News of Otsego County

A Front Porch Perspective

ATWELL: ‘Sometimes A Firm Rap…

‘Sometimes A Firm Rap…

Jim Atwell, a Quaker minister and retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

Remember me? For scores of years, I was a guy who visited with you through columns in local newspapers, most recently The Freeman’s Journal & Hometown Oneonta.

I loved doing it – until last summer, when the sky fell on me. Or more precisely, until I fell off our back deck, down four steps, and onto an unforgiving asphalt drive.
I was knocked senseless when my forehead hit the driveway. (Later, lots of stitches.) But as I caromed down the steps, I had reflexively led with my right hand. That meant the brunt of my body’s weight was transferred to my right wrist – and that wrist was trashed badly enough to leave a bone protruding.

What a missed news photo! Stunned Jim lying on the driveway’s hot asphalt, sun blazing down on him, blood seeping from his forehead and his shattered wrist. Oh, and nobody home to glance out a window and gasp at the disaster.

(My dearest Anne, now at rest, was already at Bassett Hospital, undergoing a chemo treatment.)

But an unlikely looking angel was at hand. Brian Chevalier had just finished mowing our back yard and actually saw me fall, as did two contractors working on a nearby house. They were at my side at once and met the immediate needs. One phoned the paramedics and the others rushed to block me from the blazing sun.

That pair dragged a tarp from our garage, and then the three together made tent posts of themselves. They held that heavy tarp above me till the paramedics arrived–for perhaps 15 minutes.

But here’s something to make me cry: The ambulance that came carrying paramedics was not Cooperstown’s own, which was already in service elsewhere. If I hadn’t been unconscious, how pleased I’d have been to know that it was the Fly Creek first responders who swung into our driveway – to “swoop and scoop,” as paramedics say.

For the story gets even better. The guy they scooped up that day was a blood-spattered version of one who, when he still lived in Fly Creek, had helped restore a proud fire department there, and who served for some years as its chaplain. Who’d have thought it?

My treasured friend Randy Velez, the Catholic deacon, does a lot of thinking about how in bad times like these, good people come storming onto the scene. Most of them would seem to be ordinary Janes and Joes, but suddenly they’re reaching beyond ordinarily attempts and doing the demanding, even the brave, even the heroic.

Randy says that he recently took a chance and gave sermon on this subject – and that he wasn’t met with frowns, but with thoughtful nods.

“Whom the Lord loves, He chastises,” reads Proverbs.

That sounds perverse, mean. But, as we’d say down South, the action is more like a firm “rap upside the haid,” a jolt meant to set our attention back to what’s really important to God and ultimately to us. And that’s one another.

For we humans are easily lulled and dulled by seemingly untroubled times. Sometimes we need stirring up.

And if you need a symbol of goodness suddenly awakened and springing to action, think of those three men standing in my driveway, their raised arms surely cramped with pain as they stood around me, sweat running down their ribs, holding taut that heavy tarp for perhaps fifteen minutes.

I say, “God bless those men!” And you? Please shout, “Amen!” And me? I promise to be more careful.

Even without my treasured Anne, I’d like to live on, hoping to balance the flood of kindness recently been poured on me.

ATWELL: Avast, Maties!

Front Porch Perspective

Avast, Maties!

Jim Atwell

Nope, I’m still not sitting on my front porch, laptop frozen to my lap. After I spot a first crocus, maybe I’ll try writing out there again. I’m old and maybe a bit ditsy – but not nuts.

Meanwhile, last week some whimsical friends did find a way to distract themselves from the winter. They organized a pirate party and held it at our house.

And what, you ask, is that? Why it’s an indeterminate number of adults, middle-aged or (in my case) decrepit. It centers on some slapdash costuming, eating and gulping ersatz piratical fare, singing appropriate chanties (“Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest,” etc.) and, if adequately oiled, attempts to dance the hornpipe.

As to the last-mentioned, let Shakespeare nail it: “Oh, piteous spectacle!”
By luck, no clear photos survive, especially of the hornpipe. Several pirates might have to remain in disguise for years.

But the comestibles that the invading pirates hauled into our house – well, they were gob-smackingly, lip-lickingly grand.

Jim Atwell, Quaker minister and

retired college administrator, lives in Cooperstown.

My Right Leg Always Had Bad Karma

A Front Porch Perspective

My Right Leg Has

Always Had Bad Karma

Jim Atwell

I’ve been on the porch this afternoon, enjoying one of the last days of sitting out there. A windy Halloween’s just past, and Delaware Street is full of fresh-fallen leaves spinning in whirlwind gusts of chill air from the northwest. Above me are repeated flights of honking geese, hell bent for the South and warmer climes.

My right leg’s propped on a second chair. Right foot and calf are still encased in a heavy leather boot fastened shut with a half-dozen Velcro straps.

