people down here.
And by local I mean people who grew up here.
It isn’t easy.
30 years the population of Bluffton, SC, was 738.
Today it is over 30,000.
Less than 1 out of 30 folks down here are locals, long time locals.
And you know what?
They don’t go to the beach.
Nothing new to see there for the long time locals.
Everything is new.
I love it.
This is a rare place.
The beauty in places like this are fugitive.
I wonder how I can possess it?
I wonder can I possess it?
And I quit wondering and just enjoy.
I am lucky.
Lucky to see this new, to see this new at my age.
And just enjoy it.
Adapted from the book, The Art of Travel (2002, Vintage Books) by Alain de Botton, and the passage:
A dominant impulse on encountering beauty is to wish to hold on to it, to possess it and give it weight in one’s life. There is an urge to say, ‘I was here, I saw this and it mattered to me.’
But beauty is fugitive, being frequently found in places to which we may never return or else resulting from rare conjunctions of season, light and weather.
How then to possess it, how to hold on to the floating train, the halvalike bricks or the English valley?
The camera provides one option. Taking photographs can assuage the itch for possession sparked by the beauty of a place; our anxiety over losing a precious scene can decline with every click of the shutter.
According to the website, GOOD READS, Any Baedeker will tell us where we ought to travel, but only Alain de Botton will tell us how and why.
As I said in the section on Architecture , what I find irresistible in reading Mr. de Botton is his use of language.
I get the feeling that if you made a spread sheet of all the words, adverbs and adjectives used by Mr. de Botton, you just might find that he used each word just once.
Neat trick in writing a book.
If I knew how to do that, hey, I would.