Learning Potica — as originally published in “The Writer’s Workshop Review”

Recently, I think most of us were amused by one little line spoken between our new, Slovenian-born, United States First Lady and His Holiness, Pope Francis. Politics and historical precedence-setting aside, the whole meet-up was thrown into a spiral of media frenzy when Francis asked Melania with a grin, “Do you feed him poteezza?” Within seconds, the Google search rate soared for this mystery word—poteezza. What the media found and distilled was “nut roll, traditional to Slovenia.” Further uproar was caused when the recipe was viewed; this Slovene nut roll is no lightweight treat! Surely His Holiness was poking fun at Mr. Trump’s waistline!

Later reports noted that the Pope just really likes potica.

For me the following tale of our family’s love affair with potica pretty much describes my self-imposed martyrdom and pity wallowing induced by any and all food holidays. I’m betting you’ll recognize a bit of the typical potica debate behaviors among your own family:

Raisins—yes or no. If yes, soaked in wine, or whisky, or not at all? Rolled out thin enough to read the newspaper through or to a perfect eighth-inch thickness? Should it be loaf shaped, look like a huge donut or must a dishpan do double duty as bake ware?

 

Honey or sugar, lemon juice or zest, both or none?

The points of contention are endless!

Maybe Easter is just around the corner, or an important anniversary celebration—a reunion, a bridal shower, Thanksgiving or Christmas—no matter the occasion, my nerves reliably feel a bit jumpy. Upon any big family gathering, I will once again be challenged (expected, assumed, pressured) to bake the traditional Slovenian treat for our family…the potica. For those of you who married-in with no Balkan heritage…it’s “po-teets-zah.” For me, it’s a Panic Attack.

This is by no means the first time I’ve made the potica. It’s been my job now for several years since my grandma quit baking it. Apparently, the baton skips a generation as it is passed, so my aunts and mom just crowned me Princess Potica and before I knew it…I was in charge. So, I make it for each of the big family celebrations, and then, kind of like Jesus, I take a beating for it.

Let me clarify: I make the complicated yeast-and-nut delight and then sit back and listen to everyone else critique my offering as they wax poetic over the poticas (the real poticas) of days gone by.

How I haven’t spent a holiday in jail yet, I do not know.

Oh, I get it. I really do. I understand why I am the one who is saddled with the honor of carrying on an old-country tradition. I can bake and I am really good at it. I had my own coffee house for several years, and made everything that went out the door. But the problem with potica (and in your family it could be Aunt Nell’s potato salad) is that there is only one right way, one authentic recipe, and one correct presentation accepted and deigned perfect. Unfortunately, no one who went before me actually wrote the damn recipe down for “real potica.” You know, exactly as they made it “when it was perfect.”

Let’s revisit that last line: I want you to experience it as I hear it each time I offer up a sugary nut roll in all of its spiral-centered glory.

Say it for yourself aloud with your nose crinkled up, as if you are chewing an adult aspirin, and that repulsive pill is stuck to the back of your tongue with only scalding hot coffee available to wash it down.

Say the words, “Like the real potica. When it was perfect….” Is there a tear in the corner of your eye? Do you feel you’ve been deeply harmed, emotionally scarred and disappointed?

Good. You’re getting the general tone-of-voice and facial expression used for potica critiquing.

We can continue now.

When my oldest daughter was receiving First Communion, our parish held a ceremony a couple of days prior, the Blessing of the Loaves. Each family was to involve their children in baking a loaf of bread to bring to church with all their classmates and their classmates’ families for a special blessing. Since our parish is mostly made up of families with names like O’Brien, Donahue, and McNulty, I thought it would be more meaningful to our daughter if we skipped a plain loaf and made potica together.

Since this was a last-minute thing, I went to the internet and trolled for recipes. This was the first time I had actually seen the word spelled out. Luckily, I hit a site where the pronunciation was spelled phonetically, close to how I had “searched” (long before Google). I looked through until I found a recipe (in English) that sounded about right.

We sifted, kneaded, punched, rolled, filled and baked with delightful anticipation. The smell in the kitchen was heaven.

