Have You Read the Paper Lately?

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So many little counties and Bergs have historical societies. And the “tails” they can tattle are often rather TITILLATING and odd…OK, these two are frankly disgusting and weird!

Yeah, well, I'm not really sure what this was about...

Yeah, well, I’m not really sure what this was about… Actually several friends have posted seasonal memes on their Facebook pages about protecting cats this time of year–especially the black ones. So imagine my surprise when this little diddy popped up on my Facebook feed!

Rather attention getting to say the least...

I’ve done the lightest bit of poking around trying to figure this one out. It was an advertisement and promotion that ran some time in the 1940s in a newspaper near my hometown.

Somebody must have had a rodent problem, a really big rodent problem!

Or, were the kitties doomed for wartime experimental lab work?

Were they returned after Saturday?

Was Cruella DeVil’s feline-favoring sister married to one of the Hortons?

Too many questions whipping around in the autumnal air!

The Boone County Historical Society  recently reprinted the following story from 1894 (which I believe was an archivists’ selection and retelling that the newspaper ran in the early 1960s). The man with the byline–Ralph Stark– had a regular feature something akin to our “Throw back Thursdays.” Ralph’s reprint appears below in its entirety. I was amazed when this came up on my Facebook feed about 120 years after the occurrence.

All stuff like this might be lost forever if it weren’t for the digging that Ralph did to find it for us in the 70’s and the lovely volunteers at the local Historical Society who make the effort to re-find and share these unbelievable stories today.

 Some day I would love to run down all the “rest of the story” on both the cat herding and the rather bizarre tale that follows. You don’t have to read the newspaper story I’ve copied and pasted here,

…but if you enjoy a good accounting of what it was like to be in the middle of a 19th century lynch mob, it would be well worth your time.

I would have loved to known what these reporters were thinking as they watched this story unfold and then typed it up this for the highly divided readers around town. And how the heck did all these people find out about this so quickly? This happened long before the county had telephone service in homes, let alone CNN or Twitter.

Right now there isn’t the time for me to go chasing it though.

Who knows, Maybe someone else has already written it down…

 Enjoy~

photo of the Lebanon Indiana courthouse accompanies the story retold and published in the Lebanon Reporter

Common Sense of a Few Lebanon Citizens Saves Suspect From Lynching 
By Ralph W. Stark
There were more than the usual number of early risers up and stirring about in Lebanon’s chill morning air on Monday, February 5th, 1894, but the customary hustle and bustle, and the sounds and noises ordinarily associated with the dawning of a new day were strangely missing. Men on the streets downtown seemed to no longer walk briskly and upright, but rather to slink furtively along, to slither with snake like grace as they moved about. Gathering in little knots of threes and fours and fives, they conversed in low tones, almost in whispers, accompanied with much nodding of heads charging, by their actions, the very atmosphere with the sinister and ominous portent that the next few hours were to be marked with such excitement, violence, madness and shameful, conduct as never before nor since seen, or experienced, in the theretofore peaceful and sedate little community.

Indeed, had it not been for the good common sense and the unflagging 
courage of some eighteen or twenty of the town’s sturdiest pillars who stood like hard granite columns throughout the long day against the lawlessness and disorder engendered by a bloodthirsty, vengeful gang of howling hoodlums, the evening sun might have set on the blackest period in all of Lebanon’s history.
As it turned out, by nightfall law and order had been restored. The one small group of level-headed, forthright thinking citizens, which included law enforcement officers, judges, lawyers, clergymen, and businessmen, had successfully thwarted the evil intentions of a large mob of would be lynchers to wrest a prisoner charged with a foul crime from the custody of the authorities and to hang him from the limb of a tree in the courthouse yard. By late afternoon, the accused had been found guilty on his own plea and sentenced, all in due process and the fullest majesty of the law and was safely on his way to the state prison.

Late in the night of the Saturday preceding Lebanon’s day of tumult and rioting, Frank Hall, a negro, forced his way into the home of the widowed Mrs. Mary Akers, living four miles east of town, and, after driving the children from the room, raped the white woman, so it was alleged. On leaving, the rapist trudged through the snow to the house of his stepfather, Levi Hall with whom he lived, about a mile distant from the Akers place. Early Sunday morning, Boone County Sheriff John M. Troutman and other officers, having been sent for, followed the footprints from the Akers home to that of Levi Hall’s, placed Frank Hall under arrest, and soon had him locked up in the county hostile.

News of the crime spread like wildfire, reaching far out into the county, and by noon the swelling crowd and the muttered threats against the prisoner so alarmed Sheriff Troutman that he took the man by train to Indianapolis, lodging him in the Marion County jail for safekeeping overnight, pending his being returned here on Monday morning for an appearance before Judge Stephen Neal in the Boone Circuit Court at 9 o’clock.

