Columbus, Ohio USA
Return to Homepage www.shortnorth.com
Gazette Columnist Christine Hayes
Daughter of the late Ben Hayes who was a former columnist for the Columbus Citizen-Journal. She is co-author of Lost Restaurants of Columbus Ohio, 2015, with Doug Motz, and their second volume Lost Restaurants of Central Ohio & Columbus, 2017. Christine Hayes works for Acorn Bookshop at 1464 W. Fifth Ave. across from the old Giant Eagle. They are open 7 days. Visit www.acornbookshop.com or call 614-486-1860 for more information or email Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to know more about Christine Hayes aka Ramona Moon? See Columbus Alive article By Jesse Tigges from the June 26, 2014 edition "ComFest preview: Art cars are revving up for festival season."
SEE ALSO: Hayes Features
Return to Homepage www.shortnorth.com
The Stone Boudoir: Travels through the Hidden Villages of Sicily by Theresa Maggio
Theresa Maggio’s paternal grandparents were Sicilians from Santa Margherita who emigrated to America in the early 1900s. Santa Margherita was destroyed by an earthquake in 1968. Theresa followed her dream to go to Sicily and explore the tiniest towns and dig into her heritage. She tells her tales of her trips taken over a quarter-century, entering towns on buses mostly, carrying only a knapsack with a few clothes, a camera, and a notebook. Early on in this book she has a love interest who encourages her to move to his town for a year. He is a fisherman who pays for her Italian lessons in fish.
Thus armed with the ability to speak Sicilian Italian with the best of them, she is befriended by twin female pharmacists in Locati, a town that “didn’t rate a dot” on the map. This friendship opens all kinds of doors for her, as the twins are well-known in many hill towns. Renting apartments, pensiones, and even cave-dwellings, Theresa gets to know the territory of “a quiet world of mist and moss on old stones.” The title of the book is derived from the fact that rock is used to build houses, churches, and streets. Sandstone, lava, pink clay, and ancient blue stone are “the bedrock humming with hidden energy.”
The culture of Sicilian small towns is a product of the island’s location as a crossroads of civilization. Inhabited since the Bronze Age, the island has rich layers of architecture and behavior derived from Greeks, nomadic Berbers and North African Arabs, Romans, invading Normans, Spanish feudal noblemen, Italian noble families, the Catholic Church.
Even though Sicilians who emigrated longed for their island, the multiple woes of poverty, famine, drought, heavy taxes, rule of the Mafia, and “terrifying bands of roaming dogs” forced them to leave. On one trip when Theresa at last finds her relatives, still living in “temporary” barracks in Santa Margherita, she is told to “kick away dogs during a thunderstorm because they attract lightning.” Apparently the money to rebuild the houses of the town was taken by corrupt officials.
Another menacing factor of Sicily are the volcanoes. While staying in a town in “the shadow of Etna,” Theresa looks out her dizzying brink-window and sees “a black mountain with a muffled red glow pulsing over the crater, its inner fire reflected by low clouds.” Perhaps it is the constant threat of physical danger and also danger of crossing social rules, but Theresa found that women had the ancient custom of treating a strange woman like an honored guest. Men meet in piazzas and cafes, because the house is the realm of the woman. Women cleaned and washed and ironed furiously, and going to market could be, for the older generation, the only social event of the week.
Theresa learned the hard way never to make eye contact with strange men. She often stayed in convents, where they rented rooms to travelers, but she was grilled by nuns mercilessly, who could not understand why she was not married, and what she was possibly doing in Sicily. Writing a book was beyond their ken. Other women took her in and were delighted to have her as an attraction in their homes.
Yes, she was judged by many but she also made good friends and observed the culture carefully. A friend takes her to a restaurant (lots in this book about the great food) in the corner hall of an ancient villa on a country road. The place is a charming pink stucco palace with murals and a fire in a stone hearth. The author watches the elaborate twenty-minute lottery drawing on television from her vantage point in front of the fire.
