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.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Don't Miss August!!

August Night Skies This Week from
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.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Time slips away!

Good Morning!

How does the time slip away as it does...I always promise to get back to you, but then so much happens.

It is a lovely, cool day in northern Indiana and a quiet morning on my porch with coffee and the New Yorker and guests all sleeping. I love this part of the day...actually I love all the parts of the day! Today is special. It is my birthday and here is one of my favorite photos for this day. Wishing us all a wonderful day...

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

100 years ago today...

One hundred years ago today women were given the right to vote by the Senate vote. The constitution still had to be ratified which it did in August.

So, ladies, are we voting??? Our vote counts. Every one of them.