In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

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CHRISTMAS: A MANY SPLENDORED THING

The Lord Mayor… gave orders to his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayors household should; and even the little tailor, who he had fined five shillings on the previous Monday for being drunk in the streets, stirred up tomorrow’s pudding in his garret while his lean wife and baby sallied out to buy the beef.

Charles Dickens – A Christmas Carol

Celebrating Christmas to the fullest gives us entrée for a short time to a magical land where everything remains young and fresh. As I prepare for Christmas, the times I had with my family those which I have been privileged to share with Bill and the Clarke’s are ever green, and I am filled with gratitude.

     Ah, I remember well the negotiations that new couples must work through. We’d been married two months to the day before our first Christmas together, and we each secretly worried about Christmas. Would Bill buy a pretty tree? Would I decorate it nicely? Would he throw tinsel on the tree rather than hanging each strand separately? Would we open presents any old time? What a relief it was to discover that we both loved Christmas.

     The biggie was at whose mother’s home we would spend Christmas; or would we have to go to both mothers’ homes and eat two dinners? Blessedly, our mothers never laid guilt trips on us. We went to my mother’s for Thanksgiving and spent Christmas with his. When Vicki knew what Christmas was, we stayed home so that we could build Christmas memories in our own home. Often our mothers spent Christmas with us.

     Christmas for us is a very sentimental time. Lovingly, our home and the most beautiful tree we can find are decorated with an eclectic mix of ornaments that recall cherished people. How could we part with the lightbulb Santa that Vicki made in first grade, the toilet-roll angels made by the grandboys, the ornaments that belonged to Hazel (Jones) Dudley or the Anne of Green Gables doll from Jana? The mice in spun-glass slippers that I bought after lunch at Ayers tearoom so many years ago must be on

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the tree as well as the charming blown-glass pear, strawberry, and stork that we bought nearly fifty years ago at the Catholic Salvage store that first Christmas. After spending a week in Paris with us, our beloved friend, Phyllis Otto, came for dinner and was ever so smug about her gift for us. It was a ball with scenes of the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestry that we saw at the Cluny.

     I think about Bill’s mother when I iron the ribbons on the battered bells that she made. Above the mantel is a grapevine wreath made by Vicki, and on it are statuettes from Bill and Jean. Crafts made by Toots Jones Gard, my niece Barbara, Sarah, and other friends are displayed.

     My manger scene is put on the organ. Nearby is my growing collection of Santons (little saints) from the south of France which I buy as mementos of our trips to France. They are little clay statues of peasants and gypsies who are bringing gifts such as a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, or a goose for the Christ Child. There is a shepherd with his cloak blowing in the wind, a donkey laden with faggots, three chickens. My favorite is a little old woman who is knitting a little sock for Him. One year Vicki made a Provincial farmhouse with attached stable, palm tree, windmill and well from Sculpy clay. I keep it out all year because I can’t bear to pack it away.

     My parents celebrated Christmas well, but Bill’s father brought his English family’s customs along with him. The Clarke’s know how to throw a party, and they celebrate Christmas in the good old Dickensian way. Among the many joys of my life with Bill have been the wonderful traditions which have enriched out existence.

     Last year I drove past our old home where we lived from the time Vicki was a toddler until she graduated. This was where Bill and I were young together. Those were years of magic when Vicki believed in Santa Clause… so long ago… Snapshots from my mental photograph album flashed before me.

     Here’s a memorygraph: Bill’s mother and I drink endless cups of coffee and chain smoke while making cookies and chatting about everything under the sun… My mother loudly sings Christmas carols during Christmas Eve dinner to drown out the whimpers of the Christmas puppy hidden in the basement… Later Mother holds her candle high when we sing “Silent Night” during the candlelight ceremony at Irvington Methodist…

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     And, oh the glorious Christmas mornings! We’d hear Vicki chortling about the contents of her stocking which was one side of a woman’s pantyhose so that it held a lot. Bill’s family puts the children’s stockings in their bedrooms so that the parents can sleep a little longer. One time she refused to go to sleep, and Bill had to slither into her room on his belly to leave the stocking next to her bed. One night we didn’t get to bed until 2:00 A.M., and she woke us up at five o’clock.