She attends a carnival costume ball in the town of Polizzi Generosa. Everyone has plastic bags over their shoes, as they could be identified by their shoes. Her vivid description of the mostly terrifying procession of the statue of St. Agatha in the town of Catania includes this phrase: “The procession slipped smoothly through the streets like an arm through a black satin sleeve.” Later they pull the statue up a mountain with six-foot candles carried all around, people slipping on the prodigious melted wax.
Other apt descriptions abound. “Two-man fishing boats with their nets steaming like lace ribbons behind them,” and “Low clouds cling like cherubim to the sides of Monte Pellegrino,” are a couple of examples.
On the one hand we are told about a sophisticated cooking school in the town of Viagrande, on the other we get a full picture of her relative Nella, “the niece of the daughter of my grandmother’s first cousin.” Nella’s invitation to stay gave Theresa a close look at the sequestered life of a provincial hill-town woman. Here’s the description of Nella’s bread ritual: “With a paring knife she cut a cross into the flat bottom of every new loaf, then wedged it in the crook of her left arm and hugged it while she carved off thick chunks. I feared for her left breast. The crust chipped and crackled like the glaze on a raku pot. In Sicily, after a meal, older women will gather up the pieces of uneaten bread and kiss them before drying them so they can be used for breadcrumbs. Nella did not kiss the bread, but she did put it away to add to tomorrow’s breakfast porridge.”
This book was written in 2002, so the culture may have moved on in the last fifteen years. But the reading was so satisfying of towns on precipices, fingers of fog, silver rivers, terraced orchards of citrus, olive, almond, and fig trees; grapevines, springs, ancient fountains, flocks of sheep and cows, flowers in windowboxes and terracotta pots, hanging laundry, hand-made lace tablecloths, churches, convents, and fields of wheat. The armchair travel is just the ticket out of the winter blues. The book has no photographs, but the descriptive prose is like a balmy day in the Madonie Mountains.
The Bookshop (a novel) by Penelope Fitzgerald
The first chapter finds Florence Green arguing with a banker about the notion of opening a bookshop in Hardborough, a likely name for a town, fictitious in its setting in East Anglia, Great Britain, that has lost all of its “means of communication” – wharfs and ferries rotted away, swing bridge fallen in, railway closed, sea wall caved in, a no-nonsense place with skeptics and gossips on every hand. The chapter ends with Florence holding on to a horse’s tongue while its owner, referred to as “Raven,” files its teeth. Do you sense a metaphor here?
Yes, the old town has lots of livestock, and moors, and fog and dampness. The “Old House,” Florence’s chosen site for her bookshop, was “built five hundred years ago out of earth, straw, sticks and oak beams,” and features a poltergeist. Said poltergeist is referred to in the phrase “unusual period atmosphere,” by the real estate agent.
In chapter two Florence moves in, where “courage and endurance are useless if they are never tested.” A party invitation to a grand old hall of a place by the Gamants, Violet and the General, intrigues her. Florence drinks champagne, and the “smaller worries of the day seemed to stream upwards as tiny pinpricks.” The hostess refers to the Old House as her idea of the location for the new center of the arts, and Florence mulls this over.
Approached in chapter three by another shopkeeper, Florence deflects his offer. Everyone in town knows all her business and seems to conspire her away from the Old House, including the poltergeist. She is a middle-aged widow and the year is 1959. The book was published in 1978.
But the Sea Scouts come and give her a hand with the shelves, and then the ordered books arrive! Even an accountant is procured. In chapter four the patriarch of the town, Mr. Brundish, wishes her well. Quite a coterie of curious followers come to buy, and then borrow, from her newly-established lending library. The rush and crush on the library causes it to close for a month.
Chapter five brings a precocious ten-year-old assistant, and later some demanding sales reps, dropping off cards, bookmarks, unwanted books, and unwanted opinions. Letters arrive from would-be artists and authors, asking Florence for a show or a signing (no space). The letters are put away in a drawer (said drawers sometimes get emptied by the poltergeist.)