That leg, now 81, has had a history of mishaps that eclipses the sum of those that have smitten all the rest of me.

Not counting the number of times that right ankle has been twisted, topped by a killer sprain incurred in a Fly Creek volleyball game. And the right femur got its turn when a heifer kicked sideways and knocked me clear across the barn. That broken bone had me laid up for weeks on the sofa, and that inactivity nearly cost me my gall bladder.

Inaction, you see, caused agonizing adhesions in my back – every drawn breath felt like a dagger’s stab. At the emergency room, a brand-new resident with more zeal than experience decided that I had a diseased gall bladder and lined me up for next-morning surgery. Thank goodness, he was reined in by an older doctor who ambled into the ER, glanced at my X-rays, and sent the resident to the showers.

I wish good luck to that resident but hope he’s back home now, maybe selling insurance in Cincinnati.

All jokes aside, for quite a while, the back pain was so bad that it would stop me from getting to sleep. After reading a useful guide on the bestmatress-brand website, I even considered investing in a mattress that had been specially designed for people with back pain. Which reminds me, I might have to buy a new mattress soon actually as our old one has certainly seen better days.

Anyway, during my lay about sofa days, lots of kind souls stopped by to wish me well. Invariably they’d ask, “Where’s the break?”

At that, my Anne would always say, “I can show you!” She’d head for the kitchen and return with a big dog biscuit shaped (you guessed it) like a bone. She’d hold this up before the guests (and before the dog, who’d understandably followed her) and say dramatically, “This is Jim’s femur.” Then she’d snap off one of its top two lobes, adding, “And this is the break.”

Snap! Anne would break off the lobe. Guests always laughed warmly, but it did make me wince a bit every time, especially if my Anne then tossed the piece to the happy dog.

But the chain of events after the heifer’s kick had a denouement, poignant in its own way. The heifer hadn’t been mine. I was only giving it temporary barn room after hauling it to Fly Creek from the Unadilla livestock auction, this for a neighbor who lived about a mile away.

Some months after the ninja heifer’s kick broke my femur, someone knocked on our back door. There stood the heifer’s owner, holding a bundle wrapped in white butcher’s paper. It contained, he said, a 10-pound rump roast from the now-late heifer, trimmed out of the top of the very leg that had broken mine.

With a weak smile, the neighbor said, “God knows you earned this! Hope you and Anne enjoy it.”

I know that I did. I asked Anne to let me do the roasting, and when it came to slicing and plating, I really took my time, recalling our last close encounter.

That was shameful of me, I know – what old morals texts called “morose delectation.” Psychologists redubbed it “sadistic pleasure.”

OK, I feel guilty. But not exactly repentant.

I am convinced, though, that all the negative karma that has dogged my right leg originated 65 years ago. Back then, a scrawny teen was sitting on a shaky table in the hall just outside his high-school gym. It was halftime, and he was there to sell candy to the crowd that would pour out of the humid gym
to gulp some fresh air. (We were selling candy, you see, to raise money for new uniforms.)

Well, here came the crowd, deferring to a young nun, my homeroom teacher, who ended up pressed backward, right against my table – and right against my bony right knee. Horrified, I kicked backward and collapsed the table’s right table leg. The table and I pitched forward, knocking down the nun on her face in the crowd. And I, oh, I fell after her, landing, scrawny butt first, right on her considerably softer one.

This took place in the 1950s, when for a boy to offer a nun his hand as she stepped up onto the school bus was a bold act, something that smacked of sacrilege. It would certainly set kids already on the bus to tittering.

That, of course, was just a kind of mild mishandling. Never mind knocking a nun down and then sitting on her!

More of this sad story next time. . .

Jim Atwell, Quaker minister
and retired college administrator,
lives in Cooperstown

Jim Atwell: New View, From Delaware Street


New View, From

Delaware Street

It’s a pleasure to be writing again for The Freeman’s Journal (as well as, for the first time, Hometown Oneonta).  I’ve been here before, though it was about two decades ago. More about that in a future column.

Jim Atwell

For this new stint of columns, of course I need a new name. “From Fly Creek” just won’t do. Though all I learned and came to love while writing from that hamlet still lives in me, I’ve moved on, and not just in age. (In August I’ll be eighty-one.) I’ve also moved through a range of new experiences including deteriorations that have come with continuing Parkinson’s, and now with diabetes and uncertain blood pressure.

So mine’s a different perspective now, and I should address you from it. And I’ve concluded to assure that by naming this series from Anne’s and my new home base: halfway down the two long blocks that form one of Cooperstown’s most handsome streets.

Delaware Street runs straight as a die from Chestnut down to Beaver Street. It’s lined with fine trees and well-maintained homes. Nearly all the homes have comfortable front porches. Just now almost every porch features hanging baskets of trailing flowers, plus a colorful pot or two arranged along the steps. Many are also brightened by our national flag, wafted by breezes.

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