Tuesday, October 15, 2019

October's Full Moon

Last night the waning full moon of October was shining right in my window...how could I not think of Walter de la Mare?
"Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon..."

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Ghost stories at Crown Hill Cemetery...




It is mid-October, and my plethora of ghost story books come tumbling off the shelves. Literally. Stacks of them weave in and out among the orange twinkle lights casting shadows known only to me.

Where did my fascination with ghost stories begin? Girl Scout campfires? Late night stories with my Dad? On the other hand, could it just be my own fascination with things not explained? Halloween was always my favorite holiday (if you could call it that) when I was a kid, and it still is my favorite. Autumn has always been my favorite season with cascading leaves onto the forlorn zucchini plants and the mums fading away. Candles. Campfires. Quilts on the beds. Ghost stories.

Today Kathy and I load up Lola (my red Jeep), and head down to Indy for the annual Ghost Stories in Crownhill Cemetery. It will be a quick trip with conversation and anticipation for the concert tonight. I have not been to Crown Hill for the past two years due to family obligations, but this year, not only am I a storyteller, but I am the last one of the evening. That alone sends shivers down my spine. I am also the emcee for the RIP reception as we auction off hand-painted pumpkins to raise funds for Storytelling Arts of Indiana.

Crown Hill Cemetery is the third largest non-government cemetery in the United States. It lies in the northern part of Indianapolis. The acreage is 374 with more than 190,000 resting souls inside the beauty.

The first burial in Indianapolis was in 1821 when a Pennsylvania Dutch merchant died. They carried his body to a location close to the river bush whacking their way to the burial. In 1862, Confederate soldiers were housed at Camp Morton in Indianapolis. The conditions were unbearable ending in the deaths of 1,762 Confederate soldiers from dysentery and smallpox. They, too, were buried in Indianapolis. Their graves were dug by Weaver and Williams. These two men also furnished the wooden coffins at $3.50. (Someday I need to check out those stories!) The city began to realize they were filling up with folks who would eventually need a cemetery so land was donated/purchased to build Crown Hill. It began as Strawberry Hill, but soon Crown Hill became the name because of the high point. A governing board of 30 directors witnessed the dedication on June 1, 1864. It took folks a full day to travel to Crown Hill by horse and carriage, and yet over 400 came for the dedication. They were concerned folks might not travel so far for burial. They were quite wrong with those assumptions!

The first burial in Crown Hill was Lucy Ann Seaton, the young wife of an army captain. She was struck with tuberculosis. Her gravestone reads, “Lucy, God grant that I may meet you in Heaven.” It has since become home to many famous folks such as Benjamin Harrison, James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington and John Dillinger.

Tonight I will walk upon the stage built in the center and tell stories to over a thousand folks spread out on blankets and chairs, bundled up for the cold temperatures. It will be magical. It will be dark, encompassed within the cemetery as I tell stories I have painstakingly chosen, researched, and rehearsed for this occasion. I have to admit, few things make me happier than taking hold of the microphone!

When the night ends, Kathy and I will quickly exit so as not to be locked into Crown Hill, as was the case a few years ago. I actually got lost on my way out. For some strange reason, I locked the doors of my car and had to call for help. I hope that we will exit immediately. I will once again be grateful that I am able to leave the cemetery wishing the sleeping souls a good night.

I am honored and humbled to be a storyteller within the gates of Crown Hill, the most beloved cemetery in the mid-west. Beauty abides within the rolling hills, the nature preserves, and the markers of those gone before us.

As Emily Dickinson once wrote, “It seems as if nature had formed the spot with a distinct idea of it being a resting place for her children.”

Now you want to hear my stories? Ah, you can! October 22 at the Fremont Library, 7:00 or October 26 at Pokagon, 8:00 in the pavilion. Both of these are adult shows. Be brave. Be very brave. 

First published in KPC.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Where do stories go when they are finished?


I bring Kleenexes to class on this day. I open the box and set it on the small stage in Wells Theatre where I teach all my classes. I drag the podium to the middle, and wait for the arrival of the students. Overall, when the day is over, 88 students will grace this stage. Eighty-eight students will stand before me and give a short speech. Not much. Two minutes, maybe three. Three minutes of a small bit of laughter or three minutes of tears. Today we give eulogies.

