It’s Not Where They’re Dead, It’s Where They’re Honored

Where better to read Little Orphant Annie than atop his tomb from a bronze book  inscribed with the famous last lines
Where better to read Riley’s poem Little Orphant Annie than atop his tomb from a bronze book inscribed with the famous last lines

Taking kids to a cemetery for the first time can be a tricky business. I always wanted mine to visit their ancestors and loved ones, and I didn’t want them to be terrified and jumpy while they were there. I’ve always tried to put the emphasis on the grave markers as a way that we honor people, rather than a way to mark where their bodies are now.

Recently, I decided that my 1st grade granddaughter (I like to refer to her as Doll-baby) was old enough to be intro’d to leaf viewing at the graveyard with Grandmama. So, last week over her Fall Break from school, I resurrected (sorry, there are just too many terrible puns to resist on this topic) an old tradition from when her mommy was small. We loaded up the car, the dog, and ourselves and headed to the old city neighborhood surrounding Crown Hill Cemetery.

We passed through the ornate brick and iron entrance gates and drove by the Victorian era mourning station. For what seems like miles, the larger than life (haha) winged angels, obelisks, fancy tombs and little cave-like crypts are lined up in rolling winding rows. They look like randomly placed sculptures set in an outdoor gallery. The bleached white marble seemed to glow against a backdrop of red and gold maples.

Crown Hill is a big place. Covering over 550 acres, and currently just short of a quarter of a million interned, the cemetery has 25 miles of paved roads within it’s gates. With no road signs and so much to look at, it is an easy place to get lost in. To find the way to our destination (the famous “Strawberry Hill”) we follow a white line discreetly painted along one of the of narrow lanes winding through the graveyard.

The hill is the absolute best place I know of in Indianapolis for fall color viewing. It is unofficially the highest point in the city. From here, the view of the downtown skyline and all the rest of the panoramic scenery is breathtaking.  And it ls from here that Mom begins her sneaky, slipped-in-before-they-notice-what’s-happening local history lesson. Doll-baby has expected to go trekking with crazy Grandma to see the pretty fall colors at the big city cemetery.

We are really there to soak up a little poetry and culture without getting spooked.

Here, scattered across the landscaped sections lie a US President, several “Veeps” all sorts of Senators and Ambassadors, a bunch of Union Generals, athletes, pillars of industry and society, gangsters (yep, over there that’s where ol’ John Dillenger is),the man who played Uncle Remus in Disney’s movie Song of the South, and even a Gypsy King and some race car drivers. It’s really quite the assortment at rest, eternally planted here together.

James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Kurt Vonnegut and that “Fault in our Stars” kid Augustus Waters are all buried here in our local cemetery (well, not Augustus really, he’s just a fictional character). I, like many of the “old timers” of Central Indiana, often refer to Crown Hill Cemetery merely as “out at 38th Street” and usually call the most swanky and coveted section of Crown Hill “Strawberry Hill.”

True, we are headed up the marked lane to see the city from it’s highest point, but we are also going to visit and leave a little gift for Mr Riley. It’s a tradition whenever you scale Strawberry Hill. And though I am not creeped out by graves and burial grounds, I sure would never want to get that way by snubbing tradition!

220px-Mary_Allice_Smith, _c_1863Famous for his poem about goblins who would come and get misbehaving kids, Little Orphant Annie was a poem often read to children around Halloween– or bedtime when ill behavior warranted.

Crowning Strawberry Hill, James Whitcomb Riley’s tomb has the best spot available out of every inch available in all of the massive cemetery.

“Annie” was a real girl who worked as a housekeeper and sort of nanny to the Riley children. She is pictured here in this photo from 1885. When her father went off to fight in the Civil War, her mother had already been dead for many years. When he was killed in action, little Annie was orphaned (or “orphant” in Hoosier talk).  Her name in real life was actually Mary Alice, and the poem written about her was to be titled “Little Orphant Allie” but it was misread during typesetting and became famous instead as “Annie.”

Amazingly enough, Mary Alice wasn’t aware she was the inspiration for “Annie” for several years, or that James (or Jim as she knew him) had spent many years searching for her. He ran numerous ads in Indiana newspapers trying to find her and reconnect. In about 1915, just before his death, “Annie’s” daughter happened upon one of the advertisements and contacted him. You can read about it in Mary Allice’s obituary.

