During this stay-at-home/social-distancing phase of the coronavirus pandemic, daily life is not radically different for me. As a teacher I routinely spent ten hours at school each day and during the summer jetted off to Europe. Even after retirement, I left my house many mornings to volunteer at the Graham Digital Academy. Thus, in recent years I have relished my time in my little house looking out on field and forest. Even as a member of the current elderly, high-risk group, shelter-in-place requirements do not seem a particular hardship.
I am, however, aware of vague psychological effects I did not expect and cannot adequately explain: a kind of niggling, back-of-the-mind sense of limbo. The many hours of sewing I once accomplished each day has been halved – every couple of days. I am not reading any particular book from the stacks lying around – my mind wanders so easily. Oh, I still write notes, talk with friends, do my stretching exercises, and tutor remotely. But around the edges I feel unsettled, basically flitting from one thing to the next and back again.
The jumble in my brain, exacerbated by the unnecessary politicization of this global crisis, was periodically quieted last week as I listened to musical selections on Facebook. Although I frequently click on YouTube for performances by favorite musicians, and have thoroughly enjoyed a couple of virtual choirs online, it was a piano rendition of “In the Garden” that first comforted my heart.
Katha Dill decided to share with her Facebook friends a simple, sweet version of the hymn, recording herself playing the old favorite on her piano. As her fingers glided across the keys, the lyrics filled my mind: “I come to the garden alone/While the dew is still on the roses…” I was immediately transported to the church of my youth, the Concord Methodist Church as it was known then. We had talented organists who played beautifully for our church services, but I was hearing “In the Garden” as it was played on the piano to the right of the altar and sung by Sunday School attendees before moving to their respective classes. The memory of those long-ago teenage days gave me such a sense of peace.
Katha continued playing the old hymns in the following days. I looked forward to her daily selections, among them “Amazing Grace,” “Because He Lives,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” Each day I sang along from memory, each day I became that girl again, each day I felt more serene.
The day Katha played “Sweet hour of prayer/That calls me from a world of care,” I was saddened to read about the passing of Lee Kizer. Lee was enough older than I that he graduated from Concord School the year before I began there. He married Bernice Kemp, whose parents lived just up River Road from us, and their children were Graham Falcons during my teaching years. Lee took over as our bus driver when Roy Shirk retired from those duties. Lee was a faithful church member throughout his life. He was a humble, honorable man – a quiet pillar of our community.
That same day, Katha also played: “Open my eyes that I may see/Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me,” and that same day I also read of the passing of Dave Eleyet. Another lifelong member of Concord Church, he was always willing to share his beautiful voice and musical talents, as a soloist and member of the choir. He and his wife Ruth Anne, who played the organ, had five children whom I eventually lost track of – I think they went to Urbana schools. Dave worked at the paper mill in Urbana where my dad spent his later years. Dave was a humble, honorable man – a quiet pillar of our community.
During Katha’s performance of “This Is My Father’s World,” it dawned on me that not only had Lee and Dave graduated from Concord School, down the road from the church, they were both members of the Class of 1953. In fact, they were born just three weeks apart in 1935 and passed from life on this earth on the same day – March 20.
With “Be not dismayed whate’er betide/God will take care of you” still sounding in my ears, I pondered why the lives and deaths of these two men remained in my thoughts for so many days. We knew each other but had long ago gone our own ways. Dave and his wife lived half a block from my previous house; we waved from time to time. And Lee called me a while back to tell me he enjoyed my articles.
What I have concluded is that these two men, like so many others, represented the halfway point between the generations of my parents and me. Much of their boyhoods, from 1935 to 1945, happened during World War II. By the time I was old enough to know who they were, there were young stalwarts whose examples were ones for my generation to respect and emulate. They lived their lives as my father did – as decent men.
I believe my new sense of calm, from the tried-and-true old hymns inextricably entwined with recollections of an earlier time when humility and decency and quiet strength were a way of life, seemed best expressed when Katha chose to play, “Blest be the tie that binds…”
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.