Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Hebron Crossroads 12-07-03
By Jeff Gill

Standing on my neighbor’s roof, with the sun setting and Venus bright in the southwest, everything looked different.

Nevermind that I was only about 15 feet off the ground. Forget that a window in my house next door is higher than where I stood, holding one end of a string of Christmas lights. Looking from the ochre horizon of sunset to the eastern darkness spangled with stars, across the shallow bowl of Hebron, down into streets already lit with multicolored strings of bulbs across eaves, everything looked different. Not a whole lot, but noticeably different. Angles of vision, breadth of view, and revelations of distance usually hemmed in by walls and trees and bushes, all making for a new way of looking at my surroundings.

That’s what I think the Wright Brothers brought us 100 years ago next week: not so much flight, or air transportation, let alone overnight shipping, but a new perspective.

That new perspective started at Kitty Hawk but was conceived and raised in Ohio, in their bicycle shop at Dayton and on Huffman Prairie outside of town, the true birthplace of aviation. Now part of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base complex, these wide open river bottoms, surrounded by low bluffs, were where Orville and Wilbur got their orientation to how the world looked from above. Can’t get to North Carolina? Don’t worry, drive to Dayton instead, and see the Air Force Museum while you’re at it, just up the road.

But last year, while my wife was at a professional conference in Virginia Beach, I looked on a map and realized that the Little Guy and I could make it between breakfast and suppertime pickup down to the famous stretch of windy beach.

We made the trip in the light drizzle to steady rain that kept on us all week, but the longest period of dryness was when we crossed the bridge onto the Outer Banks, rolled down to the Wright Brothers National Park at Kitty Hawk, and rambled across the now grassy plain.
Since he was four, the memories probably won’t last, but watching the boy run down the blacktop path between the granite markers – liftoff, first flight landing, second, and third, all less than the length of a 747 today – will last in my memory for a long time to come.

A sturdy stone memorial tower, arced with curves swooping up from busts of the brothers to metal symbols aimed at the sky, was set atop the adjoining hill. The view reached out to the Atlantic, now separated from the replica hangars by a blacktop road and three rows of vacation homes stilted along the dunes, but the really evocative part of the area is a runway set parallel to the “first flight” zone, with a regular procession of small aircraft puttering down out of the sky, with many touch-and-go-ing right back up into the air. I’m guessing that a flight log with “landing and takeoff” at Kitty Hawk is a point of pride for civil aviators.

Last year, with the National Park Service preparing for 2003’s Centennial of Flight, all the museum space and Wright Flyer replica was closed for renovations and new parking construction. But that was OK. I enjoyed the view from the memorial platform, looking out at the ocean, down at the narrow strip of asphalt where history was made in December of 1903, and up at the everyday fliers who were seeing the world in a different way, thanks to the bishop’s boys from Ohio.

Thanks, guys.

This December also marks a new perspective springing from 160 years ago, in 1843. Just three years before, the general public first saw a Christmas tree in the penny papers as part of the decorations at Windsor Castle of Queen Victoria, brought over by her Germanic family members.

The customs and images and depictions of a “traditional” Christmas were still very much in flux, both in Great Britain and the United States. What happened along to fix much of that picture in our collective unconscious was a little book published in London by Charles Dickens. Already famous, “A Christmas Carol” sealed his place as an icon of English literature, and even more than giving us the remarkable portrait of Ebenezer Scrooge and the Cratchit family, Dickens gave us a perspective of what a Christmas celebration should be, even if we’ve never roasted a goose or cooked a pudding or mulled wine into a steaming Victorian punch.

And his vision of forgiveness and repentance as central to the meaning of the holiday, whether for the religious or the irreverent, through the Ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Future, made a lasting impact on the season, for the better and for us all.

Reginald Owen, Alaistair Sim, George C. Scott, and Patrick Stewart among others have all taken a crack at the figure who probably overshadows even Hamlet and Huck Finn in our cultural imagination. Did Charles Dickens change the world as much as the Wright Brothers? Hard to say, but what a fascinating question to ponder this Christmas season.

Cue Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”

A few quick local notes as well. Sunday afternoon at 3 pm the Lakewood Band offers their Winter concert down at the LHS auditorium. Wednesday, Dec. 10, there is a two hour early dismissal. Plus this note to churches planning Christmas Eve special services: please get me your times and titles posthaste, as deadlines are scooting backwards! Just call 928-4066 or e-mail disciple@voyager.net, and remember to note your church name, and times plus anything else you want noted so we can have all our Hebron Crossroads area services in the Dec. 21 Booster. Thank you!