If you are unfamiliar, you can click on the poem’s title above if you’d like experience the sort of dark humor Mom was raised with. Those who are not at least partially fluent in “Hoosier” as a language will probably have a pretty tough time understanding the written words. So, for your convenience, enjoyment, and usage if you ever find yourself in need of a way to snap those pesky grandchildren in line…here’s an actual recording of Mr Riley, the old coot himself, reciting “Little Orphant Annie” around 1912.

220px-James_Whitcomb_Riley,_1913The recording is also a bit tough to understand between the accent and the poet’s age when the recording was made, and likely his general condition. It seems that JW was an enthusiastic imbiber. So maybe he sounds a little slurry because he was a little sloshed?

I do recall times in my own childhood when by chance or by well planned attack, our Grandparents would somehow end up with all 9 of us grandchildren for the weekend. Occasionally things got a bit rowdy. I have flashbacks to scenes of our Grandpa  (ol George the Methodist aka “The Dog Nab”) loudly reciting the lines of the Goblin poem in our direction. Then he would shew all of us, still white faced and breathless up the terrifying narrow stairway to our beds. In present times, this would probably be considered emotional abuse enough. However, the real abuse started when the snarling, howling gasps and whistling grunts started to waft up the steep stairwell as he slept denture-less and his snores crawled up from the master bedroom below us.

 Sweet Jesus! We were all sure goblins and werewolves roamed those hallways at night!


We ended up having a wonderful and educational day. We gathered loose change up from the car and participated in the Riley Tomb tradition. Doll-baby thought that was really cool. Her class was always collecting soda tabs for “Riley.”

The tradition? Well it seems that although Mr Riley was widely known, well published and dearly loved by children and adults alike, he died completely broke. When the children of the city heard that their beloved spooky poem writing favorite was buried without a marker, they began coin drives until one could be purchased. Funds poured in from around the world and in 1922 the cornerstone was laid on the Riley Hospital for Children, in no small part funded by the coin drives of his young fans. Today, the Riley hospital is a beacon of hope for the sickest children from around the nation. And that’s why the tradition of leaving coins on his tomb lives on today, a hundred years after his passing. The grounds crew gather the money each day and deposit it into the Riley Children’s Fund. 

Maybe those ol Goblins did more good than they could ever know!

Point of View: Writing with Hats and Movies


Did you know that each time you sit down to write a story you’re using “Point of View?” Well of course you knew that…but nobody really likes to think about it much because it gets confusing–and all like “high school English-classy”


Hello, what?


That was about to get really boring…

I like to explain the various usages and approaches as hats. Yes, hats. And I believe that if you become proficient in changing hats from time to time, you’ll become a better writer for it. And while we’re at it, let’s throw in movies too. So, today we’ll think about Point of View, Hats and Movies. Yes, a little something for everyone!

Writing to describe the life and times of an Ancestor is a work of the heart. It takes at least a general historical frame of reference, some psychic channeling, a bit of nuttiness and a heavy dose of serious research and documentation. With all the electronic helpers available to us for spelling corrections, word use and plagiarism checks, you really don’t have to be a scholarly type to get the words into a sensible and readable string known as a sentence.

To make your hard work into enjoyable and treasured stories though, you have to employ some artful touches from the world of the writer.

And that Dearest Darlings, Dumplings, and Word-Cobblers to the Stars of Days Gone Past, is what the Point of View with Hats and Movies is all about.

There are Three basic hats to fixate on. You may choose the movie that you feel best suits the time and place of the tale. If somethings get too hard to speak of wearing a certain hat, time-outs and trade ins are totally acceptable–but you must go back to the beginning and start over. No mid-story switcheroos are allowed. That’s a storyteller’s Cardinal sin, and Cardinal hats are not up for grabs!