Hall was brought back at an early morning hour, but because of the incensed and unruly rabble milling around the jail, growing larger and more voluble and obstreperous with each passing minute, the hearing was postponed until 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

By midday, the excited throng numbered nearly a thousand persons, most of whom were merely spectators gathered about the hard-core mob composed of some fifty men and a few women. At the noon hour, ministers of several of the Lebanon churches, including the Rev. H. L. Kindig, Methodist, the Rev. J. A. Pollock, Presbyterian, the Rev. J. A. Knowlton, Baptist, and the Rev. Father H. A. Hellhake, Catholic, made impassioned speeches urging the aroused citizens to return to their homes. Earlier, Prosecutor Patrick H. Dutch had implored the people to desist from their lawless purpose.

These pleas, however, fell upon deaf ears. Promptly at 2 o’clock, in the custody of Sheriff Troutman, Marshal Charles N. Oden, Policeman James Caldwell, Deputy Sheriff Frank Daily, and others, Hall was brought out of the jail to be taken to the courtroom.

The little band and its prisoner was immediately surrounded by the mob, in the midst of which was a Mrs. Taylor, better known as Mrs. Van Benthuysen, who was aptly nicknamed, “The Vengence,” by newspaper reporters, because she carried a length of rope and kept up a continuous screaming of “Let’s hang him! Let’s hang him!”

Taking the prisoner from the jail to the north entrance of the courthouse turned into a battle royal. Sheriff Troutman’s drawn revolver was snatched from his hand and several attempts were made to knife the terrified Hall. Despite the fact that the small coterie of officers had been reinforced by George W. Norwood, C. F. S. Neal, W. H. Moler, and a dozen other men, the journey was a physical struggle every inch of the way.
Three times the ugly noose was slipped over the head of the prisoner, once over both his and Marshal Oden’s heads, but always some ready hand deftly flipped it off. On three other occasions the rope was drawn taut about the man’s neck, once on tightly that his eyes bulged and his tongue protruded, but each time a guard cut the hemp before serious injury resulted.

At last the interior of the courthouse was gained and with every entrance guarded by men with ready guns, the culprit was hustled into the courtroom. There, before Judge Neal, he dropped his protestations of innocence, and pleading guilty to the charge, was sentenced to a term of twenty one years in the Indiana state prison.

While the prisoner was held under guard in Judge Neal’s chambers, the Judge, Prosecutor Dutch, Judge Joshua J. Adams, and Mike Keefe addressed the rowdy mobsters, pleading with them to disperse. Some of the more weary followed the advice given, but enough remained to cause Sheriff Troutman continuing concern.

He quickly deputized a hundred of the calmer citizens, and late in the afternoon these men formed a compact hollow square at the west door of the courthouse and with Hall in the center, marched out into Lebanon Street and south to the Big Four Railroad depot.

Without further incidence, Sheriff Troutman and his prisoner, accompanied by a detail of twelve deputies, boarded the evening train bound for Indianapolis where Hall was to be kept in jail until he could be taken to Michigan City. The deputies were thought necessary because it was rumored that a delegation was waiting at Whitestown for the purpose of taking Hall off the train and hanging him there.

Unfounded though the rumor proved to be, it is needless to say that the engineer yanked the throttle wide open to roar through the Worth Township metropolis at top speed while the lawmen nervously fingered the triggers of their shotguns and revolvers. The trip terminated without further trouble and within a few days Hall was occupying a cell in the Northern Prison, as it was then called.

And so ended what was surely Lebanon’s most exciting, and at the sametime, most shameful day. Although law and order had triumphed and peace again reigned in the town and the adjacent countryside, the stirring several hours were not quickly forgotten, furnishing the basis for the recital of countless true accounts and innumerable tall stories for many following years. While the odious affair was in progress, Indianapolis papers and press associations rushed representatives to the scene, and Lebanon was bathed throughout state and the mid-west in the limelight of unwelcome embarrassing notoriety that papers later carried editorials congratulating the community its narrow escape from the adjudication of mob law and commending those citizens bravery and clear thinking kept the town’s good name and reputation from being and blackened by a lynch mob.

There may be one or two venerable Lebanonites reading this story who will recall as youngsters on that eventful day sixty eight years ago there were among the motley small boys and older youths coping ringside seats in branches of the maple trees on the courthouse lawn, witness to the stupid and hideous behavior of their elders. In his Lebanon Patriot February 8th, 1894, Strange Cragun editorially commented: “mob law is no law, and where it is indulged there is no safety for the property or lives of the people of Boone County, by the good sense of the best citizens, has decided that it shall not get a footing on our soil.”

Lebanon Reporter February 13, 1962

 

Praise the Saints and Dish Up the Dirt

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wpid-img_20140825_103611.jpg There’s always a black sheep in every family.

If there isn’t…well, somebody must have scared ‘em off long ago !

There was a certain aunt in my hubby’s family who was evidently removed from the planet at some point.  I stumbled upon her on an early census.  She lived at home with her parents and two brothers until she was about 20.  Then all of a sudden she is married, and widowed within about a year.  Hmmm.  His death certificate (signed by her) states his cause of death as homicide, fatal gun shot wound.  His body was claimed by his parents and I as far as I can tell, was hauled back to Tennessee.  See ya Robert !  That’s around the time that Aunt Mary walked off the face of the earth.  Poof!  Gone.

