Saturday, August 17, 2019

Don't Miss August!!

 
August Night Skies This Week from Skymania.com
 
 
It is late. It is dark. The sky is covered with the light of the full Sturgeon Moon, also known as the Green Corn Moon. I love the full moon, but tonight I am looking for the Pleiades. Every year I look forward to the Pleiades in hopes that I see a shooting star…one or a dozen, but this year, with the rain showers in Northeast Indiana and the full moon, they are hard to see.
I pull the blanket a bit closer as I am determined to wait it out to see at least one. These are the nights of reflecting. These nights, with no one else out in the backyard, the early signs of Autumn creep into the night air.
There is something pungent about the air in August. Go into your backyard and take a whiff, and tell me, yes, the air is August. Even though August gives way to Autumn, my personal favorite time of year, it is a sad scent as well.
We shift in August. In June, as written in “Dandelion Wine” by Ray Bradbury we have “…a whole summer ahead to cross off the calendar day by day…” Now the days are crossed off and summer comes to a screeching halt as the kids go back to school.
I cannot speak for you, or for those who have children in day care all summer, but for me, summer meant another year of growth for my children. Going back to school was another year closer to their leaving me. Aaron used to say, “Don’t tell me it is time for school until the night before we have to go.” When they were little I did just that. Tucking them in bed in that late August heat (no air-conditioning on our farm), I would gently tell them school would begin the next day. Perhaps they knew. Perhaps it was the sharpening of the pencils or the clean backpacks. Perhaps it was the tilting of the sun or the birthday of the twins.
After their ritual of stories, I always sat out on the swing on the porch and looked out over the fields. Sometimes Doc would be there getting ready for harvest, but usually it was quiet. Fireflies dotted the landscape, and the early crickets joined in with the cacophony of other night sounds. There was always an owl somewhere in the distance. Those nights I remember as counters of their youth slipping away. Finally, I would do one last check of the barn, and call it a day.
On this night of waiting for the shooting stars, I think of all those August nights on the farm we waited for the meteor showers. Taking blankets and thermoses of hot chocolate outside, we watched until our eyes burned. The boys grew tired, and always wanted to go to bed, but then. But then a star would shoot across the sky in such wonderment that we never wanted to go to bed. That’s the way it was. That’s the way it should be. I look around my empty garden wishing they were here, but they are not. Finally, it is time to go in. Harley, my cat, follows me up to the darkened house for one more treat before he goes out for the night. Where he goes, I know not.
A couple of weeks ago someone posed the question to a group of us, “So, what would you do if you only had six months to live?” The answers were wonderful and varied, “Go to Paris, Rome, watch the Cubs win, see the grandchildren.” It was my turn. What would I do? Probably it is different for all the different times of the year, and my answer would never be the same. But on this night, I said, “I would want to watch the shooting stars with my children one more time, and smell August.”
“June dawns, July noons, August evenings over, finished, done, and gone forever…” states Douglas in “Dandelion Wine.”
Well, not quite over, let’s give it a few weeks. And, hey, it is still August, and there is still much to do. Kayaking, Swimming, Star-gazing. Blueberry picking.”
It’s not over ‘til it’s over, right?
I make tea before bed and sit out on the front porch once again listening to August, and there it is. My melancholy disperses, and I smile as I hear a two folks in quiet conversation walk down my street.
August. Here. Now. Step outside. Isn’t it delicious?
 
*This column was published by KPC on August 17, 2019.
 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

And off to Madison...

Image of the only Shrewsbury grandchild from the late 1800's.



It’s quiet on the river tonight. Quiet and cool. No barges in sight from one end to the other…just a couple of sailboats and a small fishing boat strolling by hoping to catch the last few fish of the day before going in. To the East the sky is blue, pale blue as in a robin’s egg, but to the West violet hues fall in ribbons. Except for a few lovers wrapped up around each other, I have the park to myself. I like it this way as my imagination can travel back in time with a flourish and I have no boundaries. This river, the beautiful Ohio River, is home to many towns and ports, but for me this week, Madison, Indiana is my town. No, I am not here to sightsee…well, not exactly. It started with a phone call early in the summer from Ellen Munds, Executive Director of Storytelling Arts of Indiana. The conversation went something like this, “Hi Lou Ann. It’s Ellen. So, the Shrewsbury-Windle House in Historic Madison just won the Cook Cup and we were hoping you would take the commissioned story. What do you think?”

I did have to think a moment.  On one hand, I love these projects having completed two Cook Cup commissioned pieces before: The Bass Mansion and The Charley Creek Inn in Wabash. On the other hand, I know how much work it is and this one will require overnight visits. On the other hand, as an artist, I am free to build my story in any way I choose. On the other hand, what if the magic doesn’t come and I get no story?

“Oh, I would love to,” I say without thinking anymore! And the deal is complete. The Cook Cup commissioned story is sponsored by Storytelling Arts, Indiana Landmarks, and Historic Madison, Inc. I hang up, mark the premiere date of February 16th on my calendar. I mark off four full days of research and go about my other work until the time comes.

The time comes to pack up my Jeep and head out of town to begin the research. The drive is long and hot. Upon arrival, I stop at the Broadway Tavern for dinner and much needed conversation. I meet Larry who fills my head with ghost stories. Perfect. Larry tells me it is the oldest bar in Indiana. Much later I go check in to my home-away-from-home. I organize my room by throwing everything on the floor and fall asleep.

By 9:00 I am at the Shrewsbury-Windle House ready to meet John Staicer. John is the President and Executive Director for Historic Madison, Inc. and will be my guide and tour companion for the week. Actually I meet him at 9:15 as I get lost…even with my GPS. It is not a good way to start out, I think, but maybe he won’t notice. I shake his hand, chat my way out of being late, and enter the house, or should I say mansion?

The truth is no matter how many historic homes and locations I put my heart into, I am never prepared and always surprised at my amazement. The Shrewsbury-Windle House was built in 1846-1849 for Captain Charles Shrewsbury, his wife Ellen, and their six children. Just walking through the doors conjures up images of Christmas trees coming through the twelve-foot tall entry doors. There is so much to see and ask about, and it is magnificent. The restoration took five years to complete at a cost of 2.3 million dollars.

We tour the house, the basement, the attic, the outhouses, the gardens. I ask question after question and we are there for over three hours. It is easy for me to realize within the first few minutes that John and I are kindred spirits in our love for history and travel.

By noon I am faced with the daunting task of finding story. Finding story means combing through over fifty boxes of coal-sooted material gleaning a piece of story from a letter or a photograph or a household item or a diary. I spend three days in the belly of the archives. John comes to visit regularly anxious to find out what I have found. Other members of Historic Madison, Inc. make their way to me!

It is time to go home. The initial visit and research is complete. I have new friends, new stories, and a beautiful river to guide me through the twilight.