Blessing of the Loaves day was probably a little traumatizing for my little baker and me. Most of my Mom-friends had chumped out (having never baked bread before) and had purchased the frozen, thaw-and-bake stuff. Their loaves were glorious mounds with buttery gold crusts. The Pillsbury Doughboy bakes up like a champ every time.

Now, I’m no idiot, and I knew potica baking was hard. To be safe, we’d made two so we could choose the best looking one to show off at church. Unfortunately, the better of the pair looked like a pile of hemorrhaging raisin bagels extruded through an angel food cake pan. Not stellar. I snugged up the pristine dishtowel over the pathetic thing and nestled it deeper into the fancy basket as we approached Father Jerry. After that “experience,” I started checking around within the family for the real recipe. Oddly, no one ever seemed to be able to put their hands on one. That was probably 20 years ago. Eventually, having learned my lesson, I gave up asking. Clearly, some family things are strictly on a “need to know basis.”

As the older women in my family line all began passing on to their reward, the potica-making pool got smaller and smaller. When Grandma Jean announced that she would be taking up residence in a rest home, suddenly, the baking baton was passed on to me.

Sans the recipe, of course!

My friend Karen mercifully gifted me with a well-worn and dearly loved cookbook that had belonged to her Aunt Udi. Udi had been the potica maker for her family. Karen naturally had no idea which of the more than two dozen recipes for the bread was Udi’s favorite, so I have been baking my way through the book holiday after holiday. Each version is met, of course, with all the generous feedback I can stand. Count yourself fortunate if you won’t be spending your next big Slovenian family event at my house!

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What’s Food Got to do With Family?

One table, 4 generations of skilled cooks
One table, 4 generations of skilled cooks

One of my favorite topics to write about when I’m doing a family remembrance, is Food.  Almost any significant life event that’s already occurred (or will eventually) within any sect of my family ends up revolving around the table.  We feast at weddings, on birthdays and anniversaries (of anyone or anything), even after funerals.

Holidays are a traditional food-centric “thing” for us. Picnics and barbecues are the celebration of eating–for the sake of celebrating eating.

Across my family, each generation, and each cook reigns supreme over one item or another. And, depending on the “current relations and temperaments” at any given time, some of these recipes will be passed down the generational line, others will be lifted only to the “Great Cookbook in the Sky” for retirement.

Some cooks are/were generous with the sharing of secret methods and gastronomical magic–others are down-right stingy. Why? I couldn’t tell you, I’d probably be poisoned at the next big “occasion.” Some of these recipe withholding food fights can smolder for years…slowly escalating to a boil…just like a perfect stew or trick for frying up a perfect batch of peppers and onions…

For years my Dad harped at my Mom about the way her “peppers and onions” tasted different from the peppers and onions that his Mom made.

Maybe this was because my Mother’s Mom never made “peppers and onions.” That faction of the fam didn’t really believe in those two vegetables as foods suitable for cooking.

“Call Mom and ask her before you cook these next time,” was the proclamation I recall hearing after every “peppers and onions” incident. In fairness, I think my mom did call her Mother-in-law, once, about “peppers and onions.” I also think she got the complete stonewall treatment. Because she (Grandma) wasn’t a huge fan of her (my Mom)–follow?

Well, followed or not, take my advice and stay clear of the middle

When my own husband experienced the famed and authentic “peppers and onions” at Grandma’s one day, he gave Grams a hug, a little peck on the cheek, and the next thing you know, he was cooking up those “peppers and onions” the same way my Dad remembered them as a kid.

In our family, it’s all about how you approach the Bear. Some people are just better about laying the honey on nice and thick when it counts

So throw whoever you can into that ring of wild beasts (the women who cook and tightly guard their “special secrets.”). See if they can schmooze a little and find a way to preserve the best ones. I still want Aunt Helen’s potato salad recipe, but at least I’m privy to the family sugar cookies.

They are to-die-for–especially if you let loose a single crumb of the secret recipe!

And check this out–My hubby actually turned over the peppers and onions secret!

Hmmm. Glad he wrote that down..

 

 

Celebrating Gramcracker’s 104th

Gramcracker with my Dad c1935.
Gramcracker with my Dad c1935.

As everyone notices I often write about my Grandmother, who I lovingly called “Gramcracker.” She has been missing from my life for several years now. If she was still living, today would be her 104th birthday.

