The Runaways

No, that isn’t me. And no, that isn’t my pet elephant.

On the other hand, it could have been me and it could have been my elephant, or so I imagined as a toddler when a serious infatuation with Dumbo led me to run off to join the circus. I’d forgotten that sudden childhood impulse until I came across the story of Lilly and Isa, a pair of  elephants who traveled years ago with the Carson & Barnes Circus.

I first heard of Lilly and Isa when I visited the circus’s winter quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma.  As young elephants, they became famous for running away from the circus, not toward it.  Still, there were similarities in our experience. Neither of us had a clear destination in mind when we decided to make a break for it, and neither of us had a real plan. We simply saw our chance and took it, hot-footing it down the road for all we were worth, determined to outrun our pursuers and evade capture. Lilly and Isa were more successful when it came to long-term evasion, but by the time it was over I suspect all three of us had decided that one escapade was enough. (more…)

Published in: on May 19, 2013 at 12:35 pm  Comments (95)  
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A Taste of Americana

 

When it comes to American icons, I’m a traditionalist.  I love the Statue of Liberty, the Corn Palace, bluegrass and blue jeans.  And yes, I’m fond of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations, particularly his portrayal of Rosie the Riveter.

When Rosie appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943, my parents were living in the Quad Cities. Dad worked at John Deere, while my mother spent her days helping the war effort by riveting aircraft. She took great satisfaction in the work, trusted her partner, and always enjoyed telling stories about Hellcats, nose cones and turrets. 

Even after my parents moved back to Iowa and her work at the factory ended, she kept a cherished copy of the Post  in her cedar chest and a torn-out image of Rosie tucked between some books in the den. When Hillary Clinton adapted the better-known “We can Do It” poster for her Presidential campaign, Mom wasn’t happy. “That’s just not right, for them to call her Rosie,” she’d say. “That’s not the real Rosie. I’ve got Rosie’s picture in my closet.” (more…)

Published in: on January 26, 2013 at 10:54 am  Comments (120)  
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The Pleasures of Pelecanus Poeticus

Whether Eleanor Johnson had the pleasure of meeting a pelican during the course of her lifetime, I can’t say. What I know is that, had a pelican plummeted into our 5th grade classroom and perched atop her desk, the first words out of Miss Johnson’s mouth would have been, “Children! Quick! Get out your pencils! Let’s write a poem about our unexpected visitor!”

One of my favorite teachers, Miss Johnson guided us capably enough through lessons in arithmetic and social studies, but her first love was poetry. Obsessed with verse, she clearly hoped to inculcate that same obsession in her little charges.  She would have poured poetry into our heads with a funnel if she’d been able, but lacking direct physical  access to our distracted childhood brains, she did the next best thing – nagging, cajoling, insisting and assigning until we nearly collapsed under the weight of her enthusiasm.

We read biographies of poets, memorized stanzas and recited sonnets in front of the class until until we thought we were going to throw up from the anxiety of it all. When we were assigned our first written theme, an unhappy exercise meant to answer the question What is poetry? groans of disapproval and resistance echoed down the halls. I remember sighing as I examined the new burden she’d imposed.  The essay was to be no less than two hundred words!  My distress was eased only slightly by knowing I already had one answer to Miss Johnson’s question, an answer I suspected she might approve.  Poetry, to my way of thinking, was fun. (more…)

Published in: on August 10, 2012 at 11:37 am  Comments (101)  
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The Corn Whisperer

In the depths of interminable winter, there was no sound. No words schussed across the silence, no song delighted the heart. No voice, mysterious and enthralling, beckoned willing and wary alike into the heart of the fields. Winter crackled with stubble and ice, purified herself with snow, hid away her fields. Dark and loamy, smelling of glaciers and frost, the earth remained empty as a night without stars until the season turned and the earth warmed, and voices returned to the land.

“Here? Is this where it goes?” “Yes, child. That’s where it goes, the seed that will become the corn. Remember the rhyme?”

“In rows long and lovely, in rows long and straight,
in rows that reach out from the house to the gate…”

He wasn’t someone who flattered you with his answer, someone you felt reached out to pull down a word here and a word there like plucking cherries, throwing them into the bucket of your mind just to make you happy. His answers seemed good and wise and true, born of knowledge older than the corn. (more…)

Published in: on February 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm  Comments (75)  
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A Blogosphere Blessing

With the corn half-grown and the rising heat of summer melting and bubbling the tarred-road boundaries of my world, our great migration began. From a secure and well-loved home eight blocks east and five blocks north of the courthouse square, I was to be uprooted and carried to a house nine blocks west and thirteen blocks south of that same square. It might as well have been Uzbekistan. They can move without me, I thought. They can have their new house. I’ll stay here. They’ll be sorry…

A morose and angry twelve year old, I pitched my version of a fit. I refused to talk. I refused to pack. I didn’t want to move. I may not yet have absorbed the word “subdivision”, but I’d seen the reality. Flat, barren and treeless, its low, porchless houses ambled through bare and dusty plots of land.  There were no cherry trees to climb, no patches of wild asparagus, no hollyhocks to pluck and stitch into fragile, short-lived dolls. (more…)

Published in: on January 22, 2012 at 8:00 pm  Comments (72)  
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