Paul Auger

Joseph Mansfield

 

Christ Church in Chattanooga, established around 1900, was from the beginning a showcase of high Anglican liturgy.  The original building, said to have resembled nothing so much as a barn, was reworked in the thirties by none other than Ralph Adams Cram, who made of it a pure jewel, an outstanding example of what someone has called “parish gothic”.  To this day no significant changes to his work have been made.

 

It was most likely in the summer of 1962 that I first heard mass at Christ Church, and I rather suspect the celebrant was J.H.W. Rhys, a professor in the seminary at Sewanee who covered the rector’s vacation every summer.  He was from Toronto and spoke with a magnificent accent well tuned to the Book of Common Prayer.  He had a way of making the mass dramatic from the moment the bell clanged and the sanctuary filled with men and boys to their departure after the last gospel.  Like almost any Episcopal priest in those days, he knew the mass was a ritual and had to be celebrated ritualistically, with as little intrusion as possible of his own person and personality.

 

But that clang of the bell also meant that the rickety old pipe organ up in the choir loft started up, wheezing out the chords of a stately hymn that here, as in most high parishes of the day, was sung by choir and people while the preparation and introit were quietly recited at the altar.  And the seductive voice of this old organ spoke to me, and said, Come up here and get acquainted with me.

 

Which I did, bounding up the long staircase to the loft when mass ended.  I got to know the organ a little that day.  But mainly, I got to know the organist.

 

Paul Auger was nineteen or twenty years older than me.  He had been organist at Christ Church for several years.  He sold pianos and electric organs at the old Fowler’s furniture store at Broad and Seventh.  He lived on Signal Mountain.  He offered piano and organ lessons both at Fowler’s and in his home.  He repaired and tuned pianos.

 

Paul took the delight of a kind elder brother, or, better, young uncle, in making friends with me, as did his wife Mary (except that she would have been sister or aunt).  Over the next several years I came to love him and Mary, as they did me.  Once in a while I saw Paul at home or at Fowler’s.  Mainly I would visit a while with him after mass on the scattered occasions that I attended Christ Church.  I only recall one occasion when we deliberately planned a get-together.  That would have been in 1970, when the Augers and Karel and Harriet Hujer joined me at the old Mansfield house in Dunlap for Thanksgiving dinner.  I still remember the look on his face when the turkey was brought in and placed in front of him, not me.  I told him I did not know the first thing about carving a turkey and that I was counting on him.

 

Something else happened in the summer  of 1970.  A change of circumstances on my part resulted in me attending Christ Church regularly, and singing in Paul’s little choir of maybe six or seven voices.  We sang the same thing the people did, a few hymns and Healey Willan’s Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena.  We may also have sung Mass IX from the Kyriale, called by Episcopalians the Missa Marialis.

 

A third change also came about that time.  As I mentioned above, Christ Church had always enjoyed a great High Church liturgical life.  Christopher Morley had been named rector around 1961 and he had continued the liturgical tradition.  But around 1970, for reasons known only to himself and perhaps to the Almighty, Morley began to dismantle the tradition.  He did away with the altar boys.  He did away with the singing of the ordinary.  And he made it clear that he wanted the choir disbanded.  Made it clear, that is, but held back from actually giving an order to break up the group.

 

The result was that the singers, myself included, continued to go up to the loft and sing.  I think for the other singers it was a way of protesting the stripping of the liturgy.  It was that for me, too.  But for me it was primarily a matter of loyalty to Paul.  It was obvious that Morley was hostile to Paul, probably because Paul did not accede to his wish for the breakup of the choir.  But he would not fire Paul outright.  Nevertheless Paul grew weary under the strain, and in summer of 1971 resigned at the end of his vacation.

 

Morley called on his good friend (and good organist) Bill Hazelwood to take over, and Bill did.  He lasted a year, until Morley, his view of Bill having altered, began to insinuate that Bill should leave.  After a while, he did.