Recently, I was the recipient of the most fabulous gift...this photo of her my cousin found in an old box. I shared it with my dad a couple of days ago. In his 81 years, he had never seen it. Everyone recognizes it though; clearly it is the full-size version of my dad’s baby photo.

I‘m guessing, just like many young mothers today, Gramcracker had herself cropped out of the prints she shared with family. I’m afraid that says something a little bit sad about women and body image and our inner-drives for perfection. Ah, but that is another story!

Today is a day for my own quiet celebration of her life and the gift that both she and this long-lost photo were to me. Every year on July 2nd, I try to sit quietly for a while and recall the most mundane actions of our times together. 

Sometimes I think about the epic, summer-long yard sales we ran together–that’s where I learned math and negotiation skills. As a result, my husband sends ME to the car dealer to make the family purchases. No one can rough up a sales manager like Mom. For all the extra nice cars I’ve driven through the years, I can thank Gramcracker for teaching me to wheel and deal before I started Kindergarten.

Of course, I spend a lot of time thinking about food too.

Her house was Kid-Land-Deluxe where non-enforced nutrition was concerned. There was an enormous chest freezer out on the enclosed back porch filled with boxes of Fudgies (I believe the common and trademarked name is Fudge-sicles) and Popsicles. At Gramcracker’s house it was totally acceptable (and expected) that the red and purple ice pops were for eating…the orange and green ones were only fit for the trash or to share with our beagles on hot summer afternoons.

Other “foods” at Gramcracker’s included bowls of Lucky Charms. And by that I mean literal bowls full of Lucky Charms without the pesky bits of tasteless, vitamin enriched “cereal.” At Gram’s it was fine and dandy to eat only the good part and dispose of the rest without being forced to “at least taste it.” I ate many dinners consisting of only sliced cucumber salad without meat or other icky stuff forced onto my plate.

There were stacks of wooden soda-pop boxes filled with assorted bottles of fizzy stuff too. Flavors like Orange, Grape, and my coveted personal favorite–Strawberry–were always abundant. Oh she wasn’t all sugar and empty calories…there was always milk in the fridge…chocolate milk.

Did I mention the “cornies?” That was the house-name for cheese puffs. Chester Cheetah and I were orange-finger-tipped friends all summer, year after year. My mom used to grumble it was a wonder that I didn’t die of Rickets by the end of each extended visit.

Good Times

As age and time took her mind, my grandmother slipped into a non-specified form of dementia. I was her some-time care giver during those last few years. My uncle lived with her full time and cared for her around the clock. Fortunately, she was never given to bouts of “Sundowning” like many folks with memory issues. So there was no out of character, combative fits, or terrifying times when she was scared to death because everyone was a “stranger.”

Her form of dementia had a good dose of across-the-board memory loss–with short-term and long-term lapses being about equal. And there were certainly confusion issues. Most nurturing acts such as bathing her and hair brushing she thought were being performed by her mother, no matter who was holding the brush or wiping her face.

When Gramcracker first started having issues, it was as a combo of her eyesight (may have been an early cognitive impairment marker) and her arthritis. She had worked a “man’s job” inspecting rubber tubes at Uniroyal for years. Here entire body had suffered the effects of the long shifts standing on her feet, bent at the shoulders, doing her job. As a newly divorced mother of three, she had been lucky enough to be hired during the War years. When peace was declared, she was again fortunate to retain her position because she had proven herself as a hard worker and excellent inspector.

Perhaps one of the earliest indicators of her decline was that she could no longer hold (her hands hurt) or see (her eyes were bad she said) her beloved romance novels. Over the years she must have read every single “Harley Quinn” Romance ever available at the grocer’s check out lane.

When the corner market lacked a fresh paperback for her to take home she was an avid reader of the National Enquirer–which I was also allowed to read…hmmm. That might explain some stuff 🙂

So, she began watching Soap Operas in place of her Romance novels. She called them her “Programs.” Inadvertently interrupting a “Program” by telephoning or stopping by to visit with Gramcracker without checking the time and TV Guide first could get you hurt!

After a few months, she began speaking as if she were a narrator for a real-life soap opera. It was funny, trippy, and only a wee bit worrisome.