Now heaven knows, my bloodline is not Saint-laden.  I am probably descended from more than my share of bootleggers, moonshiners, batterers and hatchet murdering types than I care to claim.  A couple of them even got caught!

Honestly, one end of my gene-pool had a real “thing” for smacking others in the head with a hammer. I can’t imagine it was their fault. Maybe hammers were just laying around waiting in those days…maybe it’s what most women carried in their handbags…maybe they didn’t know how to “use your words” to settle differences. I’m not really sure, but as far as I’ve found, none of them ever seemed to have been ever proven directly fatal.

Some tales are a bit less violent, but illegal nonetheless. Like the bootlegger faction of the family who warehoused their stock on underground shelves dug into the sidewalls of the outhouse. Bathtub Gin was the (out)house specialty. When a buy order came in, one of the kids was lowered down the hole–yes, that hole–by rope to retrieve the merchandise.

I would like to think that the customers sat on the front porch  or maybe stood around on the curb chatting while their order was being filled from the “stockroom”. But, who knows, maybe they didn’t give a…

Well, you could guess where that was about to go!

So think aloud around the table today and dig up a few of your “less than suitable for Sainthood” stories. You could start by Googling some names of cousins or other “contemporaries.”   They could be more recent than you think!

Who knows what you may or may not find. But if it’s ‘juicy’…you know what Mom always says:

Maybe someone should write that down!

 

6 Things Every Writer Needs

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0171

In a departure from my norm on family storytelling, I’ve decided to share something that I think is a pretty big deal in any sort of writing. Recently in my Writer’s Group, we brainstormed an invaluable list:

 6 Things Every Writer Needs

The beauty of this compilation is that we are a highly diverse group writing everything from CNF (Creative Non Fiction) to Poetry, to Screen Plays, to Educational Materials, Memoirs, and on and on. Our voices and styles are vastly different (some lyrical, some concise, some babbling…me) But we were able to distill our lists down to six key elements, and then to start holding each other accountable for creating our own perfect environment for productivity while honoring our chosen genre.  We meet every other week and do a check in with the group over how close we are to honoring and providing for our writerly needs. In short, this has made a huge difference for all of us!

Now a word of caution before you peruse the list…This is not open license for dilly dallying and lamenting that you simply cannot write because you’ve made no progress past numbers 1-3 (yet). The idea is to have a vision of your perfect writing situation and to mindfully work toward that as you keep chugging along with less than ideal circumstances.

Shall I pull out the JK Rowling card? She was a single mom, on welfare, who loaded the babies up in the stroller, went to the corner coffee house and started writing down this big story thing that was in her head. There was no MFA, no Macbook, no Scribner, no editor, blog platform or fan base. There were only stolen moments when the kids were lulled to sleep for their naps by fresh air and the soothing buggy ride along the bumpy sidewalk. It seems to have worked out well for her, wouldn’t you agree?

*So here it is* Pay Attention* It’s for your own good* Do it*

1. Tools  Readily usable, reliable, in good repair, comfortable tools. I waffle between the soothing sound of a pencil skipping across paper, and the ease of spellcheck on my super light weight laptop. I also cannot leave the house without my smart phone and portable full page scanner. I’m picky about my pencils too. They either have to be all black, old fashioned wood with pink eraser #2s or a Pentel 0.5 mechanical. Why? Couldn’t tell ya…they’re just comfortable and don’t annoy me when I’m writing.

2. Inspiration What starts a story out for you? Is it a conversation with a cousin? Seeing old photos? A daily prompt from a book or webpage you like? How about your journal, or the writings or possessions of a family member–an heirloom that you admire in a case, or use everyday. For some it’s a place, a date or an occasion. Others write methodically from a task list. They have a neat outline of what they want to say and can go down the list working one subject at a time and feeling a great deal of accomplishment. Some look for contests or open calls for submissions and can write inspired by the given topic. Maybe it’s something you notice on the ground, the funny title of a book, or a childhood memory. Pinpoint your inspirations and gather them up.

3.  Space Oh this is one that’s a bee in my bonnet. The beautiful red cabin above is my oasis, nestled in a meadow of wildflowers, just at the edge of the woodland, a bit disheveled..OK…there are buckets all around to catch the drips when it rains…it is my land of sweet creative repose. My mind unwinds into dazzling sentences and the prose created while there, though lightly written, is unnoticeably heavy in deeper meanings and rich detail.  Or, maybe that’s my dream sequence and this is a photo from Lady Grace (click on “red cabin” to see more of her fabulousness) that she let me borrow and drool over as I patter away on my Chromebook, from the love-seat, in my family room, with an obese Golden Retriever hogging more than his share! Yes, space is my bugaboo.  Right now some of my best writing is done on a legal pad balanced on my knee under the steering wheel as I’m headed down the highway.

A little hint here…if you’re ever behind a grey Volvo on I-65, give it room!

