Thursday, January 14, 2010

"Poems, and prayers, and promises..."

"Talk of poems, and prayers, and promises,
and things that we believe in:
how sweet it is to love someone,
how right it is to care;
how long its been since yesterday,
and what about tomorrow;
and what about our dreams,
and all the memories we share..."

-     John Denver

I've loved this song for almost forty years.  It was the summer of 1971.  I'd been invited, along with other girls from our senior class, to work at the historic Inn our hometown dentist owned on the shores of an island in the middle of beautiful Lake Champlain in northern Vermont.  I was thrilled....and nervous.  It would be the first time in my life I'd been away from my entire family.  I didn't know how I would sleep without my sister next to me.  

I waved goodbye to everyone from the backseat of Diane's parents' station wagon, and I was free, independent...grown up.  We drove all day, crossing onto a narrow string of islands, by ferry, in the early afternoon,  and arriving at the Inn just before dinner.

It was enchantment at first sight.  A large yellow clapboard inn with a matching yellow barn on the inland side of the road that ran along the shoreline. There were additional guestrooms in a building across the street, at the head of a long grassy pier that once welcomed excursion travelers, but now stretched into the lake and was used for weddings and special events. A small, crescent-shaped beach held a scattering of adirondack chairs just waiting for guests to arrive with book in hand and a nap on the agenda, while nuzzled against a short wooden dock was a skiboat tethered to a shiny cleat, bouncing and bumping, like an yearling colt chomping at the bit, ready for the summer adventure to begin.   It was heavenly.

Their were 14 of us girls, all going into our senior year of high school, and a manager (who masqueraded as our dental hygienist during the school year), the good dentist, his wife and two young children.  A handy man and a cook extraordinaire rounded out our summer team. 

The first few days were spent cleaning, prepping in the kitchen, setting up the dining room, and making up guest rooms.  The fourth day we readied small sailboats and the water-skiing boat for guest arrivals and raked the beach.  Day five was ours.  We were told to enjoy it...another day off would be rare.  In hindsight I realize that they weren't kidding.  We worked long days, rising before dawn and turning out the lights in the dining room near midnight, seven days a week...all for $14.77 and as much ice cream as we could eat.  We all, did everything...waitresses, chambermaids, sailing instructor, sous chef, hostess, babysitter, registration desk, you name it...we did it.  And we loved it. 

But back to that first day off.   The fourteen of us girls, piled into sunnies (the small sailboats we used to teach sailing to children) and made our way out into open water, around to the other side of a small island covered in bramble and old growth scrub pines, to reach an even smaller rocky island with few trees.  Gull Island was about the size of a small city block.  Large granite outcroppings, and a few stands of scraggly pine trees. It looked like a great, playful giant had pitched a handful of enormous marbles onto the beach.  These boulders were soft and worn and perfect for lolling on in the early summer sun. 

I'd only ever been with my siblings, cousins, parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents at a beach.  This was different...this was a dream come true.  Sally had brought her transistor radio and a satchel full of magazines, candy, fruit, a bottle of baby oil laced with iodine (a silly tanning myth from the 70s), and extra batteries for the radio.  We each had a towel, a sack lunch, and a soda.  We were ready.

Before I could stretch myself across the back of a large grey boulder, I noticed that bathing suits were being abandoned faster than the gulls on the beach could retrieve an errant brownie crumb.

This was going to be a skinny-dipping sun-bathing party.  "Well," I thought, "This is a first for me, but we are in the middle of nowhere, so what the heck!"  I was as bare as a baby before the next wave could hit the sand.  We talked and laughed and listened to music, turning this way and that to be sure the sun had touched every bit of us.

