In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

Get Your Copy Here!

WINTER

Many of the phenomena of Winter are suggestive of an inexpressible tenderness and fragile delicacy. We are accustomed to hear this king described as a rude and boisterous tyrant, but with the gentleness of a lover he adorns the tresses of summer.

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

Christmas is virtually a season unto itself in my calendar which is why I have devoted so many essays to it. Below are some of the best words ever written about it that sum up some of my own feelings about it:

I have always through of Christmas time… apart from

the veneration due its name… as a good time, a kind, forgiving, charitable time: the only time I know in the long calendar of the year when men and women seem by one consent to open up their shut-up hearts freely… Scrooge’s nephew.

Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol

161

ALL HEARTS GO HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

     “All hearts go home for Christmas for love is always there,” was written on a heart-shaped, clay ornament made by daughter Vicki as a present for me one year when she had no money for gifts.

     One of the advantages of the human mind is that we can live simultaneously in three time zones. Starting with the turning of the leaves, Halloween, Thanksgiving and culminating in Christmas, I ender a blend of then and now, interspersed with anticipation of the future.

     The Christmas season is when I come closest to seeing the whole of my life, starting with my childhood home, and continuing on through the middle years to present time. It is when I achieve a glimmer of the answers to the great, universal questions: “Who am I? Why am I? What does my life signify? Where is my True North? What gives me the greatest pleasure?”

     Vicki believes that Christmas is more than commercialism; that, for example, people decorate their homes so early because Christmas carries them back to the happy times of their childhood. This season is when I’m most conscious of the child Rose Mary who dwells in the realm of memory. That Rose Mary sees and hears with her mind’s eye and ear the dear faces and voices of her family and the townspeople of Knightstown, her friends, their parents, and beloved teachers just as they were those many years ago.

     Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is about the epiphany and redemption of Ebenezer Scrooge. A home is an extension of those who live in it. Scrooge was rich, but went home to a bleak, cold, lonely house  that matched his personality. No one called him friend. The Cratchits were poor in money, but rich in spirit, and their humble home was filled with love.

     The home where one grew up brings nostalgia during the Christmas season. All I have to do is think about it to be transported to 304 N Franklin St. in Knightstown where my niece now lives.

     Here I am, pasting together rings of red and green crepe paper to make chains that are strung from corner to corner. Our Christmas trees couldn’t compare with the gorgeous ones that Bill and I have. However, we thought they were beautiful, and went out onto the sidewalk to admire their lights through the window…

163

     Here we are, opening the precious gifts given by the eight Jones kids

who relied on ingenuity as they had so little money. Sometimes an adult

had to beat a retreat to the bathroom to avoid laughing in front of them.

Niece Mary gave everyone pins that she concocted out of bubble gum prizes and bits of cloth. Mothers was a skillet with two fried eggs. John had the “perfect” gift for Mother who collected fancy china cups. It was a set of dolls dishes. Sharon gave me a statuette of a dog that she’d dropped and broken into three pieces. Wailing, she went to Christine who said, “Just glue it back together. She’ll never notice.” It sits with the sheep in the nativity scene that my parents gave me when I was twelve, along with a lamb that my brother, Earl, gave me when I was five years old. Every year I turn the crank of its little music box that tinkles “Silent Night” as my nephews and nieces delighted in doing.

“Now be very gentle…”

     Home was more than just the house where I lived: It was my neighborhood and the town and its community life. Every year the Alhambra Movie Theater was filled with shrieking kids during a free afternoon of westerns. Afterwards, a skinny Santa handed out sacks of candy and nuts.

     The school was another home to me. Little Knightstown was a homogenous society where political correctness regarding Christmas wasn’t even imagined. Miss McKinny’s art classes painted Christmas scenes on the classroom window, and she led the chorus caroling through the halls.

     Memories of Christmas past are a blend of joy and longing. Everyone remembers the best gifts that they received when they were children. One of mine was a coat box full of books when I was ten years old, including a Nancy Drew. When I was in college I saw a red sweater at Mary Leisure’s Robin Lee dress shop for which I yearned. My mother was very poor, but one of my most poignant memories is of unwrapping that sweater.

164

In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

Get Your Copy Here!

AUTUMN

AUTUMN

I had seen two or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond beneath which the white stems of three aspens diverged… next to the water. Ah, many a tale their colors told, And gradually from week to week the character of each tree came out, and it admired itself reflected in the smooth mirror of the lake. Each morning, the manager of this gallery substituted some new picture, distinguished by more brilliant or harmonious coloring.

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

151

152

THE  OCTOBERS  OF  YESTERYEAR

OCTOBER OF YESTERYEAR

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.

 It would be terrible if we just skipped from September to November, wouldn’t it?”

L. M. Montgomery – Anne of Green Gables

The emotional and physical geography of Knightstown had an impact on the geography of my life, just as Vicki’s Irvington Halloween Festival Days became a part of her. Memories of Knightstown, its people and events are bound up together like a skein of soft, fuzzy yarn that is wrapped around my heart and keeps it warm during the winter of my years.

     My past is still my present within me. I can see myself walking to school along Carey St., collecting pretty leaves to take to teachers. After school Wanda and I jump into a pile of leaves that we’ve raked. I’m eight or nine, and She’s two years younger. The potatoes that we try to bake on a bonfire that we build – Oh pioneers! – are black and inedible. We love to catch the ends of sticks on fire and sketch glowing circles in the air…

     I march around in a horde of kids at the old gym, wearing a costume that mother made of crepe paper. Alas, I cry bitterly when a mischief-maker tears it up. If I remember correctly Linda Forst was part of a horse that kicked the dickens out of anyone who molested it. I don’t suppose that today’s kids know about the tic-tacs, an ornery, harmless gadget for Halloween devilry. Mother showed Rex Mattix and me how to take a wooden spool, cut out triangular wedges all around both ends with a sharp knife, wrap string around it and stick a long nail through its hole to hold on to, allowing the spool to revolve freely.

     Stealthily we cross Franklin St. and tiptoe onto the front porch of the Holidays, who are having a peaceful evening. Mrs. Holiday is reading the newspaper while Mr. Holiday enjoys an after-dinner snooze. Their son Vernis is tootling away on his saxophone.

     “Giggle!” “Shh! Don’t make a sound!” We press our tic-tacs snugly against the window and grasp the loose end of the string. Rex whispers, “One… two… THREE – Let ‘er rip!” We pull on the string so that the spools revolve against the windowpane. “ZZZZZZZZZZIP!” The hellacious noise far exceeds our expectations.

153

     Mrs. Holiday screams, and Vernis jumps up and runs outside. Rex tears across the street to Auntie Ida Kelly’s house while I fall into some peony bushes. Vernis stalks back and forth, muttering threats, his sax still hanging from its cord.

     I lie there shuddering, terrified that a spider will get on me. Vernis keeps muttering, “When I get my hands on you…” After twenty minutes he goes back inside. (Actually, it’s probably two minutes.) Rex and I finally creep home.

     Here’s a recipe that guarantees happiness: Sharpen the end of a green stick, rake up a big pile of leaves, jump in them for a while and then set them on fire and roast hot dogs followed by marshmallows whichever way you prefer them – set on fire so they’re black and burny as I like them or puffy and golden as Bill prefers. I call it “October Delight.”

154

PERSIMONS  !

PERSIMMONS !

Sometimes other writers’ stories stir up memories. Ethel Winslow, one of the publishers of the Eastside Voice, debated the propriety of putting costumes on pets, but finally dressed up her dog for the Irvington Halloween Festival. Her story carried me back to Knightstown where the town merchants sponsored Jubilee Days on the Public Square.

     My impecunious nephews and nieces entered all of the contests because entrants got a quarter for each. Those quarters were promptly reinvested at the Festival, so the merchants didn’t lose money. The boys even entered the doll contest, concealing tiny dolls in the palms of their hands that they flashed as they passed the judges.

     One of my nieces who was about twelve years old had no pet to enter in the Pet Parade, She decided to take my cat Copper. Now, Copper was not a sociable cat. He didn’t even like my mother and me very much and eventually moved to another home even though we had treated him like a prince. “That ingrate!” said Mother.

     Mother said, “I’m telling you; you’d better not try to take that cat.” Stubbornly: “I’m taking him.” She sneaked up and pounced on Copper who was snoozing in a sunny window, tied a piece of string to his collar as a leash and carried him up Carey St. while we stood out in the street and watched.

     She made it as far as the Averys’ house. We saw a flurry of motion. The frantic cat broke loose and tore down an alley, not to return for three days. Mother guffawed. “I guess Copper didn’t want to be in the parade.” My niece dragged home, “a-bawling and a-squalling, “ as Mother put it. Copper had scratched her to a fare-thee-well. Worse yet, he’d pooped all over her!

     This is my favorite season: The golden-hued fields of late September changed to the autumn glory of Halloween. Then the calendar will move on to the foodie’s delight of Thanksgiving and kinfolk gathered ‘round and build up to the splendor of Christmas. (Bah humbug! They’ve already got the wrapping paper out in stores.)

     Late October and early November is persimmon time. Persimmon fanciers are as passionate as those who prize truffles and wild mushrooms; and persimmons are about as difficult to procure. My mother liked to eat them raw, but Bill is virtually addicted to persimmon pudding.

155

Wild persimmons are orange globes about an inch in diameter with a cap like an acorn. I don’t remember them in Knightstown, but they grow on tall trees around Irvington. When ripe they take on a rosy blush with a bluish hue when frost hits them. These aren’t the same as the larger Japanese ones. You cannot buy them in stores because gathering them and processing them wouldn’t be profitable.

     You can’t rush persimmons. They require patient waiting and watching till they ripen and fall to the ground. Squirrels and birds eat them. The Indians taught settlers about them, but many people have never tasted them. Their flavor is delicate, elusive, and unique. Bill says that it’s reminiscent of an apricot. It’s a horrible, unforgettable experience if you bite into one before it’s ripe because it puckers your mouth.

     Persimmons contain large seeds to which the pulp clings, and it sticks like Super Glue to whatever it touches. Bill said that when he was in the Army they used them to clean the kitchen floor. It takes many persimmons to get enough for a pudding. We laboriously force them through a food mill and scrape off every bit of pulp as if it were gold. Perhaps the messy effort involved, and their scarcity add to their allure.

156

PERSIMMONS

– CONTINUED –

Seemingly straightforward events aren’t always simple, especially when they enter the realm of reminiscence. I encountered this phenomenon while gathering persimmons. The process of dealing with them sent me back and forth from the early days of our marriage to recent memories of my favorite ol’ boy, Wayne Clark.

     We moved into our Irvington home during the winter. When late October arrived, an elderly gentleman knocked on the door. He introduced himself as having been a member of the Presbyterian Church when Dr. Ferguson was its beloved minister. “Are the persimmons ripe? Dr. Ferguson always let me have some.”

     I replied, “Is that what those orange things are? Let’s go look.”

     Next my mother and my sister, Virginia, came to visit. “Goody! You’ve got persimmons!” They explained how they must be eaten when ripe lest they draw your mouth into a pucker. Bill mentioned at school that we had persimmons, and Jane Morgan gave him a family recipe from her native Kentucky. Thus, developed a habit of over forty years of getting persimmons pulp that Bill carefully hordes.

     Every fall we tried to beat the squirrels and birds to this delectable fruit. You cannot pick persimmons because they will not be ripe and must drop naturally. Also, it’s always cold out, and you cannot wear gloves because they’re so sticky. One year, fellow Irvingtonian, Kathy Tindall and I climbed Bill’s extension ladder, intending to shake the branches. We huffed and puffed with the heavy ladder to no avail.

     After we moved away, the Barnett’s gave us persimmon pulp until we fell into persimmon paradise when I met Wayne Clark, a colleague at my firm. Every year, he’d call: “Clarke, this is Clark. The ‘simmons are ready.” The year before his death, he said sourly, “Someone’s getting them before I get up.” His house is on a corner, so it was easy to purloin his precious crop. “Oh well, maybe the Lord figured someone else should have a turn.”

     The was Wayne’s attitude about most things. Other than our Muslim friend, Vadel, he had the most active faith I ever saw, and the best thing about it was that he never judged others. His faith was an everyday habit,

157

rather than a Sunday event. One of those people who understand money, he had a group of elderly women whom he hauled on errands and looked after their financial interests.

     When he retired from real estate he worked at a McDonalds and at two different mortuaries until one of them found out and fired him for working for the competition. “It’s not like I was out trying to drum up business for them!”

     One day I called him. “Whatcha’ doing, Wayne?” “Oh, I’m just sittin’ here talkin’ with God.” A few days later, he pulled up in our driveway, driving a Lincoln Town Car about as long as a limousine.

     “Pretty snazzy wheels you got there!”

     “Well, I’d been driving by the lot, wantin’ that car for a month. Finally, I talked to the Lord about it.”

     “And what did He say?’

     Wayne got a twinkle in his eye: “The Lord said, ‘you’ve been a pretty good boy lately, Wayne, and I think you should have that car!’”

     I went to visit Wayne in the hospital before he slipped peacefully away. In October I called his widow: “Are there any persimmons?” While I was out in her yard, I thought about the people whom I had encountered over the years during our annual persimmon hunt. My best ol’ buddy was no longer here, but I felt his presence under his tree.

     Now Bill can rest easy. We shall have persimmon pudding for several Thanksgivings and months to come. However, Bill was grieved when I announced that I was going to offer to return the Barnetts’ pulp because we had so much.

158

A  LEAF  PEEPING  EXPEDITION

A LEAF PEEPING EXPEDITION

     Bill doesn’t enjoy autumn: “Dying,” he moans. “Everything’s dying!”

     I try to console: “Dear, nature is just going to rest.”

     “But these leaves are gone forever.” Several years ago, I talked him into taking a leaf-peeping trip to Main by promising him all the lobster he could eat. En route we drove through upstate New York.

     I fell in love all over again with this glorious land that is America! This happens whenever I travel away from my everyday life. I’ve had love affairs with Brown County, southern Utah, the Colorado mountains, the Tetons, New Orleans, the Pacific and Atlantic coasts; and I’ve owned imaginary homes in each. I’d also like to live in Paris, Provence, Devon, Tuscany, and Venice! So many choices, so little time and money and only one existence to live!

     Then I added a new place to my list! Upstate New York is rich in history, vineyards, pretty little towns, lakes, and forests that are a sharp contrast to the uglification near New York City.

     When we went through Utica I found myself humming, “Oh I had an old gal and her name was Sal – best damn cook on the Erie Canal!” Long forgotten stories of the Mohawk River Valley came to mind. I gave a mental salute to Susan B. Anthony and the women’s suffrage movement when we drove through Seneca Falls.

     And then we came to Eden! Picture this: It’s early on a perfect, crisp, golden October morn. The pure, unpolluted air is redolent with the spicy scent of pine and fallen leaves. There is no one else out and about. When we stop for a few minutes there’s no thrum of car engine, shriek of siren, whine of air conditioner or buzz of lawn mower. The silence is broken only by the sough of the breeze in the trees and the occasional raucous cry of a Canadian jay.

     Carefree, we meander along the little roads and byways of the Adirondack forests past pristine ponds and streams under an azure sky. It is in the Adirondacks that the Hudson River begins its journey to the ocean. It’s small here but requires a three-mile-long bridge to cross it north of New York City. Sky blue and the vivid autumn colors of the trees are reflected so clearly onto the still waters that when we look at our photographs it’s hard to tell up from down. I said to Bill, “You know, I wouldn’t mind living here some day!”

159

AH! THE PEACE OF A SIMPLE DAY

“A book of verses underneath the bough,

A jug of wine, a loaf of bread – and Thou beside me…”

Edward Fitzgerald, translator – The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

ctober 25, our anniversary, started crisp and gradually warmed as the sun moved across a cloudless, cerulean sky. Our splendid oak was a blaze with color.

     We packed a picnic and went to the Shades which I had always wanted to visit since I was ten years old when Miss Newby collected dimes at school to help the state preserve over 2000 acres of virgin timber.

     Thoughts scribbled on a park brochure: A perfect October day in the October time of our life together. The autumn landscape is bathed by the afternoon sun. There are few people here. Interrupted only by an occasional crow’s caw or the breeze’s sigh, the silence seeps into my spirit. Peace!

     We toast with cheap Chianti and sit companionably, munching our sandwiches. Afterward we hike through the ancient woods through which gorges cut by a glacier and Sugar Creek run. Occasionally I rest while Bill goes on ahead.

     Fifty feet above, the three o’clock sun gleams on the autumn tinted leaves so that it looks as if a net of golden lace has been tossed across the topmost boughs.

      I sit on a stump. A tree’s rings reveal its age and history. Perhaps our crows’ feet, laugh and frown lines and wrinkles reveal our age and human history.

     Bill is out of sight. Not to worry. If I tarry too long he’ll come back for me. At trails end he is waiting, as he always does… We get in the car and turn towards home.

160

In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

Get Your Copy Here!

SUMMER

Wasn’t it pleasant, O brother mine

In those old days of the lost sunshine

Of youth…

When we were visiting, me and you,

Out to Old Aunt Mary’s?

It all comes back so clear today

Out in the barn lot and down the lane

We patter along in the dust again

As light as the tips of the drops of rain

Out to old Aunt Mary’s…

James Whitcomb Riley – “Out to Old Aunt Mary’s”

Riley is too often viewed as a homespun, regional poet. Actually, he was one of the most popular and successful writers of his era. Nobody has ever dealt with nostalgia better than he, and some of his poetry is very sophisticated.

     “Those old days of the lost sunshine” embodies every summer day of my childhood – our games and clubs, 4-H led by Miss Tipton, eating food that you could only have during the summer, and making hollyhock dolls from hollyhock blossoms and toothpicks that Paula Nicewanger also remembers making.

     I had my own version of going to “Aunt Mary’s.” Every summer Grandpa, Uncle Nolan, Aunt June, Mother, and sometimes Wayne and I went to have Sunday dinner at Great-aunt Laura’s home, in Michigantown. The menu never varied: ham loaf, chicken and noodles, corn, mashed potatoes, tomatoes and green beans from her garden, home-made pickles, homemade rolls, cake, and pies. After dinner we drove out to the Old Home Place where Grandpa grew up and which symbolized the days of the lost sunshine to him, my uncle, and my mother.

     And now? And now the Old Home Place is gone, and my cousin, Wayne Kelly, and I are the only ones who remember those Sunday dinners at Great Aunt Laura’s…

135

     The Old Home Place

136

DAYS OF LOST SUNSHINE

Thoreau wrote, “I was rich in sunny hours and summer days and spent them lavishly.” I didn’t know it then, but I stored up riches in my memory bank.”

And what is so rare as a day in June?

Then, if ever, come perfect days.

Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune

and over it softly her warm ear lays…

Whether we look or whether we listen,

We hear life murmur or see it glisten.

James Russell Lowell – “The Vision of Sir Launfal”

     The older one becomes, the more one pulls forth memories like fish on a stringer. As I edit this essay that I wrote several years ago, I think about our beloved friend, Phyllis Otto, who quoted the above lines from her capacious memory. That reminds me of an afternoon that we spend a few months before her death, taking turns reading favorite poems to each other.

     Summer was a sweet liberation. On the last day of school we ran, hopped, and slipped down the old school building’s diagonal sidewalks, singing “No more school, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks!” From early in the morning until dusk we lived outside with breaks for meals or when our mothers could catch up with us to make us do chores or practice the piano.

     Our parents’ idea of child rearing was certainly different from today’s. When we didn’t obey promptly there were immediate consequences. The most expensive things that they gave us were our bicycles and graduation watches. The words “helicopter parents” didn’t apply to our parents. What we did have was a lot of unsupervised, unorganized freedom to do pretty much as we pleased.

     We played kick-the-can and another form of hide and seek called Tappy-on-the-Icebox with the big tree in front of Auntie Kelly’s house as base. One person was “It.” Another kid drew an imaginary circle on “It’s” back, intoning, “I’ll draw the circle.” Another poked a dot in the middle of the circle. One of our favorite pastimes was bicycle slips where we played hide-and-seek by racing our bicycles up alleys and streets.

137

     Our parents let us use hammers, saws, and hatchets to turn wooden orange crates into chairs. Rex Mattix built a hideout from bits of lumber and dismantled orange crates.

     When Jana proofread this, she was reminded of how the neighborhood kids put on a circus. My father let us use our garage for a clubhouse. Wanda Frazier, Susie Scudder, and I decided one summer to have a “serious” club, unlike the previous summer’s Rock and Gem Club that was disbanded when Suzie ran home, wailing when Wanda and I smashed her crystals with a hammer.

     I showed up at the first meeting of the Literature Club with my father’s Iliad, and Wanda intended to peruse a biography of George Washington Carver. “He invented the peanut, you know.” When Suzie arrived with the latest Nancy Drew mystery we changed our name to the “Nancy Drew Mystery Club.”

     When I was eight years old we skulked around the neighborhood, looking over our shoulders and speaking in whispers. Rex Mattix, two years older than I, informed us that he’d heard that the dreaded Black Dot Gang of kidnappers was operating in Knightstown. At night I barricaded my bedroom window with pop bottles, figuring that if the kidnappers tried to break in the noise would awaken my parents. I spent many nights that summer in a state of terror, wishing that my parents would chain me to my bed so the gang couldn’t get me. One hot night my father decided to open my window and was hit by a falling bottle. He informed me in no uncertain terms that he wanted a stop put to “this Black Dot nonsense this minute!”

138

THE DUCK WHO THOUGHT HE WAS A DOG

One fine June afternoon I carried home from Mrs. Horn’s house a tiny, fuzzy mallard duckling. “Please, can I keep it? You won’t have to do a thing for it!”

     Ducky fearlessly ruled our yard. Our dog no longer contentedly dozed on the back step, but was chased away by Ducky. We’d hear quacking and mewoing and go out to resue Tom, my cat, who’d be lying supine with Ducky standing on him, wearing a mustache of yellow fur that he’d pulled from Tom. Every evening Hagues’ hound dog tried to gobble the table scraps put our for our pets. After much woofing and quacking, Ducky chased him out of our yard.

     Sometimes we confined Ducky to the yard by tying his leg to a brick. Often, however, he ran loose. The men who worked at Keens’ poultry house got a kick out of him. They’d shuffle their feet; and Ducky would waddle out and grab a pant leg. The man would drag him along and then put his foot under Ducky’s breast and gently sail him through the air. Then Ducky would tackle another fellow. “That dern duck of yern thinks hit’s a dog, don’t hit?” said one of the men. One day Mr. Paul Butcher, the funeral director, was chatting with Mother. He wasn’t amused when Ducky ran his muddy bill up and down the leg of his pale gray suit.

     Next Ducky started chaseing cars. Ducky would waddle behind a car, fall hopelessly behind and then turn around and around, quacking furiously as if to say, “I really showed ‘em this time!”

     Mornings, he confronted the school bus. No one in town would have intentionally run over him, but I thought about throwing him under

139

the wheels myself when I had to go out in my robe to chase him home while the country kids on the bus jeered and snickered.

     One September night, he didn’t come home when I called, “Here Ducky, Ducky, Ducky!” The next morning Mother told me that he’d been run over. That was the sad end of Ducky Daddles.

     After school Mother showed me his grave beneath the forsythia when I got home from school. “I thought he’d like it here because he loved the springtime so.” Then we toured the yard: “Here’s Pinky Thomas’s grave. Here’s your rooster, Chicory Chick, in the lily of the valley bed.” On around the yard we went, viewing the graves of the turtle, the parakeet and all the creatures that had shared our lives, reminiscing about each one.

     My beloved Tom lived peacefully into old age and was buried in the place of honor beneath the Japonica. I think that every yard could tell the same story: Under a persimmon tree at our old Irvington house lies Trouble, a black cocker. “You’d better name him ‘Trouble’ because that’s what he’s going to be!” advised Bill’s sister. A cat lies amidst roses. Vicki shed many tears when we buried her Peruvian guinea pigs, Flower, Daffodil and Roddy, beneath the French Lilac.

     Under the walnut tree near the little pond that Bill made are the goldfish that he was raising. One day he found them lying outside the pond. Suspecting something fishy – forgive the pun – he held an inquisition of five-year old Vicki and her chum Brian Schroeder. “What did you do to my fish?”

     “Gee Mr. Clarke, this mean ol’ witch flew down and did it.”

     “That’s right Daddy.”

     In his most thunderous voice, Bill said, “I don’t for one minute believe you. I want the truth, right now!” The truth was that they were pretending to be surgeons and used sticks to perform tonsillectomeies on his fish.

140

JOLLY CAMPERS

The worst problem that I ever saw anyone have with a tent was in the Black Hills south of Rapid City. We camped in a meadow near a woman and her children. One afternoon, we heard a loud bang. Her inflatable tent had expanded from the sun’s heat until it exploded. She burst into tears and wailed, “What’m I gonna’ do? I borrowed that tent from friends!” The poor things slept in their car.

     We’ve often camped at a national forest campground south of Rocky Mountain National Park which we much prefer to the small sites packed up against each other in the park’s crowded campgrounds. If you want to experience mountains without a long drive, it takes only a day and a night’s drive to get there. You go straight out 70 and head North at Denver for about seventy-five miles. The view from out campsite was lovely: a rushing trout stream, pines, wildflowers, pure air, and mountains. Be warned, however, that sanitation consists of a water spigot and a Port-o-let style toilet!

     It rains almost every afternoon there. In the morning, the cobalt sky is cloudless. Then before noon a tiny puffball of a cloud appears and grows and grows until it is joined by other clouds, and a brief thunderstorm ensures. The brochures warn about lightening: “If you’re caught out on a mountain during a storm, do not stand under a tree. (Duh!) Do not stand under the overhang of a cliff, either. If you can’t get off the mountain, lie down.

     Bill and I hiked several miles up a mountain trail to a lovely little lake. Alas, we dallied too long over our sandwiches, and a thunderstorm caught us two-thirds of the way down the mountain. Eek! At age fifty, I thought that I was too old to run, but we ran lickety-split down that mountain, getting thoroughly soaked in the process.

     There’s nothing more miserable that being wet in high country, because you’re also cold. One summer we picked up our friends and fellow house boaters, Jim and Karen, at the Denver airport and took them to the National Forest. Bill and I knew better but forgot to close up the tents when we went hiking. When we returned, rain had blown through the windows of our tents, soaking our sleeping bags and leaving puddles on the floors. We drove 30 miles to Estes Park in search of a motel.

141

It was dusk on a Friday evening. “No Vacancy!” Good sport Jim said, “I guess we can sleep in the car.” “Right!” said Karen.

     Homeward bound, Bill pulled into a place that rented tourist cabins. We went in to inquire. “I’m sorry, but I have only one vacancy that I’m not renting tonight because it’s been cleaned for people who will be arriving tomorrow.” We understand,” Jim said lugubriously. He looked so sad that she felt sorry for him and let us have the two-bedroom log cabin and even threw in a can of coffee that warmed us as we sat around in our pajamas in front of a roaring fire that we built in the fireplace. Ah!

142

THE JOLLY HIKERS

Ebenezer Bryce called Bryce Canyon a Hell of a place to lose a cow. It’s also a Hell of a place to take a hike. Walking down to the canyon floor is pleasant but getting back up to the rim is murderous. Bill’s brother, Rick, and I were early birds, but Bill and Esther declined our invitation to view the dawn from Sunrise Point. It was still pitch dark when Rick came to our tent and said softly, “Rose, time to get up.” We sat on a rock, waiting for the dawning. First we saw an eyebrow of sun, and then slowly the sun rose and painted the pinnacles of rock, called “hoodoos,” with glorious colors. Oh, oh, oh!

     “Let’s walk just a little way down the path and see what it looks like from there.”  “Good idea,” said Rick.

     One little way led to another as we wanted to see what was just around the next bend, and we ended up doing the three-mile Queen’s Garden loop, so named because one of the formations looks like Queen Victoria.

     Bill and Esther were drinking coffee when we got back. “Where’ve you guys been?” Bill asked.

I burbled, “The sunrise was just tremendous!”

“We took a little hike on the Queen’s Garden Loop,” said Rick

“But I wanted to hike that loop,” Esther said.

“Me too!” added Bill.

“No problemo! We can go back after lunch. Right Rose?”

“Right!”

“Won’t you guys be too tired?”

“Not me, I’m fresh as a daisy.”

“Me too!” I added. Actually, I had my doubts, but I knew which side

my husband and sister-in-law were buttered on.

     That was one of the most hellacious afternoons of my life. Giggling, Bill, Vicki, and Esther skipped down the path like the characters in The Wonderful Wizards of Oz and sang about going off to see the wizard while Rick and I tromped along behind. “Wizard my aunt Fanny,” I thought. “You’re going to think ‘wizard’ when you have to go back up.”

     At the bottom there was a junction with the Navajo Loop. Esther said, “oh, let’s do this one, too – it’s only a few more miles!”

     Rick and I were exhausted. One of us would say, “You guys go on. I

want to look at this flower… take a picture… tie my shoe…” Anything for a respite.

     “Hey you guys! Hurry up!” Bill or Esther would yell.

143

     We came to the final stretch called “Wall Street.” You know what Wall Street looks like, don’t you? Straight up! That path was one steep switchback after another.

     “Puff, puff, puff, puff… pant, pant, pant, pant… wheeze, wheeze, wheeze, wheeze…”  We’d lag behind until the others couldn’t see us lean against the canyon wall.

     “Rick, I think I’m gonna die.”

     “No such luck,” he croaked, “C’mon – you can do it. Jus’ keep put’n one foot in front of t’other like me: Lef’…right… lef’… right…”

He shambled on.

     As I took my last anguished steps to the top, a plump, ubiquitous busybody leaped up from the bench where she was parked and stridently announced my arrival to one and all, “Oh dear! You look awful. Do you need help?”