 

At this point there happened a great metamorphosis, if by that I can refer not to a change in some animal but rather a change in someone’s perception of that animal.  For two and three years earlier Morley had seen me as something of a pest, tenaciously clinging to Paul’s choir which Morley wanted rid of.  But lo!, when Bill departed, and Morley needed an organist, I suddenly found myself his fair haired lad!  I took the position and played for two or three years.  My tenure ended with another of Morley’s switches, when I returned after my month of summer vacation and found I was no longer the organist of Christ Church.

 

Paul had been dedicated to the High Church liturgy.  It hurt him to lose his position at Christ Church.  But it hurt him more that the liturgical musical tradition was being dismantled.  It was as much a matter of my love for Paul as of my love of the liturgy that, during the freedom of my honeymoon period with Fr Morley, I began systematically restoring Paul’s program.  And I wanted Paul to know what I was doing, I wanted him to know that what he had worked to maintain was being recovered.

 

A few weeks, therefore, after taking the position, I stopped by Paul’s house one day, not having seen Paul since shortly after he left the parish.  He greeted me warmly and I began with some enthusiasm to describe how I was restoring what Paul had maintained.

 

At that point Mary entered the room and exploded.  In utter drop-jaw astonishment I listened as she indicted me for having undermined Paul and engineered his departure, all so I could take his position and destroy what he had worked for.  Paul got in edgewise just enough to start protesting that I had in fact been his most loyal supporter.  Mary cut him off and reminded him that she was psychic and could not err in this matter, that my mind and motives were open to her view, indeed that the motive for my visit was to “gloat” (her word) over my nefarious success.

 

Well, somehow Paul and I got out to the driveway.  I cannot reconstruct our brief remarks here.  The understanding I came away with, and I think the one Paul had, was that none of this changed our friendship, but that with Mary acting as she did, we would not be able to see each other as freely and easily as we had been accustomed to.  This conclusion was more understood than spoken.

 

Shortly after that I heard that Paul had relocated to Florida.  I made some effort to locate him or get a phone number, without result.

 

The loss of Paul, and the circumstances of that loss, stayed with me.  Stayed with me until the day that, via the internet, I stumbled across Paul’s whereabouts.  It was probably the same day that I wrote this letter:

 

Dear Paul,

 

A few days ago I was looking up some material on the Barnard Astronomical Society (Chattanooga) and found your portrait of Dr Hujer, and enough lead to find your address in an internet lookup.  Over the years I have wanted to write but did not have an address.

 

One of my cherished memories remains the Thanksgiving dinner we shared with the Hujers in Dunlap.  A warm, bright autumn day, and we went walking through crackly dry leaves.

 

In my high school days at Christ Church you were an effective mentor to me.  I have no recollection now of the specifics of our conversations.  But I recall clearly your warmth and willingness to guide a younger person. 

 

The circumstances of our last visit have never ceased to be painful for me.  I felt that you knew there was a misunderstanding, an error, that neither of us could do anything about at the time.

 

I hope that your life has been happy and full.

 

Very truly yours,

 

Joseph Mansfield

 

xii February 2005

 

Paul responded cordially.  I cannot find his letter now and I have probably lost it.  Paul told me he was, I believe, 78 years old and serving as organist at a parish in Port Charlotte, Florida.  He said that Mary had died a couple of years earlier.  He also said most graciously that he did not remember any “painful circumstances”.

 

From time to time I sent to Paul various items that I thought he might be interested in, maybe four or five such items in three years.  I recall only one item now, about the magnificent restoration of the organ at Sts Peter and Paul, Chattanooga, completed last year.

 

There was never any further response.

 

Two or three months ago I again turned to the internet to see what I might find about Paul.  Perhaps he had a new email address.

 

I found that he had passed away, on the thirtieth of September, 2005.

 

 

© 2008 Joseph Mansfield

2008.06.12 first draft

2008.06.18 posted

 

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