     Another memorygraph: At last, it’s Christmas, and eldest first, youngest last, we line up and proceed ever so slowly – “Daddy, will you please hurry up! – down the stairs through the festive, candle-lit house; first past the kitchen table that is laid for breakfast with Mother’s cranberry ware and Bill’s Stirling silver, on through the candle-lit dining room where the table is laden with a Dickensian assortment of delectables, and at last into the living room where the cherished ornaments on the big tree and the high stack of presents gleam from the glow cast by the fireplace…

Heaped up were… minced pies, plumb puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth cakes, and seething bowls of punch.

A Christmas Carol

     Last comes the great, festive feast. Is there anything more delectable than Christmas food; and has any writer ever described it better than Dickens?

     Many people complain about the effort that Christmas takes. Perhaps the bah-humbuggers should quit grumbling and let Christmas work its magic.

I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the past, the present and the future.

Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

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A LITTLE CHRISTMAS STORY

I’ll be home for Christmas

You can count on me

I’ll be home for Christmas

If only in my dreams

Kim Gannon, Walter Kent, Buck Ram

ere are many items in our home that remind me of those who have peopled my existence. On the mantle is a rather battered and unattractive little tree made of silver balls in a red pot that belonged to an old lady who was our neighbor. I display it so prominently because it serves as a bittersweet reminder.

     Unlike my slapdash, disheveled old granny, “Mrs. Kent” was a tidy little widow who lived in a tidy little house that smelled of baking spices and lemon oil. She did lovely handiwork and gave three-year-old Vicki a beautifully crafted Raggedy Ann doll.

     She prided herself on her mental, moral and physical vigor: “I am a Presbyterian, and American and a Republican in that order! My doctor say that I have the blood pressure of a twenty-year-old!” She was still bustling along at age eighty with her church activities, perpetual house cleaning, long walks and babysitting to make a little pin money. Then a relative – who knew best, of course – talked her into selling her home and joining forces to buy a large house where they’d all live happily ever after…

     She watched, wringing her hands, while people picked through her possessions at a yard sale: her Havilland china, her silver, her linens… her books, her needlepoint love seat, her Majolica dishes “with just a few chips” … her broom and her rake … her threadbare, “but still good” oriental rugs, her Christmas ornaments, and her cookie sheets… She wouldn’t need those things anymore, they said. Unable to bear it, I took her away for a cup of tea.

     Predictably, the new arrangement lasted only a few months. The next time I saw Mrs. Kent was in her hospital-like room at a nursing home. She said as I perched on one of the uncomfortable chairs, “Oh it’s you, my dear. I was dozing, I fear. I seem to be doing that so much these days.

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Actually, I was dreaming about dear old Fort Recovery where I grew up. My, the times we had!”

     “And you, are you ready for Christmas? My dear husband loved Christmas. Oh, the Christmases we had! Such lovely decorations and splendid food; I cooked for a month. I can almost taste the roast goose! And the services and the music! I do miss hearing a good sermon. They are kind here, but it just isn’t home.” She kept asking, “Do you hear footsteps? I’m expecting my family to come, but they’re awfully busy, you know.”

     “Just the nurses,” I’d reply

     “Oh, surely they’ll come – surely they’ll be here soon. It’s Christmas Eve.”

     She clung to me as I left at dusk to return to my husband, my child and my beautifully decorated home that was redolent of baking spices and pine. That was the last time that I saw her before she died.

     I like to imagine that on this, her last Christmas Eve, her family arrived with many gaily wrapped packages and delicious little treats and made plans to take her the next day to a wonderful Christmas dinner.

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In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

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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

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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…

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     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.

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In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

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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

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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.

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     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.”

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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.

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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.

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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,

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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In The Studio | Ramblings by Rose Mary

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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…

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     The Old Home Place

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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.

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     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!”

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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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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     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!”

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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!     

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(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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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     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.”

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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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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

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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!

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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

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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.

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In The Studio |Ramblings by Rose Mary

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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

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 |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.

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     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…

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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.

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     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.

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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.

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     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.

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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!

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     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.”

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