     I shook off her hand and snapped, “No thank you.” Actually, I felt like saying “You wouldn’t look so hot yourself if you’d gotten up off your fat behind and gone six miles on top of the three before breakfast!”

     The others were waiting at the car. Esther exclaimed, “My, wasn’t that fun!”

144

WANNA – BE  SYBARITE

THE HOUSEBOAT LOG OF A WANNA-BE SYBARITE

I wrote the notes for this in between bouts of sun tanning on the top deck. Ah summer! Recreation… vacation… togetherness with friends. We joined five other couples for our annual four-day cruise on “The Good Ship Lollipop” as we dub the houseboat that we rent. The group rented its first houseboat on Lake Cumberland about thirty years ago. Most of them either taught with Bill or are married to someone who did.

     Looking back, I see the escalation of American affluence and technology that has occurred since then. That first 64-foot-long boat had a combination kitchen/living room with an uncomfortable, fold-out couch. The next compartment had two bunks across from the head and open to the hallway. There was so little headroom that I refused to sleep on the top bunk. Bill and I slept on an air mattress on the front deck until one year a colony of ants marched on board via the tether rope and bit us. At the back was the “honeymoon” suite – a double bed. There were no doors on any of the sleeping areas.

     The lights were gas flambeaux that we supplemented with Colman lanterns. The cheap gas stove burned you if you touched its surface. Pans of water were heated for washing dishes. Food was kept cold in ice chests, and we sweltered as there was no air conditioning. Periodically we’d open the screens and rush full speed down the lake to cool the boat off and get rid of flies.

     We were severely warned to throw no toilet paper down the primitive marine head lest it clog. Occasionally we dumped buckets of lake water down it to made sure it remained clear. It sounded like a loud coffee grinder when flushed, so that everyone on the boat was awakened when it was used at night.

     And we thought we were in paradise! Think of it: cruising around a beautiful lake, tying up in tranquil coves where there were no other boats, floating around on rafts while sipping frosty drinks, sunning topside, chatting, reading, fishing, reading, snoozing.

     Since cell phones didn’t exist, no one could call us; and if we wanted to call home, we had to use a pay phone during infrequent stops for gas and ice. No alarm clocks, to-do lists, calendars, or children to take care of!     

145

(A firm rule was no children on board, much to the disgust of Vicki and the other kids, one of whom announced that she wouldn’t be caught dead on that stinking boat.)

     Flash forward to the luxury of a recent 18-foot by 84-foot, three-decker, gorgeous pleasure barge: It has a gas grill, air conditioning, electric lights, a TV for playing tapes and a sound system. The gourmet galley has a refrigerator, computerized stove, dishwasher, microwave, and trash compactor. The dining table seats ten, and there’s another table on the front deck. There are private sleeping “cubbies” with doors and lavatories, and 2 ½ baths that flush quietly. There’s a dryer that’s ever so nice for keeping your beach towels toasty. The top deck features a covered bar and sitting area, tanning area, big hot tub and two slides off the rear.

     This over-the-top luxury is just the frosting on the cake; we had as much fun on the “primitive” boat. The real substance of these days out of time lies within the abiding friendships of the crew, some of whom see each other only once a year.

     We could rent a huge cottage for a week or stay at a resort for the same cost. However, as friend Jana pointed out, the houseboat brings us together in a way that no other place would.

     Meanwhile, it’s time for a little snooze. I apply a new coat of pineapple-scented oil and stretch out in the warm sunshine, lulled by the gentle rocking of the boat. Ah! Surely I was meant to live the life of a sybarite.

146

HIGH SUMMER – AUGUST

During the hot August days of sixty-five years ago, Wanda and I might well have been splashing around in Mother’s laundry tub that we’d filled with water early in the morning so that the sun would warm it. If one of those warm afternoon rains came we would have put on our bathing suits and run out to try to escape the heat and humidity.

     Another thing that we would have been doing this time of year was to wash Mother’s dozens of Mason jars. Mother worked for weeks putting up beans, tomatoes, catsup, vegetable soup, corn relish, pickle lily, jelly and grape juice that became the feasts of winter.

     We were paid a penny a jar that we promptly blew on Cream Soda or Mason’s Root Beer at Conway’s mom-and-pop grocery. Sometimes we bought Royal Crown Cola – “Royal Crown Cola, hits the spot! Twelve full ounces, that’s a lot!”

     Canning was necessary because people didn’t have freezers. We had an icebox. Whenever Mother needed ice, she tied a card to a porch pillar, indicating whether she wanted 25 or 50 pounds of ice. The deliveryman would come into the unlocked house and put it in the ice compartment.

     Tomato season is in! I overheard Bill say to our friends on the houseboat, “People sometimes put down Indiana, but no tomato can compare with an Indiana tomato!” People begin to inquire in July about the size of each other’s tomatoes.

     I know what a lot of Hoosiers are having for dinner many August evenings! Even the finest cuisine of France cannot top a Hoosier garden dinner of fresh corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, green beans slow-simmered with a bit of bacon and an onion, fine -cut slaw with vinegar dressing, and corn bread, hot from the oven and dripping with butter – ah!

     Sometimes Mother sliced corn from the cob and fried it. She also made corn fritters that were thin, lacey, crispy-brown pancakes made with fresh corn cut from the cob. This was one of the absolute favorite treats of my childhood which, alas, I never learned how to make. Get those old recipes while you can!

     Bill and I love corn on the cob. Several ears of corn and bread and butter make a supper for us. We’re very exacting about our corn. We rarely eat it at restaurants because it’s always overcooked. Corn should be cooked as soon as possible after it’s picked in plenty of rapidly boiling, salted water.  My brother, Earl Gard, used to tell Toots, “Get the

147

water boiling, I’m going to pick some corn.” Use more than one pan if necessary. Do not cover the pan or cook the corn longer than two or three minutes.

     My parents had a big garden north of the greenhouse that used to be up on the hill on Morgan St. They did everything by hand. People everywhere plant backyard gardens. From the trains in Italy and England – even in urban areas – you can see vest pocket gardens in tiny yards. There is more to it than gastronomic considerations. A gardener receives the intense satisfaction of producing fresh and delicious food with his own effort just as a fine cook takes pleasure from pleasing people.

148

THE SWING

The hectic pace at which we gallop through life today makes the way people lived during the 40’s and 50’s look downright humdrum. Most people in our neighborhood were not “social.” Also, malls and computer networking did not exist.

     When twilight came our parents called us home while robins chirped sleepily as they settled down for the night, and the lightening bugs began to glow. Sounds of long-ago summer evening: the high-pitched trill of crickets and the deeper voice of a Katydid, punctuated by the thrum-thrum of the chains of the porch swing as my parents and I swayed gently, to and fro, to and fro. There is something universal about the deep pleasure of a porch swing and how it soothes away the cares of the day.

149

     Our porches were extensions of our living rooms. My parents and neighbors would call back and forth, “Nice evening, isn’t it?” or “My! Today was a real scorcher!” Sometimes Lois Frazier or Gertrude Scovel would come and have a beer with Daddy and chuckle about the antics of a neighborhood courting couple. (Neighbors were very interested in each other’s business!)

     Each season brought its special foods which were not served at any other time of the year such as walnut fudge in the wintertime and strawberries, homemade lemonade, and watermelon in the summer. I loved to hear the Strawberry Man’s chant as he came down the street: “Strawberries! StrawBERRIES!” No Italian gelato has tasted as good to me as the Raspberry Royal ice cream from Jolly’s Drugs that we ate out in the porch swing. Even minor pleasures were savored because of their scarcity.

     As we absorbed the tranquility of the evening hush, life seemed to grow more quiet and to slow down. Mostly I listened as my parents talked as the mood moved them. Reminiscences and ruminations: I never tired of the old family stories and my parents’ philosophizing. Those evenings in the porch swing established connections and instilled a sense of peacefulness that I have rarely found since.

     I hear still their gentle voices… Thrum-thrum, thrum thrum… goes the swing. “Do you remember old Daddy Cunningham?” one of them might say… Thrum-thrum… “You know, I always wondered what became of him.”  “Who was Daddy Cunningham?” I’d ask.

     “He just disappeared one day without a trace… Thrum-thrum…

     “There goes XXXX, a-courtin’. S’pose they’ll get married? Wonder if Lois and Gertrude are watching,” … Thrum-thrum…

     “Remember the time Delores Black and her kids were in that leaky old boat that filled up with water and started to sink, and they panicked and jumped overboard and thought they were going to drown, and they swam for shore as hard as they could, churning up mud  because the water was only two feet deep?”

     Thrum-thrum… “Aren’t the stars bright tonight? See, there’s the Big Dipper and the Milky Way. It’s almost as if there was a plan for it.”

     “What I wonder is, if God made the stars and the universe then where did God come from?” … Thrum-thrum…

     “I don’t reckon we’ll ever know.”

150

In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

Get Your Copy Here!

PART III

The Seasons Of My Life

      “Every season seems best to us in turn”

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

     From the time I was a child, my life has run according to a seasonal orbit as fixed as any planet’s . The seasons that have revolved around and around and around through the calendar of my days have each had its own delicious flavor: the effervescent champagne of springtime; the brandy-hot passion of summer; the honey meade of autumn and sips of the aromatic, full-bodied wine of remembrance that warm the wintertime of my being.

SPRING

Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.

For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;

The flowers appear on the earth;

The time of the singing of birds is come;

and the voice of the turtle is heard throughout the land

From the “Song of Solomon” –

The King James Version of The Bible

2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. It probably isn’t as accurate as those produced by modern scholars, but the modern editions lack the poetry and, in my opinion, the soul of the King James

Some Of Thoreau’s Words About Spring

…The coming of spring is like the creation of Cosmos out of Chaos and the realization of the Golden Age.

A single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of brighter thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present, always… We loiter in winter when it is already spring. In a pleasant spring morning, all men’s sins are forgiven.

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

MAYTIME

Nostalgia is complex: Sometimes it casts a golden glow and wraps you in warm fuzzies; other times it brings sharp grief of knowing that time past cannot be recaptured. One is swept with regret about things left undone or unsaid… May is like that and is second only to Christmas in my store of poignant memories.

     Marcel Proust described the mechanism of memory and how an unimportant event can bring past time to life in his masterwork, In Search of Lost Time. A name in the newspaper, a sound, a tune, a taste, a flower, or a scent can set me to fishing in my pool of experience and reminiscence. Beneath the surface, memories of people, places and events swim along like fish in a pond. When I pull out one item, other vivid recollections float to the surface of my consciousness like fish on a stringer.

     The obituary of Knightstown’s Joe Sullivan triggered a flood of memories of Sullivan’s Drive-in across the bridge out on Road 40 just east of town. It was the teen hangout where the Nine Nifty Nicotino’s, my girlfriends, and I went to see and be seen, guzzle pop, eat Coney dogs and take clandestine puffs from cigarettes. “Gimme a drag on that fag!” Oh, we thought we were so with it! (We didn’t use the word “cool” back then). Actually, we were very good girls, although it took me over twenty years to rid myself of my nicotine addiction.

     On a front page of The Knightstown Banner a picture of the Prom candidates summoned visions of my youth. I went to my Junior Prom with my pal Jack Bundy. Our prom was held at the Shelter House at Sunset Park. Mother, a floral designer at Schatzlein’s greenhouse, made my corsage of sweet peas. I remember perfectly my blue formal that cost less than $20.

     Would one really want to return to the pendulum swings of one’s teens? I didn’t have a date for my Senior Prom and spent the evening with Sarah Ward and Frances Cranfill. Times have changed: These days dateless girls might go anyway, but this was not the done thing back then. Mother cried in sympathy, and I thought that my life was blighted. Then came graduation, and I set forth to become the first woman United States Senator from Indiana or to write a great novel. (Have done neither!)

     I understand how tightly people’s homes are woven into the fabric of their lives. As a Realtor®, I saw many people cry during the closing on their homes, including brawny men who went outside to cry when their deceased mother’s homes were sold. Seemingly trivial things can cause

127

tears. One client sobbed when I was listing her home because of her grandmother’s rose out in back. “Don’t worry; we’ll get permission for you to take it.

     A few years ago, I brought closure to some unfinished business of my own. When I was twelve years old more than sixty years ago, mother and I dug up a bloodroot in the woods and planted it in her wildflower garden. After she married my stepfather, she took it to their New Castle home. Many years later, she gave the big bloodroot to Bill to be planted in our yard next to his Jack-in-the-pulpit.

     We sold our Ritter Ave. home and closed in August. We had permission to take some plants with us, but Mother’s bloodroot couldn’t be found. I burst into tears at the closing, “Oh… I couldn’t find Mother’s bloodroot.” Mrs. Bittlelmyer assured me that I could come back and take a start from it.

     The years passed without my going back, and I’d be filled with regret, especially after Mother’s death. Finally, one sunny day in May, I stopped on an impulse and asked Paula for a start of the plant.

     Having blooms from a plant that Mother and I dug up sixty years ago brings a sense of completion and contentment. Now I understand that the bloodroot embodied not only my mother, but the old house and my neighborhood and neighbors. This was the home where we were young together, and where Vicki grew up. I remember every detail of it. and I shall never again love any home in the same way.

     Out of a spoonful of tea, Marcel Proust’s French village of Combray and its people rose up before him like a set upon a stage. Knightstown was my Combray where places and people live on in my memory just as they were when I was young, and life was newly minted. Every year when May comes, out of the bloodroots bloom my mother rises up before me in my minds eye, looking just as she did the day we dug up the original plant.

128

THE  MEMORIES  STORED  IN  MY MINDS EAR

A sound can hook onto a memory and pull its essence out of one’s subconscious. During the playing of “Pomp and Circumstances” when Vicki received her college diploma in 2010, I was back in what was later named the “Hoosier Gym.” I see us still, parading through the sweltering gym, using the hesitation step and receiving our diplomas from superintendent Rogers, “Old Eaglebeak,” whom my nephew’s generation dubbed “Chrome Dome.”

     Many people react to the sound of a train and its whistle at night. I grew up half a block from the Big 4 railroad, and I still hear in my mind’s ear the chugging and hissing of the steam engine and the rattle of the boxcars that came through late at night when I was in bed and wondered whence it was bound. Here’s what Thoreau wrote in Walden:

All day the fire-steed flies over the country, stopping only that his master may rest, and I am awakened by his tramp and defiant snort at midnight, when in some remote glen in the woods he fronts the elements incased in ice and snow; and he will reach his stall only with the moring star, to start once more on his travels without rest or slumber…

129

I am refreshed and expanded when the frieght train rattles past me, and I smell the stores which go dispensing their odors all the way from Long Warf to Lake Champlain, reminding me of foreign parts, of coral reefs, and Indian oceans, and tropical climes, and the extent of the globe. I feel more like a citizen of the world…

     Some sounds no longer exist such as the clash-clash-clatter-whir of steel roller skates. In April Wanda Frazier and I buckled their straps and used a key worn on a string around our necks to tighten the clamps that clasped the skates to our shoes. sometimes a clamp came loose and a skate fell off, caussing falls that left us wailing with bleeding knees.

     Another sound was that made by the stove truck. Many homes were heated by coal or oil stoves, When warm weather arrived my parents moved the stove to a corner of their bedroom and covered it with a throw.

     I was sent to wheel home the clattering stove truck owned by Hopkins’ Furniture on Main St. The stove was positioned onto the heavy, iron, sledge-like contraption and rolled away. My parents bickered and yelled during this filthy, sooty process – especially in the fall when they had to reassemble the stovepipe and fit its ends into an elbow, the stove and the chimney.

     Come Memorial Day, we sat at the round oak dining table and listened to the 500 on the radio. I remember still the commercials for Stark and Wetzel and the ditty advertising laundry soap, “Rinso White, Rinso White! Sing a little wash-day song.” My how times have changed!

     Like clockwork, the male wren arrives in May, trilling his silvery song. Then Jenny Wren flies in and pokes the old wren house full of twigs. The male’s song brings poignant membories of my darling mother. “Listen: The wrens are back!” She’d exclaim.

     I see her and hear her voice so clearly in my mind’s eye and ear. Sometimes she’s a vigorous woman in a housedress with her hair rolled onto a “rat.” Other times she’s frail, bent and elderly with a curly perm and wears a fleecy sweat suit. In all of her incarnations, Mother is so near and yet so very far away.

130

MOTHERS  NEED  A  SENSE  OF  HUMOR

“M” is for the many things she gave me.

“O” means only that she’s growing old.

“T” is for the tears she shed to save me.

“H” is for her heart of pure gold.

“E” is for her eyes with love-light shinging.

“R” is right, and right she’ll always be!

Put them all together, they spell “Mother” –

A word that means the world to me

Howard Johnson

Bill’s sister-in-law, Esther, sang this song to irritate her daughters and let them know what was what. I can’t imagine my grandsons warbling that little ditty that we learned when we were kids. I suspect that they’d make retching noicses at the thought of it. Theirs is a much less sentimental generation. Mother’s Day was a very sentimental occasion when I was young. If one’s mother were living one wore a red carnation to church, and a white one if she were deceased.

     Vicki and we fell to reminiscing about the irritating and/or funny things that parents put up with: Babies get into their diapers while they’re supposed to be napping and smear dung over everything that they can reach… They give each other horrible hair cuts… They lock themselves in bathrooms and can’t get out… Bill’s older brother, Lex, asked him if he’d like to know what it felt like to be hanged. “Well, I guess so,” replied Bill. Lex preceeded to hang him from a closet hook.

     One Saturday Mother and I were on the Central Swallow bus, going to Indianapolis. A little boy who had a paper sack on his head was sticking his arm out the window. Concerned, Mother said, “Ma’am, your little boy has his arm out the window.”

     “I don’t care! This has been the worst day of my life! First he poured a whole box of laundry soap in the washing machine, and bubbles went all over the kitchen. Then he got into the pie I’d baked for the chrch dinner. Next he cut off the cat’s whiskers. You’ll never guess what’s on his head. He jammed his potty on it, and I can’t get it off. I’ve already tried to find someone to cut it off in Spiceland and Knightstown, and now I’m on my way to Greenfield.”

     Vicki took her little fishing pole and put a hook through the lip of her

Christmas puppy, “Rudolph-the-Red-Nosed-Reindeer-Dog,” an

131

obstreperous, stupid mutt. Traffic stopped, and people laughed while he frolicked along behind me at the end of the fishing line until we arrived at the home of a neighbor who had wire cutters.

     Vicki cackled about the time that her little boys decided to make pancakes. Hearing their shrieks of delight, she discovered that they’d broken a dozen eggs on the floor and were sliding around in them. “I thought about spanking them, but they were too funny.”

     One of my cousins picked the buds off my uncle’s prize peonies and stabbed the upholstery of her parents’ new car with a knife. “Did you spank her?” Mother asked my aunt.

     “No, I might have killed her.”

     Jean had a huge fight about an ugly, straw sailor hat with streamers that her mother insisted that she wear on Easter Sunday. They got into a screaming match until Jean’s quiet father finally sided with Jean. “We laugh about it now, but we certainly didn’t laugh then!”

     Sometime the best of motherly intentions go awry! Our friend Jana, decided that she needed to interact more with her children. She had cozy visions of the happy family making Christmas cookies together. They didn’t want to make cookies. They fought and whined, and the kitchen was a mess. Exasperated, she decided that she was not going to be Mother of the Year.

     She established a Christmas tradition of having the children gather round while she set of the Nativity Scene and explained its meaning. John and she discovered that their four-year-old son had put Baby Jesus in a matchbox car and was racing him around the Christmas tree. She said, “You know, I felt as if I had failed, somehow.” Personally, I suspect that He would have enjoyed it!

132

REUNION  DIARY

Help! My class reunion dinner is day after tomorrow! “Which one?” You ask. Whisper: “My fiftieth.” “YOUR FIFTIETH!’ “You don’t have to shout it for the whole world to hear!” Oh no! My fiftieth! Surely I’m not that old? I don’t feel that old. Inside I’m the same as I was when ol’ Eaglebeak handed me my diploma unless I see the underside of my chin when I dust a mirrored table. So what if I color my hair, leaving some white as befits my years?

     I’m not old; I won’t be old; I refuse to be old.

     Dither, dither, dither… Should I get a haircut, change the color? What to wear? WHAT TO WEAR?

    I suppose everyone else has lost a bunch of weight.

    Oh! Oh! Oh!

     Should I dress up or down? Shall I show up in a power suit like I wear in my professional life as a businesswoman? Maybe I’ll wear my black jeans and pink and white striped clogs that look like men’s basketball shoes. That’d show them how youthful and zany and free and uninhibited I am. Is anyone really going to notice or give a damn?

     They’ll know me because I haven’t changed a bit, of course; but maybe I won’t recognize them, and they’ll be offended.

     Will the ones who snubbed me back then still snub me or should I snub them in remembrance of snubs past?

     What can we possibly have in common? I haven’t seen some of these people since we graduated.

     What to wear? WHAT TO WEAR?

     To Hell with it, and to Hell with class reunions! They can like me or lump me! What do I care? I am a mature woman who’s grown past the unhappy events and follies of my youth.

     I’ll call and say, “I forgot to check my calendar. We’re going to be in Paris then.” or “I’m having an emergency hysterectomy. So sorry!”

     I’m going to have hysterics all right if I can’t find something to wear!

     Since the reunion’s at the high school, there’ll be no alcohol. I’m not a big drinker, but perhaps I could sneak a flask into a restroom stall and get quietly inebriated.

     Why do human beings have to have class reunions anyway? People are divided: There are those who love the camaraderie and the trips down

133

memory lane and those who’d rather have a root canal. The very mention of a class reunion summons forth not only the warm fuzzies of one’s good old days but also the pain of one’s bad old days. One of my nieces flatly refuses to attend reunions, saying: “They didn’t care about me then; why should I care about them now.”

     My problem is that I have a 20/20 memory: I have forgotten very little – good or bad – that has happened to me during my lifetime. When I think about the past I’d prefer to look at it through the gauzy screen created by the intervening years rather than revisit it up close.

134

In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

Get Your Copy Here!

PART II

Remembrance

     Marcel Proust’s story of the madeleine in his masterwork, In Search of Lost Time, contains some of the loveliest, lines in all of literature. His words have expressed my own feelings. He understood how simple incidents can instantaniously transport one into one’s past.

The adult Proust sipped a spoonful of tea in which he has soaked a crumb of a madeleine, a shell-shaped cookie made in Brittany. He was filled with an ineffable sense of contentment. In an “ah-ha” moment that is famous in literature, he searched his mind until he remembered that his aunt used to serve him tea and madeleines:

An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses… And at once the visissitures of life had become indifferent to me, its disasters innocuous, its brevity illusory… I had ceased now to feel mediocre, accidental, mortal. Whence could it have come to me, this all-powerful joy?

    When from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered… the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment. Once I recognized the taste of the crumb of madeleine… immediately the old grey house rose up like the scenery of a theater… and with the house the town, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took… all the flowers in our garden…and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solitity, sprang into being town and gardens alike from my cup of tea.

103

Drawing of Dolls
Pink Doll Baby, Lego-bye, Teddy

IN THE SILENCE OF THE HEART

– TRUE LOVE –

WRITTEN FOR MY VICKI-GIRL

PAST AND PRESENT

“The heart has its reasons which reason comprehendeth not.”                                  

Blaise Pascal – Thoughts

Is there a one of us, man, or woman, who did not have some inanimate object that had great import during our youths as confidant, comforter, and companion? One of my nephews, a “blanket-baby,” waited anxiously by the washer and dryer when Christine finally insisted on washing his tattered, grubby blanket. A great-nephew dragged a stuffed elephant wherever he went.

     These objects became alive in a childhood realm that adults cannot re-enter or fully understand because children often do not talk about this special, private world that they create. Whatever communion existed between the child and the object of its love is lost with the passage of time. Thus, what follows is only an adult’s attempt to replicate a reality that might have been…

     A few days before Christmas one year out neighbor, Mrs. Kent came trotting up the front walk of our house on Ritter Ave. She was brisk, plump, dainty and bright of eye. “Little girl come here,” she said to three-year-old Vicki. “Wrapped up in this paper is a very special doll that I made for you by hand. Know why she’s special? She has a candy heart that says, ‘True Love’ and she’ll always look right at you and smile at you even when nobody else in the whole wide world does.”

     Vicki snatched the package and tore off the paper. Inside was a beautifully crafted Raggedy Ann. Clutching the doll tightly, she ran to the full-length mirror in the foyer where she always went to look at herself and her treasures. She held the doll so that their images were side-by-side. “Your name is ‘Lay-go-bye,” she solemnly announced. Whence came this name? Neither she nor we have ever known, and we aren’t sure of the proper spelling of it.

          We chuckled as we listened to the dialogue that Vicki made up, assuming a squeaky, high-pitched voice for the doll. When we peeked around the doorway she was holding the doll in front of her face and gazing intently at it.

105

     Many years later, we were to see her Billy-boy assume the same pose with his Raggedy Andy that I made for him, looking deeply into its eyes with a little smile playing on his lips as if he were receiving a silent message. His twin brothers reacted the same way whenever they managed to get their hands on Andy.

     While I was finishing Billy’s Andy I was working at the polls at School 57. A solemn-faced little kindergartener came in with her mother and looked yearningly at Andy. “Would you like to hold Andy while your mother votes?” I asked. “Oh yes!” She exclaimed as a smile spread across her face that remained the whole time she was there.

     Little did Bill and I know that a presence had come into our home that became nearly alive for us even though we were rational beings who knew full well that dolls neither talk nor eat nor love nor feel pain. Vicki endowed that doll with all of those capacities and more by investing it with such a lifelike reality.

     Remembering the Vicki of that time and watching her three boys led me to conclude that there is an unspoken childhood language of love, of the heart, that has little to do with material reality and that transcends logic. Two dolls especially seem to have this unique capacity – the Teddy bear that was named after Theodore Roosevelt and Raggedy Ann whose face was created in 1914 by an Indianapolis Star cartoonist for his sick daughter. Perhaps the love of their creators is expressed in these dolls, rendering them totally attractive and universally loved.

106

IN THE SILENCE OF THE HEART

– CHATS WITH TEDDY-

Vicki introduced Lay-go-bye to my Teddy. “Lay-go this is Teddy. He belongs to my mommy. You sit here with him while I play.” Much of what follows is based on the rather faulty recollections of T. Bear who is, after all, at age seventy rather old for a bear. He is, he assures me in his gruff, rather scratchy voice that only I out of all the teeming millions am privileged to hear in my mind’s ear, not yet senile, but merely ripe.

     The old bear came back from a snooze when he became aware of a change in his rather dull existence…

     “Who the “H” are you? I’ve never seen such a peculiar thing in all my life! Fly-away red hair and those awful red-and-white stockings! And do I see bloomers? Slap me, Aunt Mable!”

     “Don’t swear, and it’s extremely vulgar to comment on a lady’s unmentionables! And speaking of appearances, have the moths been at you? And you’re very thin – lost some of your stuffing have you?”

     “Well, aren’t we the hoity-toity one! Harumph! What I want to know is how you can talk; none of the kid’s other creatures talk.”

     “I can because I have a candy heart – so there! My heart speaks directly to my mistress’s heart!”

     “Hmph! Times have certainly changed! In my day we didn’t need any props. All we had to do was to be loved and to be faithful. Let me tell you, I am true blue, and I’ve been through some rough times.”

     “Oh do be quiet. Being played with by young mistress all day has left me absolutely exhausted.”

     “Missy, you’ve got a lot to learn!”

     Then the old bear and newly-created doll napped peacefully together until dinnertime when Vicki held the doll on her lap. There was a changed in mealtime negotiations: “Here, Lay-go, you eat these peas. I don’t like ‘em… You don’t like ‘em either? Lay-go and I are not eating these peas!” “I don’t care whether or not Lay-go-bye eats those peas, but you’re sitting here until they are gone.” “What if we eat more basgetti instead?” “Eat the peas!” “Oh, all right!”

     Then Bill carried them “up the wooden hill,” as the Clarke’s say; and the doll watched the nightly routine: bath, book read by Mom and a

107

midnight snack provided by Dad. Later we looked in and smiled when we saw the sleeping child lying with the doll stretched across her throat – as she was to sleep for many years to come.

     Everywhere Vicki went, Lay-go-bye went: to the library, to the sledding hill at Ellenberger, to Dr. Jones and the Dentist, to the store and to Grandmother’s house. Lay-go provided comfort after Vicki had ear surgery by lying across Vicki’s throat. She sat on the couch while Vicki opened Christmas presents. “Don’t worry Lay-go. I’ll never love another doll as much as I love you!” She had such reality that when Vicki fell and banged up her knee, she ignored her own pain and sobbed, “Oh poor Lay-go.”

     One night, dreadful shrieks came from Vicki’s room. Bill and I ran to her room as in the Madeleine story that Vicki loved: “In the middle of the night, as if fearing some disaster, Miss Clavell ran – faster, faster”

     Lay-go had a split from neck to crotch, and her stuffing was coming out. “Oh my! Appendicitis,” said quick witted Bill. We Must operate immediately!” I said, “Don’t cry, honey. She won’t feel a thing.” Fine stitchery has never been my forte, let alone at 3:00 A.M. while being supervised by an anxious child.

     That was the first of several operations as the doll began to wear out. Lay-go also got new shoes and stocking and a face-lift during which we cut around her nearly worn-out face that had become begrimed and scarred and glued a backing to it. We didn’t do a hair transplant, although much cuddling had worn her yarn hair down to the nubbins.

     Following an ear surgery, Mrs. Cougill who worked at Community Hospital gave Vicki a hand puppet with blue eyes and rosy cheeks and dressed in pink who was promptly named “Pink Dollbaby.” Lay-go, according to Teddy told me, using his most “important” tone, was extremely jealous:

     “and furthermore, she cannot talk – just stares at one with that insipid look on her face – the painted huzzy!”

     “Hussy. Be careful, Toots, or you may even frown and crack your face – heh, heh!”

