(Host) When commentator Joe Deffner moved recently, he found himself feeling nostalgic, not just about his old house, but about a couple of buildings just across the street from it.
(Deffner) NPR listeners know driveway moments. My most memorable driveway moment happened on Memorial Day a few years ago. I was listening to a story on the now famous four chaplains aboard the World War II transport ship, the USAT Dorchester. When their ship was struck by a torpedo, the four clergy men removed their life jackets and placed them on the soldiers around them. Arm in arm, praying and singing, Rabbi Goode, Reverend Polling, Father Washington, and Reverend George L. Fox went down with the ship. Several years before his death, the last chaplain, Reverend Fox, had been posted to the red brick Methodist Church across from the driveway in which I was listening.
Like many villages in Vermont, Union Village is anchored by a church. This one was built in 1836. Next to the church is a schoolhouse that’s been around nearly as long. And our old house across the street is older than both the church and school. It wasn’t easy to leave. We had been so comfortable in Union Village that the setting had somehow become a part of us, and we take with us lots of memories in which the old church is a central feature.
The nervous bride sneaking a cigarette behind the schoolhouse before walking down the aisle; the church and schoolhouse blanketed in two feet of fresh snow; watching the full moon set over the hill behind the church on an early spring morning; my seventh grade students presenting their recently completed Valley Quest of the village history; my neighbors gathering in the schoolhouse for Christmas Carols and a potluck dinner; family and friends gathering for the funeral of a member of the congregation; and sitting on our porch watching people line up an hour early for the famous chicken pie “suppas”.
Over the years, as the congregation’s numbers dwindled, we neighbors helped put on the suppers, none of us the least bit deterred by the fact that most of us attended church outside the village, or not at all. Cutting up potatoes, mixing up the cole slaw, and baking pies, we did what Marjorie, the head chef for the suppers, told us to do.
For some reason, we all felt responsible for keeping the church open. Maybe we just couldn’t imagine those unbelievable suppers going away or not hearing those church bells on Sunday morning.
But more than that: without the church, part of what binds Union Village together would be lost. It’s central to the sense of place. We hope that the new owners of our old house will feel the same way. Then we can wave at them as they sit on our old front porch and watch us line up an hour early for those chicken pie “suppas.”
This is Joe Deffner from Rice’s Mills in Thetford Center.
Joe Deffner is a teacher at Thetford Academy. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.