COMES now the 350th anniversary of the birth of William...

salmagundi

October 19, 1994

COMES now the 350th anniversary of the birth of William Penn. In the spirit of neighborly love, and with real respect for this exemplar of the Religious Society of Friends, a message to the people of Pennsylvania: We hope thee'll have good weather for the ceremonies. (How it did rain, on the 350th anniversary of the Ark and the Dove, here below.)

There are also going to be William Penn observances in Maryland, which after all was home to Quaker emigrants from England years before the Crown established Penn's Woods. For instance, Sandy Spring Friends School, near Olney, sends word of a song recital there by Susan Stark, herself a Quaker, at 2 p.m. on Oct. 23.

The 17th century's Calverts did well at their own religious faith, at colonial administration, at turning a profit. But let us admit that William Penn, an admiral's son, born in 1644, kicked out of Oxford for nonconformism in 1662, jailed in the Tower of London in 1669 and deceased in 1718, had a superior flair for the spotlight. No match for him here, as regards putting large and noble ideas into publishable words and humane deeds.

Penn is still and always the city planner who went on to propose not only a united states of Europe, but even a getting together of the North American colonies.

Families do sometimes run down; it was in the lifetimes of younger Penns and Calverts that the boundary dispute arose (which acres belonged to Pennsylvania, which to Maryland). Let us further admit to a relaxed feeling about all that, ever since the World Series of 1983 -- you remember how the famed Oriole pitchers, Mason and Dixon, drubbed the Phillies, four games out of five.

William Penn may have spoken of the existing inhabitants as Indians, rather than Native Americans, and it may have been some other Friend who first denounced African American slavery. But Penn rates mention on his anniversary, not only at Friends schools but at any school that could use more brotherly, sisterly and teacherly love.

* * *

THE scene: a gas station at Falls Road and Cold Spring Lane; the time: about 11:50 a.m. In pulls a battered red pick-up truck which parks by the sign that says "No Parking, Violators Towed." Out gets the driver who struts over to the soft drink machine, like some character out of "High Noon." One pants leg is partly tucked into an unlaced work boot. He stops, confronts the big machine, legs astride and arms held out from the side of his body. Decision time.

Then he steps forward, thrusts a coin into a slot, punches a button and a soft drink can rumbles out. He grabs it, flips the top open with his thumb, then struts back to the truck and climbs behind the wheel.

In the last scene he leans back in the seat, arm out the window, fist clutched around the can, his little pinky pointed to the sky.

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