     “Shu-up, you silly old bear. I always wear my best smile, no matter what.”

108

IN THE SILENCE OF THE HEART

-GOING HOME-

Lay-go shared many adventures with Vicki such as backpacking in the Tetons while traveling inside of Vicki’s belt. She went whitewater rafting on the Snake but was kept in the oarsman’s chest. “Obviously, this doll is worth a lot, and we wouldn’t want her to be washed overboard. She’ll be safe there even if the raft turns over.” Which it nearly did! She visited Scouts Rest, Buffalo Bill’s ranch in Nebraska. She loved sunning by Uncle Rick’s pool in California. She even looked over the Grand Canyon. Teddy later told me that she told him that she had been “terrible frightened…” “It’s such an enormous place, and young Mistress and me so small.”

     Time turned upon itself while the seasons of Vicki’s growing up marched on: First came school, and the doll sat on Vicki’s bed all day, one leg thrown jauntily over the other. Then came the teenage years. Change was unremitting. I still saw the doll lying across Vicki’s throat at night; and I wondered what tragedies and triumphs had been whispered to her.

     Teddy attempted to console: “I know, old girl, I know. My mistress was just the same. We are meant to serve only as long as we are needed, and then others take our place. But never you fear. All you have to do is to be here and to be loyal and true blue. I wait here patiently. Even though she rarely picks me up or talks to me, she smiles. I have been with her through all her times. I was here during the happy days when Young Mistress came to us. I was here when Eldest Mistress, the one who bore my mistress, died, and my mistress was so sad… Yes, our place is to be here always and wait for their smiles.

     “Oh, shu-up, silly old bear.”

     “You’ll see, Toots, you’ll see – but you must learn it for yourself.”

     Vicki married and moved away, and Lay-go-bye was stored in a shed with other possessions. Bill saw her leg sticking out, rescued her, and brought her home.

     “Well, hallo, old girl! I see you’ve come back. That’s just bully because it’s been boring around here. What’s happened to your hair? There’s a bunch of it gone. What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue? Oh well, I’ll just take a little nap.”

109

     I borrowed a pattern from my friend, Phyllis Otto, made new clothes for Lay-go and replaced her stuffing – a real labor of love as I’m no seamstress. I put her with Teddy and set Pink Dollbaby on her lap. “Not a happy arrangement,” Teddy told me. “She’s quit talking, but I know she doesn’t like it.” Vicki said, “I’ll leave Lay-go with you for a while. She’s so fragile that I’m afraid the boys might tear her up.”

     I made an Andy for Billy when he said he had bad dreams. “Then you need someone to chase away the monsters,” I said. I found a box of candy hearts at a convenience store. I told Billy, “This is Andy. He will always smile at you and be with you when you have bad dreams. He has a candy heart.” I also inserted a new heart in Lay-go-bye’s chest and told Bill, “Now Lay-go will be whole again!”

     She said to Teddy, “You’re still hear I see.”

     “Hallo? Why, you’re talking again. Over the sulks, are you?”

     “Oh, I’ve had the most dreadful time, and the mice got part of my hair.” “Oh well old girl, I don’t care how you look!”

      Then came the identical twins Christopher Blue and Tony Red who were dressed in those colors so their parents could tell them apart. When they were three the whir of the sewing machine was heard. Old Teddy was rudely awakened by a flood of questions: “Where are we? Who’s that skinny old relic with the brown fur? Who’s that ugly redhead and that pink thing? Where’s our masters?”

     “What in the world?” said Teddy. “Oh lordy-day!” there on the couch sat two Andy’s, but they didn’t stay long!

     “Thank goodness those raucous, ill-mannered brats are gone!”  “You bet your boots, Toots.”

     Teddy, Lay-go and Pink Dollbaby sat quietly together for a couple of years. One Christmas, after Vicki had had a hard year, I put Lay-go-bye in a box that I left under Vicki’s tree. It was time for the old doll with the True-Love heart to return to her mistress.

     Vicki called. “Oh Mom…” she said in a quivery voice. “That’s the best Christmas gift I ever had.” I replied Lay-go-bye came at Christmastime, and I thought this was the time for her to come home.”

     I still have Teddy and kiss him on the nose sometimes. Also, Billy’s Andy is living with us. He is minus an arm. Teddy says he lost it when the three boys were scuffling and Billy swung Andy by it – whap, whap, whap!

110

ALL PATHS LEAD TO THE SUN

All Paths Lead to the Sun

Unable to sleep, I finally got up at 4:30, made a cup of coffee and went to my computer. There were e-mails to read, lists to make and writing to do. I knew that events to come would put me behind. My last sister, Christine, had taken a turn for the worse following emergency surgery.

     I was heading down the hall to take a shower when the telephone rang: “The doctors said to call the family.” I threw on some clothes and rushed out.

     Whether I sped up or slowed down, I hit every red light. Why is it that when you’re in a hurry inanimate objects become the enemies of your urgent need? At least I’d been able to find my purse and car keys without losing precious moments. “I must hurry; I must hurry!” Impatiently I’d wait for a green light. “Change, dammit, change!”

     My frustration level eased whe I keft the Indianapolis strip malls behind and crossed the Hancock Co. line. Every house, barn and woods along Road 40 is familiar to me. It’s a path back to where I came from.

     There was little traffic, and I could virtually drive on autopilot so that my interior monologue was free to run: “I could have been a better sister.” I tried to bargain. You know what I mean, don’t you? “I’d be more attentave, call more and visit more often… Oh God, how good I’ll be in the future if only…!”

111

     Daylight was coming. I’m a connoisseur of sunrises, and this one was glorious. Pink clouds floated in the pale, ice-blue vault of the eastern sky, and just above the horizon stood the sun like a giant orange, casting a fiery glow onto the clouds immediately surrounding it. As it leisurely and majestically rose higher, it turned to a burnished gold and accordingly changed the tints of the cloud-canvas upon which it was painting.

     The sun spoke: “I was here long before you and shall be here for eternity. Why are you hurrying? All your lists are of little import; and your haste will have no effect whatsoever on the outcome, nor will your feeble attempts at bargains. Do not fret about your petty shortcomings… Love cannot be toted up in an account book or measured like so much flour or sugar. Leave eternity to eternity. Be at peace and savor this special beauty that I am revealing to you. You will never again see me rise exactly like this.”

     The sun’s message was that of the book of Ecclesiastes written by Solomon:

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh, but the earth abideth forever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose. The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about into the north; it whirleth about continually and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

     Relieved of the angst that had been propelling me, I slowed down and settled down and began to prepare myself to deal with the terrible rent that Christine’s passing would tear in the fabric of my life. More than a sister, she was my best friend.

     Her eight children and I, their last aunt, were as close as chicks in a nest that day when the time came to turn off the machines. After everyone had left I went back and sat quietly with her for the last time.

     I realized the final lesson that the sun had to impart was that Christine’s story is unending. It will continue like the sun’s risings and settings through all of the generations to come of which she is the ancestress. She has returned to the source of the wind and rivers as is one with the sun.

112

SOMEONE LOST, SOMEONE FOUND

Someone Lost, Someone Found
Someone Lost, Someone Found

Lincolin Steffens told his father that if he didn’t get a pony for Christmas, he didn’t want anything and was devastated when he found neither pony nor gifts. When the pony finally arrived in the afternoon the sudden change from misery to joy was almost unbearable.

     The day of Christine’s funeral was a multi-layered mix of grief, poignant memories and fresh beginnings. Nostalgia followed me wherever I went: the mortuary on Main St. where so many of my people had lain… the service in the church where I went as a girl… Glen Cove with my relatives’ graves and the hill down which the forty-something Christine and I used to coast on our bicycles, holding our feet in theair and crying “Whee!” I was overwhelmed with grief and a sense of finality and loss that nothing could heal.

     Then came a total shift in the physical and emotional landscapes that was a transistion from shade to sunshine. Vicki had come down from Angola and wanted to go up to Clinton Co. and do some genealogical sleuthing about my mother’s pioneer ancestors who settled a secotion of land when there were still Indians present. I wanted to put if off, but I’ve learned from bitter experience that carpe diem – seize the day – is excellend advice.

     Bill, Vicki and I rushed back to Indianapolis, changed clothes and headed North. During that and subsequent trips, I made discoveries about my daughter  and myself when we journeyed together back into the days of our forebears.

     I saw a Vicki whom I hadn’t known before when we went to Frankfort Library for the librarians’ assistance in finding the cemetery. Listening to their conversation, I learned that Vicki is a knowledgeable avid enthusiast

113

about the esoterica of genealogical research. She rhapsodizes over the arcane details of dusty old census tracks and wills, saying that it’s like reading a good mystery.

     We went to the cemetery out on the highway south of Michigantown where my maternal grandmothers people are buried. During the summer, its fresh air is redonlent with the scent of wild colver. It is a quiet, country place, and this sense of peace is enhanced by my devout great-grandmother’s tombstone that reads, “Asleep in Jesus.”

     Then we drove a few miles to the Old Home Place, the True North, of my mother’s people who spoke of it with a deep reverence and sense of rootedness. The house and its round barn, the first built in Clinton Co., are gone, but up on a wooded knoll above Wildcat Creek we could see old tombstones.

     We scrambled over a rickety gate and walked up the rutted, grassy lane. They were all there, the ancient ones, about whom my mother told the stories that had been passed down to her. Some of the untended tombstones are tilting, blackend and illegible; others have fallen over or are sinking into the ground.

     Vicki was in a state of genealogical rapture. “Oh look!” she chortled. “There’s James Kelly!”

     I sat on a tombstone and thought about this spot that overlooks the fields carved out of the forest by my ancestors nearly two hundred years ago. Slowly, the soothing hush and gentle light of the gloaming hour of the day descended  upon me and brought me a sense of being in an oasis of tranquility in a hurtful, hectic world.

     As I mused about this, my people’s Home Place, I felt a renewed sense of connectedness both with those from whom I sprang and with my daughter as I watched her forge her own connection with our people and find her place in this story with no ending.

     Vicki and I had often been like two fractious mares who are hitched together and sometimes give each other little nips or kicks. On this day we began to develop a deeper understanding out of which would come a new relationship.

     “Goodbye, Old Ones,” I whispered as we turned to leave. I realized that it was time to leave the past behind.

114

HOT ON THE TRAIL

Brandon Cemetery
Brandon Cemetery

Tenacity, thy name is Vicki! If I were to devise a coat of arms for my daughter, it would consist of an inquiring eye examining some musty, dusty, antique tome of old deeds or wills about distant ancestors and have a tilting tombstone for its background.

     Nothing stops a genealogical sleuth who’s hot on the trail! The second time we went to the cemetery on the Old Home Place, she took a saw with her and cut down a small tree so that she could better see an inscription on a tombstone. I said, “They might object to your cutting down a tree!” She replied, “I have every right to tend my family’s graves.

     I suggested postponing another visit because rain was forecast. “Come Hell or high water, we’re going back to Clinton Co. tomorrow!” Intrepid adventurers, we set out under a cloudy sky and drove along gravel roads in search of another old country cemetery – one of many that were established on farms during the 1800’s. The Frankfort librarians had given us a map showing all of the old cememteries in Clinton Co. and lists of those buried in them.

     Unable to find it, we knocked on the door of a rundown farmhouse. A hippy-looking guy with wild fly-away hair who was as disheveled as his ramschackle house gave us directions.

     “Eek!” I thought as we left the road and drove along a narrow lane. “Here’s a scenario for a Hitchcock movie!” Picture this: The day is dark and gloomy, and the sky presages rain. Two women stop at a spooky farmhouse miles from anywhere and get directions from a shabby man to an old, abandoned cemetery.

115

     They drive along a rutted lane under an archway formed by walnut trees. At the end there’s a clearing in the woods where ancient  tombstones tilt and crumble. Only the occasional squawk of a jay, the moan of the wind in the trees or the thump of a falling walnut interrupts the onimous silence. The sky is darkening…

     Me and my imagination! Actually, the man was most courteous and well-spoken in spite of his rough appearance and told how he had played there when he was a boy. “Unfortunatly the acid rain these days is causing the marble stones to deteriorate rapidly,” he said.

     We hit genealogical gold when we found a large monument for one of my relatives that proclaimed that he was a veteran of the American Revolution and served in the Shenandoah regiment. “Wow!” I said. “Do you suppose he might even have know George Washington or Thomas Jefferson?”

     Vicki clicked busily away with her camera and used aluminum foil to get an impression of the stone as it was too damp a day to do rubbings. She said, “Let’s come back on a nice day and make rubbings.” “Great! We’ll bring a picnic lunch and a bottle of wine and drink a libation to the Old Ones,” I responded.

     Some might find it macabre or disrespectful to picnic near their graves and drink a toast to one’s ancestors. However, I am filled with a sense of comfort and belonging when I visit these places.

     Our forebears came to Indiana by oxcart, cleared the land and built log cabins. I think about the lives of my ancestresses. An old census tract said that one of the Kelly women bore fourteen children. “Goodness!” I said. “Yeah but a lot of their babies died,” Vicki responded.

     They deserve many toasts! It was intrepid people like them who built this country, established enduring values of fortitude and hard work and formed the unique American character that caused this nation to prosper.

116

LEST I FORGET

Monterrey is Steinbeck country. John Steinbeck grew up in nearby Salinas. He won the Nobel Prize for literature for a body of writing that included Cannery Row about the sardine canneries of Monterrey and The Grapes of Wrath that became a wonderful movie starring Henry Fonda.

     Time was when he was not admired. The Grapes of Wrath was one of the most popular novels of its era and, also, one of the most reviled. It was pronounced “obscene in the extreme” and was banned in schools and libraries and burned in the county where the mythical Joad family ended up because of its depiction of the conditions under which the migratory farm workers lived. A brave librarian, Gretchen Knief, heroically risked losing her job by fighting the ban. She said, “Ideas don’t die because a book is forbidden reading.”

     The Grapes of Wrath depicts the lives of the farmers, the “Okies” and others, who migrated from Oklahoma to California during the horrendous Dust Bowl that extended from America’s Great Plains to Canada during the 1930’s.

     The land of the Great Plains had been fertile because tall grasses protected the soil until it was deep-plowed by farmers who didn’t have modern farming techniques. Then years of drought and strong winds during the 1930’s desiccated the topsoil so that it blew away in clouds that could be seen all the way to New York City. Dirt fell like snow in Chicago.

     It wasn’t just the Okies who lost their homes and their livelihood and became migrants. America was hit with the double whammy of drought and the Great Depression. It’s hard for later generations to imagine that era’s despair and grinding poverty.

     My family would sit at the round oak table after dinner and reminisce about the bad old days. They talked about whether it was worse to be hungry or to be cold and said that being cold was worse. My father was the Manager of Moore’s Greenhouse in Rushville, Indiana, when the Depression hit. People don’t buy flowers when they have no money. The greenhouse went bust, and my parents lost their little home on Road 3 and became tenant farmers. Daddy pushed the plow, and my brother served as the horse. My brother had one shirt to wear to school, and my three sisters each had one dress that my mother washed and ironed every day.

     Daddy was too proud to go on relief, so they didn’t have enough to eat. I was just a toddler, but one of my earliest memories is of crying because

117

I was hungry. They gleaned coal along the railroad tracks. One time my brother, Earl, made a dollar and went to buy food. My sisters were ecstatic, anticipating chocoloate and good things. They were crushed when he brought in a fifty pound sack of rice.

     My angel mother told about the many people who knocked on the door, asking for food. She related a poignant story about an elderly couple who were trying to ride a bicycle-built-for-two across the country. The lady was holding an umbrella over her head to ward off the August sun. “M’am we-uns’ is so hungry. Can you spare a little sumpin’ to eat?” Mother said, “I gave them what I had – sandwiches made of stale bread and bacon grease – us having no butter. They were so hungrey that they gobbled them up on the spot. I’ve often wondered what became of those poor old folks… Jesus said, ‘Feed my poor!’ never forget that.”

118

KINGS OF THE ROAD

Trailers for sale or rent

Rooms to let, fifty cents

No phone, no pool, no pets.

I ain’t got no cigarettes.

Ah, but hours of pushin’ a broom

I’m a man of means by no means –

King of the Road

Roger Miller – “King of the Road”

When I was a girl during the 1940’s and 50’s we lived near the Big Four Railroad on the west side of Knightstown. Hoboes frequently knocked on our door during the summer. These men were like migratory birds, heading South in the winder and summering up North. Perhaps they’d stay briefly in one spot until the restless urge would hit them, and they’d move on. We called them all tramps, but a tramp worked only when absolutely necessary; a hobo tried to work.

     After the Civil War out-of-work, penniless soldiers started hitching rides on trains. Walter Ballard left home during the Depression because there was no food and no work at home. He said, “I loved that life. It’ll get in your blood. You’re not going anywhere. You don’t care – you just ride.” Art Linkletter, Louis l’Amour, Burl Ives, H. L. Hunt, and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas were hoboes.

     There was a subculture of hoboes who had their own lingo and traveled the length and breadth of America with only a bundle of a few possessions and a skillet called a “banjo.” Hopping on moving trains and living in “jungles” was dangerous. Railroad guards, called “bulls,” beat and sometimes killed them. Sometimes they rode on the couplings between the cars or even lay flat on top of cars. It wasn’t unusual for them to lose an arm or a leg. Sometimes they “caught the westbound” – meaning they died.

     The word was probably passed along that my parents would feed them. They’d knock on the back screen door: “M’am, can you spare a little sumpin’ to eat?” If they arrived when we were having our noon dinner, they sat out on the back step and ate whatever we were having. Other times the menu was two fried egg sandwiches, a piece of pie and a glass of milk. “M’am, this is the best pie I ever ate!” After Mother went to work when I was a teenager, I fed them.

119

          We didn’t learn the names of these anonymous men, where they were from or the stories of their lives. Al was the exception. He ate in the kitchen with us. He was around fifity years old, well spoken, clean, courteous and a raconteur of fascinating stories.

     Ann Steiger, a member of our church, knew him and said that his brother was the Resident of a univeristy. Al never offered to work, considering that his companionship was payment enough. One day Mother asked him to rake the yard. We never saw him again. “That deadbeat!” she said.

     That was a more innocent time when we rarely locked our doors during the day. Sometimes I was home alone when a tramp came. Never, not once, did any of those men misbehave or make me fearful. These days if a man knocked on my door and asked for food, I’d most likely feed him – but I’d lock the door while I fetched the grub!

     Invariably, after a man left, my deeply religious little mother would quote scripture: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear my voice and opens the door, I will come in and sup with him and he with me.” Then she’d add meditatively, “You never know, do you? That man may have been Christ knocking.”

120

In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

Get Your Copy Here!

Journeys

GREAT POETRY LIVES FOREVER IN THE HEART

Certain poems, such as “Ithaca” by Constantine Cavafy, Greece’s great modern poet, have been woven into the very fabric of my being and have added beauty and insights to my journey through life. They blend significant ideas with fine writing and can compress the meaning of my universe into a few lines. Some of them give us blueprints for building a life.

     Great poetry uplifts us during hard times and gives us dreams and visions. It nourishes our awareness and understanding of what it means to be a human being among all of the other living creatures of Planet Earth.

     Each of us doubtlessly has his or her own fund of these treasures, collected over the years and stored away just as squirrels store nuts and acorns for the coming winter. Like pebbles tumbled and worn smooth by a rushing stream, my beloved poems have been turned over and over by my mind countless times. I never tire of them just as I never tire of a beautiful sunset, a glorious aria, or a lovely painting.

     Poetry has enriched my live. The list is long: Shakespeare, the psalms of the Bible, Robert Frost, Tennyson, Lord Byron, Keats, Shelley, Amy Lowell, Browning, Poe, Coleridge, Whitman, T.S. Elliot, Edna St. Vincent Millay, James Whitcomb Riley, Vachel Lindsay…  

     Cavafy’s poem that is quoted on the next page is about Ulysses’ journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. It was fraught with uncertainty and danger, but also contained great excitement and beauty. It is, obviously, a metaphor for one’s journey through life and makes me think more deeply and consciously about my own journey. It reminds me not to be ruled by my fears.

ITHACA

As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your road is a long one, 
full of adventures, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them:
You’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon – you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul set them up in front of you.
Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter many harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfumes of every kind – 
as many sensual perfumes as you can:
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years.
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.
Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
C.V. Cavafy

FLOATING IN A BUBBLE OF BLUE

I had always envisioned Italy as a place of mountains and marble columns, piazzas and umbrella pines, old Roman roadways, and aqueducts. Italy is also a water place from its Mediterranean shore to the Adriatic splendor of Venice.

     I would have said that the Teton Mountains of Wyoming were the loveliest place in the world, but I had not yet seen the Isle of Capri. One sunny morning we boarded a ferry in Naples and sailed into its harbor that I was seeing for the first time, and I found great joy there. It was a sort of homecoming for Bill who had stayed in a seaside hotel there when he was a young soldier on leave.

     High, high on a cliff in the garden of a villa we sat, looking out over the Mediterranean where little islands seemed to float and shimmer in an azure haze. Blue! Blue! Blue! Ocean-blue blending with sky-blue in a visual rhapsody that swamped my senses and reduced me to a mindless piece of nature with no more “self” that the pine tree against whose rough bark I leaned my shoulder.

     In Under the Tuscan Sun Francis Mayes described grapes that she said even smelled purple. I understand what she meant. The ocean and sky at Capri will define blue for me forever. If one could experience a color with all five senses then I heard, tasted, touched, and smelled the color blue as

well as seeing it: the scent of blue flowers, the taste of pale blue icing on an angel food cake that Auntie Kelly baked for Virginia’s birthday… the rustle of the blue formal which I wore to the Junior Prom, the touch of a blue velvet skirt that I wore in high school… the blue of the irises that Mother took to the cemetery on Decoration Days and those of Monet’s garden at Giverny… the wild bachelor’s buttons and larkspur growing along an Indiana road… the blue of the jay that squawks for us to feed him peanuts… All of those blues and more were present here.

     It was as if I were floating in a bubble of blue. Rarely have I felt such a quietude, amplitude, and completion of spirit where I become one with the cosmos, laying aside all of the ridiculous, petty cares, bickering, hurts and struggles with which the human condition is freighted. It seemed to me that a message was being imparted to me: “Quit struggling… there is time… there is peace.”

     No language is adequate to describe California’s Big Sur. I don’t believe that even the great Shakespeare could do it! Just as Capri is, Big Sur is the ultimate definition of blue.

     Big Sur’s residents fought to keep it unchanged so that its present matches the past images of it that I stored in my internal photograph album when we were there the summer after our marriage. Around every bend in the road was another blue vision so lovely that our repeated exclamations of delight, “Omygod!… Look! Look!” became hackneyed.

Such as drink, eternal happiness shall fynd.

Edmund Spencer – “The Faerie Queene”

     Homer related in the Odyssey that the daughter of Zeus poured something into the sailors’ wine that brought forgetfulness and the end of sorrow. The Greek word for it, nepenthe, has been used many times by writers. Some believe that it was a form of opium; others call it an anti-depressant.

     There is a restaurant named Nepenthe that’s located high on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean. Orson Welles bought the property after he married Rita Hayworth, but never lived there.  

     During our first trip we didn’t think that we were dressed well enough, so Bill turned into a lane in the forest. We took clothes from the suitcase and got undressed, paying no attention to our surroundings. Then one of us said, “Isn’t that metal yard sculpture of a rooster fabulous?”

Uh-oh! We were standing there in our undies in the driveway of someone’s home! We threw our clothes on any which and got the heck out of there, pronto!

     Nepenthe has changed little. Once again, suspended betwixt sky and ocean as had happened on Capri, my spirit left this world behind and floated away in a bubble of blue.

     I would have liked to have stayed forever with Bill on Capri or high on a Big Sur cliff above the ocean, timelessly suspended in that blue bubble. Sometimes I pause when I’m trying to cram one more activity onto my to-do list and remember those nepenthes and think to myself, “Quit struggling. There is time; there is peace.”

ENTERING NEW HARBORS

     Cinque Terre (“Cheenquay Tairay”) – The Five Lands – a far-away place with a strange-sounding name, is one of the most isolated places in Italy. Like spread-out fingers, mountainous hills come down to the blue Mediterranean. Between them are little villages next to the sea. It takes a long time to drive between them because you have to drive up a mountain and then back down on the other side.

     The afternoon was growing late as we zigzagged down a narrow, precipitous road, not knowing where we’d spend the night. This place was as popular as the Brown County foliage season! Half of Italy seemed to be spending Sunday afternoon here. Cursing drivers maneuvered out of difficult parking places. One fellow sideswiped a car and cavalierly drove away without a backward glance.

     There was a sign: “No parking beyond this spot!” Now what? “I can walk down, but I’ll never make it back up,” I said. I stayed in the car while the others hiked down to find a room. Adventures are a lot more fun when you’re sitting in your cozy home rather than being in the middle of one! A guidebook warned that was no point in trying to make reservations because they might not be honored. We didn’t relish driving along unfamiliar, tricky roads after dark. Would we have to sleep in the car? Eek! No dinner, no vino, no bathroom!

     At last, the others trudged back up the mountain. “We found a place. Don’t expect the Ritz.” Bill warned. While we walked down the mountain they explained that they had no luck at the hotels. One hotel owner advised, “Go to restaurants and bars. Perhaps someone will rent you a private home.” A barmaid agreed to rent her place. “Just wait till you see it!” said Nichole.

     “Does it at least have indoor plumbing?” I asked.

     The downstairs had a kitchen/living/dining combo, and the upstairs bedroom had a double bed and a rickety single. The inexpensive furniture was old and battered; and the housekeeping was not meticulous. One of us slept on the couch. There was a toilet and shower with a miniscule overhead tank. “Nichole, you sure won’t be taking hour-long showers here will you?” Jean said. Nichole rolled her eyes.

     I noticed little bits of tatty souvenirs and crafts with which the owner had decorated the place. I wondered what her life was like. Most Americans are so very rich when contrasted with many people in other countries. Her little apartment wasn’t much, but it was her home, her modest all.

     I saw the owner as a fellow woman who was getting along the best she could in a place where the living is beautiful but probably not easy. She had allowed total strangers to intrude in this most private of places. The small sum that we paid for one night was probably worth several days of her hard work.

     We walked a short distance to the seashore. A little, new-moon-shaped beach lay between two out-thrust promontories of the mountains. The sun was low over the ocean and cast upon the waters, hillsides, and pastel-painted buildings of the village all of the glorious tints of an ocean sunset. Mountain rock, many-hued sky, ancient stone walls and blue of water over-tinted by sunglow combined in that vast, timeless, natural symphony that never fails to enchant me.

     We had the little jetty almost to ourselves. While we stood there a little motorboat chugged slowly up to the jetty where a man stood waiting. One of the men handed up a stringer of fish. The man on the dock handed down money. They all left. After our stress-making uncertainty about a place to sleep, the peaceful hush of the violet twilight seeped into tired spirits.

     Nichole said, “Come on you guys, I am dying of hunger!” We left the jetty and walked to a seaside restaurant. Its owner came to tell us about the menu. Tonight’s special was fresh fish. It was he whom we had seen buying the fish twenty minutes before. That’s about as fresh as it gets!

     After a restless night in the barmaid’s apartment, we washed up as best we could with the limited supply of hot water and tidied up the apartment. Rather than driving, we decided to hop from village to village on the rackety-clackety little train that runs right along the coast through tunnels cut through the mountains. Bill and Jean would go back to the car and bring it around the mountains once we found a room.

     We got off the train at Monterossa al Mare. One of the more heavily touristed villages, it also has the best beach where already glistening, oil-anointed sunbathers lay spread-eagled on the sand. The ever-brown Nichole said, “Man! That’s for me!” We rushed to book a room before the hordes of fellow tourists arrived.

     You can visit the quaint church, take pictures, and buy postcards and souvenirs later! Come with me down to the beach that is gay with striped umbrellas. Cast aside your cares and enjoy what has to be one of the most stress-relieving experiences life has to offer.

     Even if you aren’t a sun worshipper, come on! You can sit under an umbrella. Everyone should become a sybarite once in a while and give one’s self totally over to the enjoyment of the five senses; and this is the fastest way I know to get out of the rut of your everyday life and cut yourself a new groove.

     First comes the slathering on of sun-warmed oil that smells like a piña colada. Ah, that’s better. Sweet smelling sea breezes keep you from becoming over-heated. Gentle warmth emanates from the sun-toasted sand. Relax and give yourself over to the sea-song and gull-cry that replace your internal dialogue so that you become mindless and one with the beach, the breeze, the sky, the surge of the great waters and the sun… Life just doesn’t get any better!

     Now that you have rid yourself of all those serious thoughts, sit up and look at the marvelous views. The many-blued ocean and the sickle-shaped beach between great thrust-out “toes” of mountains on either side are surmounted by the pristine vault of the azure sky. Boats of every description from little fishing putt-putts  to great white yachts float along far out on the waves.

      Now turn around and look behind you. Above the beach is a little outdoor café where you can get coffee, wine, light lunches, and panini. Above it is a street with walkways and benches where tourists stroll back and forth, doing what tourists everywhere do. A row of small hotels, food shops, wine stores and souvenir places are all painted in pleasing pastel shades of pink, rose, ocher, dream and yellow. At one end of the beach, perched on the end of the promontory, is a 13th century church whose window frames a marvelous view of the sea.   

     Look up: Wherever the human being can dig and poke a seed into the ground, the human cultivates. Do you see those terraces high up on the mountainsides? They’re centuries old. Those are the olive groves and little vineyards from which comes the Vino dele Cinque Terre named for the region. Those who go up there must have legs of iron! This is the land of the grape and the olive on the one hand and fishing on the other. It is Heaven on Earth.  

A SWEET LITTLE STORY

The next morning Nichole decided to take a strenuous hike up one of the hills while Bill and Jean walked to the next village. I went to the beachside café, found a table with an umbrella, ordered café latte, and pretended to read a book. Actually, I was engaged in my favorite sport of people watching.