Hat #1. Conveniently, this is also known as 1st Person Point of View. In choosing this story hat, you are basically saying to your readers…Huddle up now, I’m going to tell you a story I know…

This is a great one for relating stories about people who you have or had a direct personal interaction. I like to pretend that I’m wearing a Mother Goose Bonnet if I am telling this story to my (mostly imaginary) grandchildren about growing up in the 1970s in rural Indiana. I think I like the bonnet because images of Holly Hobby Kids, the Bicentennial and such are linked vividly into my head from those times. My sentences often begin with “I” or “We” or “Our.” Movie-wise, I relate to the kids and events portrayed in “Stand by Me” and the female version of the same “Now and Then.”  An example could look something like this…

Our home was built on a county road amid a big stretch of farm fields. When giving someone directions we always made sure to say that our house was the one between the two bridges. We never needed to say whether it was on the right or the left, just that we lived in the only house between the bridges (the only two on the long road).

Hat #2. By now you will notice that you’ve been duped by the hats and movies into playing along for the sake of the grammar lesson!  Wearing this hat puts you into the action via 2nd person point of view. You’ll recognize it as the one your teachers tried to beat out of you when you first started learning to write reports and essays. They tried pretty hard to get you to write with totally artificial (to a kid) phrases like–“One would think that having a pet is all fun and games.” When really, all you wanted to say in your paper about “How to Train a Puppy” was that you had to be patient and be prepared to wipe up a lot of pee-pee accidents.

The stories told in Number 2, are great when you are writing about the person who will be reading the words (telling a child about the day they were born) or when you would like to tell the story wearing the hat and seeing life through the eyes of a child. or as a more intimate conversational setting with the reader. Wearing my favorite childhood baseball cap ( you’d probably guess that Mom was a bit of an enigma~ a prissy Tomboy)you would tell the story above while thinking about scenes from Little House on the Prairie–technically not a movie, but a picture filled simpatico motivation and mood-setter–like this:

You could easily figure out which house you were looking for. Dad put us right between the only two bridges on the whole road. All you had to do was find Shepardtown Road from either end, and you could find our house if you just kept going. If you passed a bridge no matter what direction you came from, you were about there. If you kept going and saw another bridge, you just missed it. If you never saw a bridge, either you weren’t lookin, or you were on the wrong road.

It’s the same info, given via a totally different style and effect. Second person helps lend a more colloquial flair to whatever you’re saying. Colloquial is a fancy way of saying “down-home and local-like.”

Hat #3 should be the go-to. This is the Narrative 3rd person voice.  The slightly remote, detached and ace reporter style is one that’s suits most situations and reading audiences.

This is the one to be done wearing a ball cap, front bill popped up, with a “press” pass pinned to it. Or, maybe see-thru green visor hat, worn with a vest and rolled sleeve dress shirt. One could expect to be surrounded by overflowing ashtrays as the writer two-fingers their way toward a column deadline on a shiny black Underwood. Detective films Noir starring a Sam Spade character work well as background. However, a period romance, musical or Sci-Fi fantasy, or contemporary drama could serve equally well for inspired writing. Take note of the difference:

The house between the bridges stood alone without neighbors on Shepardtown Road. Built in 1965 by Francine and Armand Pukismell, it was surrounded only by large rolling farm fields, along a segment of the road accented via the fork of Whitelick Creek causing the need for more than one bridge. A 20 year veteran of the US Postal Service drove out six days a week to bring mail addressed using only a surname and “RR#1” on the envelopes. Outsiders, such as appliance deliverymen, had to be given concise directions to find the home without becoming lost on the old country back roads.

This hat delivers the  information in a very different manner. The reader generally has no curiosity about the author, and rarely wonders about who they are, or why they are telling the story.

So play around with the Point of View, Hats and Movies available to you as you write! I highly recommend switching POV when you’re feeling a bit “stuck” in a story. Sometimes, this simple switching of the way you’re seeing something in your head can make all the difference you’re seeking. Just like the examples above, there’s a huge array of styles and viewpoints…don’t let the same ol’ movie run on continuous loop!

 No matter which hat you choose, we both know there’s so much to say. So~ 

Maybe someone should write that down…


Language Arts and Dog-Nab Idiosyncrasies

On the "davenport" with "Gramcracker"
On the “davenport” with “Gramcracker”

Hopefully at this point you have written enough about your own “Cast of Characters” that you have writer’s cramp or finger fatigue from typing! With the Holidays looming, the new story fodder will be coming in strong! So get caught up if you aren’t already. 

Our topic today is “Language,”  Everyone I know has a weird little name for one thing-a-ma-bopper or another.  Doohickies count too.  Today, think about the people in your family tree and try to remember some of the odd words they may have used.  When I say language, I am using the word loosely.