As her body fell into a quick downward spiral, her mind followed along for the ride. Soon she dropped all social filters and spilled several very juicy family “secrets” with no cushioning or delicate prancing around the cold facts. She became brutally honest and very straight forward. A few of those tales are what I would refer to as “hair curlers” and I cannot be sure which ones were leftovers from her Soap Opera Narrative stage.

Over recent years, I have chased down the many of the stories she told me from that period and have found evidence of truth in each one–so far.

In my eyes, those few months of odd lucidity concerning the recollection of painful events was short lived. Suddenly she moved on to the last stage of her mental affliction; the “continuous loop.”

And that brings us to the day that I think I killed Gramcracker.

I know that sounds weird, nefarious, confessive…but I kind of worry that is what happened.

Let me explain

One day while my Uncle went out to a doctor’s appointment and to run a few errands, I came over to hang out with Gramcracker. Her state of “crazy” never really bothered me. I always thought of it as life in reverse. When I was little and living with her, I know that I did, said, and caused more than my share of absurdity. Like the afternoon my mom called the police because she thought I’d been snatched. I was hiding among the coats at the rack beside the telephone desk. When I heard her making the report I began to giggle. She hung up the phone and I got a heck of a whooping–Gramcracker wasn’t there to save me, she was sleeping after a night shift. I also know that I loved to sleep with her on her big feather bed. And she always let me, never complained, not a wink…even though I was a notorious bed-wetter.

The woman was a Saint in my eyes.

Her need to ask a question, re-ask, and then ask again– or to repeat the same sentence over and over didn’t annoy me in the least. Plus, among all the people she would see and not recognize–she always–always–knew me. She often couldn’t remember my given name, but she did remember that I was Goldie. Remembering me by the pet name she had given me, that was a gift for me to hang my heart on. All else aside, recognizing me as Goldie let me know she recalled our special bond.

On this particular day there were two questions that Gramcracker could not, would not let go of. Although they were nothing along the lines of what was shared between Bernadette and Our Lady of Fatima–the two things she kept asking me will never be revealed. And in reality, in the bigger scheme of things in the world, they were very small little matters, but they clearly were nagging her.

She asked me the same questions over and over in a carousel fashion.

I felt dizzy as she would ask, I would answer, she would ask the other question and before I could get the “brush it off answer #2” past my lips, she would hit me again with query #1. 

And then I snapped. Even though I had been told–don’t tell your Grandmother about blahblahblah#1–I did. 

She didn’t flinch. She moved on to question #2–I had been “sternly told” to not upset Grandmother with that situation either.

Well, she knew she had me cornered–I buckled–gave her the answer and then I watched as her entire demeanor changed. She relaxed, became quiet and a veil of serenity dropped over her. She was not upset. Gramcracker was a very intuitive woman and she knew she had been lied to about these two small issues for a long time. That hurt her, obviously pressing her with a great deal of unease. She was not shocked or upset. Relief is what happened. The two people and their “situtations” she had asked me about like a “ring around the rosy” were things she needed to know about. Without the truth, she could feel no peace.

When that understanding crossed the room from her adled mind to mine I audibly gasped.

Oh crap! I just killed Gramcracker! 

Seeing the great weight lift off of her I sensed that these were two very important answers that she needed to have. She was always a mother to many more than her own children. She worried about and protected and fiercely loved us all. She had to know that we were all safe–that was the end game for her life–to be sure that those she loved were capable without her. I felt like I had just given her the permission that she had been seeking to leave.

Several weeks later she “took a turn” and within days was gone forever. I knew it was okay with her, because she knew the truth about two nagging questions her heart couldn’t let her relent on. 

Living without her still hurts though.

But she taught me some important stuff and so I am strong. She taught me to fend for myself, only keep a man around if he was good to me and my kids, and to take good care of my hair–because it’s “a woman’s crown and glory.”

So Happy Birthday Gramcracker, I’m pretty sure you can see me–but just in case, I want you to know– I can buy my own car, I have a good husband–and my hair looks really good!  

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If you or someone close to you is a caregiver or love someone who is experiencing a dementia spectrum disease, do yourself a favor and check out the excellent blog “Going Gentle Into that Good Night” the information and stories there are worth a read! See it by clicking on the name. I highly recommend it.