     I wonder why some Americans travel abroad. They’d be much happier if they just stayed in the U.S. An American woman was very curt with the waiter because he didn’t understand her immediately. “Why can’t he understand plain, simple, English?” she snapped petulantly to her husband before the waiter was even out of earshot. 

     The white-haired waiter had a close-clipped beard and was dressed in a baseball cap, faded shirt, frayed shorts and sandals. He had deep-set eyes, slender hands and feet and long arms and legs. Thin almost to the point of emaciation, he reminded me of the wonderful painting of a lute player at the Art Institute of Chicago that Picasso painted during his “blue” period before he went cubistic.

     No wonder the waiter was so thin. He was the boy-of-all-works and kept constantly on the gallop by the café’s owner. He was in charge of collecting rent for the umbrellas and deck chairs on the beach and carrying them to wherever sunbathers wanted them. Then he’d dash back to the café to serve and bus tables.

     I became an instant regular of the place by nursing as long as possible many cups of café latte, followed later by wine. I also assured my welcome and kept possession of my table by tipping generously whenever the waiter brought me a drink. He was ever so appreciative, and well he might have been! I never understood lira. That night when I counted my money I discovered I was missing a bill worth about $20. I had really been generous!

     Had the cross American woman been patient, she would have dis-covered that the waiter spoke enough English to get by. I used a sweeping gesture to indicate the village, hills, and incredibly blue sea. “E molto bello!” (“It’s very beautiful.”) That set us off. We communicated very nicely, using my miniscule bit of Italian that I’d learned from a tape, his smattering of English, and French. Between bouts of work, he’d come and stand behind my chair:

 “Americana, Si?”

     “Si.”

     “You from beeg cesti?”

     Sketching an oval in the air, I replied, “Si – Indianapolis – automobile.”

     “Ah, capisco. (I understand.) Vroom, vroom, vroom!”

     “C’est ca!” (That’s right.)

     “You know Cheecago?”

     “Si we go to opera. J’adore la musique de Puccini.” (I adore Puccini’s music.)

     He opened his eyes wide, surprised that an American would like opera. “Ah, buono!”

     I asked, “La vie ici état plus tranquille avant le train et les tourists, Signor?” (Life here was more peaceful before the train and tourists?”)

     “Si, Signora, but eet very – ‘ow you say? – dur (hard). All les gens (people) had was the feesh or the vino or the oleeve.”

     The next morning, we went down for a last cappuccino. The waiter came to chat and to introduce the cafés owner who turned out to be his daughter. he said to me, “Please wait, Signora.” He returned with a framed, autographed photograph that he polished reverently with his apron.

     “Thees my greatest tresor, Signora. I show you because of hier (yesterday). Capisce? (You understand?)

     “Si. Grazie, Signor.”

     “You see son nom (his name)? ‘Eemself he geeve to me w’en I leetle garcon (boy) and he come for vacation.”

     The picture was of three or four barefoot urchins standing on the beach with Arturo Toscanini the famed conductor. The waiter pointed to one of the boys and said proudly “Me! Regardez! (Look!) Toscanini write, ‘To my leetle fren’ Roberto.’”

     I have rarely felt more honored. Roberto, the Italian waiter who looked like Picasso’s lute player, probably never remembered the American woman to whom he showed his most cherished possession, but I shall never forget him. On the other hand, he probably remembered very well that enormous tip all the days of his life!

WHAT A TRIP!

Ah! The pleasures of summer travels! Bill and I have enjoyed many wonderful vacations, but I can’t say that our dispositions were always cherubic. If a couple wishes to test their matrimonial bonds, let them travel together.

     Better still, let them travel in a cramped car with children on board whose litany is a familiar one: “I have to go… I’m thirsty… I’m bored… Who cares about a crummy old mountain?… He’s looking at me… He’s poking me… Am not… Are too…”

     Driver: “If I have to stop this car, you’re going to be sorry.”

     The worst story that I’ve heard was that of relatives who flew in their small plane from Texas to Indianapolis. The kids were crammed into a tiny space in the rear with the baggage. One of them threw up. The mother had to get into their suitcases and use their clothing to clean up, and the boy had to pee in a Coke bottle.

     Vicki crammed most of the contents of her bedroom – books, toys, and games – into the back seat when she was little. When she was a teenager she took brushes, mirrors, nail polish, makeup and all the impedimenta necessary to maintain a teenage girl.

     Packing the car let to arguments:

     Bill always said, “I simply cannot get all this in the car. You’ll have to leave something home.”

“Not me,” said Vicki, “I need all my stuff.”

“And just look at all these sacks. Rose Mary, what’s this?”

“Maps.”

“And this one?”

“Books.”

“And this one?”

“Snacks.”

And this one?”

“Empty sacks in case we need one.”

“You’re going to drive me crazy!”

Our car always looked as if we were the Joads of The Grapes of Wrath on the road. By the end of a long day, we didn’t look much better. I was always envious when I saw neat, stylish attired people sedately remove a couple of matched suitcases – Louis Vuitton, no doubt – from their immaculate trunks.

     The time Bill backed the camper into a light pole at the Mormon Tabernacle because Vicki and I didn’t watch closely enough was not a religious experience. He was furious with me the first time we took a train in England. I was afraid that the train would leave without us and insisted that we board the first car, rather than walking along the platform as he wished. We bumped and banged our way with our big suitcases through ten cars while other passengers glared at us. He didn’t defrost until we reached Plymouth.

     Minor peeves grate on one’s nerves. My musical tastes are more limited than Bill’s. He even likes modern, soft rock that drives me crazy with its eternal repetitions and juvenile voices. “I want you-oo-oo… I want you-ooo-ooo…”

     “Will you please switch to classical or even old-time rock and roll? I can’t stand that teeny-bopper sound another minute!”

     Ah! Mozart! Violins and flutes! “Twedle-eedle, twedle-eedle-eedle-eedle-est… tootle-oodle, tootle-oodle-oot…” Back to the beginning. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Bill grin. “Gotcha’!” he’s thinking.

     While we were driving through Main, I was reading the Triple A book. “It says that former Senator Margaret Chase Smith’s library is here. It’s located on Norridgewock Road.” “Where?”

“Norridgewock Road.”

I said, “Norridgewock Road.”

“Huh?”

“Norridgewock Road.”

“You must mean Norridge Rock.”

Wock!” I yelled, “Wock,  Wock, Wock!

Okay! You don’t have to yell!”

     We stopped and asked several people for directions. They replied in their lovely down-east accent, “It’s right over theah. After driving around for half an hour, we finally found the place/ “Uh-oh,” I said. “It’s closed on Sunday.”

     The night before leaving on a trip to Paris, I rushed to Kroger’s and hurriedly bought some pantyhose that I stuffed in my suitcase. One Sunday I wore a skirt. Halfway through the Rodin Museum, I began to suspect that all was not well with my hose which kept creeping down-ward because they were too short. We took a train out to the Palace of Versailles where the problem worsened.

     Surreptitiously, I kept giving little tugs to the hose through my skirt in a vain attempt to hitch them up. Undoubtedly some observant French person commented about the lady with the strange itch: “Des pouces, peut-être?” (Fleas, perhaps?) Oh là-là-là! Those Americans!”

     By the time we were walking back to the station, I had to clutch them through my skirt to prevent a most unseemly occurrence. I said,

“Bill, you’ll have to carry my purse!

     “Rose Mary, for Heaven’s sake!”

     “I can’t carry my purse and hold up these blasted hose at the same time. They’re going to be around my ankles pretty soon!… In fact, I can’t stand them another minute. I’m getting rid of them right now.”

     I turned into a courtyard. “Come in here and stand in front of me.”

“Rose Mary!”

     I yanked up my skirt, pulled off the hose which by this time were nearly at my knees, stuffed them in a pocket and continued merrily on my way. The poor dear has to endure much from me, but I keep him from becoming stuffy.

     After reading this story, friend Elsie Freese sent me an extra-large pair of panty hose!

SHEEPLES AT THE SISTINE CHAPEL

Visiting the Sistine Chapel at St. Peter’s Basilica with Vicki would be a piece of cake I thought. After all, I’d had the desk clerk book us into a tour. The guides carry poles with colorful scarves or flags that they wave above the crowd so that one always knows where they are.

     We were dropped off several blocks away. “Hurry!” shouted the guide. Already exhausted, I puffed along, wheeling my Rollator through the crowded streets. “Hurry, Mom, or we’ll lose the group!” Vicki even helped push my clattering contraption.

     Named for Pope Sixtus, the Sistine Chapel was built during the 1400’s. It was patterned on the Bible’s description of the temple of Solomon and is 44 X 134 feet. Between 1508 and 1511, Michelangelo built a scaffold to reach the barrel-shaped ceiling that’s 68 feet heigh where he painted the beautiful frescos on wet plaster.

     At the top of the stairs up which Vicki laboriously toted my Rollator, the group clustered like sheep around our guide. “Baa, baa, baa!” Vicki dubbed them “Sheeples.” You pass through a museum of many rooms before reaching the Sistine. Vicki said, “I know right now that I don’t like tours. She blathers on about what doesn’t interest me and rushes past what does.” I told the guide that we’d make our own way to the chapel. “No problem, Signora. Meet us at the door at 11:00.” We wandered happily through the galleries, stopping to photograph the Vatican’s lovely gardens from the windows.

     Every available foot of the Chapel contained sheeples. I made my way to the side, sat on by blessed Rollator and turned Vicki loose. We were at the door shortly before 11:00 but couldn’t see our guides scarf waving above a jam-packed crowd. “Ohmygod!”

     We saw another door across the room. Which door? Which door? “Baa, baa, baa!” we wailed. Leaving Vicki, I rushed as fast as I could across the room, bellowing “Excuse me!” in stentorian tones like an old bag and rolling over feet. I found our shepherdess and rushed back to get Vicki.

     Thank goodness we found our flock as it would have been a very long walk around the huge basilica to the street where we were to meet Bill. Closed on Sunday, the Sistine is open only until 1:00 on Saturday. As our bus departed, there were still thousands and thousands of people in line. We passed one courtyard alone that must have contained a thousand people. The guide said, “Now aren’t you glad you’re with me?”

     The Sistine Chapel is truly one of the world’s artistic marvels, but I enjoy it more from the pages of a book. I shall not return.

     We were dropped on the street that leads to St. Peter’s to buy art objects that the guide assured us were authentic. “Understand, I am paid nothing for recommending this shop.” Bet me.

HELPFUL HINTS

     Book a tour where they pick you up at your hotel. The rule at St. Peter’s for both female and males is no shorts, no miniskirts, no bare shoulders – no exceptions! We laughed merrily when Jean’s daughter didn’t heed our warning and had to take jeans from her backpack and hitch them up under her mini before they’d admit her. Opera glasses or binoculars are useful for viewing ceilings.

VIVE LA FRANCE

While we were visiting Bill’s English Aunt, we told her that we were going to take a ferry over to France. She said, “Why evah would you want to go theah. Theah’s nothing over theah for you. Much better to stay in jolly old England than to have to deal with those dreadful French!”

     After spending a summer in France before our marriage, I gained a great affection for the French. I admire their appreciation for the good things in life. There are over a hundred museums and ten thousand eateries in Paris alone. People who appreciate history, art and good cooking can’t be all bad!

     The French aren’t always sweet-tempered. They can be impatient and rude devils behind the wheel of a car, and they freely use the horn: Going too slowly? “Honk! Honk! Honk!” Having trouble parking? “Honk!”

     Some of them are surly. When we took an elevator to the top of the Eiffel Tower the elevator operator and a policeman were counting the people. Three American men started to enter. “Non, non, non!” gruffly barked the elevator operator. “You are one too many. Get out!” Not understanding French, they continued to try to get on. The policeman puffed up like a pigeon. “Non, non, non!” A cacophony of rapid French ensued as they pushed out the intruders.

     They were what the French sarcastically call petits fonctionaires – little functionaries – who relish their tiny bit of power. On the other hand, I don’t believe that spending one’s days in a hot elevator full of smelly tourists would be conducive to a sweet disposition.

     We were attending an exhibition of Monet’s paintings through which thousands of visitors were being herded like cattle. “Please move forward until you can read the shirt label of the person in front of you,” announced an employee. I dawdled along. “Madam, kindly move forward.”

     New functionaries were waiting inside: “Move to the center of the room.”  “I suppose we’re to carry binoculars,” I said to a lady.  “And stepladders so we can see over people’s heads,” she snapped.

     The next functionary ordered, “Look at the paintings on both sides of the room as you go. Do not turn around and go back.” Bill and I immediately did an about-face and went back. No, gentle readers, this wasn’t in France. This was the Chicago Art Institute. Little functionaries have no nationality and form their own detested, unpleasant subculture.

    My internal trunk of memories of warm-hearted French people is full to the overflowing: Monsieur and Madame Bouguen were among the first French people whom I met when I spent a summer in Brittany. Every Sunday evening, they invited me to have dinner at their apartment. She showed me how to make mayonnaise, and dinner was always roast chicken. They’d take me out for drives in their Deux Chevaux, a lightweight little car.

     Bill, Jean, and I spent a week at an old farmhouse in the south of France. We asked the jolly waitress at a restaurant to give us wine bottle corks for a friend who makes trivets of them. Amused, she’d stop at our table, giggle, and empty her apron of several corks. She also asked the other servers to give us corks.

     On our last day in France, we went there for lunch. I said, “Bonjour, Madam Bouchon.” (Hello, Mrs. Cork) She did a double take and threw corks on our table. She was so darling to us that we called her over before we left. “Please accept this special tip because you have made us smile so much.” Teary-eyed she said, “It is the three of you who have given me so many smiles and great pleasure!”

     I shall always remember an elderly lady who was eating lunch in a restaurant across from the Cathedral at Chartres. She was dressed in a well-cut suit, hat, and little old ladies’ shoes. Obviously, she was a resident of the town, and the staff were very attentive to her. We smiled and nodded as she was leaving. She stopped at our table and asked if we were Americans. “Yes,” I replied.

     “Oh, I do like Americans! I worked at the embassy after World War II.” We invited her to sit down and conversed for a while. She typified the importance that the French place on owning property. “Me,” she said smugly, “I am well fixed. I live in an apartment near here, and I own the building!”

     The bathrooms in most French hotels are pristine. One morning I filled the deep tub and had a leisurely soak. Ah! then I tried to get out of the tub. I’d forgotten that French tubs are narrower than ours and that they become even more narrow at the bottom. I couldn’t get a purchase on the slippery tub, and there wasn’t room for me to turn over onto my knees.

     “Help, help, help!” I yelled until Bill opened the door. “I can’t get out of this tub!” He came in and pulled on my arms. No good. “You’re going to have to stand in the tub so that you’re pulling from the correct angle.” He was afraid that he might slip and become stuck, also. Finally, he put one foot in the tub and pulled me up.

     When I saw the jolly maid, who remembered us from a former stay, I told her the story. She laughed and laughed. Every day afterward, there was a bath towel spread out on the bottom of the tub to help keep Madame from slipping.

     There are countless examples of French courtesy and friendliness: The ticket agent in the railroad station at Cergy-Pontoise left his post to come out and shake hands whenever he saw us because I spoke French with him. A druggist called a physician when I was ill and went outside to point the way. A woman missed her own train to help us when we were lost in the Metro. A young woman insisted that I take her seat while she stood for three stops. The woman behind the drink-stand at Notre-Dame swapped jokes with me. A waiter didn’t blink an eye when John Gruner ordered a Pepsi. “Ah! Monsieur desires some American Beaujolais!” And the lady at the Palace of Versailles…

     Ah yes, the lady at Versailles! That is one of our richest stories. Some say that the only reason that the French treat Bill and I nicely is because I speak a fair amount of French. Not so! Bill says that you will be treated as you treat others and that a smile works wonders.

     We made the mistake of buying travelers’ checks in francs before going to France. No one wanted them. Irritated, Bill said at Versailles, “I am absolutely determined to make them accept these checks.”

     “Fine,” I said. “I’ll keep quiet.”

     Bill held up two fingers and offered a check. The young woman at the ticket counter said, “Non, Non, Monsieur; je regrette…” Bill smiles inanely and held his ground. “Non, Non, Monsieur – ce n’est pas possible.” (Not possible)

     Finally, she beckoned over an elegant lady to speak English. Bill didn’t understand English either and continued to smile and hold out the check. The line behind grew longer and longer. Conceding defeat, the lady led us over to where they were handing out headsets for a taped tour. “French or English.?”

     “Two English,” Bill replied.

     “But…”

     “Be quiet, Rose Mary.”

     After we were out of earshot, I said crossly. “What was that all about? You knew I’d want French.”

     “She let us in free!” Trust me, that has to be the first time in history that that’s happened.

PARISIAN PROMENADES

Visiting a city several times allows one a comfortable sense of familiarity with it and its people that cannot be achieved in a day or two from a whirlwind gallop. You cannot soak up Paris’ unique ambience, flavor, and gray sky from a tour bus. Walking is the best way to fall in love with Paris; and once you have, you will love her forever because Paris is, as Hemingway said, a moveable feast. Come, take a few leisurely walks with us, and sample her wares. Who knows – perhaps you, too, will start a love affair of your own with this enchanting place!

     Now, are you wearing comfortable shoes? Have your camera, guidebook, map, and money? (Bring beaucoup bucks!) Remember, there’s only one rule to follow if you want to enjoy Paris and the Parisians. YOU MUST NOT HURRY. Dawdling is not only recommended, it is an absolute necessity.

     Here we go! Say “au revior” to the nice young man at the desk. “But I don’t speak French,” you say. Try to learn a few words such as “bonjour” (hello) and “au revior.” Also, “s’il vous plait” (seel voo play – please), “merci” (thank you) and “excusez – moi” are magic words that will usually be repaid in kind by the French who place far more emphasis on formal politeness. If you can’t say them in French, say them in English. The French will understand that you are courteous and respond accordingly.

     Our first destination is only about 1500 feet from our hotel. Wherever one goes, one encounters history. We pass the Cluny. Built during the 1400’s on top of a Roman bath and later the residence of Mary Tudor, it houses the medieval museum. We’ll go inside later to view the exquisite tapestries that depict the age of chivalry and feature the Lady and the unicorn. Also, there are the ruins of a Roman circus in the area.

     Here we are at the Seine. Across it to our left is the enormous, half-mile-long Palace of the Louvre. On the right are the 17th century town houses on the chic Ile St. Louis where many famous people have lived. To me, this skyline embodies the very soul of Paris. It is lovely.

     You can see long distances because there is only one skyscraper in central Paris. After it no more were permitted. Instead, an area was set aside for modern structures where architects vied to design the most unique buildings. A modern arch so tall that Notre-Dame could be set under it was erected in honor of the soldiers of one of their wars. Since France lost; they couldn’t call it an Arch of Triumph; hence the clever French called it “La Défense” in honor of the defenders of the republic!

     I know what would have happened to Paris if Americans had been in charge: Beautiful buildings full of character would have been torn down to make way for gas stations, windowless boxes, or soulless high-rises. The French understand that a city is a living entity. The lovely old buildings, the river Seine, the bookstalls, the artists at work, the green spaces, the cafés, the Parisian skyline provide poetry for my eyes. Paris exists for the pleasure of human beings.

     Now, look straight ahead across the Seine to the Ile de la Cité, the little island that was the place of Paris’ founding. I never tire of looking at her – Notre-Dame de Paris! Let’s lean on the railing for a minute and soak up the atmosphere and the marvelous view. Maybe we’ll come back and buy something from that artist or look at the stuff in the bookstalls.

     Whenever we’re in Paris, I go into Notre-Dame and light a candle in memory of my devout little mother. I like to think that the essence from its tiny flame rises and mingles with that of the centuries where it will remain forever. I’ll light one also for Phyllis Otto with whom we spent a week in Paris.

     Time for a break: We’ll sit on the terrace of a café from where we can still see Notre-Dame across the river. Here comes a waiter in his long white apron to take our order. A couple of leisurely glasses of wine, and it’ll be time for a little nap. Perhaps tomorrow we’ll have a delicious lunch of cold salmon and champagne on a boat moored down on the Seine from where we can look up at the cathedral.

FOOD THE GLORY OF FRANCE

The French are crazy about al fresco dining! Tourists and Parisians alike wine and dine at sidewalk tables even though noisy, exhaust-spewing traffic whizzes by a few feet away. Several of the cafés even have heaters to take the chill off the air during cool weather.

     Obviously, it’s been going on for a long time. I found some note cards with reproductions of paintings done by Vincent Van Gogh back in 1888. One of them could have been painted on the narrow little street where we had dinner a couple of times. In Van Gogh’s painting, under a star-cluttered, dark-blue sky, golden light spills out onto the tables that are lined up on the cobblestones under an awning.

     Eateries range from simple places with six or eight tables to places like four-star Tour d’ Argent that supposedly has the best view of Notre-Dame to be found in Paris as well as the most extensive wine cellar. It’s renowned for pressed duck which a chef found in an old cookbook in 1890 and turned into its signature dish. The ducks are numbered – they’re up to about a million – and cooked in port and cognac. Famous diners have included the Emperor Hiro Hito, King Edward VII, Teddy Roosevelt, and Rudy Guiliani.

     I’d like to dine at the Tour D’ Argent, but common sense prevails when I see how unfavorable the exchange rate is. A splurge meal there or in one of the other ritzy establishments is a serious investment unless one is as rich as an oil sheik. What if the chef is having an off night or the waiters are in a bad mood? I just can’t bring myself to do it.

     On the other hand, perhaps I need to adjust my thinking. People think nothing of plunking down major money for concerts, sports and race tickets and the accompanying drinks, snacks, souvenirs, and parking fees. A fine meal is as much fun for me as many of our other pursuits, so why should I feel guilty about it?

     Food nourishes all five senses. What smells better than my mother’s vegetable soup on a winter’s day? Then there’s the velvety texture of a wonderfully prepared sauce when it touches your tongue or the crunch of a crusty baguette. The sizzle of a steak, the pop of the cork, the gentle hiss of champagne being poured are a kind of music. To me, a perfectly roasted turkey, nicely garnished plates or Bill’s cousin’s beautifully decorated trifles and cakes are little works of art.

     A Foodies poem: “Mr. Sprat would eat no green; his wife would eat no lean. Thus, between the two of them they grew fatter and fatter, and fatter!” I am an unabashed foodie. France is a foodie’s dream come true because the French take food seriously. They believe that good cooking should be one of life’s major pleasures and satisfy all five senses, not just taste.

     Their view of the eating experience differs from ours. Here we often eat fat, salt, and carbohydrate laden “fast” food or microwave entrées. Consequently, we’re a nation of fat people. One sees very few fat French people although they ingest all that cheese, cream, bread, and wine, not to mention those delectable pastries! Perhaps it is that they take the time to prepare and eat real food in moderate quantities instead of pigging out on high calorie, processed junk. Also, they eat in moderation and they walk.

     We are so busy, busy, busy doing important things, are we not? After our important things are done, we must get in our quota of television, social networking, and Internet time. Too busy to cook from scratch or to sit down with our families for a leisurely meal. Too busy to take the time to savor our food. Too busy to have a companionable glass of wine with friends or spouses.

DINNER IN PARIS

Where shall we dine? Another reason why we love Paris is that its eateries range from simple crêperies to the pricey gourmet palaces of haute cuisine. You can choose among the foods of every nationality along with every variety of French cookery. You can buy wonderful ham and cheese crêpes where they’re cooked at stands out on the sidewalk. Our friend, Alice, said that she had the best hamburger she’d ever eaten in Paris.

     We stroll through the narrow streets, perusing the menus posted outside and trying to evade the competing restaurant owners who stand on the walk, trying to lure people in. “I have the freshest fish… Just look at these shrimp, M’sieu/dam… Free wine!” We refuse the dreadful free wine that resembles Kool Aid that we fell for on a previous trip. It’s much worse than the cheap wine-in-a-box in our supermarkets that I call “Urine de cheval.Cheval means horse, and you can figure out the rest! They shout at us in English. Of course, they know that we’re Americans even though we try not to dress like tourists. How do they know? They just know, that’s all. Actually, it’s probably the scent of our travelers’ checks that tips them off!

     Do join us during this slow process in which Bill absolutely revels. Back and forth, around, and around we wander, looking at the menus that are posted outside of eateries. Even the restaurants remind one of history. One of the places where we dined has been in business since 1845 and was a hangout of Hemingway.

     “How about Chinese?”

     “When I come to Paris, I want French food!”

     “This one has choucroute garni.Choucroute garni is an Alsatioan dish of mild sauerkraut seasoned with juniper berries and white wine and garnished with smoked meats and boiled potatoes. There’s Cassoulet, what we would call comfort food. It’s a complex, thick concoction of white beans and conserve of duck or goose, seasoned with garlic, onion and herbs and cooked for hours in an earthenware casserole. No? Fondu? Beef burgundy? Seafood? Lamb? Mon Dieu! Impossible to decide!

     We choose a cozy little place that seats about 30 people. It’s owned by two young brothers. One is the waiter and the other cooks. “Par ici, M’sieu/dame.” (This way, Sir and Lady.) He uncorks a bottle of Beaujolais while we look at the simple, hand-written menu Both of us choose pork cutlets cooked in cream.

    We start on the wine and chat quietly. Americans stand out even in crowded restaurants because they are often so loud. A good meal is too enjoyable an experience to be rushed. If you want fast food, go to a McDonalds. The food here is cooked to order. The pork is accompanied by individual ramekins of pommes de terre dauphinoises – potatoes fit for a prince – baked in cream and gruyere cheese. Our friend, Jim, declares that these are the most luscious potatoes that he’d ever eaten. I exclaim, “Nos compliments au chef!” The waiter tells his brother who beams and bows. Everything is piping hot. That’s another thing we like about the French to whom food is a serious matter. Hot dishes are hot, and cold dishes are cold. The potatoes are wonderful.

     We first heard about Mad Cow Disease when we were in England several years ago. Bill’s English Aunt blamed it on the French who she despised: “Not content with all they’ve done to us, now they’re trying to poison our jolly English beef!” she moaned. “Also, I disapprove of that Chunnel that they’re building. It’ll just let all the French rats cross over to England.”

     One evening I ordered a steak and French fries. The French deserve to have these excellent potatoes that they cook perfectly named after them. Bill said, “You won’t catch me eating beef here – Mad Cow Disease!”

     “Pooh!” I rejoined. “I’ll just ask the waiter.” I started out: “Cette maladie des vaches – this disease of cows – can you guarantee me that I won’t catch it?”

     He rolled his eyes heavenward, hand over his heart as if stricken to the very core of his being. Then he clutched his sides, bent from the waist, and laughed merrily at the foolish American lady. “Madame, me, I have only one child, a small infant of only three months. Madame, je vous jure sur la tête de ma petite – I swear to you on the head of my little one – that our beef is the purest and that you will not catch any maladie whatsoever from it.” I trusted him and ordered a steak. Tant pis! (Too bad!) It was tough.

     When he escorted us to the door and thanked us, the handsome young waiter said, “Remember Madame, on my little girls head I swore!” That’s another thing I like about the French. Usually, their restaurant personnel are courteous to a fault and attentive. Neither they nor Italian waiters interrupt your conversation with ubiquitous “Is everything all right?” They watch your table and fill your needs automatically, or a raised finger or nod will bring them immediately.

     When we were there with our friend, Phyllis, as we departed from restaurants, the manager and waiters would cluster around us, tenderly take our elbows, and ceremoniously escort us down the steps. “They’re probably afraid that the old bags will fall down and break something and sue them,” Phyllis said. Actually, this is just the type of courteous behavior that we take for granted in France and Italy.

TO MARKET TO MARKET

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a good time in Paris. Come join us in one of our favorite pastimes where we’ll spend an hour or two at an outdoor market and see the raw materials of wonderful cooking. This is one of the things that you don’t usually get to do when you’re on a tour. Museums, churches, and monuments are wonderful, but at the market you encounter the residents of the neighborhood rather than other tourists. Come with us!

     They sell an assortment of jewelry, handbags, scarves, carpet cleaner and what-have-you at the market, but what we’re here to see is the beautiful food: fresh fruit and vegetables heaped high, whole fish and shellfish lying on a bed of ice, beef, rabbit, pâté, and poultry.

     We always stop at this stand and buy a tin of pâté de fois gras to take home. The owner will give us little testes so that we can choose. We also want to go to the spice booth and get some Herbs de Provence that they’ll measure out for you… Don’t the herbs and spices smell heavenly?… We use it very sparingly so that it will last longer. You can buy it in the States, but this is more flavorful.

     Just look at all the cheese! Oh, oh, oh! There is every imaginable kind of cheese, and it’s impossible to sample them all. President Charles de Gaulle said that it is impossible to govern any nation that has more than eighty kinds of cheese. Actually, I lost count at a hundred at this booth. We enjoy a sample of nicely ripe Camembert.

     Do you see the little old Parisian dressed in black with thick hose and sensible black shoes, pulling her shopping cart? She’s going to buy a chicken for Sunday dinner, I’ll bet. Let’s listen to what she says. I’ll translate.

         “Juene homme! (Young man!) Cette poul, elle est fraiche?” (This hen, she’s fresh?)

         « Mais oui, Madame. Je vous assure que nous l’avons tuée ce matin ››. (I assure you that we killed her this morning.)

          « Bon. Je la prendrai.» (Fine, I’ll take her)

     Oh, how I wish we could go home with the little old Frenchwoman and see how she cooks the hen! She’ll probably roast it, as that’s one of the favorite Sunday dinners in France.

     Let’s stop at our favorite bakery on the way back to the hotel. Look at all those yummy things! The only problem is that I always dither because it’s so hard to choose.   