4.  Support I could have easily called this community, feedback or cheerleaders. Don’t cringe. I know most of us who write are rather solitary by nature. We were the kids in the family who could entertain ourselves. But let me say this–Do not try to write in a vacuum! I know it sounds like you’ll have your ideas stolen and dreams quashed, but sidestep your shyness/anxiety/fear and join some sort of group to support you as you write! It could be as simple as a local genealogy club, a critique group, or a class series on creative writing. The blogging community is a great place to look for help too. For women (sorry guys) there’s a great group I belong to called The Story Circle Network. Having fellow writers (not relatives) critique your work and help you along the way is the best thing you will ever do as a writer. Doesn’t matter what your talent or experience level is…do it!

5.  Organization and Techno Savvy  It’s just a fact of our modern lives that we are busy, connected, constantly interrupted and short on time. To be serious about writing, you have to value the writing you do. I keep print outs of all of my submitted pieces, including blog posts and guest posts I do in binders separated by what they are. Some are Chapters for my book, some are short stories and essays, I even occasionally pop out an accidental poem. I keep a note on the printed page of where they are out for review, what the status is, and what my publication rights are, and what I was paid for it/ when it was rejected.  I have a big wall calendar too where I note submission deadlines and when mine was sent and how (electronic or mailed). But most importantly, everything I write gets saved in multiple ways. I copy all the docs onto Word, Google Docs, Google Drive, Drop Box, WordPress, and onto flash drives, and of course slip a hard copy into my handy dandy 3 ring binders.

6.  Accountability  Did I hear you mumble “Ouch!”? This is perhaps the biggest one of all…accountability. There’s an old saying “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” and I would add that the desk drawer is loaded with the empty pages we’ve never begun writing on! Writing can be quite self directed and introverted, and because of that…easily neglected. You must make it a priority in your day (you would be amazed at what you can get done in just 10 minutes with a kitchen timer ticking at you!). Accountability is also, across the board, mandatory in every one of the other 5 needs we’ve listed. You must set goals, share them with others, and be responsible for achieving them. Otherwise, your family history, your great american novel, your spy thriller, or your weight loss cook book will just pave the road…while you burn your favorite candle, sharpen those black pencils, and listen to Pandora.

Without “Accountability” I would loll around in my red cottage moving rain buckets and thinking about redecorating instead of tackling the book I’ve been assigned to review, the approaching column deadline, or the blog post I should care about. Let’s look at that cabin again ~ sigh…0171

Yep, I’m accountable to getting that too!

 

 

 

For the Love of What I’ll Never Have

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The most beautiful face in the world is the one I can only recognize across time

The most beautiful face in the world is the one I can only recognize across time

Today’s work is about what we have lost.  It’s a wish list of sorts, or maybe put another way, its a love letter to the ones we probably can’t have.  I don’t use real names in my posts to protect family privacy etc.  This photo is of my Grandmother a few generations back who immigrated from a small country in the Balkans. I refer to her in my blog posts as Grandma Urbanski.  I gave her this name because she lived and worked in the city (thus the Urban part of the name) and the” ski “just makes sense with the other surnames in the area.

I count her as one of my Lost because unfortunately, there is almost nothing of her left behind. Oh, I will never give up searching for more scraps of Grandma U, but the chances of finding anything more than her grave marker or this photo from her Naturalization Papers are pretty dim.

I am not ungrateful, having this photo alone is so very meaningful to me.  But, I wish that I could also see the face of her husband, of their 8 kids when they were young, or even another one of her.  The saddest part of this is that the artifacts of her life were not blown away in a storm or great calamity.

Her own children destroyed the entire contents of the house after Grandma and Grandpa Urbanski died.  Not out of dislike for them, but even worse it seems, out of the shame of them.

I know that they came here on a steamer ship, likely in the underbelly as 2nd or 3rd class passengers. They were young and newly married. How brave, adventurous and hopeful they must have been! They spoke no English and upon arrival and through the ends of their days they persisted in their “Old Country” ways.

What I would have found marvelous and fascinating about them, their own “first generation born here” children found insufferably humiliating.

These foreign born, huddled-masses parents who worked ceaselessly until the day they dropped were a complete embarrassment to their own children~the very ones they were working so hard for. I guess I would be angry at that generation of ungrateful offspring if it weren’t such a commonality across the board with all the “new Americans” and their children around that time.

Take some time today and write about who and what you feel is lost to your family.  Maybe it’s a story like mine. Maybe it is about the native tongue that you regret never learning. Perhaps you miss a certain food and don’t have any trace of the recipe. Or maybe you just miss your own Grandparents. Mine were all incredible and simply larger than life to me when I was a child. I was fortunate enough to know one of my Grandmothers, Gramcracker, well into my adulthood.  What an experience! To know her as a Grandma, and then, as an adult to know her heart as a woman.

I wish to know my lost Grandma “Urbanski” as well. I think she’s the one I’ll never give up on <3

 

 

 

Schmoozing and Boozing

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My, my…how fancy and devilish!