The Old Mare Knew the Way Home

Image of Alabama and Market street stands circa 1912. Families who had "truck gardens" came here to sell their wares
Image of Alabama and Market street stands circa 1912. Families who had “truck gardens” came here to sell their wares

This is the perfect photo–the one I’ve waited on for many years–to help me tell one of the most heart wrenching stories in our family lore~

When one branch of my family arrived in Indianapolis, they took up the trade of “truck farming.” Truck farming meant generally anything you could grow or produce on a bit of land, and then take into the city to sell. Depending on one’s farming skills, acreage, connections–and time of year, one could buy or sell about anything from a stall along the street.

At times, beautifully crocheted lace work, wool yarns, eggs, honey, fish, baked items, seasonal produce, smoked hams, tobacco, even rags or “whittled” children’s toys were available for the asking.

The work was unceasing for these families. I would imagine that getting to Market Street and being able to stand back and take a breath seeing your stall ready for trading must have felt like a day off. The rest of the week was spent tending gardens and animals, preparing for market, the chores of family and daily living of course.

Until very recently, I never had a real photo of what the Truck Farm Market might look like. Then, by a fluke, I ran into the kindness of Darron Chadwick of the Chadwick Studios who lent me this image. When he posted the photo above to a “remember when” type of local webpage, I knew immediately what I was looking at pure gold for my storytelling.

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Grandma Marie and the Old Mare

     When I was enormously pregnant with our second child, there were some some scary moments. I remember my own grandmother, Gramcracker, looking at me as if she were watching someone else in those days. She visited more often than usual–as if she wanted to keep an extra close eye on me during that pregnancy. My husband and I had never told anyone about the near miscarriage. We didn’t want anyone else worrying.

One day in late July on the driveway as she was in her car preparing to leave, she rolled down the window to say goodbye. But instead of “goodbye” she said the oddest thing to me.

“You know, we’ve been worried about you.

You look so much like my Great Grandmother Marie. ” 

I dutifully lied, assuring her that I was fine, the baby was fine…insisting that everyone and everything was in fact “fine.”

Now, would you like to hear something a little eerie about what she said to me?

When Gramcracker said “we’ve been worried” she wasn’t speaking of her and my uncle who was her chauffeur and live-in caretaker.

Nor was she referring to conversations she’d had lately with other family members…well…not living ones.

Gramcracker was very “in-touch” as they say.

I guess I wasn’t creeped-out, because she had half raised me and I was quite accustomed to hearing such talk–I completely believed in it. Gramcracker could always see things deep beneath a surface that most folks never knew existed.

I went back into the air conditioned house, curled up on the sofa and thought to myself–

“Well crap, now she knows this pregnancy is a  fragile one, I really didn’t want to worry her.”

I never gave another thought to the second thing she’d said to me–about her Great Grandmother, Marie.

Of course I was not surprised that I looked like Grandma Marie! I looked like all the women on that side of the family.

What I didn’t account for was that special way Gramcracker saw things, most all things, in a way different from most people.

 Once Babykins was delivered, and both she and I were pronounced healthy, Gramcracker came to visit. She wanted to express her reasoning for gratitude and general feeling of relief that I’d “made it.” She very gentley unfolded the story of Grandma Marie with me as I listened, holding my perfect baby in my arms.

To this day, I wonder if what she told me about Grandma Marie accounts for my life-long tendency to panic if I feel too cold…

On Christmas Eve in 1904, Grandma Marie and Grandpa Paul were in the city with their oldest boys working at the Saturday Truck market. It was a busy day. Many vendors had purchased crates of oranges fresh off the trains coming up from the Mexican farmlands. Oranges were a favorite treat in a wealthy child’s Christmas Stocking. Business was good for everyone the day before Christmas. Even the bitter cold hadn’t slowed the sales. 

Grandma and Grandpa Paul’s younger children were home at their small farm on the fringe edge of the county. Under the care of an older sister Lizzy, the children were very busy with chores and tending the house. Late December weather is generally cruel in the Midwest. Since this year was unusually so, the children busily kept the stove stoked and frequently checked the water troughs in the barn to be sure they hadn’t frozen solid.