When a bank of clouds started to hide the sun, we put on suits and t-shirts, turned up the music and danced on the rocks like the dancers on our favorite variety show.  And before the first raindrop, from a sudden afternoon storm, hit the beach, we were on our way back around the larger island, across the expanse of clear blue water, and pulling up to the beach ready to tie up the skiboat, pull the sunnies onto the sand and run for the Inn.  We were pink-cheeked, sun-kissed, and dreaming of the gorgeous tans we'd have the next day for guest arrivals.  Who knew, perhaps one of the families would have a college-age son. 

It had been one of the best days of my far.  I fell asleep under the eaves of our attic dormitory lined with fourteen on each side...singing all the songs we'd heard on Sally's transistor radio that day.  It was the summer of the singer-songwriter, and James Taylor, Carole King, John Denver, Cat Stevens and Bread. And long after each of the other girls had nodded off, James Taylor and friends were still singing lullabies in my head as I fell asleep that night.

But I didn't stay asleep for long.  Sometime in the middle of the night, with thirteen other girls sleeping heavily all around me, I woke to a searing pain covering my body....all of my body.  Every square millimeter from head to toe, back and front, stinging and burning.  I padded off to the bathroom, on the third floor below our attic room, turned on the light and gasped.  I was a swollen, blistered, red version of an oompah loompah. And it hurt...everywhere. 

I didn't know what to do.  These were the days of pre cellphone, pre cordless phones and expensive long distance rates...and I didn't even know where to find a phone, much less how to make an out-of-state long distance collect call to my parents.  I was on my own and suddenly, being on my own was really scary.  I missed my mom, my sisters, my own bed, the little lamp next to my bed and the books that lined the bookshelf that served as my bed's headboard back home.  I felt like crying, but the salt in my tears burned as it ran over the blisters on my face. 

I went back to my bed in the attic and lay as still as I could on top of the softly-worn, white cotton sheets.  But I couldn't turn off the radio that had been playing, all night, in my head.  I tried, but all I was able to do was change songs.  I was frustrated and scared. 

That was when John Denver's
"Poems, and Prayers, and Promises" came up in the rotation of selctions on my mental radio.  And it was just what I needed.  The sound of it was as gentle and peaceful as my mother's nightly litany of lullabies.  The words were meaningful and I listened with new ears...and then I thought about what I was hearing.

" of poems, and prayers, and promises,
and things that we believe in:
how sweet it is to love someone,
how right it is to care..."

I thought of poems.  Mary Baker Eddy's "Mother's Evening Prayer." "Feed My Sheep." "Satisfied."  Each stanza working like another layer of healing oil.  Each comforting verse, a calming balm on my heart.  I thought of prayers.  "The Lord's Prayer," "The Little Children's Prayer," "The 23rd Psalms"...the prayers of my childhood.  The prayers my mother had so vigilantly taught me to say, and sing, every night since I was a little girl.   And promises.  "I am with thee." "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good," "before they call, I will answer," and "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven."  Promises God had faithfully kept throughout my childhood.

I fell asleep without realizing it.  I slept through the night and woke at 4:30 on the day our first guests arrived no less red or blistery, but peaceful, just about pain-free, and eagerly ready to start the summer.  I slipped into my 100% polyester pique white and harvest gold uniform with the zipper up the front, and headed down to the kitchen to fry rashers of bacon and baste dozens of sticky pecan rolls with butter and brown sugar.  It was a good day...I was filled with poems, and prayers, and promises...and things that I believed in.  My mom had prepared me well for my first summer away from home.

Almost forty years later I still love this song. 

"...I have to say it now,
it's been a good life, all in all.
It's really fine to have a chance
to hang around...

...and talk of poems, and prayers, and promises,
and things that we believe in:
how sweet it is to love someone,
how right it is to care;
how long its been since yesterday,
and what about tomorrow;
and what about our dreams,
and all the memories we share..."

Yes, these are the things that I still believe in.  Somethings just don't change.

with Love,

Kate Robertson, CS

Click on this link, if you would like to watch a video of John Denver singing
"Poems, and prayers, and promises" with The Muppets.

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