Friday, October 23, 2009

Love of Poetry

I learned the joys of poems when I was in Phyllis Wells’s fourth grade class. Every month we had a day for writing in our poetry notebooks. She would write a title and the first two lines of a seasonal poem that we had composed together as a class on the blackboard. Then she allowed us time to finish the poem on our own and even compose more poems if we were inspired. She also encouraged us to decorate our poems with drawings and crayons, further encouraging us to realize that poetry was related to both art and color. Our October lines were something about black cats and pumpkins; we moved on through turkeys, Christmas trees and Easter bunnies, writing towards spring that year.

Mrs. Wells lived down the street from me in our small town. I rode my bike by her house when I pedaled down to the drugstore, and often on an autumn evening or a summer’s early morning, I could catch her on her front porch reading the local paper. I would stop, she would invite me to sit in the wicker chair next to her, and we would talk about a book report, a poem, or the latest Cartwright adventure on the Bonanza saga. I know now what a sacrifice it was for her to spend her precious non-classroom time chatting with a child. However, at the time, she made me feel like she longed to hear my every word, that what I had to say was important. Thus, she made me feel important too.

While I never learned to scan a poetic line correctly or to hear iambic pentameter perfectly, I did learn to love the cadence of a rhythmic sentence, to relish a delightful metaphor, to appreciate a well-turned phrase. Those first fourth grade rhymes were just the beginning of a love for poetry and literature. Now when I want rest from the world, I wrap myself in a comforting story and use a poem for a pillow.

October on the Plains
Early autumn, days of gathered corn shocks,
Fat orange pumpkins and ginger-colored mums;
But air and sky are harbingers of winter.
A nip of winter sneaks in prematurely,
And strong wind rattles the leaves on limbs,
Knocking some to the ground even before
They blush with reds and oranges.
Blue sky fades to the gray of steel grain silos and
Becomes a barricade of clouds bearing chilling rains,
Hiding the once radiant sun, veiling a harvest moon.
Flint Hills cottonwoods flutter yellow leaves on autumn winds;
Pasture grasses quiver in shades of tobacco stain and molasses.
Prairie animals, men too, burrow deep down under earth and cloth,
Readying for coming of cold and winter’s wet snows.

The Future of Newspapers

*Originally printed in the Joplin Globe on the Op-Ed page

The Future of Newspapers

The recent announcement that the Christian Science Monitor, along with other newspapers and magazines, will cease publication deeply saddens me. It reinforced the opinion of a recent speaker at a writing conference in Whitefish, Montana who said newspapers would be a thing of the past in another fifteen years. I acknowledge that computers, the internet, web sites, and blogs have altered our ways of getting information and news, but my heart aches at the thought of no newspapers. Reading was only one of the ways newspapers influenced my life.

My dad was not much of a reader, but the evening paper along with one pipeful of tobacco was his evening reward at the end of a hard day doing manual labor. It was understood that the living room should be silent after supper when Dad turned on local weatherman Earl Ludlum and unfolded the newspaper. Sometimes I would peer over his shoulders to see what he was looking at, smell his Old Spice aftershave and be very still so I could stay. At the end of the paper, he would read me Beetle Bailey and Blondie. On occasional cold winter nights if I had a Big Chief tablet handy, he then might fold the paper for my small hands to hold while he drew his own renditions of Dagwood for me.

The newspaper was a source of income for me when my maternal grandpa paid me a quarter to fetch it for him. He said I was cheaper than feeding and less work than training a dog. Once I learned to read, my maternal grandpa let me have his copies of the Grit and Capper’s Weekly, newsprint I looked forward to having. Our own town newspaper was a weekly and was only about six pages. Even with the neighboring towns’ daily papers, I needed more newspapers to read.

Newspapers had a second life of course. Once read, they were saved to cover the kitchen table for finger painting on rainy days. They lined drawers and stuffed snow boot toes during the off season. Grandma used a newspaper spread over her ample lap when she stemmed garden green beans to catch the strings and stems. Then she used those same pages to line her garden patch to keep the weeds down. Everyone had a trash barrel in those days too. Well used newspapers helped start many barrels burning.
Some copies of newspapers were too precious to toss, at least for a while. Grandma kept old newspapers with pictures of her sons coming home from various wars. When the assassination of JFK was announced in bold black two inch letters, the family kept all the issues as if to prove to future generations this unbelievable atrocity did occur—after all it was in the newspapers.

When I got married and moved to St. Louis, Sunday mornings were newspaper heaven. No alarm clock or chase to work, but easy risings for a good newspaper. The St. Louis Post Dispatch was thrown on the apartment porch while it was still dark outside. I could hear it hit with a heavy thud announcing time was approaching to put the tea kettle on. My husband and I divided the paper and sipped steaming mugs of tea. He took the business and hard news while I delved into the arts and travel sections.