I have a certain female relative who “worshes the deeshes, and then wrinches them off real good in bolinhot water.” Windshield washer fluid is “the little doggy who pees on the winders” in some circles. And per family tradition we refer to the Thanksgiving Turkey as an Aardvark. Why an Aardvark you ask? Because it sounds funnier than calling it a Thanksgiving Harbor Seal.

This exercise can be solely an adventure of phonetically writing out some words to preserve a particular “accent.” Or, certain phrases that a person or group always used. Another way to display these jewels can be in the natural course of telling a story.

I immediately think of the tale of a few of my uncles out hunting raccoons one night. The youngest of the bunch, my Uncle Louie, stood in the dark waiting patiently for instruction from his older brothers. When the more experienced hunter-guys found a raccoon they chased it, whooping and laughing hysterically, intentionally toward poor Lou.  The terrified animal saw Louie’s still figure in the dark and, probably mistaking him for a stubby tree trunk, ran full speed up him and in a full-on state of panic clambered it’s way strait to the top of Uncle Lou’s head. Famously, Louie proclaimed in his thick immigrant accent “He climbed me up! He climbed me up! The Sonovobeech he climbed me up!”

My Grandpa Farmer was known for several counties around, for many things actually, but particularly for using the phrase “dog nab…”  Dog Nab was a name (noun), an adjective, heck, he used it as a verb too. He never cussed, he just dog-nabbed instead. Sometimes he was referred to (when someone was starting to stir his ire) as the Dog Nab :

“hey fella, I wouldn’t poke at the Dog Nab if I was you”

...sage advice.

It could be something simpler, like what exactly people you are related to and those who “marry-in” call the television’s remote control.  Remote, clicker, zapper, dad’s other arm?  Or speaking of dads, our family refers to French Toast as “Bull Winkles” like the cartoon moose. Why?  Because my dad’s family called them “New Wrinkles.” Why New Wrinkles?  I Still haven’t chased down a source for to cite for that one yet!

So use accents, oddities, old world phrases or new messes made from old, and describe some “language” for your generations to come.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

mal suws.pose                                                                                                                Television shows, commercials and yes, even my own blog posts often tout the endearing “fact” that a certain trait or characteristic was certainly passed down the line from a specific someone or group of someones.  Interesting. Fun. Whimsical.  Perhaps just plain Nostalgic and warming to feel so due, so connected and bequeathed.  But maybe that isn’t so true as we readily like to accept.  I’ve looked at great figures in our history who were adopted and never influenced by their bloodline past birth.

Barons of industry, philanthropists, great minds, serial killers, and orphans who became Saints are all equally represented. Even sibling sets have such vastly different personalities and quirks. They may share many habits and traits, but all are separate people with their own paths to follow or fall from.

Several years ago, the Mom crew had one of those experiential family bonding weekends where we roughed it in the mountains of North Carolina for a weekend (OK, only one night sleeping outside in a shelter, the other two nights I was holed-up in a very posh hotel–close enough). One of the exercises we did together as a family was to scurry around the camp site and collect up bits of forest matter to create a family crest on” a dirt pad we had shaped onto the mossy black soil patches where sun rarely touched through the tall pines.”



We were assigned to each come back to our spot with hands full of assorted objects, and to then assemble the stuff into four meaningful quadrants divided by twigs representing us as a family unified in a collective tableau of organic discards. I wish I still had the photo secretly snapped with my smuggled in Blackberry.  Together we were to wage a lively debate over whose treasures of nature we’d use on the little flat mound and what exactly they represented.  The instructor gave us only a short time to do the project. She said she didn’t want us to “over think” what we created. We had to work fast and shoot from the hip to get it done in time to explain what we had chosen and why.

A handful of the other families there were clearly more “in touch” with mindfulness and “being in the moment” than us. Fully unified in their task, they were sopping up the symbolism. On the other hand, I was enjoying the dynamics of the family next to us who pretty much hadn’t spoken to each other all weekend. Until this assignment began; then everyone of them piped up. I especially liked the part where they erupted in a nasty tussle over whether to use tree bark or leaves to outline their creation.

We were in good shape, our outdoorsy daughter was cheerfully in her element as she directed Dad and me toward places to find “the good stuff.”