     Bill likes the strawberry tarts that are made with small strawberries like the ones we had when I was a girl rather than the huge, tasteless ones that you get today. When he bites into one the intense aroma of strawberries fills the air. Our friends and I think that the lemon tarts are to die for. The crust is perfect, and the lemon flavor is intense. They don’t use artificial flavoring. Here, let’s eat one right now as we walk along! We were here so often during our trips that I asked if they would tell me how to make those divine lemon tarts. Flattered, the baker/owner himself came out and gave me the recipe for his crust.

     I haven’t mentioned French bread which, along with their wine and cheese, is one of the most delectable foods in the entire world. Bill always says that he doesn’t want to do much when we come to France – just eat lots of bread. That may not seem like a very important want, but the bread of France is something extraordinary and can be had only in France. Just thinking about it makes me want to return. Ernest Hemingway said that Paris is a moveable feast, but French bread cannot be duplicated.

     The bread of France is downright addictive. It has a crunchy, but tender crust and a satisfying firmness inside. They’ll bring you as much bread as you like in restaurants where a device similar to a paper cutter is used to slice the bread. The lucky French begin their day with a breakfast of baguettes, buttery croissants, or pain au chocolate.

     Pain au chocolate is a bread roll that is baked with a chunk of dark chocolate at its center. Yum and double yum! When we took our twin grandsons, Chris, and Tony, to Paris as their high school graduation gift they went to the boulangerie every day and laid in a fresh supply of baguettes and pain au chocolate and were most unhappy if the bakery was out of pain au chocolate.

     Were I a poet, I’d write a sonnet about this delectable stuff that the French take for granted and treat with so little respect. They casually toss it into the back seats of their cars or tuck unwrapped loaves under their arms while they ride motorcycles or bicycles.

     French bread is best eaten the day it’s baked so that its crust is crispy-tender. When Jean, Bill and I stayed at a farmhouse in the South of France, our hostess went out early every morning to buy bread at the nearby bakery at the crossroads along with lemon tarts that made us shriek with delight when we bit into them.

     Lest the wonderful crust become soft, the bread is never wrapped in plastic or entirely closed up in sacks or the cloth bags used by housewives. The ends of the long, skinny baguettes stick out. Often the tip is missing from the loaves that people are carrying because they can’t resist nibbling.

     Strict laws govern the making of “artisan” bread – the real thing – and forbid the use of preservatives, stipulate the amount of time the dough must rise and require that it be shaped by hand. The bakery where we bought our bread was an artisan bakery, and their bread-making was surely an art form.

     The Bible calls bread the staff of life, and “breaking bread together” is a commonly used expression to describe the bond between people. I wonder how the baker of the bread at the Last Supper felt.

In The Studio |Ramblings by Rose Mary

Now Available!

Get your own copy HERE

Unusual People

“All men are children and of one family. The sun sends them off to bed and wakes them in the morning.”

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

“Each man beareth upon him the entire stamp of the human condition.”

Michel de Montaigne – Essays

The 16th Century Montaigne was the “inventor” of the essay form, and his writing is considered the basis of French thought. I agree with him that we all partake of the same human condition. We are all variations on the same theme, so to speak. However, there are people who either because of their personalities, deeds or circumstances stand out in my memory.

     During our travels, Bill and I have met many interesting people. I think of these brief, but memorable, encounters where our paths chanced to meet as “convergences.”

ECCENTRICS  HAVE  MORE  FUN!

I admire the character in Jenny Joseph’s “Warning” in which she asserts that when she’s an old woman she’ll wear a purple dress and a red hat, gobble up all the samples at the grocery and spend her pension on brandy, summer gloves and satin sandals to make up for the sobriety of her youth. 

     Eccentrics are never boring. They march to their own drummer and are perfectly willing to let others do the same. Often they have the gift of laughter. They are enthusiasts and rejoice in flouting convention. They never say to me, “Oh Rose Mary!” in the smug, disapproving , patronizing tone of voice  that I interpret as meaning, “How could you possibly think that or be so impractical. Surely, you don’t mean what you’re saying.”

     A beloved Irvington resident was a brilliant woman who had taught biology at Shortridge High School. Many people were the delighted recipients of her oatmeal cookies – “So healthy you know!”

     She was a birder par excellence who took a couple of generations of children bird-watching along Pleasant Run Creek. One summer day I met her as she trudged along dressed in a long brown coat, had and muffler, I said, “You look so hot!” “I am hot, but one must cover up so as not to frighten the birds.”

     When she was volunteered for Meals on Wheels she never missed a delivery. People finally wondered how she accomplished this without a car. She walked her route! When she died many regretted her passing.

     When I was a girl once in a while I’d see an erect, nattily attired gentleman dress in Panama hat, black suit, white shirt and spats sedately stroll up Franklin St. “Mom, Mom!” I’d yell, “Here comes Cousin Harry.” 

    “Oh no!” Mother would moan. As he drew near, one saw that Harry’s shirt had yellowed with age, that the suit was frayed and missing buttons and that his high-top shoes had seen better days.

     Harry was a first-class moocher who came for lunch and stayed for days. He carried socks and underwear in his briefcase – just in case. When he visited us, he descended on us en prince as the French say. He expected to be waited on and did not deign to thank people for their hospitality. My father’s sister, an eccentric herself, put him up for months at a time. After a disagreement, he wrote a letter threatening never to darken her door again. Her reply was succinct: “Goodbye!”

For a while, Harry was Uncle Si, a radio personality who told jokes on the level of why did the chicken cross the road? Later he eked out a modest living by traveling around central Indiana via the Central Swallow Bus, selling magazine subscriptions to physicians and others to supplement his moistest inheritance.

     Dad said that Harry had always been odd. Fancying himself quite a dandy, Harry brushed his hair into a pompadour. As a hazing prank, the boys at Wabash College shaved a streak down the middle of his head. That ended Harry’s college career.

     Harry lived in a cluttered apartment in an old brick house a block away from the Riley house in Main St. in Greenfield. His table was set for eight people, and most of the dishes were dirty. Mother thought that

rather like the guests at the Mad Hatter’s tea party in Alice In Wonderland he moved from place to place and had a grand washing up when all of the dishes were dirty.

     Back in the days when farm people came to town on Saturday to buy staples and sell their produce, a couple always went to the Kroger store where my sister, Beverly, worked to sell their eggs. Fascinated by the lady’s face that was as white as a Geisha’s, Beverly finally asked the lady what she used for make-up. She used white shoe polish and moistened red crepe paper to use for rouge.

     One Saturday a friend and I thought that her head looked rather odd. Upon closer examination, we realized that she had used a brassiere to tie her hair back. During the summertime, the husband was always barefoot and had manure between his toes. They always seemed happy and had a twinkle in their eyes. Their eccentricities harmed no one.

One Saturday he went into the store and said, “Got no eggs today,”

“Why not?” the store manager asked.

“Wa-a-l it was like this: I thought I’d be cure an’ throw an egg at

th’ Missus. She threw one back, and purty soon we-uns was in the biggest egg fight you ever seen. We busted ever one of them dern eggs!

     I think that I’ve been a sober, frugal and non-disruptive citizen during the seventy-plus years that I’ve lived. I haven’t given anyone much grief and I’ve done mostly what society expected of me, but I’m beginning to feel an itch. I want to become a frivolous, satin-shoes-and-summer-gloves person. I’d like to have a red nightgown, Fannie Mae chocolates, good Champagne every day, and the nerve to dress exactly as I please.

PROUD TO BE A WOMAN

“You’ve come a long way baby, to get where you’ve got to today!”

Virginia Slims cigarette ad

Baby, women didn’t get to where we are today by accident. It took years of contentious struggle involving a two-pronged effort to get the franchise and to control the alcoholism that damaged many families. Women couldn’t vote or control their own property. There was virtually a saloon on every corner where the politi-al deals were made.

     My friend, Sarah Ward, wrote a book about Lillian Stevens, one of the founders of the temperance movement. During the late 1800’s, Stevens visited an official to urge him to enforce alcohol laws. He pulled his hat over his eyes, put his feet on his desk, ate an orange and said that it was none of her business. She said, “I shall make it my business to defeat you; and the time will surely come when you will be sorry you did not remove your hat, take your feet from your desk and offer me half the orange.” She trampled through plowed fields to line up the votes of males, and after his defeat he apologized.

     During the 90th anniversary of the passage of the suffrage amendment, I received several emailed pages of capsule biographies and photographs of suffragettes. There they are, some of the women whom I consider my spiritual ancestresses and upon whose shoulders every modern American female has stood. They were derided, considered a bunch of nuts, jailed, and abused because they demonstrated.

     On November 15, 1917, the warden ordered forty prison guards at a Virginia workhouse to teach jailed suffragists a lesson. Wielding clubs, they went on a rampage against 33 women who’d been convicted of obstructing sidewalk traffic.

     They chained Lucy Burns’ hands to the bars above her head and left her hanging overnight. Here’s sweet-faced Dora Lewis, wearing a be-flowered hat. They hurled her into a cell and smashed her head against an iron bed, knocking her out cold. Her cellmate thought that she had suffered a heart attack.

     During a hunger strike, they forced a tube down Alice Paul’s nose and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured for weeks until word was smuggled to the press. President Woodrow Wilson and his cronies tried to have her declared insane. The psychiatrist bravely refused.

    This all happened a long time ago in the era of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers. Women have so much personal freedom today that the past may seem irrelevant. However, the past still exists in many countries. I am so fortunate to be an American woman.

     Many women say that they aren’t interested in argumentative issues like politics and government. Just think what the temperance and suffrage advocates accomplished because they were involved in something larger than their own comfortable lives, because they bravely spoke out. Granted, prohibition didn’t last, but at least some control was established over alcohol.

     It bothers me when women trivialize the lives and interests of other women, saying, “Thank goodness my friends are men!” I invited several women friends to a party where each one spike about a suffragist and proposed a champagne toast in her honor. (I toasted Lillian Stevens with water!) My friends make me proud both of our ancestresses and of modern women,

     I wish I’d known Doris Haddock who walked from California to Washington, D.C. when she was 88 to promote campaign finance reform. She said, “Democracy isn’t just something you have. It’s something you do!” Right on sister!

A  VERY  SPECIAL  PERSON

“You may have tangible wealth untold, caskets of gold. Richer than me you can never be – I had a mother who read to me.

Strickland Gillian – “The Reading Mother”

Born in 1899, my mother’s love of literature was fueled by Old Granny who read to her and my Uncles by the hour. Her heart’s desire was to become educated, but when she finished the eighth grade and mentioned attending high school, my grandfather who was himself a teacher, said that she’d have to support herself. She often said, “To me, Heaven will be a place where I’ll sit at the feet of scholars and get the education I never had.”

     Education was not compulsory, so Mother did housework at the home of a Knightstown physician and married when she was sixteen years old. She bore seven children, two of whom did not survive, and was often hungry during the Great Depression. She became a floral designer after my father lost his eyesight and baby-sat many evening to help me attend college.

     After my father’s death, she married Edgar Wallace of New Castle and was never poor again, although she lived as if she were, much to the irritation of her children. She dearly loved bacon, but she was so frugal that she cut a pound of bacon into three parts, used one for bean seasoning and fried the other two a couple of slices at a time. “Mother,” we’d say, “You can afford to eat a pound of bacon every day if you want to!” She feard the Depresson might return, and she wanted to leave her children “a little something” and enough to bury her.

     Mother believed that to be a true Christian you had to accept all people, regardless of their race, creed or nationality. She continued to grown in her sense of humanity until her death. After breaking her hip, she told me, “You know, two gay men live behind me. I didn’t approve of gay people. I changed my mind when those fellows brought me food, checked on me and did little chores for me. I have seen the errors of my ways. If Christ accepts all people, then I must.” She was mist upset by racial prejudice. “Some folks will be mighty surprised if they make it to Heaven and discover God is black!”

      This woman with only an eighth-grade education could recite whole poems. A favorite was “Abou Ben Adhem” about Ibrahim son of Adhem, a Muslim saint who received a warning from God and gave up his throne during the 8th Century. He became a mystic and a nomadic wanderer, working to earn his keep.

     From the time I was a little child until her death she recited it to me, and it shaped my feelings about prejudice and the need to accept all kinds of people. Here’s the poem that Leigh Hunt, a friend of Keats and Shelley, wrote about Ben Adhem.

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase)

Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,

And saw, within the moonlight in his room,

Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,

An Angel writing in a book of gold:

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,

And to the Presence in the room he said,

“What writest thou?” The vision raised its head,

And with a look made all of sweet accord

Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“A is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,

Replied the Angel. Abou spike more low,

But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee then,

Write me as one who loves his fellow men.”

The Angel wrote, and vanished. The next night

It came again with a great wakening light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,

And, lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!

THE  MAN  WHO  CAN’T  GO  HOME

Bill and I befriended Vadel shortly after 9/11 when he was thirty years old and a clerk at a gas station. A customer cursed Vadel whose skin is the color of café’ au lait and told him to go back where he came from.

     Vadel calls me his American mom and loves to talk politics with “Mr. Bill.” Our acquaintance opened a window onto a world that has little in common with my Indiana background. His native land has a very different terrestrial “address” from the shade trees, cornfields, and small town of rural Indiana where I grew up or the big city where I cur-rently live.

     He comes from the Islamic Republic of Mauritania – Land of the Moors – located in northwest Africa near Algeria. It lies within the great Sahara Desert that receives only five inches of rain a year and encom- passes 3,500,000 square miles and stretches 3,000 miles from the Atlan-tic to the Red Sea.

     When I first met Vadel, I envisioned the stiff of romance: sand dunes, tents, camels and caravans; veiled, mysterious women and sheiks in flowing robes; oases and date palms – all burning under a relentless sun during the day and chilling under a vast, star-filled sky at night. The romance is there , all right, but so is a reality that includes a dictatorial government, poverty, various exotic diseases, and a life expectancy of sixty-one compared with nearly eighty in the U.S.

     Longing for his mother and his homeland and enticed with the offer of a government job, Vadel returned home three years ago. I thought that we’d never see him again. One night he called; “Hi, Mom, I’m back. I quit my job because I didn’t like the system.” After the obligatory round of courtesies inquiring about each other’s relative, I asked him when he was going to settle down and get married. “Ah, but that is my big news, Mom. I am married, and we are expecting a child.”

     “Gracious! Is your wife with you?”

     “No, she must remain in Mauritania to take care of my mother who is ill.” He explained that one has one’s mother only for a while, but a wife for a ling time. He went back to work and attended college. He left again and occasionally calls from Senegal where he is spending a few months with his wife and baby in a house he owns there.

Perhaps you wonder why he doesn’t return to Mauritania. He can’t go home. Vadel is a revolutionary, albeit a peaceful one. “No guns, Rose, and absolutely no communism.” His father, an Islamic scholar, was murdered, and one of his uncles was executed because he was involved in an unsuccessful coup d état.

     When we were in France a few years ago I had a long telephone conversation with his brother who’s a professor there. He said, “Vadel’s problem is that he can’t keep his mouth shut.”

GULFS  TOO  BROAD  TO  BRIDGE

Vadel invited us to have lunch. He was dressed in Mauritanian garb, a flowing, open-sided white tunic worn over a shirt and pants, a long black scarf around his neck and sandals on his bare feet.

     When we entered his apartment, I was surprised for a minute to see only a bed, a bookcase, with a television, and a set of gym equipment. He told me that he worked out at home because he could not go to the “Y.” When I asked why not, he replied that he would not undress in front of others. Modesty is a prime trait of Muslims.

      In many countries people do not sit at tables and chairs as we do. I have seen many pictures of both Sheiks and Nomads sitting on oriental rugs. Knowing his preference, I always indicate the floor with a sweep of my hand, and that is where he usually sits in our home.

     We followed Vadel’s example in his home by removing our shoes. “Sit however you please, as we would do in Mauritania – like this,” he said and demonstrated by first sitting cross-legged on the floor and then reclining on his side as the Romans did at banquets. He gave us cush-ions to use, and we leaned our backs against the bed. The informality of it was fun, but I must admit that my arthritic bones prefer tables and chairs!

     He placed his prayer rug on the floor in front of us. This would serve as our table. He set out on it cartons of fruit juices such as mango, bottles of pop and water along with plates of dried figs and dates. The plump, succulent dates that he buys in Chicago were the best that I have tasted.

     While we nibbled that dates and figs, there was a steady stream of conversation – much of it about politics – always politics! From time to time he went to the kitchen to check on the food and returned with flat bread and plates for Bill and me, but no knives for forks. “Here are plates for you, but I am going to eat as I might in Mauritania with out a plate.” He said that he usually eats fast food, but he had prepared a dish of braised meat shanks with slices of tomatoes which we ate – interspersed with dates and pita bread – with our fingers. He also set out a dessert similar to baklava.

     Vadel lived up to what I have read of people of the Middle Eastern and North African countries, how they press food on guests as a measure of their hospitality. “Eat some more, Rose! You’re not eating!”

     “Vadel, I’m full! I’ve eaten most of the dessert!”

“Beel, eat, eat; you aren’t eating enough!”

“No, no!”

“You must eat, Beel! Here let me give you this piece of meat!”

By the time we left we were absolutely stuffed.

     I took him to meet my seventy-something sister, Christine. she was delighted to meet Vadel, as she’d read my columns about him. After chatting for an hour or so, Vadel and I drove back to Indianapolis. As soon as we got in the car, he said, “Rose, doesn’t your sister have a family?”

     “Indeed she does! She has eight children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

     He thundered, “Then why is no one there with her?”

     Stunned by the vehemence of this usually mild-mannered man, I said, “For goodness sake! What do you mean?’

     “Where are her children; where are her grandchildren and little great grandchildren?”

     “Vadel, one daughter lives with her but goes to work. The rest of her family live in other towns.”

     “They should be with here with her! Old people should not be left alone!”

     I called Christine, and we had a merry chat. “Good grief!” she exclaimed. “The very thought of constantly having even my adult family here, let alone the kiddies, makes me shudder! It would drive me nuts – too much energy, too much noise, too much confusion! I’m glad to see ‘em come, and I’m glad to see ‘em go! In fact, as soon as you left I took a little nap in my recliner.”

GULFS  TOO  BROAD  TO  BRIDGE -CONTINUED-

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead

Who never to himself hath said,

This is my own, my native land!

whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d

As home his footsteps he hath turn’d

From wandering on a foreign strand!

Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) – “The Lay of the Last Minstrel”

Or as Dorothy put it, “There’s no place like home!”  Vadel yearns for his homeland, no matter how bad it may seem to us. Before her death, our friend, Phyllis Otto, explained this by saying, “Think about the columns that you’ve written about your deep feelings for the days of your youth. I think that all of us live the child within us.” 

     Vadel talked about the Nomads: “I miss the sand dunes and the stars and couscous. If I could return to Mauritania I would head for the desert and the Nomads as fast as I could! You pay for nothing; they give you your food. We are a very hospitable people. Everybody is welcome to come into our homes. Money is not important to us, and our old people are never left alone.

     “The Nomads move every day because if they stay too long in one place their camels get sick. They get up very early in the morning and milk the camels for breakfast. some ride, some walk. I tell you, those people can walk! You should see how I can ride a camel! the chief of the tribe must now a lot. He can go into a big mixture of animals and know just by appearances which beasts belong to his tribe.”

     There are things that Americans cannot understand or accept. Mauritania has a rigid caste and tribal system that Vadel says we could never understand. At the top are two parallel classes of light-skinned Moors – a scholar class and a military class. The keepers of meats are a very respected class. Other castes exist for various occupations such as artisans. One’s class is inherited; occupations are passed down from father to son. Vadel said, “If you are not a member of the singer class, even if you have a marvelous voice, no one would come to hear you sing!”

     At the very bottom of the class structure are the slaves, descendants of dark-skinned people from other African countries who were sold into slavery. Vadel describes the slaves as cherished family retainers who live with their owners, eat at the same table with them and who must be taken care of by their owners. A slave can be freed if his owner wishes or buy his freedom. I found that my reaction with colored by our own history. When one says the word “slave” to me, visions come to mind of the evils of the slavery which once existed in this country. Paternalistic or not, slavery is slavery.

     One time when I was paying for gas I told Vadel that I was going to Knightstown. “What? You’re traveling? You must take this water!” I explained that I was going only 30 miles. “I insist. You might get thirsty.” After that he literally would chase me to the car. Next Bill started coming home with yogurt smoothies. When Eric and Stacey Cox, publishers of the Knightstown Banner, stopped to meet him they too had to accept drinks. I came to the conclusion that this was a result of his desert heritage.

     My mother would have loved Vadel. Oh, what debates about religion they would have had! His sunny friendliness conquers people and changes hearts. When I took him to Knightstown he said, “I must stop at the station and by water.” He returned to the car and said, “You remember that guy who was so mean to me after 9/11? He was in line in front of me just now. when I started to pay the clerk said, “That man already paid for your stuff.” I thanked him as he was leafing, and he said, ‘That’s okay.’ Rose can you explain this?”

     “Yes. He has come to realize how wrong and prejudiced he was. He couldn’t bring himself to apologize to you in words, so he tried to make up for it by a generous act.”

     Perhaps we could all profit from this story.

THE  FRENCH  HAVE  NOT  FORGOTTEN

I was at the park in St. Brieuc, Brittany, where people were admiring a cygnet. An interesting  old woman and I chatted about how proud the swan parents seemed to be of their baby. A few days later, I asked a gentleman the name of a fish at the market. He said, “Are you the American teach of French whom my wife met?”

     “Oui Monsieur” He invited me to go to their home for tea the next day. I took some cookies. He had been a music teacher and played Chopin for me. The room that did double duty as their dining room/living room was about ten by ten, and the music reverberated in my ears.

     I took another treat when I visited again. Madam said, “Merci, beaucoup! We are so poor. We lost two houses in Normandy during the bombing. That took away our security.”

     “Did you fight in the war, Monsieur?”

     “Certainement! Those filthy Parisians used us Bretons for cannon fodder!”

     Don’t believe it when they say that the French are ungrateful for our sacrifices during World War II. During another trip to France with Jean and her husband, we took a tour of the Normandy beaches close to the anniversary of the Invasion. At the end of the tour, we went to the museum and saw a movie. There were may French people in attendance. I said in French to the lady seated next to me, “Madame, I am very pleased to see so many French people here.”

     She began to cry and replied, also in French, “Madam, we French will never forget what you Americans did for us. Jamais! (Never!) People all around us exclaimed, “Jamais, jamais!”

Two Stories of Survival

     When Jean and we spent two weeks in the south of France we stopped at Aix en Provence, the university city where Cezanne had his studio. The old cities of France have very little parking. We arrived during the morning rush hour, and Jean had no luck at finding a place to park. Clever Bill saw a sign for the office of the French Red Cross. “Go into their lot! You can pay a courtesy call as an executive of the American Red Cross.”

     We went to the reception desk where I explained who Jean was. The secretary called out a gentleman who greeted us warmly. As he spoke no English, I interpreted. “You are most welcome here and may leave your car here as long as you like.” He ushered us into his office.

“I want to tell you my story,” he said. “I have dedicated my life to the Red Cross, and I love America because the American Red Cross saved my life. During World War II when I was twenty years old, the Germans sent me to a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany

     He described the conditions at the camp. Jean cried, and my voice trembled as I translated. “Each day we were given one little loaf of bread to eat. One little loaf of bread isn’t very much for a boy of twenty. I know beyond any doubt that I would have starved if the American Red Cross hadn’t sent food packages. I say to you from the bottom of my heart, “Veve l’Amérique et les Américains!” (Long live America and the Americans)

     “He abandons everything to serve his country!” Society of the Cincinnati.

     The Vrabel’s and we stayed at the Château de Boucéel in Normandy. A little Knights Templar Chapel remains of an older Château. The current 1763 château with a lake and peacocks belongs to the Count and Countess Régis de Roquefeuil-Cahuzac who greeted us warmly. He earned a degree in Chiropractic in Chicago.

     We sat around his desk while he told an amazing story. After D-Day the Germans confiscated every kind of conveyance. His father, Count Arnaud, was a courier for the Resistance, carrying messages in his bicycle’s lamp. Soldiers demanded his bicycle. he was terrified that they’d find the message. He talked them into letting him keep the headlamp as a souvenir. A soldier even helped him unscrew it.

     One morning 80 men from the Gestapo surrounded the château. Count Arnaud told them that his wallet and I.D. were in the basement. Incredibly, the officer sent him alone to get them where he destroyed compromising papers by swallowing some and hiding others in bottles of cider.

     A machine gun was hidden under the couch. The cool-headed Count invited the officer to sit there. The soldiers searched everywhere but didn’t ask their commanding officer to move. Had they discovered the gun; they would have shot the Count immediately.

     He was put in a prison camp and was to be deported on the “Death Train” that went to Buchenwald Concentration Camp from which few returned. The deportations were organized alphabetically with Nazi efficiency. His letter would be called soon.

     Count Régis said, “Father knew that Résistance men were hiding in the Victory Café across the street and used a mirror to flash Morse code messages. They got word out about the train, and the railroad bridge was bombed.

     Eventually, Arnaud escaped, had many adventures, and lived to return to the château. Count Régis showed us the book of exquisitely executed cartoon that Count Arnaud drew about his experiences.

     Count Régis is a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, named for Cincinnatus, a Roman who returned to his plow after leading his troops to victory, Henry Knox started it after the American Revolution. Its hereditary membership reads like a Who’s Who of the American Revolution: Hamilton, von Steuben, Greene, Lafayette, Rochambeau, de Grasse, and Kosciusko.

      George Washington was President General of the Society until his death. The French Navy presented him with a diamond-encrusted pin in the shape of an eagle that has been worn by each succeeding President of the Society. Count Régis’ uncle was one of the Presidents. What a thrill it must be to wear something once worn by the great Washington!

     Régis is also a member of La Société de la Mémoire (Society of Remembrance) whose members tend the graves of the American soldiers in the nearby St. James Cemetery. Count Régis said, “I chose to honor a pilot named George Mick who was killed at the age of 24 on September 5, 1944. I am so touched and pleased to lay flowers that I myself choose and cut on that young Americans grave. You see that bridge was bombed on September 9, and I like to think that George Mick participated in my father’s salvation.” He continued very softly, “No we French have not forgotten. We shall never forget what the Americans did!”

     Early in the morning before we left to return to the States, I went alone to the library and looked again at the drawings. Looking around the pretty room, I thought, “This land was made for warm-hearted people like our hosts and for lovely houses with sweeping lawns and parading peacocks. This land was made for peace.” and then the barbarians came. Again, and again them came… In homage, I laid my hand on the Count’s most prized possession that he keeps on his desk – the little bicycle lamp.

In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

Coming June 5, 2021!

Ramblings A Stoll Down Memory Lane with Henry David Thoreau by Rose Mary Clarke 10th Anniversary Edition

HE  SAID,  SHE  SAID

During a debate, a member of the French National Assembly shouted, “But there is a difference between men and women!” Another member shouted in return, “Vive la differénce!” Amen to that!

     I enjoy NPR’s “Car Talk.” Mind you, I barely know the difference between a dipstick and a differential, but those guys are a hoot! Here are some of their quips about the war between the sexes:

     His wife looks grumpy. He says, “What have I done now?” Translation: “Which thing have you caught me doing now?”

     “You cook just like my Mother!” Translation: “My mom used a smoke alarm for a timer too.”

     At a dress shop: “That dress looks terrific on you!” Translation: “I hope this is the last dress she tries on; I’m starving.”

     One of Bill’s brothers avoided saysing that he disliked a dress by saying, “On you it looks good!”

     Our annual houseboat trip produced a good conversation. Bill Vrabel says that he said, “I wonder what time it is.”

     His wife Jean says that he said, “What time did we get up?”

     She went inside, looked at the clock, returned and said. “We got up at about 6:20, twenty minutes ago.”

     “I didn’t want to know what time we got up; I asked what time it is now.”

     “That’s not what you said.” “Yes, it is.” “No, it’s not.” “Is too.” “Isn’t.”

     She brought this minor marital skirmish to an end by saying “Whatever.”

     I laughed merrily. Bill Clarke and I have often terminated a disagreement when one of us says, “Whatever…” Mind you this is in no way a concession of defeat. We each still believe that we’re right, but realize that no purpose will be served by further wrangling.

     I laughed even harder when Jean said, “He doesn’t remember what we’ve said so often that I’ve threatened to get a tape recorder and record our conversations.

     “Ditto my dear, ditto!” I responded.

     Men and women appear to be from different planets. Women expect  men to deduce the meaning of what they say.

Men what a flat “yes” or “no” answer: “Are these dishes clean or dirty.” 

     I assure you that I would not run the dishwasher for two forks, a cup and a bowl.”

     “That’s not what I asked.”

     Neil told Bill, “I wear a suit, answer people’s questions and solve problems all day. When I get home, I don’t know anything.”

     Hal and Sherry help out with a large family of their grandchildren.

     She: “How could you possibly send one of our grandchildren to school, wearing clothes that don’t match.”

     He: “All of the necessary parts were covered, weren’t they?”

     Sometimes men have selective hearing. When Sherry or Rian yells something out the door at their husbands one of the fellows says, “Huh?”; and the other says, “What?”

     All women understand the all-purpose, “Oh well…” that has a multiplicity of meanings to fit various circumstances: “Oh well, there’s nothing to be done about it… Oh well, that’s just the way things are… Oh well, what can you expect?… Oh well, same-old, same-old!”

     As both my parents used to say about the opposite sex, “You can’t live with ‘em and you can’t live without ‘em.”

     Oh well….

ONLY  THE  PATIENT  SURVIVE

Can a stacker and a stuffer achieve marital harmony? Bill is a stacker, and I’m a stuffer. He piles things up on horizontal surfaces. I stuff them out of sight. He looked over my shoulder when I was writing this and said, “I’m not a stacker – I’m just organized!”