One hasn’t lived until they have been in the newspaper business. I never delivered papers as a kid, but I was the mother of a newspaper boy. This mom thought it would be good work training for her son to have a job, learn a strong work ethic, feel the satisfaction of responsibility met. He did but our whole family learned the lessons too. Days were planned around the stack of papers to be rolled, banded or bagged, delivered, monthly money collected, oh and missed papers taken back out late at night. It was fun to get the news first each day, to read the headlines before the neighborhood, but the cost was newsprint on every door frame in the house for a couple of years.

Recently, I got into a box of my grandmother’s things searching for a certain bowl. I found it wrapped up in newspaper that she had used long before her death. I found more than just the bowl as I unwrapped and smoothed out the pages of the newspaper. There were names of people I recognized, some now gone like she was, a picture of a grade school soon to be demolished, prices in groceries ads that are now history. It was hard not to shed a tear at what that newspaper held for me besides the pink Fiesta Ware bowl.

A pink bowl can not be wrapped in a blog; a computer can’t be folded up and used to smack an irritating fly. A website is nice, but it does not have the earthy smell of newsprint nor leave the tell tale sign of printer’s ink on your fingers. Will newspapers go the way of the butter churn, typewriter, a party line telephone with three rings on the wall? Maybe, but I hope it takes a long while before we all loose the comforting sound of a rustling newspaper early in the morning or the joy of time spent with a evening paper at the end of a well spent day.

Friday, October 16, 2009

October 15, I Become a Sexagenarian

Okay, so it is official now: I am old. Hard to believe that I made it to this age and so fast! I have accepted the decades gracefully until now, but I have had a real aversion to this number 60. It was a turning point year for many I know with age. Last month my mother turned 80 and next month my mother-in-law will turn 90. For me, it was a quiet day which is maybe as it should be for my age. J Even the weather seemed subdued as the chilly dampness continued making an autumn day look more like winter.

Cards and phone calls started the day with loving care from friends and family. I chose Mythos, a Greek restaurant for my birthday lunch. It is a lovely place, quiet, cloth covered tables, cheerful Greek music playing in the background. While Greek is not my very favorite food, it is a treat and what I truly wanted for my birthday. I chose a sampler plate with various things like Spanakopita, dolmades (a rice and meat stuffed grape leaf), and olive tapenade among other things. The very best was the first course of soup, lemon chicken with spinach and mushrooms. So yummy! We finished with tiramisu served in a chocolate cup.

Then we drove out to Wildcat Nature Center where it was too wet and chilly for the walk. While the area might be gorgeous in the sunshine, the darkness contributed to a dull looking growing area. However, there some perky flowers handing in there. We talked to the naturalist about a tree leaf we wanted identified, but we stumped them all there. Then to a movie…not much choice. We saw Inglorious Bastards. Not a favorite but entertaining in its own way. A little too violent but it was a Quentin Tarantino film and so we new off the wall is the expected routine for him!

A supper of leftovers from the Greek lunch ended the day quietly and pleasantly.
Tomorrow is the annual Maple Leaf Parade here in town. Temps are to start at 34! Not inviting for me to stand outside. The last truly happy event I shared with my dad was the parade one beautiful autumn day so seeing the celebration roll around always is a little bittersweet for me. The parade and my birthday, two wonderful autumn events and the town decorates for it in lovely ways.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Solomon Valley Highway 24 Writing Contest

Writing Deadline is November 1

Oh golly, I am going to miss The Solomon Valley Call for Voices Writing Contest this year. This has been one crazy year, and somehow the deadline of November 1 has crept up on me! I have entered for three or four years now, winning a few categories here and there. Last year I won first place in Adult Fiction category while my Montana sister-in-law won third place in Adult Autobiography. Both pieces can be read on the winner’s page at

I don’t remember how I first learned of this writing contest. Although born and reared in Kansas, I was not sure someone living in Missouri could enter. But yes, the contest was open to anyone who wanted to try. The price was right: free! The Solomon Valley Highway 24 Alliance is using the writing contest to stir up interest in their area of Kansas and hoping for some increased tourism. Times are hard everywhere, and small bergs of Kansas could use a few tourist dollars. I have only been through the area once when I passed through returning from Montana. It is simple and beautiful farmland. I particularly enjoyed Nicodemus, a village where Blacks settled after the Civil War. I was devastated that the small museum was not open the day I passed through and hope to return for a visit some day.

Remember, anyone can enter the contest and there is no fee. There are no cash prizes, but winners will be printed in an upcoming anthology of pieces. Rules and entry forms for the contest can be found at .

