When I returned from vacation last year, I brought home a box of sticks, a few leaves, two containers of maple syrup, one jar of apple butter, and a camera full of pictures. This year, Mike and I went to the same place, the Chautauqua Institute in Western New York, but I left the sticks and leaves on the grounds, took two pictures from a rented kayak, and purchased nothing. What I did bring back were four words which came to me as I experienced life at Chautauqua.
Most of the homes at Chautauqua have front porches with wooden rocking chairs, and wicker chairs containing colorful, thick cushions. These chairs offered a silent invitation to come, sit, get to know each other, and discuss a lecture or other common topic of interest.
Rarely do I see porches in Indiana, unless I go to an older part of Indianapolis. Many people have decks in the back of their homes suggesting a need for privacy and time away from people instead of an invitation to gather.
Although I did not know anyone who owned a home in Chautauqua, I felt invited to various porches as I walked by each day.
Since cars aren't allowed on the grounds except to load and unload suitcases, people walk everywhere. I heard many snippets of conversation that I found interesting especially since I did not know the background or the outcome of what I heard. Here are a few samples:
-"Are you sober?"
-"I don't think I can get over her."
-"I'm taking a class in the fall."
-"I need to find a good massage therapist."
-"I really like your blue toenails."
-"The concert last night had a twenty minute intermission which was too long. I heard that is part of the musician's union."
-"My ex-husband is dying, and I am surprised the feelings coming up."
People often gather close to a large circular fountain in the center of a large grassy area in the middle of the grounds. Twice during the week, I heard two impromptu violin "concerts", in this grassy area, offered by students who come to Chautauqua for enrichment and lessons. I also saw dancers perform their own interpretation of classical music selections. People gather to watch these impromptu events, recognizing the skill and quality.
One afternoon I was sitting in the library and a man waiting to check out a book started singing in a deep, baritone voice the song "Old Man River", from the musical "Porgy and Bess". I couldn't believe an impromptu concert in the library.
The word, "holding" came when I was sitting in the amphitheater where concerts, lectures, and worship occur. One day I watched the Charlotte, North Carolina ballet company practice. Few people sat in the audience, so I could hear tapping from pointe shoes as the dancers moved over the old wooden floor. Last year the stage absorbed a loud, enthusiastic concert by "The Beach Boys". Lectures, services of worship, and symphonies all have been held by the stage for over a hundred and forty years.
These words - INVITING, SNIPPETS, IMPROMPTU, HOLDING - framed by days at Chautauqua and were my souvenirs. I really enjoyed the maple syrup and apple butter from last year, but I think the words will have more lasting value as I explore each one in the future.
To be continued.