Sunday, January 26, 2014

Beyond the Gingham Dress

            “I won't ever live here...I won't!  I will never live in the desert!”   I blurted out to Clint on our way back to college after one of my first visits to St. Johns.  He just smiled that charming Arizona boy smile and replied “You marry me, and we will live anywhere you want.”
            ….and we do.
            I am reminded of the true story entitled “Gingham Dress”.             
            A lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband dressed in a homespun suit, stepped off the train in Boston and walked timidly without an appointment into the Harvard University President's outer office.  The secretary could tell in a moment that such backwoods, country hicks had no business at Harvard and probably didn't even deserve to be in Cambridge.
            “We'd like to see the president,” the man said softly.
            “He'll be busy all day,” the secretary snapped.
            “We'll wait,” the lady replied.
            For hours the secretary ignored them, hoping that the couple would finally become discouraged and go away.  They didn't, and the secretary grew frustrated and finally decided to disturb the president, even though it was a chore she always regretted. 
            “Maybe if you see them for a few minutes, they'll leave,” she said to him.
            He sighed in exasperation and nodded.  Someone of his importance obviously didn't have the time to spend with them, and he detested gingham dresses and homespun suits cluttering up his outer office.  The president, stern faced and with dignity, strutted toward the couple.
            The lady told him, “We had a son who attended Harvard for one year.  He loved Harvard.  He was happy here.  But about a year ago, he was accidentally killed.  My husband and I would like to erect a memorial to him, somewhere on campus.”
            The president wasn't touched.  He was shocked. “Madam, he said gruffly, “We can't put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died.  If we did, this place would look like a cemetery.”
            “Oh, no.” the lady explained quickly, “We don't need to erect a statue.  We thought we would like to give a building to Harvard.”
            The president rolled his eyes.  He glanced at the gingham dress and homespun suit, and then exclaimed, “A building!  Do you have any earthly idea how much a building costs?  We have over seven and a half million dollars in the physical buildings here at Harvard.”
            For a moment the lady was silent.  The president was pleased.  Maybe he could get rid of them now.
            The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Is that all it costs to start a university?  Why don't we just start our own?”  Her husband nodded.  The president's face wilted in confusion and bewilderment.
            Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford got up and walked away, traveling to Palo Alto, California, where they established the university that bears their name, Stanford University, a memorial to a son that Harvard no longer cared about.
            At first glance, St. Johns may be that “gingham dress”, but look closer...the riches underneath, are unfathomable!
             I grew up in a place that, I was sure, could only be compared to the Garden of Eden.  Its beauty was beyond compare.  Whether it was the the green pastures dotted with fat cattle, the background of snowcapped mountains covered in pines or the wild flowers at every turn, I was convinced that nothing on earth could hold a candle to this country.  I looked at everything else like that “gingham dress”.  To me, nothing meant “gingham dress” more than sage brush and tumble weed.  Even my family once said “We love Clint, we just don't want him to drag you to Arizona.”  I quickly reminded them that no one “drags” me anywhere and that I would never live there.  Fork and spoon please, I am still eating those words.
            I wish that I had some magical story to tell of the moment my heart changed, the moment that I could suddenly see the riches this “gingham dress” held.  I don't though. Maybe it was sudden.   Maybe it was a little at a time.  I don't know, what I do know is that by the time we chose to move here, I could see it.  I now see beauty in sage brush, and yes, even tumble weed.  I find that no where on earth compares St. Johns when it comes to sun sets and sun rises.  Even so, that is not what makes this dress truly beautiful to me. It is more than that.
•     It is the coach, who shows up at my house out of the blue (during the off season, nonetheless) to talk to my boy about making good decisions early, because that coach cares.
•     It is the neighbor who video tapes that solo of my daughter for me because she notices that I am not there.
•      It is the friend who I see grab the video camera out of the hand of another friend who is trying to tape her son wrestling and is shaking too much to get it done.
•      It is the football team, delivering wood to those in need because they are looking outside of themselves.  
•     It is the many women who took turns bottle feeding the set of triplet girls born to our town during every feeding shift (day and night) because that is what St. Johns does.
•      It is the music teacher who makes sure every child has a part in the program and has taught them all how to dance. (always evident at the family dances where children of all ages two step the night away) 
•     It is long list of “Aunts and Uncles” who are related in love but not blood to my children.
•     It is a school of teenagers who knows how beautiful and amazing their fellow student who has downs syndrome is and elect her as their homecoming queen.
            The list goes on and on.  While I may not know what exactly that it was that woke me up from a blindness to “gingham”, I am grateful.  I love “that gingham dress” that I call home. 
Cherie Wiltbank


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I should check for poor grammar before I post things…that's why the first comment was deleted...

    I've always loved that "gingham dress" story. You relate it so well to the hidden beauty of our town. My list of wonderful things would include the feed store owners that know I love purple hanging baskets :)

  3. Cherie, I loved that post and it describes my heart exactly. Add to the list coaches that allow team players to be on the dance team at the same time, play directors that protect our youth from vulgar lines and movements in their dances, families who lovingly decorate their loved ones burial plots with benches and trees, a community who rallies around those who suffer tragedies, teachers that instill patriotism in our youth. I love them all.

    1. I love it! What an endless list we could make! The fact that SJ lives by the motto "It takes a village to raise a child"! I also get a little teary when I see our teams kneel in prayer before a sports event. There is something about watching a group of youth (of different religions) with a common faith in Jesus Christ remembering Him first, that touches my heart! As a friend of mine recently told me after reading this blog from a facebook post, "you have found something so very special!"
      I am eternally grateful for this "so very special" place!

  4. This is so great I know one thing " there's no place like home"