     Can a marriage with a shared toothpaste tube be totally contented? A couple who share toothpaste will not long be at peace. Bill squeezes “correctly.” My tube’s a crinkled mess. I was delighted when we bought a house with separate bathrooms. If I want to let my hose hang on the towel rack for a week, that’s my business!

     What about sharing a closet? Double trouble! Please consult my monograph on ways to hex a marriage! The imcomparable Erma Bombeck wrote about opening her closet door and discovering that a bund of hot-blooded hangers had mated and produced chains of tangles of hangers that to an hour to unravel. Two people’s hangers would create even more vexation. Pme s[pise a;waus sighs, “I just have a few inches of closet space. She has the rest!”

     Who controls the TV tuner? Who surfs the channels? “And the forecast is…” CLICK “John! Marsha…” CLICK “And he’s out at third…” CLICK “And I say to you sinners…” CLICK “Back to the beginning…. falling barometer.” Bill saw a newspaper quip: “Men don’t watch what’s on television; they watch what else is on!”

    Who refuses to ask for directions when lost? The “Sally Forth” cartoon showed the couple driving around while lost. When they were stopped at a light, their daughter stuck her head out the window and helled at a passerby, “Help! Help! We’re lost and my Dad won’t stop and ask for directions!”

     Who waits until the tank is empty before buying gas? Not I. On the other hand, I’m bad about checking the oil.

     Who puts ice cube trays with one cube left in them back in the freezer? I don’t!

     Can a night owl and an early bird coexist? I greet the dawn with pleasure. Bill sees it only when forced to. On the other hand,  I snooze in my chair while he watches TV. Perhaps out differing sleep schedule is the secret of our marriage’s longevity.

     Does having a joint checking account enhance a marriage? This is a no-brainer since neither of us is good at accounting. If we’d had a joint account, we’d have ended up in divorce court years ago!

     Who snatches light bulbs? “Rose Mary! There is no light buld in the living room lamp.” “I know, dear. I needed it in the kitchen.” “You are going to drive me crazy!”

     Who screws the lids on so tightly that one spouse can’t get them off while the other tightens them haphazardly? “Bill will you please unscrew this lid you got too tight.”

     “Rose Mary! Look at this mess because the lid fell off. You are going to drive me crazy!

     Can Mr. Perfectionist and Mrs. Slapdash reach accord? He carefully reolds the paper in its original order. He winds the vacuum cleaner cord in a figure eight. I jam it oneot the holder any old way. “Why should I waste prescious seconds of my life, winding the vacuum cleaner cord into a figure eight?” “Because it’s the right way.” He was in the Army; I wasn’t.

     Yep, only the patient survive.

SURPRISE !

Friends and we went to a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, to attend a surprise birthday party for a couple who turned sixty. We made hotel reservations and arrived at the appointed time along with a merry throng.

     This party fit the anatomy of surprise parties. First cam the pretext. One daughter is a dancer: “I have free ticket to the ballet. Will you go with me and my boyfriend?” The first IU basketball game was that height. Further, her father would rather have cleaned public restrooms than attend the ballet at any time, but he agreed to go to please his daughter.

     Their daughters, whom Bill and I hadn’t seen for many years, were in a state of excitement. One daughter had flown in from California. The eldest daughter explained how most of her children weren’t told about the party until late, lest they spill the beans to their best buddy, their grandpa. Watching the daughters all grown up and beautiful, what fun it was to see the dramatic gestures and speech patterns pass on by their mother. Finally, the great moment approached: The lights were turned off, People shushed each other: “Blah, blah, blah…. Shh! Shh! Shh!”

   And indeed, Hal and Sherry were astonished when they entered to shrieks of “Surprise!” After the guests left, the family was all up until 2:00 AM, re-hashing the evening. That family will carry with them a vivid, living memory of that party all the days of their lives.  

     That evening brought back memories of the surprise party that I threw for Bill’s fiftieth. I didn’t work outside the home at that time, so I started stealing money from his pockets a year in advance and dinging it in a shoe box.

     My pretext was a lunch for our houseboat crew. Bill was not at all pleased. “I have to turn in grades,” he grumbled. I persisted. I stored food in our neighbors’ freezer and lied about goodies stored in ours, saying that they were for one of Vicki’s friends. The sewer backed up in the basement two days before the party. I had exhausted my checking account and spent the shoebox full of cash on food and alcohol but talked the plumber into coming anyway.

     My dear little mother who was staying with us during an illness and Vicki were there. After lunch, Bill wondered why one of our friends was vacuuming the dining room rug while others were washing dishes and clearing away. He suspected nothing until he saw Ruth Hester, an elderly colleague who had retired, coming up the front walk.

     I had invited nearly a hundered people, and out house was filled with good food and drink and laughter and hugs and exclamations of pleasure from people who hadn’t seen each other recently. No one who was there will forget a former colleague’s gift. Lucy’s husband carried in a big platter covered by a towel. She said, “Now Bill, I don’t want you to feel that you’ve reached fifty without ever getting ahead.”

     She whisked off the towel: Picture the dressed-up guests’ exclamations of horror at the sight of a dead boar’s head: “Eek!” “How awful!” “Gag!” “Lucy, I’m going to kill you!”

Surprise! Boars Head
Surprise! Boars Head

SETTING  OUT

People eat fast food in their cars as they rush hither and thither to sporting event, practices and meetings. Our “must-do,” jam-packed, frenetic activity is stress making and no more productive than more leisurely eras. We are so busy doing that we pay little heed to truly living.

     Vicki loved to have luch at Ayres Tea Room because they made it a really special experience with coloring books, crayons, a present from a treasure chest, sandwiches served in a hobo bandana, and pretty ice crea confections – ballerinas, clowns and such. These days many people probably don’t have time for long lunches with little kids.

     Another of her favorite meals was Sunday evening candlelit high tea, a custom that Bill inherited from his parents. The food was mainly leftovers, supplemented by little thin sandwiches and snacks. What made it special was that it was served on the best china with the silver tea service and sterling silver.

     Reading the Mitford books by Jan Karon is like taking a refreshing little mental journey to a more tranquil place. the protagonist, a sixty-something Episcopal priest, is always up to his clerical collar in endless to-do lists. His wife, a famous author and illustrator of childrens books, stuggles with deadlines.

     They start taking domestic retreats – little breaks away from the demands of their individual lives. These are simple things such as taking a walk and having a picnic of champagne and peaches served with crys-tal glasses and linen napkins, One evening they were so exhausted and stressed out that they ordered Chinese, locked their bedroom door and ate while reclining on their bed.

     Two of the characters are Miss Sadie, Mitfords richest resident, and Louella, her life-long companion. Miss Sadie has grown old and is no longer able to cook, but won’t admit it. Louella complains to Father Tim, “Miss Sadie don’t cook no more. She just sets out. She sets out white bread and bologna.”

     Quite by accident Bill and I started a Friday evening custom that we call “Setting out.” Friends came to spend the weekend. We were too busy to cook and too tired to fight the Friday night crowds at restaurants. I bought snacks, frozen hors d’oeuvre, cheeses, and chopped up tomatoes and toasted Italian bread for bruschetta. Bill and Jean arrived bearing a gift of chilled champagne.

     “We’re setting out.” I told them the sotry about Miss Sadie and Louella. We put on our pajamas, pulled comfortable chairs close together and at from TV trays. We drank many toasts and ate bruschetta while a frozen hors d’oeuvre baked. When the timer would go off one of us would take out an appetizer and put a new one in the oven. What a relaxing time that was: good friends, savory morsels, champagne and conversation!

     From that Friday evening was born a satisfying custom. The assortment upon which we graze varies: my favorite miniature quiches, mozzarella sticks, quesadillas, miniature pizzas, egg rolls, crusty French bread and cheese… I can hear our physician clucking! Obviously, this is not a health food diet!

     We guard this jealously and fend off the telephone calls and items from our lengthy must-do list which try to over-run it. The Friday eve-ning setting out has become a sacrosanct part of our busy calendar. It is something that we plan for and count on

     Ordinary customs as well as the splendid ones such as Christmas celebrations enhance our lives. We need to take a close look at what we are doing in our lives and make more room for quiet times of intimacy with our spouses and out friends.

MY  OTHER  MOTHER

Bill and I agreed that there would be none of that “mother-in-law stuff.” I was blessed in having Bill’s darling mother for eight years. She was a petite woman with flashing eyes and batty eyelashes. She was very meticulous, and my mother who loved her dearly called her “fixy.” She was always busy doing something so that when she came to visit for a week or two at a time, I told her, “Do whatever you want as if you were at home while we’re at school.” That’s the only time in our married lives when my bras, underpants and Bill’s shorts were ironed! An expert seamstress, she altered my clothing.

     She certainly was nothing like her demanding, bossy Tartar of a mother-in-law who came from England to visit for a whole year. “What? You’re putting sage in the stuffing? One does not put sage in the stuffing. One uses parsley!”

     Our mothers never competed or sulked.

     Bill’s mother delighted in teaching me how to prepare his favor-ites such as standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. She told me the secret ingredint in her turkey stuffing: “add a little liquor left in the bottom of the roaster that you baked the ham in.” The stuffing was delicious, but I overdid. It gave both of our mothers indigestion!

     I heard a young newlywed sneer about how her mother-in-law had asked if she’d like to learn how to cook her husband’s favorite dishes. “I told her in no uncertain terms that as a liberated woman I had better uses for my time.” I feel a warm glow when I remember the times that Bill’s mother and I cooked together.

     She was very frugal. Her parents took in parentless children, but were very poor. Their kitchen was wallpapered with newspapers. Bill’s father came here from England because he was a younger son, and ther ewas no opportunity there for him. When he was in the money they lived in a grand house, and Bill’s mother had a maid and lovely evening gowns.

     When disaster struck they lost the house and spent their last even-ing there, sitting on packing crates and drinking their last bottle of Champagne. That Christmas she cut up her silk and satin gowns and made fancy lingerie for Bill’s sister Joyce, who was in high school.

     Our mothers lived by the adage, “Make do, use it up, wear it out.” Watching her open Christmas presents was a maddening experience because she carefully peeled off the take and removed the paper that she ironed and recycled. (We found over 50 margarine tubs after my mother’s death.)

     Bill’s sister-in-law, Esther said, “Mom Clarke was never flustered when unexpected people showed up at mealtime. She’d  go out in the garden, pick some things, get into the pantry and turn out a feast.”

     Traveling brings out the best or worst in people. She went with us when we drove to California to attend a wedding. She took travelling with six-month old Vicki in a car with no air conditioning in her stride. The car broke down near the top of a mountain in the wilds of Utah. Bill decided that the only thing to do was to release the brake and roll back down to a villiage. He noticed that his mother was intently watching out the back window and asked if she was scared. “No, I’m not scared, but if I’m going over a precipice, I want to see where I’m going!”

     Before Bill and I left on a trip to revisit some of the places that we had loved and travel down through the strata of our time to our early days together, I got out an old album of pictures of that trip. There she is in a yellowing snapshot, standing on the edge of Cedar Breaks National Monument in sourther Utah.

     Bill and I went back to Cedar Breaks. As I stood there where we had stood so close together forty-five years ago, I was two people: the twenty something Rose Mary standing with her beloved second mother who lives on in memory and the Rose Mary of today who – must I admit it? – is growing old in her turn.

HOPING

People used to warble a song about how happy “Mollie and me – and baby makes three” – were in their “blue Heaven, a little nest that’s nestled where the roses bloom.” It was taken for granted that most girls would marry soon after high school. 

     Marriage was a real vocation for which a girl began planning even before she started dating. She had no idea of whom she would marry. She just assumed that one day she would marry and raise a family in a little nest for which she and her prince charming and patiently saved and worked.       

     Many girls started hope chests. (some jokingly called it their “hopeless chest.”) Those chests symbolized dreams and longings. Girls were proud of the various items that they collected for when they set up housekeeping. Do people even talk about setting up housekeeping these days?

     Figuring that I was hopeless, I never started a hope chest. I consulted Clara Keesling Donaldson a high school girlfriend. “Oh my, yes! I most certainly do still have my hoe chest. It holds my treasures.” She received her Lane cedar chest as a Christmas gift when she was fourteen.

     It represented the effort of three generations of the women of her family, and even her father who gave her a Sunbeam toaster that she used for nearly fifty years. Her hope chest contains the story of the lives of many women of those days.

     She treasures a set of tea towels that her grandmother Darling embroidered. My mother and manty other housewives lived according to schedules of chores similar to that listed on these towels: Monday – washing; Tuesday – ironing; Wednesday – cleaning; Thursday – sewing; Friday – grocery day; Saturday – baking; Sunday – church and family dinner. My mother did the washing in a wringer washer, hung it to dry out on a line, and always cooked bean soup that she didn’t have to watch. Before I was born she used a washboard.

     Clara periodically looks through the precious gifts so lovingly crafted such as items that her grandmother Keesling crocheted. During the years just after World War II, my mother and sisters crocheted doilies that looked like veritable confections of spun sugar – stiffly starched, layer upon layer that were six or eight inches high. Flat doilies covered the arms and backs of chairs to protect them from wear and men’s hair tonic. These days, we’d just buy new furniture!  

Isabel, Clara’s mother, contributed potholders, cookbooks and aprons. Clara still uses a quilt made by one of her grandmothers. She accumulated aluminum measuring cups in different colors, mixing  bowls, a roaster, cast iron skillets and copper-bottomed Revere Ware pans that she bought through a club and still uses. I prize my grandmother’s cast iron skillets that stainless steel and Teflon cannot equal. Some of my other acquaintances belonged to a silverware club.

     Some brides assembled trousseaux of clothing to last them through the first year of marriage. Finally after all the years of saving, hoping, dreaming and the engagement that often lasted a year, the great day arrived. “Destination” weddings were unheard of. Weddings featured solos such as “Because” (God made thee mine) and “The Lord’s Prayer.” Receptions held in the church basements were simple affairs of line sherbet and 7-Up.

     The bride and groom opened presents in front of the guests – an exhausting process, bit gratifying to the givers. After the bride changed into her “going-away” outfit that included a hat, gloves and corsage, their car was followed through town by a cavalcade of honking cars. Moral codes have changed since that era, and it isn’t unusual for the housekeeping and “baby-makes-three” to come before the wedding.

     Not all of those girls’ hopes came to pass. Here’s the poignant sotry of a ceceased, unmarried relative: Her heirs found her hope chest full of the stuff of her girlish dreams that she had optimistally saved up so long ago for the great day that never came…

In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

Love  And  Marriage,  Friends And Family

Henry David Thoreau was turned down by a woman whom he loved until his death. He said that the only cure for love was to love more.

     Can anything compare to a companionable spouse and family? How fortunate I’ve been – not only in having my own family, but Bill’s! The older I become, the more that I have realized that I have many acquaintances, but very few friends. Below are some of Thoreau’s words about friendship:

Friends cherish one another. They are kind to one another’s dreams

Friendship is a miracel… It is an exercise of the purest impagination and of the rearst faith.

The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend.

Be true to your work, your word and your friend.

MEMOIRS  OF  A  BEAST  OF  BURDEN -THE  NEWLYWEDS-

As a Realtor, I took great pleasure from visiting homes. It warmed my heart to see the looks of pride and affection on the faces of couples when they showed off their various do-it-yourself projects. They’d say, “We papered this room ourselves!” or “Bob is such a good plumber!” or “Betty made the curtains!” As I watched their smug pride, I smiled when I visualize what really went on during their efforts.  

     My speculations were confirmed by my sister Christine. Orville had once worked as a carpenter and did all of their remodeling with Christine as his helper. she especially hated to help hang wall paper. It was, “Christine! Too much paste! Too much paste!” or “Not enough paste, not enough paste! Must you slop paste on the good side of the paper?… Christine! You’ve cut it too short again! Too long, too long!”

     My initiation took place soon after our marriage when we bought a new refrigerator and decided to move the old one to the basement. I said, “We’ll get a couple of friends to help.” We don’t need help; we can do it ourselves.” I have heard this phrase all during the years of our marriage. Self-reliance is the trait of a do-it-yourselfer. “Don’t worry! I have a plan.” Another phrase I’ve often heard during our marriage. “You just help me push the refrigerator to the basement door.”

     There was much grunting, moaning and panting interspersed with “Left, Rose Mary. You’re pushing it to the right. Left, left, left!” “Whose left,” I yelled. “Yours or mine?”

     We manhandled the fridge to the basement door where we discovered that it was half an inch too wide. Sighing, Bill said, “Help me back it up-I’ll have to take the door off.”

     He announced the plan: “I’ll tie this nice thick rope that I’ve been keeping in the trunk of the car around the fridge. Then we’ll lay it on its back and lower it down the stairs.” He paid no attention to my query about the age of the rope. While we were laying it down, he yelled, “My toe! That was my toe! You always turn loose of things too soon!” True, this has been one of my many shortcomings.

     Bill sat on the floor with his legs extended on either side of the fridge. “Now, I’ll brace my feet against the sides of the doorway, and then we’ll let it down. Now, we’ll push it gently and slowly… Easy… easy, dear…That’s it!” Thus encouraged, I gave it a really hard shove. The rope broke with a large snap, followed by and awful grinding noise and a loud bang. As I left to go to the bedroom, the last thing I saw was Bill, mouth agape, and holding a frayed piece of rope. I went to the bedroom because even the stupidest wife of a do-it-yourselfer know better than to laugh in front of him. The fridge still worked perfectly. Why is it that his stuff always turns out fine, but my botches – such as the time I cut the curtains two inches short – can’t be fixed?

MEMOIRS  OF  A  BEAST  OF  BURDEN -THAT  OLD  HOUSE-

We decided to buy “our very own home.” Since I had left teaching, we couldn’t afford much. We found a turn-of-the-century, four-bedroom house on N. Ritter that was in an estate. It was a “charmer” with big rooms, two fireplaces, two window seats, hardwoods natural woodwork.

     You understand, Rose Mary, we won’t be able to hire help. We’ll have to do everything ourselves.”

     We learned about Caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – two hours before closing when the Realtor told us that someone had broken off a water faucet upstairs so that the water had run all over the house. He said, “It’ll be a better house than it was before.”  We used a steamer and a razor blade to remove the paint-soaked wallpaper. Termites swarmed; We hadn’t known enough to ask for a clear termite report. The down-stairs woodwork had to be stripped and refinished because of boiling water from the steamer. Since I had no fix – it talents, my lot became such things as the dull chore of filling cracks in the plaster.

     We got through that first year with a minimum of bickering. Now it was time to tackle major remodeling. First, as a sort of hors d’oeuvre that might have left Bill hors de combat, he decided to paint the topmost trim of the three-story house. The ladder wouldn’t reach that height, so he positioned it on the porch roof. I was certain that I’d be a widow by evening. Bill looked down and saw me crying. “Are you crying? Well how do you think that makes me feel. Stop it right now!” That wasn’t the last time that I shed tears.

     The kitchen ceiling was ready to tumble down. No one should be admitted to the brotherhood of do-it-yourselfers until they’ve knocked down and replaced a plaster ceiling. Heavy chunks of plaster danger-ously come crashing down, and soot like dirt and grit fill the air and penetrate your eyes, your hair and clothing. It took one evening to knock down the plaster and several days to clean everything in the house.

     Next sheets of plasterboard had to be carried in. Plasterboard is limber, heavy and fragile. “Now we must be very careful not to knock off the corners, Dear,”  Bill said in the most patient, husbandly voice.

Bet me!

     I asked how we were going to get the sheets of plasterboard up to the nine-foot-tall ceiling. Ignoring my suggestion that we needed help, Bill announced his plan: He brought in a big “T” that he’d nailed together out of two-by-fours. He said, “I’ll climb the ladder with a sheet of plasterboard and hold it against the ceiling. You hoist the other end up, using the “T” to brace it, and I’ll nail it in place.

     He went up the ladder: “Now!” he yelled. “Get your end under the “T”! Hurry!” It was impossible to hurry with a heavy nine-foot two-by-four in a small kitchen. “Hurry!” he moaned.

     “I’m hurrying, I’m hurrying.”

     He shrieked, “Get it straight!” Husband, plasterboard and “T” made a rapid descent. Leaning against the wall, he said quietly, “It was my intent that you would lift your end and brace it rather than knocking me off the ladder with my cross.” Resignedly, “Lets start over.”

     Finally I said, “I simply cannot manage a nine-foot-long two-by-four. Let me be the beast of burden and go up the ladder while you manage the board.”

     Weak-kneed, I got half way up the ladder.

     “Are you ok, hon?”

     “Don’t talk to me – just hurry!” I screeched. At last the first board was in place. Bill came up the ladder and nailed it. The second sheet was easier. I stumbled up the ladder with the third sheet that had one inch cut off it to fit as it butted against the wall. Bill braced his end while I balanced mine against the ceiling with my head since my arms were as limp as spaghetti. It overlapped the preceeding board.

I said, “It doesn’t fit,”

“Push it over.”

I pushed. “No good.”

“It has to fit!” he roared.

I yelled, “It doesn’t.”

He joined me on the ladder.

     “Sigh… You’re right; it’s a quarter of an inch too wide at this end. The ceiling is crooked.” There’s no such thing as a straight line in an old house. From that point on, every sheet had to be taken up, marked and taken back down and cut before being installed.

     I was grateful when our neighbor brought in a pitcher of lemon-aid. However, I suspected that she came to gloat just as I had done when her husband, a professional carpet installer, yelled “Damn it Linda! You tracked adhesive all over the new tiles.”

     Our worst argument cam when Bill decided to move a big cedar wardrobe our predecessors had left in the attic and turn it into a backyard playhouse for Vicki. “We’ll never get this thing down these narrow stairs. It’s too heavy.”

“Don’t let it slip! Don’t let it fall on me!”

“I can’t hold it much longer.”

“Don’t you dare let go!”

At last, after grunting, pushing and pulling, we were at the bottom of the narrow stairs. The wardrobe was wedged like a cork in a bottle.

I said from my position up in the stairway, “I thought you said you measured it.”

“I did measure it,” Bill yelled. “It’s half and inch too wide.”

“Now what are you going to do?” I snarled. “I don’t have time to be stuck in the attic all day.”

He said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” Later: “You have to do something soon because I have to use the bathroom.” (This has been the norm during the most difficult times.)

Eventually he had to cut it in two with a saw in order to move it. By this time, he was so angry with me that he wouldn’t even let me help him carry it out. “Obviously, you did not wish to help me. I’ll do it myself.” When he heard that I was writing about our fix-up experiences, he said, “You’re going to include the wardrobe story, aren’t you?” After all these years, he isn’t angry anymore, but I’m not so sure about me!

BATS  IN  OUR  BELFRY  AND  SPIDERS IN OUR BATH

During the first summer we were married, en route to California we arrived in Las Vegas at 2:00 AM and stopped at the first available motel. I noticed that the door didn’t fit tightly. Las Vegas is in the desert, and in the desert live tarantulas. “Don’t worry!” said Bill.

     While I was brushing my teeth I saw out of the corner of my eye large black shapes hopping around. “Spiders!”  I shrieked. “Spiders in the bathroom!” I lunged out of the bathroom, tripped and fell onto our heavy suitcase.

     “For heaven’s sake! Rose Mary, those are not spiders; they’re crickets!”

     “I don’t care. If crickets can get in so can tarantulas.”

     “Rose Mary, there are no tarantulas here. Crickets wouldn’t stay anywhere near tarantulas. Anyway, Hon, tarantulas are shy creatures and much more frightened of you than you are of them,” he informed me in his most patient, most husbandly voice.

     Go tell it to the marines!  

     “… Look what you’ve done!” I had broken the latch on our Samsonite suitcase that was advertised as being indestructible.

     I discovered that the Clarke family is not invincible. One night I met Bill hustling along as he returned from a campground restroom. He had his jacket pulled up over his head. “What’s going on?”

     “Bats!” Bats flying around the light! No Clarke can stand ‘em. They get in your hair, lay eggs and drive you crazy!” 

     “Pooh! That’s just an old wives’ tale. Bats have sonar, A bat won’t run into you unless it’s ill.”

     “Yeah that means it’s rabid.”

     In my most soothing voice I said, “Dear that’s highly unlikely. Bats are very beneficial. They eat tons of mosquitoes, Actually, a bat is just a mouse with wings.” Ever the linguist, I instructed, “In fact the Berman word is Fledermaus – flying mouse.”

     “I don’t want to hear about it.”

     Bill has an ashtray that says, “Don’t confuse me with the facts!” We know that our phobias are illogical. We developed a mutual defense pact. Fortunately, we are phobic about the same things!  

     I dreaded it when there was a bat in our Irvington house because I knew whose job it was to get rid of it. Bill’s brother–in–law, playing chivalrous knight to Bill’s sister’s damsel in distress, whopped bats with a tennis racket which their sonar doesn’t detect. After reading this essay, one of Bill’s nephews said, “Why do you think we keep a tennis racket on each side of our bed?” Bill’s teenage nephew and he carefully calculated the ricochet and shot a bat in the basement with a .22!

     Knowing that bats can be rabid, I carried an open umbrella for protection while going through my bat drill. I proceeded from room to room, turning off lights behind the intruder until, continually attracted to light, it’d fly out the the porch light. I was probably considered a neigh-borhood eccentric by those who saw me wantering around under an imbrella in our house at night while Bill watched through the window.

     One summer night the sheet under which we were sleeping went SWOOSH! “What’s going on?” I yelled.

     Next to me lay a mummy-like figure. “Bat!Bat!”

     “Dear you’re just dreaming,” I said in my honeyed tone, hoping he’d go back to sleep so I wouldn’t have to get up at 3:00 AM. I lay there, staring at the white ceiling. Sure enough, a black shape cam fluttering through.

     “There too is a bat!”

     “All right, all right, I’m getting up,” I grumbled.

     One night after we came home from a movie I was making coffee. I heard a faint voice from upstairs:

     “Rose Mary…”

“What?”

Mumble, Mumble: “Rose Mary…”

“Well what?”

“Bat, bat!”

“Where are you?”

“…closet.”

I leisurely started the bat drill. “Rose Mary…hurry!”

“You’ll have to be patient”

Faintly: “I have to use the bathrooom!”

We camped in Colorado at a campground that had pit toilets. One evening at dusk, there were long, long legs on the wall. I sidled out and ran to Bill. Not wanting to pass my fear onto Vicki, I whispered breathlessly, “You know those things I don’t like? There’s a really mammoth one in the women’s toilet.”

     “Well, what do you expect me to do? I cannot go in there.”

     “You have to. If you don’t I’ll never be able to go in there again! PLEASE!” Urgent whisper: “I swear to God it’s a trantula.”

     “Oh for heaven’s sake. All right, I’m coming.” When he came out he was laughing so hard that he could barely speak. “Come here and look.”

     “No!”

     He yanked me into the toilet and shined the flashlight on the wall. “Your tarantual is nothing but a knothoke with a bunch of cracks around it.”

     Red-faced, I said “Well , it sure looks real, doesn’t it? could have fooled anyone!”

     One night Jean, Sherry and Hal were sleeping in the main cabin of the houseboat. Jean sensed something flying back and forth above her face. She turned on the light. Bat! Like a pair of ghosts, she and Sherry stood with sheets over their heads while a sleepy Hal tried unsuccessfully to find the bat. The next day they lied to Bill and told him that it had flown out.

     We don’t have bats in our current home, but Bill still has to defend me against spiders. Last summer I stood on a bench while Bill whopped a huge one with the fly swatter! Mother swooped spiders up in towels and flung towel and all into the yard. Sometimes there were two or three towels out there until she figured the spiders had decamped. Vicki didn’t inherit our phobias. Instead she’s afraid of snakes. Go figure!

I  CAN  STILL  HEAR  THEIR   VOICES

The night grows late. If we’re at Bill’s sister Pat’s house, she plays the piano. Glasses are lifted, and voices are raised in one song: Bill’s brother Rick says, “Here’s a good one.” He warbles “I’ve got a girl just like the girl who married dear old Dad.” Next the Do-wah’s perform, using whisks and kitchen spoons as microphones. Composed of Bill and his nephews and nieces, the group originated during a Qualifications weekend house party at our house. “Gonna’ take a sentimental journey…” Rick’s wife Esther, starts “Grandma’s Lye Soap,” followed by a Michigander song about a little Dutchman, Johnny Brubeck who ground up all the neighbor’s cats and dogs in his sausage machine. On through the repertoire that includes English songs taught by Bill’s father and later songs such as “The Mashed Potato” and “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Vicki who’s up way past her bedtime keeps asking, “When are they going to do it?” Children attend what Vicki called “Clarke Parties” because there are no dirty jokes or swearing. At last Bill’s brother, Jack begins, “Oh I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts….” and leads a conga line around through the house.

     Parties at Joyce’s home included political debates that Bill, Joyce and their brother, Lex, loved. Lex’s wife, Sally, and several others detested them. One memorable night, to get his turn, Bill stood on a chair and yelled, “I have the floor!” Bill and I went to bed at 3:00 AM on cots in the back room that adjoined the kitchen. He awakened me at 6:00, wailing plaintively, “Rose Mary, can you cope?” One whole side of his head was white. Vicki had emptied Joyce’s sugar and flour canisters on him.

     My family played cards. Dad and Mom played bridge with Earl and Toots, and Dad and my brother Earl, played cribbage. The family gathered for Sunday afternoon poker parties. I remember still lying in bed and hearing my Uncle Ivan or Aunt Nola shout, “Pedro!” or Mary Beck yell, “Shoot the moon!: My mother, sisters, nieces and I played Canasta. The dialogue was always, “Pass me some of those chips,” interspersed with “I’ve seen better hands on a horse!” or “Please don’t go out!” I invented The Whiners and the Diners Society with Christine as President (POW), Beverly as Secretary (SOW) and Virginia as Chaplain (CHOW).

     I hear out people still, singing, arguing and shouting…

THE  GREAT  SHOE  HUNT

“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes!”