Around noon-time at the Market, Grandma Marie began feeling ill and looking pale. A small woman, but a hard worker, she was nearing the due date of their 8th child. While carrying this baby she seemed to get tired quicker than she had with previous pregnancies. Grandpa Paul told her to take the wagon and their reliable old mare home early. That way she could get out of the bitter cold and help Lizzy watch over the little ones. Grandpa and the sons would walk home or hitch a ride with some neighbors.

With everything arranged for the boys, her husband, and any unsold goods to get home safely, Marie finally agreed to leave early. She set off alone on the short five mile trip towards home. As she rode along the rutted and frozen stretch of the bumpy Old National Road (Route 40), she began feeling the familiar pains of labor. The intensity and quick on-set let her know there wasn’t much time. Knowing that the baby’s birth was imminent, she dropped the reigns and climbed into the back of the open wagon. She had little choice, but no worries about making it home. The horse was indeed an old and reliable mare who always found her way to the barn.

Marie didn’t make it back to the farm. She gave birth in the moving wagon to a tiny girl and instinctively tucked her under her clothes next to her warm skin; sheltering her baby from the cold.

When Lizzy and the young ones heard the mare’s familiar clip-clop coming up the frozen barn drive they were delighted the family had come home early. The children set the kettle on the wood stove and began heating up water for coffee and gathering bread and jam to tide the others over until dinner could be prepared.

After a few minutes of excitement, the children were puzzled that no one had come inside. When they peered out the back window, all they saw was the old mare standing patiently before the closed door of the barn. Her head bobbed up and down as she waited to be let in and unhitched from the empty looking wagon. There was no one else, only the driverless horse and wagon. After a few moments of trying to understand what was happening, Lizzy bundled up against the cold and approached the barn lot to investigate.

What the poor teen found was her mother, covered in blood, dead, in the back of the buckboard. On closer inspection she found the nearly frozen baby girl clinging to life on her mother’s chest. Lizzy called to the other children to run across the big field to get the neighbors. By the time the children returned with help, the baby had died too.

I sat there dumbstruck as I listened to my own Grandmother tell this story. I knew how Marie had died without hearing a medical explanation. Marie had suffered a placenta previa–the same condition that had threatened my own recent pregnancy. My Great, Great Grandmother had bled to death in that wagon–long before her body froze. She never had a chance.

Gramcracker didn’t have to tell me. I knew what had happened. The answer danced in the air, just as it had danced around me as Gramcracker watched over me through the long fretful weeks of that pregnancy.

And that was when I understood what she truly meant as she told me at the car window that I “looked” so much like her Great Grandma Marie.

Grandma Marie ~A woman who had died seven years before dear Gramcracker was born.

 The ground stayed rock hard the rest of that long winter. The temperatures and northerly winds kept everything frozen solid past Easter. The baby and Marie were covered in blankets and laid in a small shed near the barn until the earth finally give way to shovels in April. Then they were buried together, one wrapped tight against the other forever– the baby never named. Grandpa Paul never forgave himself for letting Marie out of his sight that day. He died about a year and a half later. Reportedly, he drank himself to death.    

 Now I’m the one who is so grateful, finally I got to write this story down…

*again, my heartfelt thanks to Darron Chadwick for allowing me to share this photo and thus finally feel I could share this story exactly as it needed to be told <3, what a true kindness from a stranger!

Ahh, Family Pets–conversation starters–kill chickens

The Mom Pooch in all his  Viking-Dog Glory
The Mom Pooch in all his Viking-Dog Glory

Pets may not sound like a big deal when it comes to writing a good family history, but just try asking about an animal in a photo and see where the path unfurls!

Ponies, chickens, hound dogs, cats, and even prized hogs and rabid coons have all been a part of many of my stories. Sometimes just hearing the animal’s name and then asking where the inspiration came from opens a stream of new conversation. I recall Ellie, Mr Pooch, the triplets Red, White and Blue, Purp, Mable, Bunny, Chopper and Johnny to name a few. My Great Grandpa loved to talk about his best milk cow, Soupy, who he named after comedian Soupy Sales.

Take a look at the photo below, not exactly of a family pet, but viewing it and asking about it’s origin actually turned into a long chat about the whole family going to the Cincinnati Zoo one weekend. This then led into the stories told about the building of I-74 which you may now take to get to the zoo from Indianapolis!

