Tuesday, April 24, 2012

John Elder Robison delivers a 17th century sermon on hypocrisy

My ancestor Rowland Jones was the first rector of Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg, Virginia.  He was an Oxford graduate, from Merton College, ordained by Bishop Henry King and sent to Virginia six years later.  Arriving at Jamestown, he traveled to Williamsburg to become their first rector. He served the congregation faithfully from 1674 until his death in 1688.  I always wondered what he might have preached in his church . . . now I have an idea.  The pastor who followed him - James Blair - recorded some of his sermons for posterity.

This evening, I decided to read one for you.  There are a few bumps as I stumble on the old language but all in all, it still reads pretty smoothly.  Its message, though dated, still rings true today.

This very sermon was originally delivered before the Bruton Parish congregation, in my ancestor's church over 300 years ago.  When you click the link it opens a new window and downloads the 17 meg mp3 file,  which should play automatically.

I'd be very interested in what you think.

The photo below shows the church yard where he's buried, illuminated by starlight last week.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

It's Cubby's Birthday!

It’s Cubby’s birthday today.  He’s 22.  Born April 12, 1990

I still remember the first time I saw that date.  It was on a white plastic nametag, attached to his cage at The Kid Store in the Holyoke Mall.  Even now, I remember what a close-run thing it was.  I almost didn’t buy him.

“You can’t get a kid in those places,” my friends had cautioned me.  “All those mall stores sell are kiddie mill babies.  They’re awful, the way you take them home and they just go bad.  I've seen them turn crazy, and gnaw their own legs off.  It's horrible.  You want one from good natural stock.   Go to a small breeder, out in the country.“   I had that advice in mind but he looked so cute wiggling his little paws in the window.  I’d heard my buddies’ warnings loud and clear though, and I grilled the salesman.

He was very enthusiastic, to say the least.  “Sir,” he said, “this is the best baby we’ve gotten here in a long time.  Look how perfectly formed he is.  Watch him wiggle those ears.  Isn’t he irresistible?  He even smiles when you poke him in the belly!”   I had to agree, but I was still cautious.

I picked him up, hefted him and tossed him in the air.  “Careful, Sir!” The salesman was indignant.  “These babies are expensive!  If you drop him you’ll have to buy him, even if he’s damaged.”  Money was tight in those days, and I set him down gingerly.  We took a few other babies out and compared them. He was the obvious winner, but I could not let on that I was smitten. I had to seem dispassionate and logical.

“What about kiddie mills?  Is that where he came from?” I challenged the salesman.  “Sir!”  The fellow seemed indignant though I was sure he’d heard that question a hundred times before.  “The other store at the far end of the mall sells kiddie mill children.  We sell good country raised kids here.  Go down there and look.  I’m sure you’ll see the difference.  Even now, all their kiddie mill babies are howling and biting in their cages.  Look how sweet and placid this one is, in comparison.” 

“He’s perfectly formed too.  Two arms, two legs, eleven fingers and ten toes.  Just a stub of a tail.  Half those kids at the other store are missing a leg and one has two heads.  Who’d buy a baby like that?”  I thought of my friends in the circus but I kept my mouth shut. 

Meanwhile, The Kid crawled around on the carpet.  All he needed was a name and a home.  “Isn’t he precious?”  Two couples had appeared.  As they talked, I began to worry that one might pluck him from the floor and carry him to the cash register while I stood there undecided.  There’s nothing worse than a bidding war.  I’d see them myself at the car auctions.

Thinking fast, I made up my mind.  This baby was clearly one of their better specimens and much better behaved than any of the other units.  Only the issue of cost remained.  “That’s no problem,” the salesman said.  “We have twenty percent off on baby packages today.  All you need to do is buy a baby and two items of clothing, or a case of food and something else for him.  Best of all, we can charge your credit card in twelve installments, interest free!”  What else could I say?  I put a case of peach flavor Feed-A-Tyke and a bag of little OshKosh trainman's overalls in the cart and took him home.  “He’s going to be a great kid,” they all told me.  “He’ll do every chore you give him, and then some.  You just wait and see.”

I brought him home, and watched him grow.  Chores came and went, and still I waited.  In the blink of an eye, he was walking around and babbling nonstop.  But he would not work on command.  “Go shovel the driveway,” I told him that first winter.  He just giggled and rocked back and forth on the floor.  I put him in a snowsuit and carried him outside.  I handed him a shovel.  “Let’s go,” I said.  In response, he just swung the shovel around in circles, making shapes in the snow and howling with excitement. 