I’ll admit I wasn’t helpful on the hunt; everything looked like poison ivy to me. Besides, I was wild eyed watching for snakes, bears and woodland spiders who were large enough to carry off pets and Appalachian children.

I think I got the point of the whole thing in retrospect. Things became clearer to me back at home sipping a latte, seated on my finely upholstered raw silk sofa, in the sun-room, overlooking the patio and pool. That weekend experience started looking less awful and more fascinating. Especially with some distance between me and that horrifying time when I peed in the woods while a snarky toad sat glaring at me; things were clearer from the sofa. I’m sure many of the other families felt moved to a deeper understanding of their own tribal dynamics. At the time, Husband and I were just feeling lucky to be released back to our hotel. For me, the amazing part happened back here in my Mom-zone. I saw that there is really no ancestral precedent for our outdoor adventure loving daughter. Yes, I’m sure she is ours, I was there and quite lucid when she was born.

She has my crooked pinky fingers and my freakishly long big toes (left one more so than the right).

But even with my country-farm girl upbringing, and my husband’s years of summer camp for boys–neither of us has the “nature bug” that our campy, earth-girl does. Her sister would rather be fire-roasted on a spit than to suffer sleeping outdoors. Her burly, football playing, 6’7″ little brother prefers his pillow top mattress and a hot tub over a canopy of stars any time.

Sure, there are lots of our Ancestors who lived without plumbing, or traveled cross country on a river float. But they were always on their way toward something better. I have not found a single instance of someone who WANTED to live “au’natural.” So I’m thinking that in the here and now, somehow, by some hiccup in the cosmos, I am raising a willing hiker, outdoor loving, ground sleeping, twig eating, Hipster. A bonafide “first” for our family tree.

Together, Husband and I lay claim to a wide variety of vocations, characters, oddballs and nuts, but none who are close to being as woodland obsessed as our otherwise prissy middle daughter. We must then, give her the full and due credit of being the original Granola Knapsack-er in our line!  Hurrah for a variant gene!

A refreshing bit of difference at last.

Oh, I know you’re burning to know what we ended up placing on our own little dirt crest. So, I’ll tell you what filled each of the four quadrants out in the woods: For the obvious reasons, we outlined ours with acorns/nuts. We put Oak leaves in the first quadrant to represent our strength as a family. A cross braided from river grass filled one area to represent our faith.  In the 3rd section, we piled up moss and shaped a heart for the love between us, and on the last one we placed a scattering of small round pebbles–representing animal poo–because it was funny, and poo happens to us all of the time.

What about your family? Do you have anyone who has followed their own unprecedented path in life? Any trailblazers? Entrepreneurs? Anyone way out there standing on their own perfect limb?

How would you create a family crest of your own?  Don’t over-think it, but really–

Maybe someone should write that down…

Hello Black Sheep, it’s been a while…

PD_0161You may recall my recent proclamation:  “Sis Hit the Jackpot.”  Toward the end of last year Sharon managed to score a half dozen tubs full of “stuff” from an elderly Aunt’s house.  So far the “yield” has not disappointed.  All sorts of photos and memories are crammed into the boxes within boxes.  The other day, gold was struck in the bottom of Tub #3.  It was there that a cousin we had lost was suddenly found and accounted for.

Danny’s disappearance from our home state (and pretty much the face of the earth) was explained with the contents of a worn legal sized envelope.   A wad of old newspaper clippings from the 60s unfolded the story of what must have been a terribly painful chapter for one branch of our family. 

Mom note: I don’t think Aunt SueEllen cared a wink about “concealing” this family skeleton.  I really believe she just never got around to looking through this insurmountable pile of “stuff.” Besides, I don’t think “Danny” ever won any familial popularity contests.

At first glance under current  standards of morality, the whole ruckus seemed kinda silly. Danny hadn’t fallen into a mysterious sink hole or been filched by space monsters, he was in fact removed (relocated might be a nicer way to put it) for his own good.   To a modern observer, banishment could seem like an “over reaction” on the part of his staunchly Republican, cigar smoking, politically influential and highly conservative dad.  But once put into context the horrific story became crystal clear.

