Saturday, May 11, 2013

39 Steps Toward Community

Today Sandhill Farm is hosting its annual May Day party, marking the anniversary of when the two founding couples (Ed Pultz & Wendy Soderlund, and Ann Shrader & I) first arrived on the property back in the spring of 1974. That's right, Sandhill has finally reached the same age as Jack Benny—39 years old.

Because we tend to give greater homage to the extension of longevity when it reaches decade milestones—"Lordy, lordy look who's forty" will happen next year—I thought it might be nice to give a little love to 39, which doesn't ordinarily get much time in the limelight.

Aside from my quip about Jack Benny's perennial age—a schtick that he milked for decades as a vaudeville comedian with legendary durability—it turns out that there aren't that many well-known references to 39. Luckily, I've never let relative obscurity stand in the way of a good story...

With a little refection, I've come up with three ways to celebrate 39:

1. Gestation
Humans typically take 38-42 weeks to incubate from conception to birth, and 39 weeks is considerate the target minimal length for full-term babies. The idea being that if babies are left in the oven at least that long they are much more likely to be born with fully developed brain, liver, and lung functions—all of which are rather handy.

So, while 13 is often considered unlikely, three times 13 is favorable—at least when it comes to human babies. And, of course, this is '13, so it all comes together.

2. Three Suits
As a road warrior I face a steady diet of logistical challenges. Fortunately, having only three suits in my closet is not one of them. In today's more casual business environment my work as a process consultant and as a nonprofit administrator rarely necessitates that I change out of jeans and knit shirts that don't have tears or holes. As a professional, the point of clothes is to dress well enough that people aren't distracted by what I'm wearing, and in most situations today a dress suit would come across as formal and stuffy—which is not the tone I want to set with clients I'm hoping will open up in my presence.

While my wardrobe isn't challenged by my travel schedule, my card playing is. Duplicate bridge has been one of my favorite recreational pastimes since I took it up a bit more than 13 years ago (there's that number again), and my playing time is frequently interrupted by my travel schedule. While I'm occasionally able to shoehorn some time at an out-of-town bridge club into a free afternoon or evening, mostly I just play when I'm home on Wednesdays (which is when there's a game in Kirksville MO). 

In the context of a deck of cards, you see, three suits equates to 39 cards. While it's generally an advantage to be void in one suit when playing bridge, I don't consider it an advantage at all to have a void of card playing in my weekly routine.

3. Hitchcock 
Growing up in the '50s and '60s, one of the best known film directors of my youth was Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. Before cranking out such critically acclaimed hits as Dial M for Murder (1954), Rear Window (1954), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), Vertigo (1958), North by Northwest (1959), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), and Torn Curtain (1966), he did a movie in 1935 called 39 Steps, which took its name from a 1915 espionage novel by John Buchan.

The story hinges on a spy ring in Britain that has 39 components, each ignorant of all but the steps immediately in front of and behind themselves, excepting an idiot savant who doesn't know the import of what he knows, and which the protagonists are ultimately able to get to spill the beans. 

While the plot of the film may be a bit unlikely, a lot of people thought that Sandhill's chances of seeing its 39th birthday were just as unlikely, and here we are.

Though I think that Sandhill's 39th step toward a more cooperative future will be far less nefarious than a spy ring run amok in Britain, I recognize that conservatives may find the association I've posited between Sandhill and Hitchcock more apt. Oh well, it's hard to please everyone. 

As I tend the sweat fire today, reflecting on all we've accomplished over 39 years and enjoying the company and companionship of the scores of friends and neighbors who will help us raise a glass, I promise to let Republican dismay intrude on my enjoyment.

• • •
By the way, Jack Benny died in 1974, which means he took his final curtain call just as Sandhill was getting started. While any putative connection between Benny and Sandhill is rather fanciful (I've never even picked up a violin) it's only appropriate to take this moment to honor him in passing. I'm thinking a Jack & Coke in the early afternoon might be just the ticket.

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