Tree Houses, Books, and the Joys of Reflection

To my parents’ chagrin, I was a climber. Long before I walked across a room, I was climbing stairs.  I clambered over picket fences as easily as those woven from wire. After I scaled Mt. Refrigerator, on a quest to reach the chocolate chips hidden away in the highest cupboard in the house, Mother laid down the law. If I wanted to climb, I would do it outside, in the trees.

No doubt she knew the maples in our front yard were too large for me to climb, just as the crabapples were too small, and the elms too brittle. But a cherry tree in the back yard turned out to be just right, with strong lower branches, and a sandbox nearby to use as a ladder. An agreement was reached. Once the fruit had been picked, I was free to scramble up as high as I could go, until branches began to snap. Then, I promised to retreat to a more secure spot. (more…)

Published in: on October 25, 2014 at 9:01 pm  Comments (99)  
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Autumn Trilogy III – A Season of Unleaving

Colleen was our hand-waver, the slightly obnoxious one who bounced in her seat, caught up in the throes of enthusiasm. “Me! Me, Miss Hudepohl. Call on me!”

On the other side of the room, shy Valerie dedicated herself to perfecting the role of a disappearing third-grader. Content to remain in the back row, she spent her days sinking lower and lower into her one-armed, wooden desk until she resembled a puddle of Silly Putty, ready to flow away beneath the door, down the hall, and out of our lives forever.

Neither a shrinker nor a hand-waver, I asked for and received a place in the front row of desks. Since our teacher spent most of her time distracted by hand-wavers or trying to draw out the shrinkers, I rarely was called on. When it was my turn, I’d squirm a bit, pretending not to have heard. Sometimes, I’d shake my head and shrug my shoulders in a gesture of casual detachment, as if to say, “No, I don’t have the answer, but you already knew that, so why bother?”
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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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