Wednesday, May 28, 2014

That Caged Bird Isn't Singing Tonight

Her words were timeless, and her lines never got old. I guess I thought she would last forever. But alas, Maya Angelou is gone now, and the world has a bit of a hole left no one else can quite fill.  

I met Maya Angelou on the pages of her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings when I was quite young. I was fascinated by her writing and became a fan. By the time I was teaching I had read everything she had written and continued to follow her. All of our literature textbooks had something by Miss Maya. I did not let my students read a poem and then move on. I made them not just meet but know this woman. In days when others were dropping spelling tests from lesson plans, I still pushed for spelling and vocabulary. When we read Maya Angelou I made her name a spelling word because I wanted them to pronounce the name correctly and to spell it right. They would never forget her.

Several years ago, I was in a silent auction where the only thing I wanted was a signed poem by this author. Another lady had WAY too much money as she drove the price completely beyond of my means! I was distraught for sure. So I set down and told Miss Angelou how sad I was to miss the opportunity to have her signed work and explained how she was studied not merely read in my classroom.

In only a matter of weeks I got a letter and a package in the mail. Inside were TWO signed poems. I nearly fainted. But how nice of her to give me enough that I could share, as I framed the extra for a close friend who loved Maya Angelou’s work too.

Tonight we feel sorrow for our loss, but soon we will realize the voice we loved will always sing to us in the words she left behind. We will feel her music and sway to her dance with each poem we read aloud. Heaven has a new poet, but she left behind many great words and works  to keep us company while she is gone. Good bye, Miss Maya!

Monday, May 26, 2014

My First Bordello!!!

This three day holiday honors our fallen dead, and well they should be remembered. For many people it also marks the beginning of summer. Oh my, where did spring go, I wonder? The days race by faster now like rodents in a cheese factory!

                                                      Old high school in Stark, Kansas
DH went to a small rural school and they have  held an all school supper and meeting for as long as I can remember. I went the first time as a “date” in a white knit dress. I was so proud of that dress (it took all the money I had left from my freshman college year at $23), and I wanted to look fine for the evening. First thing that happened was the waitress poured brown gray down my shoulder. I shouldn’t have worried; half the gym was full of overalls and snap button shirts. But I was young then as was much of the crowd. The oldsters were revered and recognized for their longevity then.

This weekend DH and his classmates celebrated their 50th Class Reunion. THEY are the oldsters now! Sadly, the gym was full of more gray hair and double chins than ever before. Most were farmers with sun burnished faces and tractor cap tans. There were a few men with long flowing white hair, an earring or two, and even a partially concealed pony tail! Since the school closed for consolidation in 1967, there are no new classes coming along. So each year the room of guests shrinks.

                                                  Boston Mountains of Arkansas

The next day we were tired but wanted to drive somewhere in the opposite direction. Usually we never travel on Memorial Day weekend, but this year we needed to see something new, to have a shot in the arm with some mental arousal. So we headed south down into Arkansas. Living in a corner of this state, we are fortunate to be able to cross three state borders in 30 to 60 minutes. In about 90 minutes Sunday we are on the edge of the Boston Mountains. These are not the jagged and high Rocky Mountains, but are beautiful mountains and valleys crowded with hardwoods and cold springs. The green of spring was lush here as we passed out of fields with short corn and new wheat on the prairie flat lands for the mountains with forest  leaves not yet withered from summer heat.

We went straight to Ft. Smith with no stops before turning around. There were two things I wanted to see in Ft. Smith, a town that once was a real drawing card on the western frontier. It is only a few miles to the border of what was once Indian Territory. This is home to U.S. Marshalls ( think Frank Dalton and Wyatt Earp) and outlaws (think James gang and the Rufus Buck gang)  alike. This is also where Judge Isaac Parker, the Hanging Judge, had about 80 criminals hung from the gallows.
                                             Jail and courtroom in Fort Smith federal building

Originally Ft. Smith was a military post. Then when the fort buildings housed federal offices, two huge rooms in the basement contained accused men, about a hundred at a time. The smell of unwashed men and poor sanitary conditions hosted a smell so bad that it drifted up through the floor! We stood in that room…I did not like the feel of the rooms.