I keep eulogies in my speech curriculum because we all will give them, if we have not already. During the lecture time on eulogies, my classes are quiet. Some have already given them; others have not. Most have not given it much thought. Why would they? They are nineteen years old!

My first eulogy was for my grandmother. It was a great honor to tell her stories. I remember my Uncle Dean sitting in the front row in his black suit with a red silk handkerchief in the top pocket. Before I spoke, he said to me, “If I pull the red silk out of my pocket that means I would like to speak so please invite me up to the podium. If not, just go ahead and sit down.” As I spoke, I watched him carefully, and then the red silk appeared, and I could introduce him.

The next eulogy was for my dad. My mom insisted I do it for him, and I wanted to, but it was very difficult. I ended that eulogy by singing “Edelweiss” which was our favorite song. The song is what brought on the tears of love.

I encourage my students to eulogize anything from alarm clocks to grandparents and so on. I laughingly tell them one of my favorite eulogies was when Sam Miller gave mine a few years ago. I give them examples and the protocol, and I tell them to dress the part.  The rest is up to them. They show up in all manners of clothing for the appropriate location for their eulogy: backyards, boats, mountaintops, churches, theatres, Ancient Greece, back alleys of New York.

One by one, they take the stage. Burying the family dog is a popular subject on this day. These are serious and one young man leaves the podium crying while we sit in silence waiting for him to return. The eulogy of Frosty the snowman leaves us all in smiles. However, there are so many others: parents, grandparents, sleep, bank accounts, Justin Bieber (yes, really), Robin Williams. These students of mine are respectful of each one of their peers. They clap, they cry, they sit silent. They are forgiving.

After a full day of these speeches, I pack up my backpack and my Kleenexes and bike home on this beautiful late September day. Eulogies spin in my head. At this moment in my life eulogies are stronger than ever before. I know more are coming, and they seem to be accelerated.

I park in my yard and look around. My kayak is waiting by the fence…I guess I could eulogize summer thinking about that. Where did it go? Where did my youth go? My children’s youth? Now the grandchildren. As I sit on the bench in my backyard, I think of the speech of one young man. His story was of his grandmother, and how her death changed the family gatherings. He was eulogizing both the loss of her and of the family.
I sit here thinking about something that always nags in my own head. Where do those stories go when someone dies or when a relationship breaks down, and everything changes.

Everything.

I must find a poem so I head on in to my studio, turn on the lights, and find the book I am looking for easily. But first, I must ceremoniously build a late night campfire before I read the words of wisdom. One match strike and the fire burns. The embers toss into the dark air as regally as tossing jewels into the night sky. I open up my book of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I easily find the one I am looking for because the page actually falls out. “Spring and Fall to a young child…Margaret, are you grieving over Goldengrove unleaving? Leaves like the things of man…”

I finish reading the poem to myself.

I close the book, and let the lost stories fall into my dreams.





Monday, September 16, 2019

Hippie-Fest



This past weekend was Hippie-Fest in my town. Over 7,000 folks attended at Buck Lake Ranch. It was an absolute blast. Carolyn and I sang for five hours knowing all the words to all the songs!!! Once a hippie...always a hippie.

Monday, September 09, 2019

In search of the Aurora Borealis...

Ocracoke Harbor


This column started as a story of the Aurora Borealis, and I will get to that one…eventually. It really is all about the weather, which has taken a lot of our energy this week as we watched and waited for Dorian. Most of us have friends and family who have been in the pathway, or waiting to be in the pathway. It has been a yoyo of waiting.

For me it has been watching for Adam and Tara in St. Petersburg. There was not a stray shower, but they played the waiting game with canceled fishing charters and plans. Next up the East Coast Abe and Kristin were tucked away with the Charleston Crew. With a week’s worth of school canceled for the entire week, the kids were all having fun playing…the adults appeared to be a bit stir-crazy! They had a few tree limbs down and a bit of fence mending, but all is well.

Last night my friends on Ocracoke sealed the last of the doors and windows as they also waited for Dorian. She did not take mercy on them. On last account (and believe me, I have been watching all the posted photos and videos all morning) Dorian flooded lanes and streets and homes. My friend, Jude, waited patiently in the attic sitting on her grandfather’s rocking chair. This was, indeed, historic flooding.

