Molly has done lots of rummaging in our little apartment these several weeks that I have been out of the house and “across the street” as we say at Covenant Living, our Senior Residence in Golden Valley.
I’m on the side of the street where nurses and “care-givers” come and go, like therapists – occupational, physical folks. They give you exercises, to bring you back into the land of the living, when you’ve come from surgery, or other things that make you “weak as a kitten.”
Left to her own devices, Molly explored boxes and boxes of old family photos – of my mother as a young woman, of my father as the young minister of the imposing Congregational church that dominated Market Square in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was proudly gathered at the leading photograph studio in town with his beautiful Betty and their teenagers. Betsy, eldest, Arthur and Lee, the mid-teen boys, and finally the ever-glamorous little sister Louise, later to marry the famous Dutch Opera singer, Sir John van Kesteren.
Every picture that surfaced had its unique charm. But there was one photo, taken by the summer refugee boy from Germany, by then the leader of a great Arts institution in New York, who remembered every detail of “Summer at Ossipee” when he was a lonely boy “adopted” by the ministerial teacher family “down the beach” from the Rouners at Ossipee.
The particular snapshot that Molly put into my hands was taken outside a well-known summer restaurant in North Conway, NH where the aging Rouner kids had gathered for food and reminiscences, especially of our shared childhood, so long ago.
For hours I’ve sat in my care center single room, studying that picture of four aging children, all white-haired except for Louise, who hadn’t yet let it happen to her. The “infamous Uncle Leeroy” is on the far left, smiling, with his hands protectively on the shoulders of our beautiful little sister. He was hearty, caring, probably between the multiple surgeries of his early 70’s, loving us all, glad to be alive, intellectual professor of philosophical theology at Boston University, writer of books, fun and funny at any party, now holding us all together (not knowing how much we needed it).
Louise, next in line, not showing signs of her early Parkinson’s and the shakes that were to follow. Glad I think, to be with her sibs, still alive, only guessing at what was ahead, perhaps knowing full well that she might be the first to go. She sang beautifully – at first in the Emma Willard School Choir and then in Trinity College’s choir in London. Leeroy sang too, in the Uppingham School Choir, where he also played rugby and a little cricket. He was known as “The American.”
Betsy was a “school marm,” graduating with a master’s degree from Columbia, and soon thereafter teaching at Miss Spence’s, well-known school in the heart of Manhattan. She was Head of History there, becoming, in her way, “an institution.” Famous for generations for her classic contradiction: “DON’T CONTRADICT me” which she carried with her to school after school in England, and onto a faculty of a fine school in New South Wales, before returning to Wales in Britain and an exceptional school, “Wings” just on the border of Wales.
Betsy loved a party and was forever welcoming dear friends and old ones from across the world to her summer house – soon her year-round house on Ossipee Shores next to the summer house we all grew up in.
She didn’t see the “Lewy-Body” disease overtaking her in her final life as a real estate agent, where she was loved by the whole Ossipee village, which named her Citizen of the Year for her faithful work delivering “Meals on Wheels” for years to citizens like herself moving through her 70’s and 80’s. She was a gracious leader in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Tamworth, New Hampshire.
She was ever the head of the family, my world-adventuring big sister, after loving and caring for our parents our Ossipee neighbors till their death in their mid-80’s.
I anchor the other end of our line of sibs. We were all so different in our faith, our view of the world, but ever-loving each other.
Leeroy rests in a little cemetery at the corner of his beloved “High Meadow Farm” in Sandwich, New Hampshire, where he lived as a kind of country squire in both church and town of Sandwich.
Last in line is Arthur, white-haired like the rest, equally ignorant of the destiny that would be mine, of New England ministry before 32 years in a suburban church in the middle west, followed by 25 adventure years of reconciliation work with my Molly and the country teams who joined us in healing the broken heart of Africa following the Rwanda Genocide of April-July of 1994. Now aging beyond our expectation, but remembering with joy those good years of both youth and age.
They were God-given, and hold in our hearts as “precious memories,” as gifts poured out by the Lord of love Who’s walked with us all the way.
So the pictures live on, in the hope of reunion one day “on the other side” knowing not what it will be, but daring to hope it will be a life lived with the One Who promised to come and get us, and take us home to live with Him.
May God give good memories to you all –
Your brother Arthur, with love
I can barely believe the strange days of late spring that have found me “The English Patient,” if you will, living day after day under order of a hospital staff who tell me when and what to eat, wear, do.
They mean well – but are bigger and stronger than I. So, in shoves the medicine, down the hall we go, for exercise. I wear what they want me to wear, take my medicine as it comes, and pray for free minutes to write, and struggle to be of good cheer – while longing to be strong again, and home again, and among family and friends again: praying this may be the week of my release back to freedom.
The wonders of spring come when Molly knocks at my door, shines light through my room, and holds my hand – and won’t let go, and says, “See the dandelions among the lawn outside?” – And presents me with a little tin cup of pansies.
The gardens at our Covenant home are FULL OF FLOWERS! “Let’s go sit in the sunshine by the fountain here at Colonial Acres.”
So we do, and I watch her pick up sticks and pile them for a spring bonfire.
“You know the cherry trees that line both sides of the path at our residence? They are in full bloom. They smell of spring and speak spring. What a gift – of God!”
My wife sees it all – God’s changes, the delicacy of fragile flowers.
My heart is humbled – for now I see that Molly and God are trying to help me see – the beauty of the earth, the wonder of a flower. In fact, the beauty of the month of May, the reminder of my birth – 92 years ago.
Oh, sweet May! Miraculous spring. The mystery of God’s gift of our turning world.
My heart lifts beyond the dark constructs of my own unfaithfulness, and says, “See the beauty. See the world. See the people. SEE THE SPRING. Receive LIFE!
The darkness at last is Day, and Joy, oh Joy! We are God’s spring people! Yay!
Bless all you dear people.
Love to you!
Arthur A Rouner, Jr -
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ARTHUR ROUNER MINISTRIES