Schmoozing and Boozing

the Night Club my Grandparents owned

‘John Dillinger Drinks Here’ could be the subtitle on this old business card.  My Grandparents owned this bar, reportedly frequented by gangster John and his band of guys and their ‘Molls’ who were “Wild and Woolly and Full of Fleas.”


So who lives in your family tree?  Most of us don’t really have a famous relative, but you can bet that every branch has had a little brush with fame or scandalous rogues somewhere along the line! Think about that “one” story always itching to be retold. You know, the one that gets passed around the Thanksgiving Dinner table each year. Once the heavy carbohydrates and Turkey-tranquility begin to take effect, the stage is set for storytelling time. Waistbands get loosened, dessert is served with a second (or 5th) glass of wine. Guards are lowered and tongues start wagging…Have your pencil sharpened and in ready position!

 The movie star Frances Farmer used to come into my Aunt’s dry cleaning store. Imagine that–right here in the heartland of farm crops and auto racing. I wrote a bit about how Aunt Mitz did Movie Star cleaning and pressing in another post written about my Uncle Joe. Frances had her own whale of a tale in general. If you aren’t familiar with what this poor woman suffered in the wake of Hollywood glitz, read her biography. It’ll rival most nightmares Tinsel-Town could ever conjure.

And if it be nightmares you seek~ are there any connections between your family and a famous crime…

…or victim

or perpetrator…

…or unsolved “doing”

that went on near enough to your world giving you all the heebie-jeebies?

 A lot of my dad’s family was out working the carnival and county fair circuit with Sylvia Liken’s parents the summer the teen was brutally tortured to death by a woman they paid to watch over their daughter while they were working out-of-state.  Oh, and the real “kicker” if you aren’t familiar with the sad, sick tale was that Sylvia’s “caretaker” Gertrude also included  a bunch of the neighborhood kids in the crime. Gertrude invited them in to practice judo moves, do cigarette branding and urinate on the poor girl.

Moving Along…

Mr Penney (as in J. C. himself) once stepped in during a busy lunch time shopping rush and helped my aunt ring up customers.  When Steve McQueen was a kid he lived with his mom and grandparents around the corner from some of my kin.  And yes, John Dillinger hung out at and loved Granny Kate’s hot stew from her Wooden Shoe Tavern.

Abraham Lincoln and my Great Uncle Jimmy were law partners, or at least classmates in “lawyering school.”  Well, that’s how the story went for years until I started doing some math and blew that tall tale all the way to China. The truth can be a bitter, bitter pill for some. And of course, my husband’s birth-brood (along with every other old South family) is related to Daniel Boone AND Davy Crockett :)

Then there are the ones I haven’t chased down yet–Like our familial claim to Warwick Castle. Or the one about some sort of half Royal love child with Franz Josef Hapsburg, or maybe it was his heir Franz Ferdinand, you know, the guy with the whole Sarajevo/1st shot fired in WWI thing.

Why not shake up your Family Tree with a little something spicy and exciting? Take some time this week to recall the lore and to tell about the famous and the famous near-by. Those who you may claim as your own or those who may be mingled-in-with your ancestors can be a very juicy spit of a story. Big connection, made up, misinformed or one heck of a stretch, all of them are a thread in the tapestry of our own family story

 Maybe someone should write that down…

 

 

 

Dreaming I’m Naked at School (again)!

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1557540_282521591894983_1026699579_nThis dream that I’m naked at school is one that has haunted me off and on for years.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, I experienced one of those “nightmare come true” type of things.  Like everyone, I have a recurrent dream about high school.  I am in the halls, between classes, and utterly lost.  I’m not sure where I am supposed to be, which class is next, or what books I need to wedge out of my locker.  In fact, I don’t even remember which locker is mine.  When my favorite teacher Mrs Goodwin suddenly appears, I feel a bit of relief.  I credit her with herding me through the hallways when I was physically there, I know I can count on her in a dream.

BJ Goodwin was a feisty little women.  She kept a pair of old lady spectacles perched on the tip of her nose. If displeased, a spontaneous twitch would make the reading glasses hop. This in turn caused the dangling chain to flash like an angry snake’s warning.  Kids at my school were sure she was older than God Himself and had schooled him on the whole “wrath” thing.

Her knowledge of grammar and punctuation was above reproach.  After just one semester in her writing mechanics class, if she didn’t fail you for fun, one could fight to the death, certain of victory, over the uses of there, they’re and their respectively. Good old Mrs. Goodwin was the stern mistress of the Language Arts wing.  I concurrently adored her and feared her.

Meanwhile in my reliable dream:  I notice I’m missing more than my schedule, I’ve forgotten my clothes too.  Yeh, that’s right~ Mom is naked in the school hallway!

That’s where I usually wake up gasping in panic.  Phew! Just a dream~I check the clock to tether myself to reality and then I roll over and call it a night…until the next time

On June 23rd my nakedness nightmare crossed lines and came fully into the realm of the real world.   My silly-naughty-mess-method writing style was inadvertently put on display right here in the (virtual) school hallway.  It was as mortifying as any episodic public nakedness could be.  Both me and the oft-dreamt-of Mrs Goodwin were rightfully appalled.

