Sunday Letters
Link to Centennial photos
21 MAY 2000

Dear Friend,

“Long live the King!”
. . . In my world, it’s not unusual to hear hundreds shouting, “Long Live The King!” As soon as that cheer dies down, it’s not unusual to hear some resonant voice proclaim, “Off with his head!” After all, we live in a country which no longer suffers under the arbitrary rule of monarchs. We prefer the arbitrary rule of our peers.
. . . Yesterday was my wife’s birthday, a big one whose number we shall neither dwell on nor disclose. As part of our little celebration, she and I ended the day by walking down to the Candlelight Music Theater to witness “Pippin.” At one point in this light-hearted musical, Pippin murders his father, Charlemagne. He is then proclaimed the new king, and the crowd roars, “Long live the King!”
. . . Just before this, we had shared a meal of roast pig with 250 neighbors at the Gild Hall. In that hall, too, people were shouting, “Long live the King!” The meal was part of Arden’s Centennial Celebration. Secretly, Barbara and I knew better; we knew it was all in honor of her birthday. In my world, it’s not unusual for people to think one thing is true while, in fact, the truth is known to only a few.
. . . As part of the celebration, there had been a parade that afternoon, a Maypole dance, songs from a hundred years ago by the Ardensingers, excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan, trained dog demonstrations, and a display of horsemanship. Most people were in costume. Photographers would have flocked here if they had know what visual delights awaited them but then, this was only the first centennial celebrated in our village, so the word isn’t out yet. Me, I went nuts with my little digital photon recording device. You’ll find the results at http://users.snip.net/~schweers/centenn.htm.
. . . There was also a king and queen -- King George and Queen Sadie. Five trumpets would blast and the crowd would shout “Long live the King!” These cheers were encouraged by prompters displaying signs which said “Applause” and “Lusty Cheers”.
. . . Costumes came from “the Shakespeare closet” (doesn’t every community have one?) and other sources. I dressed as a typical Texan, the kind of person you see walking down Congress Avenue in Austin, Texas in jeans, boots, fancy belt, bolo tie, and Stetson hat. Barbara simply dressed fancy.
. . . Did I mention it was spitting, drizzling, and just plain raining during the parade? Alan, one person I talked to, hadn’t noticed. He was one of the trumpeters. In fact, the trumpets were his, a purchase he made at a Delaware School of Music garage sale. Alan, it turns out, used to own the house we are buying. He’s promised to give us a tour once we move in in July. Like many Ardenites, he grew up here, moved away, and then moved back.
. . . At one point that afternoon, after the bellowing of trumpets and cheers for the king, King George himself rose up and bid us all remember the founders of Arden and their vision of land owned in common, people dressed in costume, villages surrounded by woods, connected by small lanes, enlivened by strong community, and a place of “free love.”
. . . “Yah! Free love! More free love!” the boisterous medieval lackey beside me yelled in fun. Then behind me I heard a voice say, not shout, “All love has a price.”
. . . I looked around to see who had said such a sensible thing. Cynic that I am, my first interpretation of her remark was, “If you love, you’ll pay a price once they get their hooks in you.” But that was wrong. I knew something of this woman’s story.
. . . Her son developed a brain tumor in college and survived two operations but lost an eye. Years later, when a fist-sized tumor reappeared, a team of fifteen operated for 18 hours, leaving her son in a coma that lasted five months before he regained consciousness and most of his motor skills. Now new tumors have reappeared, this time in the son’s lungs. To add to her trials, her husband has serious spinal problems -- the diagnosis is GOK -- “God Only Knows.” All the same she faces the world not only bravely but with joy. She loves her neighbors and God. I can’t say how consistent she is, just what I’ve seen. She knows that love has a price.
. . . Leaving the celebration to put on a sweater and a jacket and to download my digital photos, I ran into another neighbor, a man a bit older than me, a curmudgeon. He was walking with a four-year-old boy, perhaps his grandson. It wasn’t his grandson. “No,” my neighbor said, “he’s no relation to me. His mother’s a druggie. His grandmother has care of him and he visits with me three times a week. I don’t have grandkids of my own, so I chose him.”
. . . In my world, it’s not unusual to find that curmudgeons are lovable and mothers abandon sons. It’s not unusual to find that terrible things happen to people who nevertheless find joy. My world is full of color and costume, disappointment and danger. It fills my heart with love and then breaks it. My world is like that.
. . . I’m glad you’re part of it. “Long live the King!”

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