Upstairs the reconstructed court room of Judge Parker was amazingly beautiful for the times. The walls of the building were nearly a foot thick. The doors were as wide as a small wagon. This was so the original troops housed at the fort could muster out two at a time and loaded in full gear quickly. I was astounded by those wide doors.
                                                Gallows...hung about 80 men under Hanging Judge

We went out to see the gallows. They are fenced in because people were handed out tickets to watch the hangings. Everyone wanted to see, like a circus. So the numbers were limited to the size of the gallows yard. The hangman took his job seriously. There were 13 steps up….13 rings on the noose…turning the noose to the side of the neck gave more chance to snap the neck making death an easier thing for the sentenced people. No ropes hung there on Sunday because people visiting in the past had been stupid causing accidents with the ropes and floor. On certain days the ropes are up but only when a Ranger can watch people!
                                                 Miss Laura's

Then we moseyed a few blocks down the river bank to Front Street where all the houses of ill repute used to be located; this area was called The Row then. The people of Ft. Smith wanted all the vices lined up in the same place, away from the bulk of the good, non-sinning citizens. Here now the only house left is Miss Laura’s once owned by Laura Ziegler in the late 1800s. The bordello is painted the same green with cream trim that it wore when business flourished. It is now the city’s visitor’s center, and it was an incredulous site for this writer’s mind to visit! Miss Laura ran her house with only quality circumstances. She paid for regular health screenings of her girls. No man was allowed to see himself upstairs without a girl escort. She came to the bottom of a lovely staircase to get him, and she had to be fully clothed to do so. There is still a side door where certain patrons entered when they were trying not to be seen.
                                                Miss Laura's parlor
The girls took one third of the fee which was a day and a half of the common man’s wages. The girls did 35 to 38 jobs a week. DH figured up the girls made the today’s approximate equivalent of $3800 a week for their “work”. Laura borrowed $600 to build the house and in 1911 sold it for $47,000 dollars. She was quite a business woman.

                                                           If only these stairs could talk!

Miss Laura’s of Ft. Smith is the first bordello ever put on the National Historic Register.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Saturday in May

The day has been more to my liking than some recent days. After a frost warning the last two nights, the dawn was at 40 degrees. That isn’t too bad unless you are preparing to go to a breakfast picnic! We discussed long underwear, but we decided to take our chances it would warm up some at least.
The group was diverse…friendly…and the food was wonderful!!! I had taken cheese grits last year and folks liked them. However, DH does not like grits. I took his favorite stuffed mushrooms. They were popular with the other eaters too! The mushrooms were added to bacon, sausage, eggs, biscuits/gravy, sweet rolls, breakfast casserole, breakfast potatoes, spinach frittata, and more. No one left hungry!

By the time we got home, we were stuffed to the gills like a fancy trout. It got even better when I realized that there would be no lunch to fix. Then the sun came out and that meant we had ice tea with books on the deck! Ah, the joys of spring!
When the mailman came, he enhanced my day even more with a box of the new issues of Well Versed: Literary Works 2014. This is a work put out by the Missouri Chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild. It is full of writings that are gleaned from their annual writing contest. Not only did I get a kick from seeing my name on the CONTENTS, but I saw names I recognized from all over the state. Many of these writers I know only from their work or their blog pages. But still, it felt like seeing family when I looked over the work. Now to read all the pieces by other writers!

In the Preface, managing editor Linda Fisher wrote: “…it takes courage to submit your work anonymously to see if it will pass muster.”  She is so right. A writer drains herself by the conception of an idea, the pouring of it to the page, and then tossing it out there for possible condemnation from others. But then, a day like today comes…when one sees that someone else saw or felt the lines with appreciation and then preserved them for readers…well, it makes for a great day.

I had three poems in the issue, one was a Judge’s Pick. But the one about laundry on the line is the one I will share because I had such fun with it. Above all else including hard work, writing should be fun, don’t you think?

Line Dance 
Kansas sky lingers over my spotless laundry,
Pieces line up on Monday all the way to a denim horizon.
Prairie breeze rustles summer leaves and makes flags of kitchen towels.
My newly washed aprons on the clothesline wave unknotted ties
And trifle with the blazing sun overhead in their freedom.
My man’s overalls hear the seducing song of summer,
And they begin to dance, feetless legs flinging to and fro,
Shamelessly flirting with work shirts and bleached socks.
The dallying day exhausts them all of detergent and dampness;
By late afternoon in stilled air, they are tranquil and dry.
Unpegging them from the wire, I fold their crisp air smell away.
Garments rest in wicker-woven baskets, renewed by the outdoors
…until a new boogie on another dance day.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Fresh Air for Mother's Day Weekend

Life continues to throw curve balls, but it could be worse. I am grateful for the good that comes. Rain and some severe weather are in our future, even on Mother’s Day. So this morning we took a tiny ride out of town to “get away” just a wee bit. It was my choice to head to Afton, Oklahoma, less than an hour from us. We could not go far but this round trip of about four hours let me sample things I love. Some things were hindered by Miss Biscuit as the heat came on strong mid-morning, and I just did not feel like leaving her in a car so I could look around.