I had a deadline...A couple of months ago I signed up for a tantalizing peer review workshop for new manuscripts. When I received notice that the session was full and that I would be wait-listed, frankly I just forgot about it.  I promptly put my fledgling novel aside and went on with Mom-life as usual.  On Sunday, three days before the beginnig of class I was notified that a seat had become open.  Along with my $135 fee, all I had to send in was the first 10,000 words of my work. Oh Crap.

With no time to waste, I was flying on the keyboard.  When I say flying, I mean that I was using barely coherent language, purely phonetic spelling and shards of sentences.Sequences of letters encrypted in a code only decipherable by me and fully lacking any graces of the English language…that’s the track I was on.  The ideas in the story were coming faster than the words could land onto the screen.  I had to get 10,000 spectacular words out of my head and into a readable format to be able to participate in the coveted workshop. And messy as it was, it was at least working until~

A nagging question and answer vignette with Mrs G began playing in my head:

Me:  Ugh~ why do you assign us  homework if you aren’t having a test? Why do I have to do all of this writing, no one is ever going to see it? What difference does a gerund make in my life? …and on and on

Mrs G: Because it’s for your own good…If you slack off and fall short of your potential  you’re only cheating yourself…  Homework isn’t for me, it’s for you…I may be able to push you to greatness but, I am sure as hell not willing to drag you there!

Yes, she would say stuff like this, she cussed in class.  Scandalous and titillating! This was, after all, in 1970’s rural Indiana…we didn’t have HBO yet.  Mrs Goodwin is still roaming about in my head to this day. I recall the slavish due diligence she demanded for a simple five paragraph essay…outline, topic sentence, thesis sentence and on and on.  Her rants were epic and known far and wide across the Language Arts hallway of our school.  Most famously she used to lecture us: Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell em, Tell ‘em, and THEN tell ‘em what you told ‘em…  Just thinking about those classroom bouts of deconstruction and cadence unnerves and exhausts me still.

And grading scale?  Well, if you were lucky, she didn’t like you.  If she didn’t like you, she deemed you unworthy of her time and countenance  (recall that she was old like Moses).  So, that meant that you could fly under the radar with nice solid papers written to mirror the rubric.  However, if she liked you…Katy bar the door!…turning in a paper was like leaning headlong into a shark tank.  My papers came back with grades like C- and D+ on generous days.   She decorated each assignment with red pen remarks like “pedestrian effort” or “the library has a thesaurus to lend.

In all fairness though, the grades she entered onto my report card and transcript were all A’s.

You see, Mrs Goodwin operated on two grading scales. There was the one for assigned classwork and the one that she set for individual ability.  She liked to mess with your head if she saw promise in your writing.  She loved my writing and abhorred my sloth-y attitude so it went pretty ugly most days in class.

The perfectionism of BJ Goodwin stayed with me for years.  My school essays were spot-on “A” winners every time. Often those essays got me in to places that my GPA wouldn’t have allowed. However, to sit down and try to write as I do today was unthinkable agony. Family stories have too many captions and side-notes to fit the formula for five perfect paragraphs.  So, for the longest time, I found the task so overwhelming that I would spend weeks grinding away at a single story to share on a special occasion, or give up without really starting.

Enter: NaNoWriMo

A few years ago, I took a leap of faith and tried my hand at the November writers’ ritual. In order to stay up to speed with the rigors of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) I had to let go of writing so “rigidly.” The best description I have for the method I slid into is that it’s sort of like writing War and Peace during a slow motion train wreck. It’s really simplistic and frankly a lot of fun.

I just write.

The first time I wrote “all crazy” like this, I understood how Brooke Shields felt in her Calvin Kleins….wow!  I do no punctuation, no tense checking, and pay no mind to pesky stuff like spell check flags.  I just type or scribble. I often catch myself figuratively talking Mrs Goodwin off of the ledge… I’m sure she would find the whole concept regressive and obscene.

The initial work I produce isn’t even remotely well written.  It feels raw and naughty! My only goal is to move the general idea of out of my head and onto the tablet (old school or electronic…I use both equally). Once one of these creative episodes I call “tantrums” has passed, I review the words I have gathered. I salvage a train of thought.  Most of the time it works out. Sometimes, even I have no idea where I was headed.

Mom note: Could this explain those ” I’m Naked at School” dreams?   Hmmm…

Personally my biggest writing challenge is keeping the subject train on the tracks. With my gnat-like attention span I can flit off into the sunset at any moment. So this “wilding” style of rough copy writing I have come to habituate works really well for me. What does happen consistently from this messy-writing thing I’ve adopted is this~ I end up with an edited piece that I can label as a story.  I also generally net at least one or two more “side stories” that can be brainstormed and fleshed out as well. Mostly I think it works out for me because I know nobody is looking.