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

Since Vicki is a mature woman, I had none of the usual mother-of- the bride duties or dithers when she and Tom had a big church wedding. Ah! There was none of the snipping and sniping that sometimes happens between the stressed bride and mother.

     Bill said in April, “Shouldn’t you start looking for something to wear?”

     “There’s plenty of time,” Translation: I was hoping to lose weight since I’d added a gress size – let’s be honest and make that two – since we were married.

     Shopper Vicki offered to help. We hit Von Maur first and found a glitzy top to be worn with white jeans at the rehersal. Then we found a chanpagne-colored suit at Penny’s. By this time, exhaustion had set in; and our toungs were hanging out. I treated us to margaritas followed by a pedicure. Ah, the life of a sybarite shared with a companionable daughter is delightful!

     Next came shoes. Jean offered to go shoe shopping with me at Nordstom. Jean can find five or six pairs of adorable shoes for under $20 a pair. She had no idea of what was to come.

     Not for me Mosstsies Tootsies and other cute, inexpensive shoes in a variety of colors. I never ask for a certain style or color. Instead, I say, “Please bring out whatever you have.” And then I take what I get or leave the store once abain with no shoes! Understanding that my shoes are rediculously expensive, Bill gave me $150 for my birthday.

     Nordstrom prides itself on its huge selection of shoes. The nice clerk asked by size. “Eleven five-A.” The length is bad enough, but five-A with a seven-A heel is impossible. He flinched, but finally produced a few boxes. Ooh! There was this darling pair of gold, mid-heel sandals for only $65. Oh how I wanted those shoes! I took a few steps. They were just a teensy bit too wide so that my toes slid out over the edge of the sole. Sigh….

     Cathy the cartoon character, is packing for vacation. Clutching a pair of shoes to her bosom, she exclaims, “Leave these behind? NEVER!… I love these!… The minute I saw them, I dreamed of the places we’d go together… Every desitnation requires these. I couldn’t leave them! I’ll never leave them!” He husband things, “Just once, I’d like to have the same grip on her heart as her metallic gladiator shoes.”

     Shoes satisfy something in the feminine psyche. Not so with males. If the average man has a pair each of brown and black dress shoes, athletic shoes and perhaps sandals, he is content. Bill says “I don’t see what the big deal is. No shoe is an object of beauty.” Tell that to Jean or Oprah!

     Everyone longs to be “in.” Shoes were just another way in which I was out. All that my long suffering mother could find were Buster Brown Girl Scout shoes that I despised. Oh how I wept when I couldn’t have patent leather Mary Janes to wear for Easter. “I won’t go to church!”

     “Oh yes you will! And I’ve had just about enough of this, Miss!” Picture little Rose Mary in a pink, lace-trimmed dress, had, white gloves and ugly, brown lace-up shoes! I just knew that everyone in church was looking at my feet. The low point was when I had to wear boys’ black basketball shoes for gym long before it was fashionable for females to wear them. Sobbing, I wailed, “Why can’t you cut my toes off?”

THE  GREAT  SHOE  HUNT – CONTINUED – 

          “Lets try here, “ Jean suggested at a small shop.

“Ok but it won’t work,” Nada!

Carson Pirie Scott had nothing.

     When I was twelve Mother discovered Stout’s Shoe Store in Indi-anapolis – oh blessed day! I remember perfectly my first pair of pretty shoes – black suede, sling-back flats with a flower design cut out of the tip. “We’ll try Stout’s, and if they don’t have something, I’ll paint a pair of my old shoes.”

     “Now Rose!”

     “I’m not kidding. I painted a pair of shoes silver and wore them for ten years!”

     Most of the six pairs of shoes at Stout’s were business or old ladies’ shoes. However, there was a stylish pair with straps of a varigated pattern. “Ooh what gorgeous shoes!” exclaimed Jean. The straps were secured with Velcro that could be pulled tight so that my long toes wouldn’t slip out the end.

     Only a woman will understand that I was stricken with shoe lust. I bought those shoes, and only my closest friends and relatives know how much I paid for them. Put it this way, Bill’s gift wasn’t enough.

     We went for a celebratory glass of wine. Jean call friend Jana: “This woman is shurely one of the most hard-to-fit woen in America.” By the time we got home, I was guilt-stricken at having spent more than I’ve ever paid for clothing, including my best business suits and coats. Bill said, “Rose Mary, don’t foret that you had to pay $50 for shoes many years ago.”

     After the wedding, Jeans husband, Bill, said, “Love your shoes! I saw them when you walked down the aisle.”

     Friend Jim said, “You should tell Bill that you want to be buried in those shoes.” Now, of course, I’m afraid to wear the darn things!

     Next came the pantyhose debacle: I bought two pairs of ultra sheer hose. Wisely I tried them on in advance. I couldn’t get the ones with a control top past my thighs. The others were too short. During dinner a third pair slid down to the middle ofmy belly, and its waistband was rollled up and cut into my flab so that I was in agony. What women do for style!

     I should have listened to Thoreau.

A  Year  Later

     Jean called with some important statistics. She decided that she had too many shoes and was calling with the results.

     Jean is a spiritual sister of Oprah, a major shoe maven. Oprah called in a professional organizer to help her purge her huge closet. The organizer asked about a fancy pair of high-heeled boots. Oprah admitted that she never wore them, and the organizer suggested that they be put with the clothes that were going to be auctioned off for charity. “I can’t get rid of these, “ Oprah replied. “They’re closet art!”

     Jean told me what a delightful experience it was going through her boxes and boxes and boxes of shoes: “I had such fun. I’d open a box and say to myself, ‘Oh! These are so cute!’ I had even forgotten some of my shoes.”

     Here are the statistics:

Thrown away                    2 pairs

Donated to charity             4 pairs

Athletic shoes                    4 pairs

Winter                              27 pairs

Summer                            44 pairs

     I mentioned that one of our mutual friends has only eight pairs of shoes. Jean replied, “There is something wrong with any woman who wears a normal size and has only eight pairs of shoes!” Friend Leslie Bady has Jean beat! After reading this, she got rid of 65 pairs of shoes!

In The Studio |The Zentangle Method®

All Things Related To The Zentangle Method®

9 April 2021

This past month I worked on a couple of my “challenged” tiles adding to my #nomistakes collection. However, most of my time has been spent working on Zentangle® Project Pack #13. You can check out the process of one of my #13 tiles here and all of the series in my portfolio.

Project Pack 13 Day 7
Project Pack 13 Day 7

Project Packs are a little like a surprise package or subscription box without a subscription. To loosely quote Forrest Gump “….you never know what you’re gonna get,” until you either order the pack or wait until after the Project Pack and free video has been launched and gather your own supplies. We are encouraged by the folks at Zentangle® to be creative and find a way to create even when it comes to project packs. This is one of the reasons I became a certified teacher (CZT®).

Each pack contains something to draw on such as Zentangle® tiles and the tools needed for the various projects related to the theme for that pack. They are created as a limited series… once they’re sold out they’re gone. However, the great news is, you can and are encouraged, to gather the supplies in each one and follow along with Rick, Maria, Martha and Molly with their free video’s.

The theme for Project Pack #13 was “Transitions.”

“Times of transition challenge us, make us stronger and create beautiful seams in the space between what was and what is to be. As we embrace all the stages of our journey one might also notice that our lives are not linear but rather filled with over lapping layers of experiences that are constantly changing and morphing.”

Zentangle.com

In my case, I chose to use what I had on hand because I had everything needed but a Generals Sketch & Wash pencil and was out of Phi tiles. I created my own tiles using watercolor paper and used a watercolor pencil instead. In this project pack transitions were expressed by moving from a background to foreground and from one tangle to the next. While waiting on my student to arrive for a black tile class, I was working on the tile shown here:

Project Pack 13 Day 3
Project Pack 13 Day 3

When my student arrived, she was excited to see what I had been working on and wanted to try making a variation. We explored the transitions between layers and use of the different tools and colors, transitioning from brown through yellow using a Sakura Glaze gel, watercolor pencils, and Sakura micron PN to create our sunflowers.  

Project Pack #13 Day 3 Class
Project Pack #13 Day 3 Class

While we waited for our “sunflower” tiles to dry we worked on black tiles as we’d planned using Sakura white gel, and white chalk. Tangles used were a type of Diva Dance, Hollibaugh, Tipple and Tortuca.

Black Tile Class 2

Lets Make Something Great Together!

In The Studio | The First Friday

A Review of the Past Month

2 April 2021

While reflecting on this past month I discovered an answer to a question I once asked my Mom, who wrote a weekly column for a couple of local papers, about how she was connected to so many people. She didn’t really have an answer so this is what I think. When we take the time to get to know even a little bit about another person the opportunity to forge new acquaintances and friendships happens. In February you got to meet Featured Artist Chaz Chiafos and last week you got to meet my Featured Artist for March – Sue Dill.

In both cases we have maintained some form of communication. Chaz made sure that I got signed up for his pages on Facebook and signed up for mine. We both follow each other’s progress periodically providing “likes and hearts.” When I drive past his workshop I smile when I see what he’s up to and that other folks have stopped in. Most recently he’s created a painted parrot and a pink flamingo!

In Sue’s case our conversations are via email as she has a voice disorder (why she retired from teaching) and I am hearing impaired. We both chuckled over my comment about “My aren’t we a pair!” She invited me to the White County Art Alliance page on Facebook and we have shared information about our families and things that fascinate us about creativity.

What I’ve actually been up to is mostly working on my Ramblings project (watch for an announcement) and trying to get a little ahead on future blogs so that when the weather is nice – and not muddy – I can spend more time doing the outside things I love such as boating with my hubby Tom as well as what I must do such as yardwork. Tom, Snickers, Lily and I have been taking some walks and learning our “good dog” commands. Last week Snickers got loose in the yard and managed to go down the hill towards our bay which is not fenced. She may have been unable to stop because she came up the shorefront steps soaking wet. She’s a Labrador and only aged two so it didn’t faze her much!

I’ve also been dreaming… there is a saying by Walt Disney, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” In a recent issue of The Artists Magazine there was an article about other artists who have created artwork depicting their current studio or one they have visualized. I spent a couple of days in my porch studio looking at tiny houses and sheds dreaming… configuring… and putting some ideas on paper.

Last year I commandeered Tom’s “mower” shed for storage…. decorations… furniture…. overflow art supplies… my garden tools… my hand and power tools making it my “she shed.” Needless to say, his response to my “Art shed” dream was “Why don’t you use your she shed.” Of course, my response was “No windows, no heat, no AC! Not enough room, it’s too small to be used as a ‘she’ AND ‘art’ shed!” However, this did give me some food for thought so I’ll be going back to the drawing board on this idea. Maybe I should give him back his shed and commandeer the 2 ½ car garage instead!

Lets Make Something Great Together!

In The Studio | Featured Artist

Karen Sue Dill

Hi there and welcome back to my Featured Artist blog. Last month I put out a call to area artist from White County, Indiana on Facebook and got quite a few responses! I still have some open slots left for White County, Indiana 2-D and 3-D artist as well as artisans/makers. Contact me if you’d like to be featured.

Does the name (Karen) Sue Dill sound familiar to you? Although Sue has spent a great deal of her life in Delphi and Lafayette Indiana areas, her connection to White County is that she was a North White Jr. and Sr. High School art teacher starting in 1998 until she retired in 2015 due to an issue involving her voice. While at North White in addition to teaching her students about art history, 2-D and 3-D art and exhibiting her students work locally and regionally she served as the Art Department Chairman.

Before Sue was an art teacher she was a homemaker and helped her husband farm. In her spare time Sue was a self-taught ceramicist as well as a wood carver. She fell in love with woodcarving after a trip to Branson, Missouri and saw the carvings created by Bob Robertson. You can read her story about this HERE

  • The Fur Trader Walnut 16" tall x 5" base NFS
  • Walnut 16" tall x 5" base NFS
  • Catching A Ride - Terra Cotta Clay and Paper clay lid, Acrylic finish $175.00
  • Catching A Ride Terra Cotta Clay Base and Paper clay lid, Acrylic finish $175.00
  • Catching A Ride $175.00

Also during this time, she was selling her ceramic work at a shop in Lafayette as well as competing in several wood carving venues where she won some major awards. After winning monetary awards for her work, she was no longer able to compete at amateur status. As a result, she felt that further education was needed to be able to be competitive with people who had art degrees.

Sue applied to Purdue University and was accepted into the Fine Arts program where she became extremely interested in Art Education. While working on a double major with a B.A. in Fine Arts and Art Education she was named Outstanding Senior in Art Education and awarded the Ralf Beelke Memorial Award for Excellence. Additionally, her work was published in a Purdue publication. After college she went on to teaching.

When Sue retired from teaching she became a self-employed professional free-lance artist creating commissioned work as well pursuing her own designs. Even though she is accomplished in all types of art media such as drawing, painting, print making, ceramics and wood carving Karen is especially drawn to 3-D work and likes to create sculptures inspired by what she sees, especially in nature.

Because she found wood carving somewhat limiting in what she could create Sue began working with other mediums and found that by using recycled paper, paper clay, cardboard and other nonconventional materials and techniques she got the results she was looking for. Sue has named this new body of work “Pulp Fiction Creations” which largely features animals.

This series has become an obsession inspired by the elusive beauty and wonder of Mother Nature. As an artist, I am compelled and inspired by these creatures, and beings, large and small, to recreate them as seen through my own eyes. I do this to honor them while at the same time allowing them their freedom to exist unfettered and unharmed.”

Pulp Fiction Creations
  • Blue Heron Mixed Media 17" Tall 10"x10" base $295.00
  • Blue Heron Mixed Media 17" Tall 10"x10" base $295.00
  • Blue Heron Mixed Media 17" Tall 10"x10" base $295.00
  • Bessie Paper Mache/Paper Clay/Acrylic $295.00
  • Bessie - Paper Mache/Paper Clay/Acrylic $295.00
  • Baby Sea Turtle 3 1/2" long Resin/Acrylic $25.00
  • Baby Sea Turtle
  • Baby Sea Turtle
  • Baby Sea Turtle 3 1/2" long Resin/Acrylic $25.00

You can view Sue’s other available work for sale in person at the Chapel Gallery in Delphi, Indiana

  • Relief Cut Print - The Contained Spirits Collection
  • Relief Cut Print - The Contained Spirits Collection

In The Studio |Ramblings by Rose Mary

Nature

I Have Lived For Nature

Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature.” One of the reasons why his writing resonates so strongly with me is his deep appreciation of nature. When I sort through my internal photograph album and the columns that I’ve written I see that one of the most important things that I have lived for through all the seasons of my life is the beauty of nature.   

     The process of living – whether it’s the hermit crab’s moving into a new shell when it has outgrown an old one, the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly or the survival of the oldest thing living thing on Earth, a bristle cone pine named Methuselah, never ceases to amaze me. I am reminded that each life is unique and precious.

     Sarah Ward set us a planter of amaryllis bulbs that produced red flowers as large as saucers. There would be two flowers at the top of the stem and two buds that would grow alongside them until a tinge of red appeared, The the first blooms began to droop while the new ones opened. This seems so simple, and yet is so complex. An elegant mechanism must be built into the plant’s genes that directs old blooms to wilt at the proper time so that the sustenance goes to nourish the buds that they might reach glorious maturity.

     I have lived for meadows of wildflowers in the Teton and Rocky mountains, the risings and settings of the sun and for moonglow, I have lived for the call of the cardinal, the loon’s cry and the silvery trill of the wren. I have lived for the blues of the Mediterranean and the Pacific, the vastmess of the Grand Canyon, the vividly hued pinnacles of Bryce Canyon, the leaves of autumn, the snows of winter and daffodils nodding in the April breeze.

     Oh what treasures I’ve stored up in the mind’s eye and ear that are worth more than any amount of money in the bank!

17

UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH NATURE

Up Close & Personal With Nature - Otter
Up Close & Personal With Nature – Otter

Above me it is beautiful,

Below me it is beautiful,

Before me it is beautiful,

Behind me it is beautiful,

All around me it is beautiful.

Listen to the quiet power of beauty.

Indian Chant

Ah, to be with nature! Picture this: Vicki and I are on the top deck of a houseboat on one of the lakes connected by streams that form the huge labyrinthine water-world of Voyageur National Park at the boundary of Minnesota and Canada. An eyebrow of sun peeps over the dense, dew-drenched forest that extends for miles. With the coming of daylight, the water turns blue/purple so that

I understand what Homer meant when he wrote about the wine-colored waters of the Mediterranean. Puffy clouds float on the blue vault of    Heaven. Below them the lake is a silver/blue mirror. It’s so beautiful that it clutches at my heart.

     Shh! Don’t say a word, don’t breathe. Listen to the quiet: Silence has its own unique quality just as do the notes of a symphony. The quietude and loveliness of this place soaks into the very core of my being where the secret Rose Mary dwells, and fill me with peace and serenity.

19

     Such moments of total oneness with the universe are rare, and I carefully examine, catalogue, and store them away so that I can replay my internal view of them in years to come: the scent of wild roses and clean dry earth on the Grand Canyon’s rim: sunrise turning Bryce Canyon’s pinnacles to flame; the pungent aroma of wild sage after a shower at Canyon de Chelly on the Navajo reservation; a wildflower-strewn meadow below the snowy peaks of my beloved Tetons where a moose browses next to a rushing brook into which a water ouzel dives; glorious sunrises and sunset over the ocean; the Adirondacks in autumn; the view of the Pacific from California’s coastal highway…

     The things remind me of the vastness and beauty of this land that is my heritage. A part of me will always dwell among them, stooping to examine a flower, listening to the lap-lap of waves or the wail of gulls, walking barefoot on the seashore…

     I put down my pen and listen with my whole being when a loon utters its wild, free call, I imagine myself as free as the creatures of this place. Perhaps I would soar on the empyrean like a gull or perch like a bald eagle on the tiptop of a pine, surveying my empire. I might stand with pelicans and cormorants on a rock, watching for whom I might devour or live deep in the forest with the shy wolves.

     We were thrilled when an otter swam into the little cove where our boat was moored, It would stick its head out of the water, look around and then with a graceful, arching back dive and resurface with a fish. It would float on its back like a baby with a bottle and devour bones and all, so close that we could hear it. “Crunch, crunch, crunch, munch, munch, munch!” Ah wilderness!

     Ouch! Paradise has its price, We have yet to encounter a snake in the Eden, but there must be ten thousand bugs for every human: spider, Mayflies, clouds of no-see-ums, huge mosquitoes and horrible black, stinging flies. The stores even sell net hats with nets like bee-keepers’ headgear. We agreed that we would never tent-camp here.

     I think that one of the most offensive and ignorant statements that I’ve ever heard was, “What does it matter if some birds or animals become extinct? We can look at them in zoos.” I may never see another otter or hear another loon, but the memory of them is stored in the center of my being and seeing them and the other creatures of this place-living free- has enriched me.

     Of course, I know that neither the loons nor the eagles nor the wolves nor I are entirely free. It’s nice to imagine that it were so…

20

A  PLACE  I’LL  ALWAYS  BE

Friends Bill and Jean asked what they should see out West. “Grand Teton National Park is one of the most beautify places in America!” Les Grands Tetons was slang used by French fur trappers who thought that the mountains resembles women’s breasts. Grands means big; you can figure out Tetons! Snow-capped peaks rise straight up out of pine forests. Blue lakes from a sapphire necklace at their feet. To the East are hills the the trappers named Gros Ventre-Big Belly.

     Bill called to say  that they were at Jenny Lake. I saw what they were seeing in my mind’s eye because Jenny Lake was one of our favorite places to camp. It always took me a long time to cook a meal on the Colman stove because I had to stop frequently to admire Grand Teton Mountain that rises up orver 14,000 feet.

     Down a hill next to the lake is a little grocery. The first time we were there, I thought that the place had been invaded by a nunch of hippies because unshave, barefoot, grubby guys lay sprawled on the porch and in the yard. Actually, there were exhausted climber, just down off the nountains and had removed their hiking boots to ease their feet. Jenny lake is a major trailhead. Climbing is taken seriously. Anyone caught climbing up on the mountainsides without a permit is fined. One summer three young men died when they were playing around on a glacier without using ice axes and slid off.

     We spent a week there with Bill’s brother, sister-in-law and some of their familly. Our campsite was the envy of other campers as we had a beach umbrella over our table and Rick’s portable bar from which he dispensed martinis at cocktail hour and hot buttered rum around the campfire.

     I shall not again hike up a mountain path, but a part of me will always abide in the Teton Mountains. Still young and vigorous in my mind, I stride with long steps up the path that runs through Cascade Canyon next to clear, rushing , boulder-strewn Cascade Creek that bisects an alpine meadow carpeted with wild columbine, Indian paint-brush, larkspur, wild roses, genitians, lupines and many other varieties  of wildflowers. The pure air is scented with pines and flowers. I hear the “meep” of a pica, a little rabbit-like, tailless animal with small ears as I rest on a boulder, watching a browsing moose. Far below lies azure, jewel-like Jenny Lake.

21

     Another time, it is early evenning. Seven-year-old Vicki, Bill and I sit on a log at our cmapsite on a sandy beach at Leigh Lake to which we have backpacked. The twilight hush is broken only by the sleepy peeping of a covey of little Merganser ducks swimming to their night-time roost. slowly a full moon rises, and snow-capped, majestic Mt. Moran across the lake is vividly reflected by moonshine onto the tranquil waters.

     The deep peace of this exquisite moment seeps into my very soul and soothes me. It takes over my consciousness so that I am transported out of myself to a realm of total bliss and serentiy. I can still enter this mystical place by conjuring up in my mind’s eye and bringing to present time this vision of utmost beauty that I beheld nearly fourty years ago…

     Jean called: “These mountains are so beautiful that you get choked up.” I knew what she meant. Great beauty – be it nature, music, art or literature – has a transforming power that sweeps away one’s cares and nourshes one’s inner self. I need to seek out more othen the beauty in my life.

22

ALONE  IN  THE  WOODS

Sometimes I sit in my log cabin as in a cocoon, sheltered by swaying spruces from outside the world… Then the chirp of a swallow winging over the lake reminds me that there’s always a new beginning.

Ann LaBastille – Woodswoman

People get stuck one plateau of living. It’s easier to stay in our familiar ruts. The thought of changing my comfortable existence and striking out into unknown territory frightens me. Also, most of us are bound by the bonds of important relationships.

     If you want to enjoy a real-life adventure from your armchair, do read Woodswoman by Ann LaBastille PhD. I feel a kinship with LaBas-tille because she loved nature and was a fellow admirer of Thoreau’s Walden. As old Granny said, reading makes our worlds match up.

     She abandoned her big-city upbringing to become an ecologist. One summer she worked at a lodge in the Adirondacks wehre she fell in love with the owner and the great North Woods. Then her husband found someone else and told her that she had to leave within two months. What to do?

     Often our lives are like a boar without a rudder, carried hither and thither by the eddies and currents of life. Timidly we can’t make up our minds to act until it’s too late to achieve our innermost desires.

     Bruised in spirit and homeless, she used her freedom to set another course on her own terms in order to heal her spiritual melancholy and homelessness. Having no other choice about the overturning of her life, LaBastille set out to achieveher dream of living all alone in the forest primeval.

     Her tale briefly stirs up a longing within me to set forth on an adventure as she did, but common sense quickly returns, Her account is a fascinating read for the likes of people like me who love nature but don’t want to suffer the discomforts of living at its mercy.

     Iv’e never wielded an ax, cut tress with a chain saw, used a portable generator, fired a gun, tied expert knots in ropes, used a compass with any certainty, used show shoes, or skied. The one time I tried to paddle a canoe, I ran it into the bank. Also, the simple, back-to-nature life turned out to be for more complicated, uncomfortable and dangerous than even she had anticipated.

23

     LaBastille bought 22 acres of land forested with virgin pines, spruces, firs, maples, burches and beeches bordering a lake in one of the most primitive areas of the Adirondack Mountains. Many of the trees were three hundred years old. A tree to me is more than an inanimate object – it is a living presence. I understandi what she means when she writes, “Clearly the land belonged for more to the trees than to any human being.”

     She got her wish to get away from people! The closest settlement was five miles away, and it was twenty-five miles to the nearest town. The dirt road eneded a mile and a half up the lake, There was no path around the lake, electricity or telephone service. There were only a few cottages around the lake, called “camps” in the Aditondacks. Their resisdents all left during the winder when she would be snowed in with only her dog for companionship.

     The main living space of LaBastille’s cabin with only 12 by 12 feet. A tiny kitchen was on the enclosed porch. She built a sleeping loft with a steep ladder going up to it. Imagine having to cram all the impedimenta of our affluent lifestyles into such a tiny space!

     Her refrigerator and little stove worked on propane gas. Heat was an urgent priority as temperatures drop to near freezing even in July and are often several degrees below zero for most of the winter. Friends helped her manhandle a three-hundred-pount, cast iron Franklin stove onto a boat, cross the lake and drag it up the hill.

     LaBastille used a chain saw to cut down dead trees and saw them into logs to last through the winter. This was a matter of life and death as she would freeze to death without heat. She had to tote buckets of water from the lake, Having a supply of water in the cabin at all times was crucial in case of fire. If her isolated cabin burned down during the harsh winter, she would freeze to death because no help was avaiable.

     Think of trudging two hundred feet through ice and snow to visit the outhouse! My childhood home had an outhouse, and I have abso-lutly no inclination to live like that again. It isn’t fun to have to put on a coat and boots to use the restroom. Afraid that her bottom would freeze to the “throne” during the bitterly cold winter, she started keeping the toilet seat inside to keep it warm. Finally she installed a chemical toilet in the kitchen.

     She wrote that while she was building her tiny cabin time slipped backward. She felt like a stubborn pioneer woman swinging her axe.

I was saddened to hear of her death in July 2011.

24

THE  WATCHER

In Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” Frodo touched a tree and felt it as a living being. To me trees are almost as much a sentient presence as an animal. I understand people who chain themselves to redwoods, attempting to save them. When I was a girl many people mourned the deaths of Knightstown’s huge elm trees, including one that stood the in schoolyard.

     What some of us prize so highly, others destroy frivolously. They cut down thousand-year-old redwoods for fences and decks. An acquaintance who once owned a lumber company in northern California used to assert that we had trees to spare. Now she sings a different tune. She went back a few years ago, and a friend flew her along the coast. “There was one row of redwoods left; behind them all of the others were gone.” 

     After a wind storm I was stricken when I drove from out Warren Park home along Pleasant Run from the southeast corner of the golf course into Irvington. It was like driving a slalom, turning back and forth because of huge limbs down in the street. Ugly gashes marred the old trees. An Irvington acquaintance reported that it was difficult to get from his Irvington home to the Benton House because there were at least thirty trees down in his neighborhood. “Oh dear,” I said. “Would you check the Kile Oak on your way home?”

     I worry about this venerable burr oak that’s estimated to be between three and four hundred years old. Think of it: It was here when Indians were present and is the oak tree’s equivalent of a giant redwood. Still growing, it’s 92 feet high and has a spread of 125 feet. Its diameter is nearly six feet, and it’s eighteen feet around!

     It is named for the Kiles who built a house near it in 1901. Their daughter, Mae, lived there for 71 years. When she had to leave her only concern was that the oak be preserved. The property was bought with the help of the Lilly Co., the Irvington Historic Society and the Irvington Union of Clubs and is owned by the Irvington Historic Landmarks Foundation that also owns the Benton House. The house was torn down because it was dilapidated.

     I called a neighbor who knew Miss Kile. “She was a very intelligent, ladylike person and was J.K. Lilly’s secretary. She adored that tree and drove tiles down next to its roots and carried buckets of water from her house to pour down them to water the tree.”  Imagine trying to water such a huge tree!

25

     The oak is much more thanjust an inanimate collecton of trunk, branches, roots, and leaves. There’s a cadre of people who care intensely about it. The Irvington Garden Club donates money; master gardener Ed Myers works unstintingly on the grounds; and the Irvington Historic Landmarks Fondation provides funds.

     The neighbor whom I interviewed said, “I wish I could do more to help.” “You watch over the tree, and it needs watchers,” I responded. She replied, “You know, I dometimes believe that it’s the tree who watches over me.”

26

In The Studio |The Zentangle Method®

All Things Related To The Zentangle Method®

12 March 2021

Welcome back! Since we last met up I have been busy with various activities as I mentioned in my 1st Friday blog last week. One of the BIG things I accomplished was finally getting my Zentangle® classes set up here on my website and on my Facebook page.

You may be saying to yourself “why should I bother with taking classes? There’s tons of free videos and examples online.” Rather than re-invent the wheel here’s what the Founders of Zentangle® basically have to say:

“We train Certified Zentangle Teachers™ (CZT®) to teach our Zentangle Method. They understand the background and subtleties of the Zentangle Method which are not obvious from much of free material on the web. There are reasons and techniques; philosophies and principles for everything that we do.”

Zentangle.com

The first class of 9 that I offer is an intro to The Zentangle Method® which is a requirement (with an opportunity to test out of) for all following classes. The reason for this is to make sure that each student studying with me understands the basics, as I was taught, by Zentangle® Founders Rick & Maria.

Intro to The Zentangle Method® Tile #1 Crescent Moon, Florz, Hollibaugh, Printemps

Last month I discussed what is involved in the Intro to The Zentangle Method® class. If you missed it you can check it out here.

  • Black 3.5 tile with Hollibaugh, Tipple, Printemps & Diva Dance
  • Renaissance 3.5 tile with Huggins, Mooka, Dodaah. PP12 Day 2
  • Gray 3.5 tile with Striping & Shattuck
  • White 2" Bijou tile with Verdigogh
  • Renaissance 3Z tile with Fracas, Shattuck, & Purk
  • White Zendala with Sampson & Orbs
  • Gray 5x3" Phi Tile with Diva Dance, Scena & Orbs
  • White 10" Opus Tile with Crescent Moon, Scena, XYP, Pea-nuckle
  • Zen Gems on Bijou Tiles using pencil

From the intro class you can move on to new paper tile colors, shapes and of course tangles! Check some of them out in this slideshow but don’t let them intimidate you! These are examples of my work and some are more advanced and complicated that others.

