The Block Island Times

Ghosts of Coffee Hours Past III

By Martha Ball | Aug 17, 2013

Two years ago I wrote of the coffee pots lurking in the depths of the Harbor Church, relics of Coffee Hours Past, the great stash of urns that lurked like inhabitants of some twisted gothic graveyard where things dead refuse to fade away. They were not without history, they did not lack a back story, there was so much material it could not be fitted into one week’s allotment of column space.

The tale of these coffee pots and the general woe of coffee hour concluded with the query asking if the wedding at Cana had run out of coffee instead of wine, would Jesus have even attempted the miracle, or would he simply have told them to drink water, taken his posse and skedaddled out of town with no mind to his mother’s prodding?

The response was largely positive, a lady who had spent her life as a pastor’s wife in other places said it was filled with little bells, dings of familiarity, and another I happened upon during this week’s House Tour remarked about it these two years later (walking around with a name tag can be an interesting experience). There were also the comments that made me feel like Indiana Jones in his conversation with Col. Musgrave and Major Eaton in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where he finally blurted out “Didn’t you guys ever go to Sunday School?”

This year they cleaned, I was told, just before the Harbor Church’s late July Fair & Auction, tossing, among other things, the never-used sides of the grand pink and white tent, heavy plastic that has lived in a huddle no one really wanted to touch, and some, but not all — never all — of the assorted stuff that just seems to land in the back basement, the old stone walled cellar of the former Adrian Hotel.

Only today have I dared looked. It is dark down there, but the coffee urns do not appear to any longer be in residence. They are not in view; neither are they lurking behind the only sheet of plastic I have the courage to touch. Later, the pastor assures me he would have noticed had they been spirited up to the third floor as they would have had to have passed by his office door but his experience is less than mine. He does not ascribe to my belief — founded on years of observation — that things fly up there under the cover of darkness, propelled by no more than the notion it is a top floor without a ceiling, a place where gravity has no sway and normal properties of matter and space do not apply.

The coffee pots may have been gone for two years or perhaps we have experienced our own little August miracle.

Those out of mind, I noticed my car was making a funny noise on the Neck Road. There are times I simply roll up the windows and hope it will go away but this day there was little traffic likely to honk at my diminished speed and I slowed and leaned toward the sound.

It was not mechanical, joy of joy, rather the cawing of gulls overhead, the scavengers we see following fishing boats or circling in the lights of the big foreign vessels that hang off the Mansion Beach some winters, so close voices can carry to land when there is no wind. I wonder first if some horrid stinking dead creature had come ashore, like the whale so many summers ago, or the one years before that the Coast Guard towed off toward No Man’s. The chain snapped and the disintegrating body drifted back to us, to a beach where it was finally buried.

My mind hops to Moby Dick, the great whale so large he carried the smell of land and could be found by the birds circling over him. His and Captain Ahab’s story is on my list of books to be read, a goal to date illustrative of best intentions gone astray. A few short chapters a night seemed a winning plan and so I launched myself into a winter’s read. Ishmael had met the harpooner but before they even set sail on the Pequod the volume slipped from my hand when I fell asleep. Over the side it went and was forgotten by morning, not found for a month or two, having somehow inched its way under, way under, my bed.

There were long years I believed my father had read “Moby Dick” to me; it would not have been out of character. Eventually I realized he had had a children’s version, condensed, made easier, which he supplemented with the more familiar passages, the great intricate language of Melville slipped in between the abridged sentences. He was of a generation that remembered poems and whole passages from literature.

Maybe there was nothing catastrophic, just the particular circumstances of the day, cool still, with more pedal than engine power on the Neck Road, that made the gulls so audible.

It is breezy and warm when I go out to check on the blackberries that are shriveling on the vine, casualties of I know not what, perhaps nothing more than inattention. The day has warmed, the beach is mid-August last days of summer crowded, I can tell by the location of shining cars in the sun parked all the way to “my” corner.

There are enough that I walk over to count, easier on foot than my drive through attempts on my way somewhere else I think. It proves not to be the case, there are just too many in too many different lines, and when I return to the road I have no idea how many were there previously.

As always, I think it is summer, summer is too fleeting; this particular aspect is a small price to pay. It will all pass soon enough and we will be wondering where the season went.

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