Mom petting a lion cub at the Cincinnati Zoo c 1964
Mom petting a lion cub at the Cincinnati Zoo c 1964

  Sometimes an expression you have heard a million times will only make since once you can finally connect the dots.

My dad has always referred to the movie “Fatal Attraction” as the “Kill Chickens” movie.

Now, I thought he was just using some weird code to indicate that it was time to change the channel if the grand kids were around and it happened to come on TV.  But one day, I was listening to him tell a story about his grandfather during the war years when food and everyday items were under rationing restrictions.

Just keep “Fatal Attraction” = “Kill Chickens Movie” in mind

My dad had a pet Rooster (a chicken to city folks) named Elmer.  He won him on a little traveling midway fair and square and had raised Elmer from chick-hood.  One day when Little-Kid-Dad came home from school, Elmer was no where to be found. He found it odd that Elmer was not pecking around in his pen. That night, with his own Grandfather visiting from out of town as an honored guest, chicken and noodles were served for dinner!

Kill Chickens. 

             Glen Close. 

                      Pet Bunny.

                                Boiling Pot.

Oh Dear Lord!  

 So ask around, if you dare, about the animals you see in the background of photos. Or learn a little something about how GG Grandpa raised his prize winning Blue Tick Hounds (cover your ears for the “runts” fate). Was there a famous comic cow in your family barn? We had a crawdad the size of a small lobster named Alfred…but he really smelled up my brother’s room. Somehow he escaped from his tank and was never seen again. Hmmm…

Maybe someone should write that down…

Did Anyone Ask Laura Nelson ? An Update

About 2 years ago, I posted this rather (understatement) disturbing art image and posed the question “Did anyone ask Laura Nelson,” the woman portrayed in the image, if she wanted to be remembered that way? Now, a couple of years have passed and I am no less disturbed by this “art.” But, I am re-posting it in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day. I am also adding the odd and far-reaching twists and connection that I have learned about this lynching. It seems that one of the people who was in the mob and a highly willing participant was the father of folksinger Woody Gutherie, famous for singing “This Land is your Land” and also in turn for fathering Arlo Gutherie of Alice’s Restaurant fame. Life is weird. History is weirder. The truth of our pasts and presents is weirder still…  This was first on my blog January of 2013 20792708_BG2Today I had planned a very different post, but last night’s local NBC affiliate station WTHR here in Indianapolis ran this story as a “night cap.” I tossed and turned quite a bit thinking about this poor soul, Laura Nelson, and her image, taken from a 1911 photo, hanging from our city’s fancy new library’s  ceiling…quite awkwardly coincidental since  the subject of the photo is her lynching, and brashly portrayed  as “art”on fabric.

It’s a painful image to see.

Meant as a piece of the Black History Month observance display, I “get” that this quilt is not meant to be pretty.  It’s about a painful fact of our History.  Most importantly (in my opinion),  the vignette is about the pain of Laura Nelson herself.  How awful.  How unspeakably awful.

The reporter interviewed several library visitors and the Arts Curator as well.  The comments were understandably mixed…one man (literally) applauded the portrait for its representation of what happened so commonly.  Others expressed concern over it’s potential to emotionally terrorize children stumbling onto this life-sized  image of a horrible death. Not just any death, a cruel and ugly death.

There were idiots interviewed too...I hope I don’t get attacked just for being white after someone sees this…

Perhaps the most telling part of the story though was captured by the news station’s photographer who caught the unfiltered reactions of those who “happened upon” the display with no warning.

I wonder how Laura herself would feel about this “art project”?  Would she be proud, humbled, hurt…would it make her sad to be remembered 100 years later only as a photo representing terror and wrong doing by others who were also “human.”

Last night I was finally able to drift off to sleep when it occurred to me that maybe somewhere on the same night, someone was becoming inspired to write the bigger story of this woman.  The story of Laura. The life of Laura Nelson.    Maybe a Grandchild, or a distant cousin, or cherished neighbor, or friend.

  Maybe, no, I am sure…

Someone should write that down…

This link will take you to the full story, it is disturbing, or it is beautiful ~it is as you perceive it.  One thing is for sure, it is not easily forgotten.

http://www.wthr.com/story/20792708/lynching-quilt-shocks-some-central-library-visitors