Zen Gems on Bijou Tiles using pencil
Zen Gems on Bijou Tiles using pencil

A couple of other things I’ve done over the past month is take some classes from other CZT’s. The first one was with Leslie M who taught me how to create Zen Gems which have been very popular with other artists in the Zentangle® community. To see more of Leslie’s work, check out her @leslieinthemoment on Instagram.

Zin Kin® Cousin - Marie Paris
Zin Kin® Cousin – Marie Paris

The other Zentangle® class I took was how to create Zin Kin© offered by Katrina S. She’s currently working on a worldwide project called Zen Kin Cousins©. You can check out more about this activity and perhaps create your own here.

I hope you have a great week and I invite you to join me on this wonderful journey of life and creativity! Book A Class here or by clicking on Book Now on Facebook.
You can follow me on Facebook and Instagram and view my Portfolio HERE

In The Studio | First Friday

A Review of the Past Month

5 March 2021

In February I managed to write about four different topics that are interconnected by an artform. In case you missed them, here are the links: 1st Friday, The Zentangle Method®, Ramblings By Rose Mary, and Featured Artist Chaz Chiafos. In addition to my blogs, I spent quite a bit of time working on Zentangle and Ramblings related projects which I’ll go into more detail about in the next couple of weeks.

I also learned a LOT of new things during the past month. Where I live we got around 11 inches of snow so needless to say I’ve spent most of my time indoors!

Snowy Day

One of the new things was that I decided to try my hand a Paper Quilling also known as Paper Filigree which is an artform all of its own. I’ve always loved working with paper in all sorts of ways ever since I was a child. I can remember making home-made paper out of paper scraps… hmmm… maybe I should try that as soon as the weather is nice again. For the last ten plus years, in addition to drawing and painting, I’ve been scrapbooking and making cards. I often use a Cricut which means LOTS of scrap paper… at least in my world.

One of my Zentangle students, neighbor Gayle, got a chuckle the other day when I said, “Oh here! I have plenty of black scrap paper you can practice on” and opened a filing cabinet drawer of various paper pieces I’ve saved, all in their own folders.

As you can see paper side-tracks me easily! Snooperviser Snickers is showing me what true focus and concentration really looks like and telling me to get back on topic!.

Back to Paper Quilling… it involves using, at minimum, an awl to roll, bend or twist strips of paper which are glued on the end and then pressed or formed into different shapes. These shapes are then glued together to create an animal, flower, a filigree shape or really anything your mind can imagine. People then use the rolled paper to decorate cards, create artwork or jewelry. There are different techniques, tools, and paper strip sizes and colors that can be used. To learn even more check out this great article by Sara Barnes on My Modern Met.

I decided to go online and order a “kit” that came with everything I could possibly want or need to start learning how to do this, new to me, artform. I wish I’d known about the precision glue bottle years ago; I can see it being very useful for a lot of other applications.

Next I watched some YouTube videos to learn the basics of my new tools and quilling. Once I felt comfortable with the basics I found this video by The Paper Craftery and decided to make a heart wreath which was a blast! This is something crafty I can do in front of the T.V. which for me is bonus because while I do love to binge watch shows I can’t just sit there and veg in front of the tube like many people do.

I was pretty pleased with my first attempt at creating something with all of the little rolls and swirls. Time to decide what my next paper quilling project is going to be before the weather’s too nice to stay inside all evening!

The other thing I’ve been working on this past month is looking for local artists to do a feature on. I posted a request on the local Facebook page and was amazed at how many “friends” of creative people were tagging the creatives they knew yet only 5-6 artists contacted me. If you or someone you know is an artist or artisan located in White County, Indiana get in touch!

In The Studio | Featured Artist – Chaz Chiafos

26 Feb 2021

Chaz Chiafos & his Dragon, an ongoing project

I’ve been noticing something about several artistic people I’ve come in contact with lately. Many of them don’t think of their creative spaces as an “art studio.” Ellen works out of a one room “cottage” on her property and Jen has a “she-shed.” This months Featured Artist gave an interesting response about his space and it made me wonder if I was being presumptuous about calling my dedicated creative space a studio, so I looked it up. According to the dictionary a studio is defined as:

1a : the working place of a painter, sculptor, or photographer.

Merriam-Webster.com

Chaz  Chiafos is one of two chainsaw artists, the other is Cody Ruemler, at “Indiana Carvings” which is located on Chaz’s property at 3213 E. Division Rd., Monticello, Indiana. For the past year I have driven past his place and observed the various carvings that he has created, in various stages, sitting out in the yard. Chaz happened to post on a local Facebook group about his business a couple of weeks ago and I contacted him right away for an interview. When I asked what day and time would work best to interview him and see his studio his response was “Stop by any time! I don’t have a studio; I work out of my barn.”

Indiana Carvings, Barn Entrance
Indiana Carvings Studio

When I arrived last week on a very snowy day I was greeted by Chaz’s snoopervisor, Tobor (robot spelled backwards and named by Chaz’s kids) who was hard at work assisting Chaz with wood chip clean-up!

Chad's Snoopervisor Tobor
Tobor a very sweet pup once you’ve been introduced!
Tobor & Wood
Tobor with wood chip

Chaz, bundled up in work Carhart’s, greeted me with a smile and a handshake and I knew in that moment he was a kindred soul! He is a self taught emerging chainsaw artist who was born and raised in Monticello, Indiana. Chaz has lived here his whole life. You may already know him through his landscaping business Hardscapes Unlimited Construction which is also on Instagram. It’s pretty common for emerging artists, myself included, to have other jobs to make ends meet. Add to that, the Coronavirus shut down many fairs and markets this past year and may put a damper on many this year as well.

Good Vibes Only

When Chaz was growing up one of his chores, which he enjoyed, was cutting and splitting wood. He says

“it’s a random coincidence… I can’t draw…. took art in high school and was terrible, but it turns out I have a knack for wood. I feel the flow of the saw and it just happens.”

Of course the one question every artist is asked is ” who or what got you started?” Chaz was initially inspired by Chris Trotter of Wooden Wonders about six or seven years ago when he was in Nashville, Brown County, Indiana. Chaz shared that he happened to see Chris creating a standing horse out of wood and said “I thought it was cool… neat… I never saw wood carved that way.” Today he follows other carvers on Facebook especially Chainsaw Carving World which is a collection of international cavers sharing their work online. What got Chaz started? His immediate response was: “Beer! One night I was sitting around the campfire with a buddy and saw a picture [on the phone] of an eagle. I decided to create one out of a 7 ½ foot silver maple log using a chainsaw. I seem to have a thing for eagles.”

Eagle
Eagle carving made from 7.5′ log of silver maple

Chaz’s creative process involves gathering pictures of different features for the item to be created and combining them to make a blueprint to work from. Then he begins sawing on site for an in-place project or chooses a log based on the size needed and cuts the basic shape. Up to three different chain saw sizes are used on his carvings.

Totem
Using a printout of what he’s going to carve
Chainsaws
3 sizes of chainsaws are used to carve
Beginning a carving
Marking areas to trim away with chainsaw
Wing 1
Wing 2

After Chaz completes everything but the fine details he will switch to a Dremel tool or grinder for that part of his work. He then sands the finished product and puts a finish on it.

Grinders & Dremel
Grinders & Dremel tools are used for finishing touches
Fine Details Front
Fine Details Back
Owl Trio – Finished Product

Fine Details of Owl Trio
A close up of the fine details found in Chaz’s carvings

Unlike many artists out there Chaz’s work does not represent things going on in our world today. A great deal of his art is based on animals. Chaz wants his clients “enjoy what they have asked him to create.” That is what’s important to him. Much of his work is as tall if not taller than he is!.

  • Chaz & Lion
  • Dragon
  • Owl 3
  • Dolphin
  • Eagle, Bears & Fox
  • Bench
  • Baby Yoda
  • Bear
  • Owl 2
  • Parrot
  • Totem Pole

When asked how he prices his work, he responded that “each carving is different so it depends on the size and the amount of detail that goes into it.” Another thing that factors into the final price is delivery of the carving when it is complete. Chaz is willing to hand deliver commissioned work on request anywhere within the U.S.A. for a fee.

About five hours after I left his studio, Chaz sent me a text with this video of what he started and completed in that time. To see more of his completed work you can find him on Indiana Carvings Facebook page. Also look for his group Indiana carvings under groups where you’ll see more of his work in progress videos

In The Studio |Ramblings

A Stroll Down Memory Lane with Henry David Thoreau & Rose Mary Clarke

19 February 2021

What I Have Lived For

                One of the chapters of Walden is entitled “Where I have lived,  and what I have lived for.” Each individual’s list of what he or she has lived for would differ from mine in the details. Some might say, for example, athletics, sewing, gardening, decorating or fishing. As I read through the essays that are used for this book, I see what has been important to me as I’ve traveled through the seasons and landscapes of my life. Looking back over the days of my life,  I discern that there have been several threads of different hues that have made up the warp and woof of my existence and formed its pattern, making it as rich as a vivid Oriental rug. I have lived for:

Reading and writing

Nature

Love and marriage, friends, and family

Encounters with unusual people

Travel Food and the arts

                    All of these experiences have been seasoned with good food and drink, beautiful music, art and theater. 

5


Reading And Writing

Drawing of a set of books

“No wonder that Alexander carried the Iliad with him on his expeditions in a precious casket, A written word is the choicest of relics, It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art. It is the work of art nearest to life itself, It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips, not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself…Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.”

Henry David Thoreau – Walden

7


MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH WORDS

     Reading and writing are part of the foundation of my life. My mother read to me as Old Granny had read to her. When I was
seven years old one day Mother was too busy to read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, so I said, “Well! I’ll just read it myself!” That started a lifelong passion for books and reading. My entire family was caught up in the same compulsion: We needed to read, couldn’t stop reading.
     Compulsive readers share a private universe: reading by the light of a lamp hidden under the covers when you were supposed to be asleep: the excitement of leaving the library with a whole armful of books; discovering an unread book by a favorite author; sorrow at the deaths of great authors because there will be no more books by them. I just heard that Anne LaBastille, one of my favorite writers had died.
     One of the greatest satisfactions of dedicated readers is to talk about books, relive books, wallow in books with like-minded people. I used to stand on the corner after school, talking books with Ed Fort. The query, “What are you reading?” brings instant rapport with strangers.
     Bill and I illustrate the difference between those who read out of purpose and those who are driven; He reads slowly and with premeditation; I read faster… faster… gobbling up the words like one who is starving. The pages of his books are crisp, white, virginal, but my bools are dog-eared and have underlined passages and notes written in the margins. I rarely throw away a book. It was with a pang that I finally discarded a disintegrating copy of Shogun.
     Genre, style, philosophy mean little to the compulsive reader. We read cereal boxes during breakfast. That doesn’t mean that we don’t apply exacting standards to what we read seriously. Robert Ruark said that truly fine writing reads like cream. Perhaps only a real reader, as my old granny called us, would understand that. Once Bill asked me why I read certain books again and again. “Well,” I replied. “You like to listen to your favorite records over and over.” I, too, hear a kind of music.
     I suspect that underneath the surface of every dedicated reader lucks the soul of a writer. When I was a teenager I worked at the Knightstown Banner, and occasionally Tom Mayhill, the publisher, would have me interview someone and write a column. I started writing a weekly column for the Banner eleven years ago.

9

     Its publishers gave me carte blanche to write as I chose. Wisely , I think, I called it “Ramblings” because it has been a reflection of my journey through life. It is also published in the Eastside Voice. I understand what Connie Scholtz, a Senator’s wife who won a Pulitzer for her newspaper columns, wrote in her insightful book, And His Lovely Wife. “Writing wasn’t just what I did. It was who I was… I couldn’t imagine how I would make sense of the world unfolding in front of me if I wasn’t writing it down and thinking it through my computer.”  A Chinese philosopher said, “To re-create something in words is like being alive twice.” Thus, it is with me…I am so rich!

10


Drawing of Maude F Kelly "Granny"
Maude F Kelly “Granny”

CONVERSATIONS WITH GRANNY

This essay that I wrote many years ago won First Prize in the Indianapolis Marion County Library Essay Contest

     In no way does memory of old Granny conjure up vision of the prim, rosy-cheeked, lavender-scented grandmother of magazine ads. Granny smelled of tobacco and sometimes beer; her dresses hung shapelessly and crookedly; her cotton stockings sagged; and her language was salty. To add to her general dishevelment, her right eye socket was empty as she refused to wear a glass eye. (What the Hell do I need with a fake eye at my age?) Her questing mind, however, was untouched by her body’s disintegration. It was she who turned my love of reading into a compulsion.

     Granny spoke in italics and exclamation marks. During my visits, we talked books, relived books, luxuriated in books with that almost erotic satisfaction that the dedicated reader achieves. Often she would be sitting with her good ear cocked toward a record player, listening to a talking book about which she maintained a running commentary: “Damn-it-all anyway! Why do those people send me such junk? They know that I can’t stand Grace Livingston Hill – that mealy mouth! And I don’t have another thing to read! Why can’t they send good stuff like Dickens? Now, you take David Copperfield – there’s a real book. Remember Aunt Betsy and the donkeys? What? You haven’t read it? You get yourself right down to the library. Oh, are you in for a treat!

     One day I asked, “Granny, what’s it like not to be able to ready anymore?”

     “Well, you take these talking books. They’re wonderful. I’m truly grateful for ‘em, but it’s not like holding a good thick book in your hands. Why when I could read by eye I could almost taste the words. Know what I mean? Now taste is second hand.

     “Another thing,” Granny continued, cocking her head and stroking her chin meditatively, “Reading fixes things inside of you. For instance, I can’t picture my people in my mind’s eye, but the things I once read about – cities and mountains and such –  I can still see. I guess that good writers see better than we do, and then their impressions stay inside our minds forever.” She also said, “You know, real readers like us read just for fun.
Take me: I don’t give a hoot in hell whether I learn anything or not – it’s too late for self-improvement. Yep, we read just for fun…’Course, other writers see better than we do, and then their impressions stay inside our minds forever. “things happen incidentally.

11

     Now, the outside world and I won’t ever know each other completely, but a really good writer like that Hemingway fellow, he’ll never know me or give a hoot in Hell about me as a person, but he has to care about me as a reader or I wouldn’t like his books. We serve each other. His writing and my reading make our worlds match up. Have you ever read For Whom The Bell Tolls? I know I told you to read that one! Go get it today!”
The worlds match up. The graffito, “Frodo Lives!” is not altogether frivolous. Indeed, Frodo does exist somewhere within me along with Jake and Lady Brett, Pilar, Lord Toranaga, Lady MacBeth, Pombal and old Scobie, Miss Marple, Tom and Huck, Ivan Denisovitch and hundreds of others.
     Granny has been dead for over sixty years, but still she shuffles along behind me through the landscapes of my internal vision; Durrell’s Alexandria, Zola’s cabarets and coal mines, Herriot’s Yorkshire, Baker Street, Watership Down, Twains river…
Granny once said, “I always thought I’d like to try my hand at writing, but you know, I was always so busy reading that I just didn’t have time.” Robert Ruark wrote that great writing reading like cream. Writers out there who do what I cannot, bring on the cream. I simply cannot find a thing to read around here! 

12

This Damned Book

Putting this book together has been a humbling experience. During my woes and lamentations about it, Bill heard me refer to “This Damned Book” so often that he finally said, “That’s what you should call it.”

My only other experience in putting a book together was with Irvington Cooks a Benton House project. A volunteer did a fine job of data entry, but as inevitably happens, there were errors. Proofreading was a maddening experience. It’s very easy to end up with incorrect quantities so that, for example, ¼ teaspoon becomes 14 teaspoons. Teams of volunteers proofread out loud, but a few errors slipped through, including my omitting Worcestershire Sauce in a recipe that I contributed!

     This project seemed straightforward and simple. All I had to do was select some of my newspaper columns and e-mail them to Susie. I have been writing for The Knightstown Banner for eleven years, and it publishes 51 issues a year. That’s over five hundred columns that I had to sort through.

     Also, I didn’t anticipate that reading through those columns would be such a poignant journey. Sometimes the proves brought laughter, but occasionally I shed tears because of memories of beloved people who are no longer here and regret that I cannot repeat the wonderful times of my younger years.

     Susie said that I needed an editor. However, I refused to spend the money. I finally told Susie, “If I don’t do something according to the rules, just consider it poetic license!” At least one thing should be easy: I taught English, and certainly know grammar right? Wrong! I had to take a refresher course in commas. Further, almost every column needed editing, and that process caused new mistakes. Several people read the book individually and also out loud to each other, but we still found errors.

     At last the book is finished, and now I feel like a mother who’s reluctantly sending a child off to the first day of kindergarten. A member of a book discussion group that I attend recently wrote a novel. Her husband finally said, “Dammit, hit the button and send it!” If you find errors in this book, kindly keep it to yourself!

13

A Cure For The Soul

I’m being dragged into the electronic age. People would tell me that I ought to get a Kindle. I’d reply, “I like the feel of a real
book in my hands.” Vicki and Tom gave me a Kindle for Christmas. In many ways it is wonderful: It fits in my purse; I can enlarge the type; and the books are affordable.

Vicki has started reading classics such as A Tale of Two Cities which cost little or nothing.
The word “kindle” means to ignite, inspire. Therein lies a trap – so many books that I can buy with the flick of a switch! Amazon has my credit card number, and I must be very strict with myself. I already have one whole shelf of unread “real” books in our library that I bought impulsively.
There are books that I read just for fun – murder mysteries and escapism such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Other books I read seriously and underline passages and write notes in their margins. doing this with a Kindle isn’t the same as flipping meditatively through underlined passages on “real” pages such as my much-used copy of Walden, like a miner seeking golden nuggets.
E-books will surely have a huge impact on the way bools are published and bought. However, I hope that they never replace the library that was my sanctuary when I was young. I use the word “sanctuary” deliberately. When I was a girl the Knightstown Library was a second home to me. Low on the pecking order at school, I bore my share of bullying and exclusion, but I forgot my troubles when I entered that tranquil place and carried home an armful of exciting books. I still remember my library card number – 1369. One day the librarian, Miss Montiqu, announced that I was old enough to check out adult books. Oh promised land! an impersonal Kindle can never replace a library or book store.
I loved Pat Conroy’s My Life In Books, the account of his life in terms of his experience as a lover of books. A military brat and eldest son of an abusive man who beat him, his siblings and their mother, he, too, took refuge in libraries and read voraciously both to lose and to find himself. I consider Conroy worthy of the Nobel, and the writing in My Life In Books is perfection and will resonate with “real” readers as Granny calls us.

14

In The Studio |The Zentangle Method

12 Feb 2021

BLINK, blink, BLINK…. that’s my mouse curser at this moment while I gather my thoughts for this week’s blog post. Yup it’s time to Zen again! So far February has been a busy month where Zentangle® is concerned. If you’ve been following me on Facebook and Instagram you’ve seen what I’ve been up to.

I’ve been working on a new series that I call #nomistakes which is a personal challenge to use up old Zentangle® tiles. You see, in this artform there are no erasers, and we use permanent ink to draw! That means if  you make what some people would call a mistake, which we call an opportunity, you have two options…. continue to work on the tile until it’s finished. Or what I have often done, start a new one. It’s pretty common for folks who are just learning the Zentangle Method® to feel that their work has to be perfect. I know I did back in the day! As a result, I ended up with a huge stack of unfinished tiles. Here is an example and you can click here to see the process of creating this one and others from start to finish.

Picture of two 3.5" Zentangle tiles - #nomistakes Personal challenge before and after using Sez & Tipple
Picture of two 3.5″ Zentangle tiles – #nomistakes Personal challenge before and after using Sez & Tipple

Last weekend I hosted an online class teaching the Zentangle Method® to some of my various friends. We had a fun time getting to know each other as well as learning the basics of Zentangle® which includes the eight steps of creating a Zentangle® tile and the four basic beginner tangles. The eight steps are:

  1. Gratitude and Appreciation                      
  2. Draw the corner dots
  3. Draw the border
  4. Draw the string
  5. Draw the tangle
  6. Shading
  7. Sign and Date
  8. Appreciation.

The four beginner tangles are: Hollibaugh, Crescent Moon, Printemps, and Florz. In the Zentangle® world these are thought of as “colors.” They are created by using a pattern of lines or orbs in a way that can be repeated to create a work of art. Below are the four basic types of lines.

The four basic strokes in the Zentangle Method®
The four basic strokes in the Zentangle Method®

 

We also spent some time learning about the different tools and paper tiles used for Zentangle®.

One of my favorite types of tiles to teach beginners about, after they’ve learned the basic steps and tangles, is a pre-strung (a line) tile. This type of tile is made by Zentangle® Inc., in a way that you can place all the tiles from the set together and the strings will meet up on the edges. It shows my students how even though each of their tiles are a unique work of art, their art can fit into and create a bigger picture work of art. Just like each of us fits into the bigger picture of life. Here is an example of my work showing a before and after pre-strung tile.

Before and after on a Pre-Strung 3Z Zentangle® Tile
Before and after on a Pre-Strung 3Z Zentangle® Tile

Their homework is a class project of creating the four basic tangles on what are called 3Z tiles which I will post next month when all are “hopefully” completed.

I’ve also been gearing up to teach a class on black tiles and have started working on my lesson plan for that as well as using up some of my “challenge” tiles to make Valentine’s for some special people in my life.

Last but not least I will be learning how to make Zen Gems® with another CZT (Certified Zentangle® Teacher) this weekend! I’ll post those results in my next Zentangle Method® Blog.

I hope you have a great week and I invite you to join me on this wonderful journey of life and creativity! You can follow me on social networks and starting in March you’ll be able to book classes with me on Facebook. View my Zentangle® Portfolio HERE

In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

A Stroll Down Memory Lane with Henry David Thoreau & Rose Mary Clarke

Hello again!

It seems that this month is turning out to be all about introducing artists of some type with each new blog thread and this one is about a writer.

A picture of Rose Mary Gard Clarke
Rose Mary (Gard) Clarke

Instead of using a journal my Mom favored legal sized yellow pads. She would use them to jot down notes, menu plan, party plan, ideas for volunteer work projects, her job, and of course ideas for things to write about.

My Mom, Rose Mary (Gard) Clarke aka R.M., had always loved books and passed that love onto me. In thinking over my life there are always two types of pictures of my Mom that instantly pop into my head. One is of her reading in bed, in a chair, in the car… and the other is of her writing something either by hand, typewriter, or later on the computer. I believe one of her dreams starting out was to become an author like Erma Bombeck who was among many of her favorite authors.

A picture of R.M. Clarke's notes on a yellow legal size pad
Hand written notes for column ideas on yellow legal pads
A picture of her stories in publications
A sample from Forum in the Star Magazine & Marion County Library Newsletter

She wrote columns for local Indianapolis publications as well as her hometown paper The Banner in Knightstown where she worked in her younger days. During her job as a Realtor® with Better Homes & Gardens, later known as Carpenter Realty, she would send out her “stories” in newsletters to all of her clients.

She began writing regularly for what was once The East Side Herald a small newspaper on the East Side of Indianapolis and was writing a weekly column for the Weekly View (aka Eastside Voice) when she died at the age of eighty in 2017.

A picture of R.M. & Victoria C Clarke at the Art Institute of Chicago
Our last trip to the Art Institute
of Chicago

A month or so after Mom died, I got the idea of gathering up all of her notes, clippings, and full newspapers to organize, retype and eventually publish them in a new book in memory of her. Stowed away I have a three-inch binder of nothing but her ideas for things to write about. I also have a large chunk of everything she’s ever written that has appeared at some point in print starting from around 1979. Needless to say, the daunting task of typing that much material all at once was overwhelming and put on the back burner at that time.

For now, I’ve decided to start with the one book that she finally got published not just because it’s a collaboration I did with her containing my artwork but because she hand picked each story in it. Each of these stories are ones that either she or her readers loved.

Picture "Dear Daughter, working together has been a very satisfying experience for me. Mine were the words, but your lovely drawings gave them added life. They were the frosting on the cake."
A handwritten note from Mom in my copy

So without further ado…..

Inside flyleaf of R.M. Clarke's book Ramblings. Shows an interpretive drawing of Walden Pond by Victoria C Clarke

A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE WITH HENRY DAVID THOREAU

R.M. Clarke – Introduction

When I was sorting through over five hundred columns that had been published in newspapers to decide which ones to include in this book I saw how often I had quoted passages from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden as well as those from the works of other great authors such as Dickens and Proust.

Thoreau grew up in Concord Massachusetts and graduated from Harvard. Louisa May Alcott and her family and Ralph Waldo Emerson were neighbors. Thoreau was an expert naturalist, a political dissenter and a fervent abolitionist. His family and he were involved in the Underground Railroad. As an experiment in living, from 1845 to 1847 Thoreau lived alone next to Walden Pond in a tiny cabin that he built on land owned by Emerson.

The result was a book with some of the most beautiful writing in the English language. It’s also full of wit and delicious sarcasm about society’s pretensions and foibles. He wrote that people are slaves to style: “The head monkey in Paris puts on a traveler’s cap and all the monkeys in America do the same…” His possessions were few because he didn’t want stuff that had to be dusted, while the furniture of his mind was still undusted.

His reflections on life are as timely today as when he wrote them. For example, his comments about people’s desire for expensive homes: “Many are harassed to death to pay the rent of a larger and more luxurious box.” He believed that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation because they become the tools of their tools and are owned by their possessions rather than the revers.

I haven’t lived by his dictum, “Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!” Too often my life has been crammed with too much mental and physical baggage. Originally a small-town girl, I’ve lived in a big city most of my life. Whenever I daydream about returning to nature as Thoreau did, I remember that I would miss the trappings of civilization: libraries, concerts, museums, supermarkets, central heating, and -above all- indoor plumbing! However, I take his words about the process of living to heart:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear. I wanted to live deep and suck out the marrow of life.”

I’ve come to realize that whereas Thoreau went to the woods to contemplate his life, I go to my computer keyboard every day to write these essays and in so doing think about the meaning of life and become more conscious of each fleeting, precious minute of it.

Thoreau said, “My life itself was become my amusement and never ceased to be novel.” That is how I want to live!

Picture of R.M. Clarke holding her first book.
Rose Mary Clarke with her first book. Picture credit to The Voice

In The Studio | The First Friday

Well….. really the second Friday because the First Friday of 2021 was New Year’s Day. Whew… WHAT a year 2020 was for me! I always like to look for the ray of sunshine peeking through the clouds and this year with COVID-19 I had the big thought of Yay! I have more time to whip my online “art stuff” into shape. Life and work happened, and I procrastinated right through December 31st, 2020 where online tasks were concerned.

Writing makes me think of my mom Rose Mary Clarke (columnist for The Weekly View) who was very dedicated about writing something everyday and had zillions of ideas. Me, I tend to be more dedicated to creating and less dedicated to writing. Oh yeah, and this is my very first blog…. Ever… and I miss my Mom. Sigh.

Rose Mary Clarke & Victoria Clarke

But! I am taking the bull by the horns and following Mom’s example. My primary non art goal this year is to create one themed blog per week. Some potential items… what I’ve been up to in and out of the studio, featured artists, The Zentangle Method®, and maybe some tips, tricks and “Ramblings by Rose Mary” with the illustrations for starters.

So, enough about the new blog! Let’s jump into what I’ve been up to with a quick year in review. For a few months, my Dad came to stay with my husband Tom and me at the beginning of the pandemic. In July, he went back home, and Tom and I adopted a stray Chocolate Lab, Snickers, (pictured second) from our Veterinarian Dr. Sam at Monon Vet Clinic. Tom had been wanting another dog every since we moved to our current home near Monticello Indiana and I had kept telling him once he was living at home full time we would get another one. I also thought our 12-year-old Lab Lily could use a little sister. In case you don’t already know me, Lily (pictured first) is our love child, adopted around the same time we were married and living in Fremont Indiana.

Dr. Sam informed us Snickers was about a year and a half old, able to jump 6 ft fences and was not leash trained. After messing around for almost 5 months trying to train her with some help from Dani Sosbi of DogWood Kennel we decided it was a good idea to send her to doggie boarding school for a month at Ruff Lyfe to work on her manners. Additionally, she is learning to be friendly to cats so that she can go on visits to Grandpa’s (my Dad) house. We pick her up tomorrow…. It should be interesting…. Fingers crossed.

Snickers in training to like cats

Besides getting to spend almost five months with my Dad and working on various acrylic painting commissions, another COVID-19 ray of sunshine was that I became a Certified Zentangle Teacher® (CZT®). For the first time ever the fine folks at Zentangle® offered the Certification online so I was finally able to attend. What a blast and what an awesome group of people! I’m looking forward to helping other folks start a new avenue of personal creativity. More on that next week! Look for my next blog titled “Zentangle.”

On New Year’s Day the “New Year, New Me” syndrome kicked in and… (fingers crossed) hopefully this will become a good new habit instead of falling by the wayside like so many New Year’s resolutions seem to. I hope you enjoyed spending a little time with me and my crazy life and hopefully we’ll get together again next week. In the meantime, if you want to follow my progress on various art projects feel free to look me up on Face Book (@vclarkeart) if you haven’t already and like my page. You can also find me on Instagram (victoria_clarke_projects) and just for fun on Pintrest (vclarkeart).

Have a wonderful week!

3 commissioned paintings. Each are acrylic on canvas board “Grand-Doggies,” “Pickles” and Dave

3 separate 5 x 7 acrylic paintings. Grand-Doggies, Pickles, and Dave

“Barcelona Flower Shop”

14 x 17 Acrylic painting Barcelona Flower Shop
Zentangle(R) Holiday Cards