Let me explain

Revealed on those crumbly old pages was that daddy’s little darling was involved in one of those “Hippy sit-in protest things.” It was a distasteful act~ rife with disrespect of his family and their social standing.  But hey, come on, he was barely out of his teens. And, granted, this took place at Dad’s Alma Mater~ which Danny probably wasn’t smart enough to get into on his own merits (and thus rode the coattails of his father’s Magna-Cum-Status).

So what if Danny’s little “episode” was embarrassing to his family and mocked all that assured him the right to behave so ridiculously in the first place?  How could it have possibly been made into such a big deal?  Well, for that we look to the back story and the facts of the matter:   Danny’s father was very big in politics.  And as the History Channel now tells us the Cuban Missile Crisis  actually panned out to be a big deal…

Seriously?  Danny’s family all lived on farms in Indiana for Pete’s sake.  The Indy 500 sure was a far cry from Fidel’s rockets or those Kennedy boys.

The simple truth was that Danny was in a little deeper than a disruption at the country club. Seems ol’ Danny had always been quite the loose canon.  Growing up he could have been easily described as a boy of privilege who never really appreciated what had been handed to him.  He left small town Indiana for the fancy far away University at a time in history when free love and “self expression” squared off with a nasty oversees war. In those times the emotional gauge of our nation was running  hot.   Hair was long and even “peaceful” tempers were short.  The Indochina “conflict” in Vietnam was  devouring young men by the thousands. Meanwhile many of their own high school classmates were safely in dorm rooms on campus protesting for “peace.” Everything and everywhere was a powder keg politically.

Danny wanted a little attention, a shot at campus fame.

When he decided to join a league of “enlightened individuals who sought peace for the downtrodden” he was pledging allegiance with a bunch of other rich kids who were flirting with the 1960s era equivalent of the Taliban.  The “sit in” that they orchestrated at their prestigious University garnered national attention.  What soon followed involved arrests and charges of treason and other not-so-nice accusations. Danny put his own life and that of his family in real danger.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time Danny had made a “scene.”  He had rolled past several earlier brushes with the law. Petty little embarrassments like possession charges, under age drinking and reckless driving and motorboat operating.

Within family circles there were always whispers of some darker happenings too~about some poor girl at a party and Danny being…well…Danny.

I recall seeing him once when he was “secretly” within our state boundaries for my Great Grandpa’s birthday.  When I asked one of my young aunts who he was she commented:

“That’s Danny, he’s a real Creep. Stay clear of him if you know what I mean.” 

I didn’t know what she meant, but it sounded bad, so I took her at her word and stayed glued to my Dad’s side for the duration of the day’s festivities.

Turns out that my Uncle was able to pull some strings and cut a deal with the FBI.  Yes, I said that.  It went that far.  Indiana didn’t want him around, so it was agreed that Danny would be better suited to a life outside of the Hoosier state.  As far away as land could separate him, his dad sent him off to a remote little coast to set up trade as an asparagus farmer.  Back to his agricultural roots.  Somewhere far enough away from everybody else that he would have to “sit” pretty loudly for anyone to notice he was protesting something.  It was for his own good.  It kept him out of prison.

Stupid kid.  Powerful Dad.  Lucky break.  Sort of.

There are many ways a parent can lose a child.  All of them are dreadful.  No matter what the situation is, no matter how quick or protracted, the pain of losing a child  is said to be immeasurable.  I think that loosing one to their own hurtful decisions, choices, or madness is probably the worst loss of all of the unthinkable tragedies. No amount of help ever helps, they just keep on that troubled path, almost like they are made for hurting themselves and everyone around them.  As I see it, to be cast out by your family,  to be written off and sent permanently away, must bitterly sting at your marrow.  But to be the parent who is forced to take that desperate action, well…that truly must hold down the floor in one’s own earthly corner of hell.

After we found this info in the box, I did quite a bit of Google searching to see if there was any additional info around.  Crazy as it sounds, a bit of the court transcript is posted on the internet.  Also, the bunch of nuts he was running with at the time apparently still host “reunions” from time to time.  At least one of the guys involved is an avid blogger~go figure!   As far as I can tell, Danny’s still farming asparagus on that remote coast.  So Karl Danny, if you happen to read this and feel you want your side of the story told, it’s solely up to you cousin…you know what they say~

Maybe someone should write that down…