From the Front Porch: Memories of a restful place

Column by John Warren

For my final column this season, I am going to clear off the table and pour out the bag of spare parts I’ve collected.

Young moms congregate by the fountain in Bestor Plaza many mornings. Probably, they always have. The difference is, they wear yoga pants now, not sundresses or capris. They probably eat quinoa, which was invented a couple years ago by someone who wears yoga pants. And they say words like “totally.” Moms never used to say “totally,” the moms who wore sundresses.

Most nights in Bestor Plaza, there’s a pickup soccer game going on. There’s only one firm rule, best I can tell. That is: the game’s over when the guy who owns the soccer ball goes home.

The only time I ever thought I saw a ghost, I was 7 years old, and it was in the middle of the night, on the top floor of the Shaw House at The Minister’s Union.

Did I scream? Like a girl. (For the record, there is no difference between a 7-year-old boy scream and 7-year-old girl scream).

Seven-year-old Me wouldn’t forgive Older Me being flippant on the subject. But if you’ve gotta be a ghost — and it seems to be the way we’re all headed — well, might as well be a Chautauqua ghost, right?

Overheard in Bestor Plaza: “I chided him about it. We have known each other long enough that he will take a good ribbing.” Where else but Chautauqua would you hear a sentence with both “chided” and “ribbing,” and uttered without irony? Bully, I say. Keep language alive.

Earlier this season, I wrote about balsa-wood gliders of my youth, and how they have — in the intervening 35 years — become the forgotten step-toys at the Chautauqua Bookstore. I am glad to report that bookstore manager Earl Rothfus says demand was such after the column ran that he has placed a re-order.

0823_WarrenColumnOne of the by-products of life in Chautauqua’s denominational houses, of communal living, is the plethora of posted rules. There are plenty before-this-time-and-after-that-time prohibitions, and no shortage of disdain for heavy steppers and rogue dish towel borrowers. But this one, pictured above, posted in the bathroom at The Mayflower, perplexes me.

As the season winds down, the erstwhile Refectory (alright, alright … “Brick Walk Cafe”) will stop reordering ice cream. What does this mean for you? Sherbet. Expect lots of sherbet.

When I could not fall asleep as a child, my mother told me the cure to rest a busy mind was to think of a restful place. To me, this was always the dock behind the Miller Bell Tower.

As we get older, our ties to the effortlessness of youth grow threadbare. It is difficult to ignore the rumble of distant traffic. But in Chautauqua, one can still glimpse it, in the familiar smells wafting from the communal kitchens, and of century-old wood after a hard rain. In the chimes of the bell tower, the thunder of bicycle tires on a wooden bridge or the call of a paper boy who urges you to send him to college. And in the swift banging, three times, of a gavel.

Go forth, Chautauqua friends, gather. Bring more back next year.