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Enjoying My Own Company

This summer was cooler than usual and seemed short. Autumn started early and the air has been chilly on given days. The trees seem slow to color and are coloring sporadically in clumps rather than whole trees. The colors seem muted as well. Then this week gully washing rains came. It started with a slow steady rain and then continued to pour down three or four inches of water a day. The days were dark, and when the rain stopped yesterday, the temps fell to middle thirties making it seem like December instead of mid-October.

We started the day slowly here, feeling like the cold and dark morning air was a harbinger of winter we did not want to see yet. The Saturday morning tea was Snickerdoddle Cookie, a nice green tea but sweet. I feel it is too much a dessert to use everyday, as I like to start my day with a brisk and hearty black tea. However, this is one of DH’s favorites, and it was a good choice for a slow Saturday. I set out things for lunch, planned supper, and hunkered down for a reading in a new book. I started the novel Olive Kitteridge, and it was a good choice for a lazy morning read.
So today when the sun came out and the afternoon turned a bright 50, I took myself on an outing. A bean pot supper was cooking in the crock; DH was hunkering down with his wind class books. Everyone else probably was at family events on Saturday or out doing fall festivals, so I spent time with myself. I can be a great deal of fun and enjoy my own company!

I dropped some things by a friend’s house, and she was not home so I left the bag on her porch, and headed for the flea market. There were several new booths, and I saw lots of Blue Willow today. The pieces were all ones I had, but it was interesting to see the Willow appear. Sometimes you don’t see a piece, other times it pops up in several booths. What I did find was another wood duck for son’s new kitchen and two brown and white cups that were exactly the same pattern of two odd saucers I had picked up in a flea markets a few weeks ago! My find made me feel lucky!

So I went by the post office to drop in a poetry submission and send it on its way a hopeful future. Then I went to Sonic Happy Hour for a cheap drink. I was enthralled by the brilliant sunshine and the leaves that had turned here and there. Several leaves have fallen and the rain knocked off more so I feel we need to appreciate whatever we see right now. Then I drove around the town square and noticed the antique mall had a lovely Halloween window. While I did not need a thing, I pulled in to kill some time and see if I had more “shopping luck”.

Indeed I did. Found the loveliest book booth that caught my eye with a sign that said: Books You Should Read $2.00. I gave the shelf a gander and found great tittles that I appreciated and some I had not read. The titles were great and the owner had put the books in great groupings so shoppers could find their interest easily. I brought home Lowry’s Silent Boy, Lee Smith’s Family Linen, some Chevalier titles, and a wonderful children’s book with a CD called Old Turtle.

In this market I also found a 1950’s tablecloth in pinks and blues. I hate the thoughts of ironing it and tending a table with this kind of fabric, but every now and then the using of lovely old textiles is worth the trouble. DH has no idea how lucky he is to have homemade food set on table with lovely old dishes and atmosphere of days gone by!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fall Festival Day

It is early in October, but already the nights are getting down to a chilly 40 degrees. The sumac sports a scarlet hue and cottonwoods are a burnished golden shade; the oak and maple are only fingered by color in spots waiting, hopefully, to burst into shimmering color. However, the sun does shine making the afternoons warm and perfect for all the fall festivals in the area.

This afternoon we decided to drive to Neosho for their festive fall activities on the square. We had no idea what was going on, but we decided that a short drive and walk outside would not be wasted no matter what we found. The square was dotted with the usual wood crafts, crocheted toys, baked goods, and promotional booths, but it was a lovely walk about the square just mingling with the people.

There were a few farmers’ market type booths where we found a nice stone ground, stone oven baked bread. The crust is chewy but inside is pillow soft. It was quite tasty for an organic type bread made with no sugar or salt. We choose an olive loaf to bring home.
I also picked up some dried heirloom tomatoes that are to be reconstituted in olive oil and garlic. The farmer said they made a wonderful sandwich among other uses. I am anxious to see how they work. He also had some potato beans and some Christmas beans, but I left those for another time.

One street off the square was marked History Alley. The street led to the county museum where an old Ozark cabin and one room school both exist on the property. Here the historical groups, Friends of the Library and National Park Service had booths. But the real draw was artists and craftsmen in period costume practicing their interests. A blacksmith, candle maker, broom maker, butter churner worked along side a man hewing logs by hand and another doing cast iron cooking. Gary Hansford, a weaving teacher at Crowder College, was also showing his spinning skills.

Being outside on a lovely autumn day was a treat. We returned home to apple cinnamon oatmeal cooking in the crock pot. I warmed milk and some of the olive bread, and we ended the day with the autumn scents of cinnamon, brown sugar and apples lingering in the house, our cheeks red from October sun.