Most of you know I spent many years traveling back and forth to Ocracoke. It was my summer home and sometimes even my winter home. I know every inch of that island and most of the houses too. I was in a hurricane once on Ocracoke, and I know how difficult the cleanup can be mucking around in big boots watching out for snakes while scrubbing and cleaning. These laborious tasks are common to the good hearty folks of Ocracoke. Although right now, I wish I could be there to help.

Those of us in the Midwest are enjoying the days of early Autumn as we watch the grief unfold in the Bahamas too. It is on these days I feel the guilt of food and a warm bed.
And yet, we go on about our lives.

The weather still dominates what we do, and where we go. Last weekend was no exception. The Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) was predicted to shine in our area. I monitored it carefully. Clear skies, the lowering of the geomagnetic field and the new moon were all in our favor. “Let the party begin,” I happily announced to Carolyn in the hopes she would host the party on her prairie. She did. Four of us joined in the celebration. We met early to watch our favorite film, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”  By Midnight, we were on the deck waiting for the lights in the northern sky. Wrapped in blankets and eating our way through trays of brownies we sang into the night sky. We told stories. We waited. We ate more brownies. We waited. We sang more songs. I think you are beginning to get the picture. The Northern Lights never came to visit. Not one shred of them so by 2:30, we decided to call it quits and to go home. It was not a waste of time nor were we feeling a bit daunted. Quite the contrary. We enjoyed a magical evening of each other’s company. “Wait, one more story before we leave,” I announced.

Once while visiting my Uncle Dean in the Adirondacks, he and I decided to take a photo shoot early in the morning on a September day. We woke early, made the coffee, loaded the cameras into the boat and off we went. It was so foggy that we could not see anything. I was so disappointed because the plan was to photograph the beautiful mountain on the other side of the lake. As we quietly rowed into the fog, a kayak emerged with two folks slowly rowing by us. We could not make out anything except their silhouette. My Uncle happily took photos with his cameras. As we returned home, he smiled at me, “It isn’t always what we are looking for that makes us happy.”

I have thought about that often. It is the unexpected…the surprises that catch our breath and keep us moving forward.

I know my families are safe with stories to tell. I know my friends on Ocracoke will find their strength in one another. And I do know that someday I will see the Aurora Borealis.




Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Today is the "Grade-In!"


My first teaching job was in the coal mines in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. I was so young. The truth be told I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was so grateful to have a job after college, and I went after this one with great gusto.

I finished my degree in Scranton, Pennsylvania and we were living in a small house on the side of a hill in Clarks Summit. It was a great little town. When the boys were young, I put the twins in a stroller and Abe in a back pack and we went down the hill to town every day. We bought cookies from the bakery, exchanged our books at the library, bought stamps at the post office, and sometimes did a little grocery shopping…although not much as there was no place to put the groceries. One day as we were walking one of the shop keepers came out the door and whisked us all inside just as a big black bear lumbered down the middle of the street!

When we moved to Indiana to live off the land, I didn’t teach for a couple of years. And, then one day, it just fell into my lap. I was actually calling Ginny Sparks about selling my green beans. That was the year I was picking them by the garbage bags and I just couldn’t can any more of them. Ginny said, “Too bad you aren’t a teacher, you would make more money and we need teachers at Hamilton Community Schools.” I told her I was a teacher and she gave me the name of Steven Kesslar and his phone number at the school. I called. We set up an interview. Did I want this job? Well, probably not and besides we had no running water at the time. I took a “shower” in the pond in early May, put on my Goodwill skirt and blouse and headed over to Hamilton.

Do I daresay it was magic the moment I walked in? Do I daresay it was magical for 30 years? It was magical to work for a principal who would always give approval before the ideas were out of my head! As I think back on those days (30 years’ worth of days), I am in awe of them. I always, and let me repeat that, I always loved going to school. And there were some trying times in my life. The school embraced me…well, the school embraced everyone. Am I making a plea for the life of the Hamilton Schools? Well, of course I am. It is the heartbeat of that community. I saw it firsthand every single day. There must be a school in Hamilton for the children and for the parents. There must be a school for the community, even if the community does not always realize this. Anyway, another related topic.
Hamilton Community Schools, MSD, Prairie Heights, and Fremont are all public schools with teachers who give from their hearts and their pocket books. (I know that to be true in every way.) Somewhere along the line, we, in Indiana, have missed the opportunities to fully support these public schools. I know I grew up with public school…my kids…my students…my family. Oh, if only I could publish list after list of college graduates and their accomplishments.

