Recently, I managed not to put anyone sleep during an address I gave for the 75th anniversary of the Spring Valley, N.Y., Rotary Club. The speech was easy to do since the Rotary there has included so many influential, giving, caring business and other professional people over its nearly eight decades. It was a simple task to recall them and their influence on a village, from the Great Depression onward.
Since the address was given in the old Dutch Reform Church where 56 years ago I went to Boy Scout meetings and in the same building where I am fortunate to participate in a morning breakfast program as cook, there seemed to be a “speech angel” or two making sure my words were clear and not boring. Even W. Francis Scott, my speech teacher at Spring Valley High, would have passed me on this. Strangely, the last time I spoke publicly in the village was at the graduating speech dinner in spring 1961 (our “final exam”). I again thank Mr. Scott for giving all of us courage to stand before an audience.
What he could not prepare me for was the emotion you can reveal before an audience, with your raw insides showing, as it were. That happened as I talked about many people I knew in my small-town community who have moved on – a bit of throat clearing was necessary. But I did not stumble in my 20-minute speech. That happened afterward.
When the address was over, and the audience generously gave approval, Ed Frank, president of the Rotary, Len Binder, a past president, and Jim Mellion, son of the well-known grocer in town, gave me a present.
In 1947, when Spring Valley was nearing the economic height of post-World War II renewal, the new Memorial Park was dedicated on the site of the old village dump. A time capsule was buried with the usual artifacts, such as a copy of the Rockland Leader (the village newspaper), a $2 million check to the present mayor from then Mayor Anthony Milewski (uncashable, of course) and a Smokemaster pipe manufactured by the Briarcraft Smoking Pipe Co. in Spring Valley.
Undoubtedly donated by Mr. Shoemaker, Briarcraft’s owner, it surely was handled, perhaps even made, by Arthur Sr., my grandfather and foreman of the factory. For 50 years, until 1997, the pipe was in a metal box under the memorial monument at the center of the park. I was in kindergarten when the time capsule was buried. I played in that park, walked through it on the way to elementary school and high school, passed the monument as I attended Boy Scout meetings and drove by in early adulthood.
Now, 63 years after my grandfather helped prepare that pipe for the time capsule, it has been presented to me and to my family. I was so overwhelmed that I could not speak for a moment. I hope the audience forgave me that.
It may be difficult for some to understand how Spring Valley was so life-forming to me, to my brother, my father and my grandparents and to so many thousands in our years there. Growing up, I had both success and failure in the Valley, and I have never felt satisfied that I was one of her better native sons. Now that almost does not matter, since I was welcomed home and perhaps forgiven with this precious gift. I must have walked by that buried smoking pipe and played above it on the big monument a thousand times. Now it sits on my desk. Amazing.