“As the season of installations approaches, I am reminded of my own past installation as president of the Exchange Club of Greater Newburyport —  an event that has grown in legend over the years as a comedy of errors.”

“Who would have known that so many members were out of town on the selected date, that there would be last-minute cancellations, that there are two streets of the same name in Haverhill, that the wife of one member has allergies to hay, that a stubborn horse would plant her feet and refuse to budge, that the guitar player wouldn’t show up, that because of the lack of outdoor lighting we would have to move inside a stable for the ceremonies, that I would forget the flag and banner? But all of that was and is true.”

“Let’s start from the beginning.”

“My original intention, in the search for something new and different, was to organize a trail ride for the installation of officers and directors. In discussing the matter with secretary-to-be Sandee Munroe, who runs a carriage ride business herself, we settled on a group hayride instead. She knew of a local farmer who provided just that service. We would ride to an old stone castle in neighboring Haverhill, have a barbecue to the strains of guitar music, conduct the installation, then return by wagon to the starting point. Nice and simple.”

“After setting the date, however, the cancellations began to flood in.   One member would be working.   One could not arrive in time from his job in Boston. One would be on a long-planned trip with some friends. One would be attending a high reunion one had a family outing.  One would be in Canada on business.  One would be preparing for a company presentation.”

“Well, now what?  The District came to the rescue. President Andy Marion and his wife agreed to attend to conduct the installation.   Then District Director  Howard Stanton phoned to say that he and immediate past director Tim Day would be attending with regional vice president Bob Harb. We would still be respectable.”

”Then, on the day of the installation, I had a message on my answering machine that another member and his wife would be unable to attend because their merchant marine son, himself a club member, had just landed in Baltimore, and they had to pick him up. Subtract two more.”

“All we could do was proceed. So my wife Nancy and I got in the car and headed for the Kenoza Avenue address I had been given by Sandee. We couldn’t find it because the farm was indeed not there. An old-timer mowing his lawn gave me directions to the same address on Kenoza Street. Yes, indeed, there were the farm and the team of horses, but where were all the others? I was getting nervous.”

“Sandee then arrived in her pickup truck with the food and a friend who help her with the cooking. No fires were allowed at the castle, she had discovered, so we would be eating right there. Plus the guitar player had failed to show. Ok, we could deal with that.”

“Past president Jim Noyes and his wife Susan,  who had called Sandee for specific directions, arrived next. Another member, a native of Haverhill, and his wife found their own way. Then Andy Marion arrived after asking for directions in downtown Haverhill. But that was it. No president Newton Blakesley, to whom I was to give a plaque. No past president Cyndy Lewis. No past president and director-to-be Steve Boulay. No other district people.”

“After waiting for too many minutes, I made my first command decision to leave in a rather empty hay wagon, made even more so by the fact that Susan Noyes is allergic to hay and would be following with her husband in a horse-drawn carriage, pulled by “Missy.” In terms of storytelling, this would be called foreshadowing.”

“Not long out on the trail, Bob Harb and his daughter caught up with us by car and jumped aboard. The rest of the trip out was uneventful. The conversation was indeed pleasant. Then, shortly after the turn to come back, “Missy’ decided she had done enough, having already participated in a wedding that afternoon. She just stopped, legs locked. Efforts by the driver couldn’t get her to continue. Efforts by the old teamster in the main hay wagon failed as well. What to do now? We decided to continue in the wagon, leaving the carriage to eventually catch up.”

“We arrived back at the farm to find Newton and Cyndy, decked out in their Western finery, now arrived after first having stopped at a Bar Mitzvah at Winnekenni Castle and asking of a stunned audience, ‘Is this the Exchange Club installation?’”

“Also arrived were Howard and Tim, residents of Haverhill, who had planned to arrive only for the ceremonies anyway.  Steve Boulay never found us. As we started to eat roasted corn, hamburgers, and hot dogs, the carriage driver arrived, walking ‘Missy’,   now out of the harness, by the bridal.  A truck was sent out to haul in the carriage.  As we continued to eat, someone noticed, ‘Where are Jim and Susan?’”

“Good question. They hadn’t come in with the truck. They hadn’t been seen.  Sandee jumped into her truck to go search for them. Not long after she had left in walked Jim and Susan.  They had started to walk back, took a wrong turn, gone too far, asked. directions, and eventually made their way back. Now Sandee was out there somewhere,  but she too soon returned to complete the attendance.”

By this time, with all the delays, it was pitch dark. No lighting was available, so I decided to move the installation inside to the stable, which was well lit if not fragrant. Individual horse stalls lined a central dirt cooling-off area. Chickens roosted on bales of hay stacked in one corner.”

“’ One word comes to mind,’ commented Andy as he commenced the ceremonies, ‘ — elegant’.”

But as we gathered in a little circle, the unusual setting took a back seat to the special atmosphere that is Exchange. Having forgotten the flag and banner, we turned to face an invocation in the direction of the distant Post Office for the ‘Pledge of Allegiance,’ followed by an invocation and the ceremonies themselves, in which we expressed appreciation for what we were able to accomplish in the past and pledged a renewed effort for the future, most pointedly in the area of membership numbers. I was now the president.”

“‘This was certainly different,’ summed up Sandee. ‘It certainly wasn’t boring.’”

“Then, outside the stable as the moon came up over the trees, it all became clear — the moon was full.”