I love Indiana public teachers and the work they do. I have also seen the decline in teaching staff. I have watched good friends and great teachers leave the field. We should have the cream of the crop in there with our kids…our grandkids. Don’t you agree?

There are ways to help and one is coming up this week. On Wednesday, from 4-6 on the Courthouse lawn in Angola, teachers are hosting a “Grade-In.” This is a peaceful event with teachers bringing chairs and papers to grade to bring awareness to Indiana’s teacher salaries, excessive testing and other issues. Guess what? We can all go and show our support for our favorite teachers and schools. I know I will be there. I am so proud of my friend, Scott Hottell from Angola Middle School, for putting this together.
All of my grandchildren go to public schools in Angola and in Charleston. I want so much for them, and I want their teachers to be appreciated.  

Our teachers need us. They have worked miracles with our children. Now it is our turn to stand up for them. We can help make a difference!!
See you Wednesday!

*First published at KPC.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Twenty-one Pairs of Red Shoes


Twenty-one pairs of Dorothy red shoes grace my old house. They are carefully placed all over the house…in nooks and crannies…on shelves and even a couple are dangling in the window. These red shoes give children great opportunities for exploration, counting, and sneaking around in all the rooms. Last night, at our faculty picnic, was no exception. As the adults picnicked outside the children of Brandy DePriest calculated shoes. Some they tried on, others they admired, but after all was said and done, they only found ten pairs of shoes. Ah, they asked me, where are the shoes. “Hmmm…. somewhere over the rainbow?”

The collecting of shoes began 17 years ago when I moved into this old house. I don’t know how it started, perhaps by my friend and neighbor, Marilyn Doer? The hunt for this house was a long process as I looked at many houses in my search. What did I want? A picket fence…a claw foot bathtub…a lovely neighborhood? It got to the point when I finally realized what I wanted was a house to shout to me when I opened the front door, “Welcome home.” And this house did just that on an early Sunday morning when Randy and Shannon whisked their little ones out of bed so I could see the house. One foot inside the door, and it this house didn’t just shout, it seemed to call to me quietly in whispers too.

Seventeen years ago my friends, Bob and Nancy from Indy, brought their children up to Pokagon for the weekend and ended up at my house for pizza and conversation. It was then the youngest (who is now all grown up) said to me, “I knew you wanted a house so I drew a picture and told Santa all about you. That is how you got the house.” Bob and Nancy both nodded. Indeed, Mary asked for my house that year and nothing for herself. She went on to say, “This is the house I drew and now you have it.” I was amazed and thanked her for the Santa wish. She then said, “You know, technically, this is my house. I should have it when you die.” Lots of laughter followed as we all looked at little, sweet Mary wishing for my house.

Talking with Abe this week, the subject of “home” actually came up in the conversation. I told him I was one of the lucky ones who found home. I know who I am and have chosen this home carefully…not by luck. I could while away the hours in this purple house, but there is family to visit, research to conduct, stories to tell…

In the book, Geography of Home, Akiko Busch says, “And I would argue that in our increasingly pluralistic, and often chaotic world, finding this sense of fit is ever more important. It may be as simple as the graceful coexistence of technology and nostalgia.” Yes, I agree.

Years ago I wrote this poem about who I am. I recently added the last line. And may I ask, who are you?





I am from coalmines,
Deep dark under the ground
With blood shot eyes peering out at the end of each day.
“I am from the still in the back yard where great-
Grandpa shot the sheriff, back in those
Woods owned by the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.
The stories we aren’t allowed to tell.

I am from stewed tomatoes and white bread eaten over
scuffed up linoleum floors and black and white photos crookedly hung over walls.
I am from Amazing Grace and altar calls…sometimes going up to the preacher just to get the service over so we could all go home to pot roast.
I am from lavender sachets and fur collars as we sat together on the bus heading downtown to tea or to window shop for pearls and white gloves.
I am from the stern look of keeping my knees together while my voice could belt out the show tunes of Rogers and Hammerstein.
Under my bed was a dress box from Wolf and Dessaur’s spilling theatre and Dance tickets.
School pictures.
Dried prom corsages.
College entrance exam scores that took me on a whole new road.
The road that took me away forever except for the moments when I return to kneel before the casket to say goodbye.

I am from the purple house with a white picket fence and twenty-one pairs of red shoes announcing,
 “There is no place like home.”

*First published in KPC August 2019.