I had seen a news item about Afton Station, and while it did not live up to my complete expectations, it was a soothing trip to the past. House in an old DX station this lovely couple have a tiny, quite tiny in fact, collection of Buffalo Ranch and DX memorabilia. The real draw is the fourteen Packards they have on display…all for free.

                                                                  1953 Packard
                                                                      1929 Packard
My grandfather had a DX station for many years, so that was my first attention getter. The old filling station is in pristine condition and clean as cake platter after the party. However, you can still stand in the show room which was once the garage part of the filling station and smell that tinge of oil that has seeped into the concrete beneath the paint. I sensed it the moment I walked in; I was moved with memory!

The few things they had from Buffalo Ranch were in a showcase. Probably many readers will find the term Buffalo Ranch meaningless, but to me and others of the Route 66 era, the term will evoke a range of reminiscences. I suppose some would have called it a tourist trap. I remember: buffalo burgers, gasoline pumps, beaded moccasins for sale, plastic tomahawks, fenced in animals that were mostly huge, curly haired buffalo, and a ring of riding ponies. How I remember one of my rides! I was about six dressed in a plaid dress hitting my knees and a great pair of cowboy boots. While riding that pony, I was transported right into the world of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry….for about ten minutes.

I am not a big Packard fan, but the cars were beautifully restored. The town was a mere crossroads that had seen better times for sure. So we angled back towards Grove and Grand Lake. Ah, we hit Sailboat bridge and more memories. My other grandfather spent many a weekend crossing the Kansas border into Oklahoma for boating on Grand Lake.

 It was already getting quite warm so we avoided leaving Biscuit in the car for shopping. However, we found a Poultry Swap which was outside and just a dandy place full of down home folks. There were tables of “junk” along with the chickens, ducks and eggs. Nothing I wanted to bring home except a ten pound bag of Vidalia onions being sold by Shriners.

So we grabbed a hamburger in a McDonald’s drive-through and meandered back roads coming home.  Oh, the land is so beautiful in spring. The pastures and meadows were green as a summer grasshopper; trees with new leaves thick and lush cast cooling shade over fields and creeks. Cattle seemed happy to be lounging in the luxuriant grass. So we had not been far, but I had traveled years backwards and felt like I could go forward again in  new week.
I have lovely flowers this weekend gifted to me by friends. It may be Mother’s Day, but we all need mothering of some kind no matter how we are. Women seem to understand that best and look out for each other. I am grateful for all the women... and men... in my life who think of me, nurture me, and keep me going.

Happy Mother’s Day to you all.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

A Weekend of Ups and Downs--Literally

DH is putting in new windows. There is sheetrock all over the house—again. If one term described the last forty years of my life, I think it would be sheetrock dust!

 But this weekend was the city wide garage sale. While we have never been, we did go this year and were hunting some furniture for a relative. No one had what we were looking for, but of course, we did find tiny treasures to drag home! The sad part of the story is we came home where I stepped in a hole that DH had dug next to the driveway (another story!). I had my arms loaded and did some damage by falling, breaking some of the goodies, not to mention the great pain I caused me! However I never broke anything ON myself.

Some sales actually started on Friday night so on one of my “go for runs” to Lowes, I made some extra stops. I found some great chairs. I know, I do not NEED chairs, but something about chairs, purses, shoes, books, and dishes calls to me. Luckily, DH was not with me to dampen my fun; he does not understand a craze for chairs.

The first one is mahogany and solid as a rock…for $5. Now that is a bargain. The other one is what caught my eye first and it was more, but very reasonable. Did I dare tote TWO home?

If you are of a certain age, you will remember this style of oak chair as standard for teachers of the 1950s. How many times have students leaned on the wooden arms watching teacher check those newly challenging division problems? The seller told me his dad was principal of a country school and this was his chair. Then when the son began to teach, he used it for a few years, but he was downsizing; it had to go. As we talked and remembered…he came down another $5 and that chair was ridiculously low. It came home too.
For one dollar I added this dash of Blue Willow to the purchases. It was a great shopping adventure, better than what my Saturday would be!

The basket I bought for $3 is now smashed, but DH found this Blue Willow perk for $2. Not the Occupied Japan we love, but it is a pretty blue and new…but a tiny new dust collector!

Today, DH continues hammering on the side of the house. After lunch on the deck that included freshly cut lettuce and kale, I turned on the AC because it is now 90 degrees outside. A little too warm for this time of year. However, just right for the Mama Robin who is now feeding her brood.