I never did get that driveway shoveled.  Finally, I bought a snowblower.  Pour the gas in, pull the handle, and it clears snow.  No talking back.   One by one, my dreams of child labor were replaced by machines.  Meanwhile, the kid got bigger and ate more food.  He took my things and claimed they were his. 

Eventually, he grew up.  Now he lives on his own, and denies any of this ever happened.  “I’m a hard worker,” he says.  Look here, and you can see his latest creation:

Here's another one:

I’m very proud of him.

And this is only the beginning . . . Read the whole story in my newest book, The Best Kid in the Store, coming in January from Crown.  Woof.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Vote now and vote often!

It looks like the folks at Babble.com have chosen Look Me in the Eye as a nominee in their blog competition.  That's never happened before.  If you agree this is a good autism blog - whatever that means - please vote for it at the link above.


That's me staring back at you below . . . at age two:

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Bear Bell

I’m sure you see this before.  You come home, walk out behind the house, and there they are.  Footprints at the base of your windows.   It’s one thing when they are human, and you have a lowlife peeping tom to contend with.  It’s something else entirely when the paw prints are from a member of the Ursus family; a black bear.

You see the claw marks at the edge of the glass, and the meaning is clear.  If he had thumbs, he would have raised the window.  And he walked all around the house, looking for one that was open.  Luckily, they were all closed tight and latched.

How long before he realizes he can just break the glass?

I asked some of the people further up the mountain what I should do.  Bear Bell, a few old timers told me.  A good size Bear Bell will chase most any critter away.  And a Bear Bell backed up by a Winchester 94 rifle is an unbeatable combination.  I took their advice.

I sawed off a tree near the house, and cut a flat face for the bracket.  It took some muscle and a big drill to get the thing up there, but it’s mounted solid.  I rigged a rope back to the house, so I can ring it in safety.  For the first few days, everything was fine.

I rang the Bear Bell, and the sound rang loud, and true.  Birds, raccoons, and weasels scattered at its sound.  It seemed like I was all set.  I rang the bell every night before bed, and the pawprints round the house faded away with the wind and the rain.  There were no more bloody patches of fur on the lawn, when I came out in the morning.  For the first time in years, I thought it might be safe to walk outside at night, without a gun and a light.

I went to bed with a new sense of security, until 2:45 AM.  That’s when I heard it.  Clang!  There was a pause, then two more clangs and crash.  At first I was startled, and then I felt the cold chill.  There is nothing more disturbing that the sound of your Bear Bell, being rung by something other than you.  A big something too, one that’s large enough to swing the handle six feet off the ground.  In the middle of a cold dark night.

I grabbed the rifle from beside the bed and ran quickly but quietly out the door at the other corner of the house.  Turning the corner, I flicked on the light to illuminate a gray shape, moving fast toward the woods.  I fired two quick shots before it vanished into the brush.

As the sound of the shot echoed away I heard a rustle behind me and turned.  Nothing was visible but the brush a dozen yards back was swaying slightly.  I turned back to where I’d fired the shots.

Walking to the spot, I saw bright fresh blood spattered on the ground.  Just then, the coyotes started howling, very close by, and I remembered there were only five more rounds left in the gun.  I hurried back inside and bolted the door.

Now it’s morning.  The Bell is still standing, and the coyotes and weasels run from the sound, but there are Bigger Creatures out there, and they seem to see my Bell as a challenge.  Tonight, I’m going to bait Snake’s old #15 bear trap with a dead rabbit, and chain it down about ten feet from the bell.  We’ll see what happens next.


A few of my April speaking events

On Monday, April 2, I'll be appearing with a bunch of other great speakers at Woodview Canada's conference in Hamilton, Ontario.  This conference will also include Liz Laugeson of PEERS fame, Dr. Kevin Stoddart, Robin Brennan, Celeste Carter of TEACCH, and more.

April 17 I'll be at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg VA for a free public event

April 18 I'll be at another free event at Towson University outside Baltimore.

Then I head to Atlanta for two events:  On the 19th, I'll be at the CDC's annual conference, and on the 20th I'll be at Autism Awareness and Education through the arts.

Hope to see you there!

April 25 I'll be speaking with Lindsay Oberman's class in Boston

April 26 I'll be holding a talk and book signing at Elms College, right near home in Chicopee.

April 27 I'll be at Greenwich Country Day School

April 29 is the sold-out ASPEN Conference in New Jersey.

April 30 I'll be at Y.A.L.E. School in Cherry Hill, NJ

And that takes us to May . . . . more to come!