On Sunday, a bright, brisk, and beautiful day, we had a Peace Pole celebration at the Inch-by-Inch Garden at the Winthrop Grade School. As I’ve written in past posts, the pole was erected in honor of Tom Sturtevant, who died last year. In brief—Tom was an activist who made our community a better place. The Peace Pole is a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much of himself to the town, and he is a shining example to the rest of us to get out there and do what we can, in our own small way. About 100 people came to the celebration. Tom’s wife, Mary, was there, as were their children, Ben and Susannah, and it must be have been bittersweet for the three of them.
Karen Toothaker, a lifelong resident of Winthrop, moderated the ceremony, and she spoke about how Tom started the Inch-By-Inch Garden, about his concern with the care and nurture of seeds, and about how his father taught him to take care of his tools. Despite the many activities that Tom was involved with, he always paid attention to details.
The Children’s Light Choir from the United Methodist Church sang two songs—Dave Mallet’s “Garden Song” and the lovely hymn “Let Peace Begin with Me.” Their sweet, in-tune voices were joined by the hesitant, sometimes out-of-tune voices of the adults.
Craig Hickman, Winthrop’s State Representative and an organic farmer, spoke eloquently. He asked, “Where does peace begin if not in the garden?” He related how agriculture—with its fertilizers and pesticides—has become chemical warfare and how we can diminish that warfare by growing our own gardens organically. Tom was an accomplished gardener who understood this. He not only helped start the Inch-by-Inch Garden, but he also turned the small yard by his house into a lush, productive garden that helped feed him and Mary. Craig encouraged everyone to “Grow peace in your own gardens,” just the way Tom did.
The Winthrop Area People for Peace collected more money than was needed to pay for the Peace Pole, and a check with the remaining money was given to the Winthrop Food Pantry, where Tom volunteered and was on the board. JoEllen Cottrell, the executive director of the food pantry, was there to accept the check from a young girl who wasn’t going to hand it over until she was sure JoEllen was indeed JoEllen. I understand the young girl’s confusion. Lee Gilman, Steve Knight and I, who are all on the board, stood by JoEllen as she accepted the check, and I expect that young girl didn’t know any of us.
Doug Rawlings, of Veterans for Peace, also spoke about Tom, about how Tom was a homemaker, understanding his duties to the hearth—Tom died hauling wood—as well as a peacemaker. “It is through our deeds as well as our words that we make our mark,” Doug said. “Tom is here, today, tomorrow, and the next day. Go out and do good deeds for others in Tom’s name.”
The ceremony ended with Ben and Susannah giving a simple thanks to those who had worked on the Peace Pole project. Susannah wore a hat that belonged to her father, and to the soft beat of a drum—Tom’s drum—she lead a heart and breath meditation in honor of Tom’s beautiful vision and beautiful heart.
Unfortunately, I must finish this piece on a less than positive note, and I’m doing so because it illustrates just how important Tom’s work for peace was. A few people in town—those people shall remained unnamed—have been less than enthusiastic about the Peace Pole. They think that the message of peace is too controversial, too political.
Peace controversial? Why should that be? Instead, war—with all its carnage, misery, and destruction—should be controversial. What makes the naysayers’ stance especially ironic is that we are coming onto the season of “Peace on Earth and goodwill to all,” and it’s my guess that those in town who think peace is too controversial and too political will be celebrating this holiday right along with the rest of us. I hope they reflect on the message of the season and perhaps change their attitude toward peace. As they drive by the Peace Pole, maybe they can even give a silent prayer of thanks that they live in a peaceful town where they don’t have to fear for their lives when they go out to do errands.