Which rounds the corner to the point that I started out with…the “June 23rd incident of shame”

And so it happened that late last month while my fingers were having a happy party on the laptop– a slip occurred. I was really excited and on a roll.  I just knew I could get my pages wrapped up and polished before the Wednesday class.   After hours of writing, I decided I would have one last go at a character sketch before bed.  I opened the trusty Chromebook, took a deep breath, arranged the tails of my robe “just so” and went at it.

Silly, naughty, messy me… I didn’t notice that I had opened WordPress, not Google Docs.  With one fatal keystroke I inboxed a few hundred blog subscribers one of the most disjointed, random, ungroomed paragraphs ever seen by mankind.  I went to bed and waited for Mrs Goodwin to rise up from her grave and slap me with a big red F-

sigh…

life goes on

Here’s an excerpt from the whole mess (before I fixed it for my workshop of course):

So othat daywhen Annie Thomlinson pronounced my weiner dog Brut too fat, and further announced that for this and many other insufferable transgressions made by me by mere virtue of myexistence, all now valid reasons, that she could nolonger be my friend, the rest of the world went about their busiiness. The whole world, Inncluding Cindy , Sandy and for the most.part Zelda too.

And my belated apologies to those who were subjected to it.  By the time it got to peer review, it was kinda stellar.  If you found it in your inbox, sorry, my bad, it was a little shy of coherent.

So how about you?  What are your writing secrets?  Do you hold back by self-imposed perfection (I call that my inner Mrs G) or do you run loose and free and pick up the pieces later (my silly naughty mess method).  Do you simmer ideas and words somewhere in between?  Does your method serve you well…or do you need to try something new and daring? Most importantly …are you getting the stories of your loved ones and predecessors written down?

Come stand naked in the school hallway with Mom…Tell me ~what’s YOUR secret for getting the words onto the page?

My Grandpa from the Center of the World or Maybe Just Europe

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It just doesn’t get much more exciting or exotic than this!wpid-img_20140803_122550.jpg

Finally, after years, and I do mean YEARS of poking, searching and poodling around–I finally found my Weisz relatives on the other side of the pond!  Yeah Baby!  And they come from…where else?…the proclaimed Geographical Center of Europe!

Yes, we’re talking Kunesov (or Blaufuss) Slovakia.  Although if that’s all I had to go on during my exhausting search, this whole “middle of the world thing,” I could also have searched for them in about a dozen other places with similar central claims.  Yes, per Wikipedia and a few other sources I have consulted, there are roughly 15  places with claim to being the center of the world and/or the center of Europe geographically. There’s also a “Center of the World” town in the state of Ohio.  But my bunch came from a small gold-mining region of Slovakia, where there isn’t much more than a Church plunked on a plot in the middle of nowhere. Kunesov is said to be the place where both the Black and the Baltic Sea basins rise up to form the hill.  Said hill, or “crest” is responsible for officially dividing the entire continent!  That makes Kunesov rather like an out-y-bellybutton for all of Europe. The church was built in the 14th century and is named for St John the Baptist. Poor St John is also famous for his point of “division” in another way. The lonesome little building is adorned with white stone walls and a green onion dome silently adding a touch of East meets West.
Oddly, GGGrand-Papa is sporting a commonly Jewish surname while being christened there at St John’s Roman Catholic Church.

256px-Stred_EurópyI mention the surname twist, not only because it adds to what I consider the crazy ironic stew that I am made of, but also because of the implications.  Health implications.  In researching the spelling of this name (translated it means “White”) I find that it was a common surname given to Ashkenazim Jews who were fair haired and fair complected (ala “Mom”).  Health-wise, the BRCA genes which give one a high predisposition to breast cancers and some other cancers are commonly found in people who have an Ashkenazim Jewish linked heritage.  I have always said there was no way I would have that gene, my family is all Catholic or Protestant.  Looks like I was pretty much wrong, so maybe yes there was a reason I had breast cancer after all!

Nobody get sappy, I’m fine and dandy now…”only the Good die young…” the rest of us stick around forever tormenting out heirs ;)

  Well how’s about them apples? So, the thrill of finally pinning down Grandpa White was quickly tossed to the side.  Now I am obsessed with finding HIS parentage. I can’t wait to see why a nice Jewish boy (at some point in the history of “us”) jumped sides and became a nice Catholic boy (from there continuing the history of “us”).  I really cannot imagine that his parents were amused!  I’m going to bet that “her” parents were equally “un-jubilant” over the whole pairing.

 Juicy!  Can’t wait to find that one!

So, poor GGGrand-Papa White and his lovely wife Marija from Kunesov, Slovakia have been celebrated briefly (a quick Happy Dance around my ironically “Mid-West” family room) and I am on to “Next.

Isn’t that always the way though?  As soon as one is found and solved, the door to another volume of questions cracks open…and we the Family History Hounds are Off!  Sniffing out the next empty lines on the chart, anxious to find the next fascinating story to write.

Here’s a photo from the Slovakian Tourist Ministry of the official plaque and monument in case you care to think this center of Europe claim isn’t legit (what does Wikipedia know anyway?)SAMSUNG

So how about you? Have you ever bumped into a surprise like this one?  Are any of your relatives from somewhere as exciting as the Center of the Civilized World? Dish it up and share the story please!

You can take your time if you would like…I’m off to the backyard to erect a monument stating that my driveway is the official Center of the Universe :)

Why Did My Brain Remember & Forget?

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PD_0146

Where is he headed, What is he carrying along, and Why is he walking away?

 

How often have you taken the time to “frame” an event with its lead-up and  aftermath?

Like, what were you doing, what errand were you checking off your list, who did you linger to chat with at the grocery before that storm hit, your sister-in-law went into labor, the teen rear-ended your corvette at a stoplight?

Maybe after the rain stopped you found a sopping wet kitten who became a permanent member of the family, or you happened upon an old city directory at a tag sale you never planned to stop at, then sis-in-law popped out unexpected twins so you headed back to the baby store, and the reckless teen driver was the son of your high school crush!

So often a turning point day has multiple events of significance embedded within the same 24 hour stretch. We tend to fixate on what caused the most emotional stir and let the other things fall to the wayside.

It’s amazing how we can recall the big picture and let the detail slip our minds.

 

Take a walk back in time and see what you can dig up with some before and after framing…I was shocked that I had forgotten these two very different events happened on the same day. If I were a tidy-type, I would have thrown out that pile of used up day planners long ago–and likely lost this key point of the bigger story for years–maybe forever. Since I am not (tidy) and thus had not (let go of them) I tripped on this revelation.

That inspired some other “revisiting” and made several stories even richer! Even Mom’s Mama had a good time recalling putting off a trip to the library the day before an unexpected blizzard hit. Her books ended up being several dollars overdue! It was easy to laugh about it because the local paper had run a feature story about the “snow storm amnesty” the library would be offering on overdue books for the entire month of February!

I found a rather startling example recently. I had completely separated the events of a certain day into two very distinct memories–each exclusive of the other.  I had totally forgotten how the two occurred on the same day. We had planned a big Graduation Party for our daughter on a Saturday a full two months after she had ceremoniously received her diploma. We wanted to be sure to go far enough into summer so our party wouldn’t have to compete with any of her classmate’s. Then, we purposefully scooted it out a little farther into early August and made it a farewell-fest for all the Grads before they parted ways for College.

The Weather Channel was forecasting blue sky perfection for the day. I’d watched it hourly from the first moment the 10 day outlook was broadcast. For a perfect party, I was banking on perfect weather. I hoped to do the whole party pool-side for the kids, with their noise, salsa drips and “music” all outside. The adults could take refuge in the air conditioned, upholstered seating surfaces and non-offensive music laden land of “indoors.”

Three days before the big party, I had a general idea of the head count to expect. The weather was still looking great. I had all the beverages purchased and stacked in the garage. Friday night, we would load the old reliable extra fridge with all the pop, beer, and bottled water it would hold. I had a full battle plan in place including a prep schedule planned for all the food (of course I had to cater it myself…let’s just say I’m a little Martha Stewarty at times). I had already struck a deal with one of my best friends and a couple of neighbors to loan me some space in their garage fridges for the platters and trays I would have neatly Saran-wrapped ahead of time.

The weather forecast was holding up. It hadn’t wavered a bit for seven days. I had completed all my runs to Costco and Party City for Purple and Gold plates, napkins and disposable forks and spoons in heavy silver plastic that looked like the real stuff from a distance.

All was clicking along. Right on schedule. Spit Spot.

This stuff was all listed on the pages of one of my old day-planners unearthed recently. I’d added notes and had my customary sticky notes with assorted lists, and of course, the main sticky with the list of lists that I needed to make still…the count-down, the contingency plans, the last moment to-dos and errands. Everything within my control was under control. And if it wasn’t something I could control, I had a plan B, and C firmly outlined and listed on my Post-it notes.

Everything was in place, ready to happen–and then what I hadn’t planned for happened. The weather was perfect as I answered the phone call, only to hear news that came from out of the blueness of that clear sky. A dear cousin had unexpectedly died. The funeral service would be held Saturday. Graduation party Saturday.

Now, it’s not my intention to be callous sounding, because I clearly remember each event and what happened. But there was a huge partition in my head between the two gatherings, separated as it turned out by only 4 hours real-time. Until I found the lists, the schedule, and the notations on my old day-planner, my mind had disconnected the two events. Even though the Grad party a had been planned as a celebration of my daughter’s graduation, and a send off for her and all of her classmates, it was also became a way for our family to gather and share stories and food and happiness and grief on a perfectly mild, sunny day, without anyone going to any extra fuss.

So what did I find? A pile of old date books, yes. But more importantly, I found a link, some serendipity that I had walked through without noticing in the moment. One party, two emotionally opposite events, three reasons to gather, under the comfort of a perfectly blue sky.

Totally worth remembering.

 

 

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