Damp summer arrives with out-of-town visitors. Chapter six has Christine, the child, and Florence sitting by a Nevercold heater with their tea. The poltergeist comes on with great force. They forge on, as good Brits might. “Opening the shop gave her, every morning, the same feeling of promise and opportunity.” Then all goes to hell in a handbasket. The arts center-promoting woman being nosy, finally comes into the shop and is rapped over the knuckles by Christine, for messing with other people’s books. Mr. Brundish invites Florence to his house (no one from the town has ever been invited there) to discuss Lolita.
“He wanted to welcome her but was more used to threatening, and the change of attitude was difficult for him. She felt the appeal of this.”
Lolita’s ample display in the shop windows provokes a lawsuit from the arts organizer, that she and others are “obstructed” in their shopping by it. The suit gets dropped, and as the year winds down, Florence “for the first time in her life… had the alarming sensation of prosperity” in the holiday season.
The sales reps have brought Florence displays (unused by her) of Stalin, Roosevelt, Churchill, a Nazi tank, a football player, footsteps stained with blood, a horse with moving eyeballs; Christine is given these items for the Christmas Fancy Dress Parade. Of course, an award is given to her, as she is a resourceful child.
All of these elements combine into a page-turner of a book, and, a recent film, which I have not seen. The film was shot in Ireland and in Barcelona in 2016. I especially enjoyed the arch conversations of Florence and Christine and the Sea Scout, Wally. The book abounds with pithy and wry comments on the town, its occupants, their relatives, and the cows in the mist.
Along with wanting to play the wackily witty Lady Bracknell in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, I should like to play Mr. Brundish in his two appearances in the book, star turns if ever there were ones, with lines like “Understanding makes the mind lazy” and “A curious experience, fainting. One can’t tell if one is doing it properly. There is nothing to go on. One can’t remember the last time.”
Penelope Fitzgerald (1916 – 2000) wrote several biographies and nine novels. She came from a literary and theological family, and graduated from Oxford in 1938. She worked for the BBC in World War Two. She married a fellow Oxford student who is described as a “soldier, alcoholic, lawyer, and editor,” which combination made them very poor. They had three children, and Ms. Fitzgerald taught in schools until she was seventy. She did work in a bookshop at one time, and also lived in a houseboat “which sank twice.”
Acorn Bookshop – my place of occupation – is celebrating its twenty-fifth year of business, faring much better than the Old House (oops, I’m tipping the ending). Also, the second installment of the Lost Restaurants series, written with my co-author, Doug Motz, is about to come out. Please come see us at Acorn the evening of Friday, December 15, 2017, for a book-signing.
The Fiction Works of Marilynne Robinson:
Housekeeping, Gilead, Home, Lila
“Home” and “housekeeping,” the love of it, or the horror of it, is the subject matter of these four books.
Three of the books revolve around two Reverends of the town of Gilead, Iowa, one Congregationalist, one Presbyterian. Housekeeping involves a family of females in another town called Fingerbone, in the far west of the United States. Many characters in these books are wandering in the wilderness – some quite literally, some inside their own heads, and some both. The actions, too numerous and melodramatic to mention, span generations and recriminations. For my taste, there was too much scripture and scriptural justifications for the actions. But the poetry of the prose! It kept me turning the pages of all four novels.
Gilead (2004), Home (2008), and Lila (2014), are the same in setting and characters, though Home focuses on a brother and sister who do not figure in Lila. In my initial curiosity about the books, I imagined a Mayberry / Milford / Norman Rockwellness of the towns – and yes, there are church ladies bearing casseroles in all of them – but the town and the church ladies fade into the background. Instead, it is the lake and the bridge and the train as focus in Fingerbone; and the houses, barns, gardens, churches, and the river that hang in the forefront of the Gilead characters’ lives. In the Bible, the place called Gilead has good pasture, but it can be full of evildoers. “…come from a terrain where loneliness and grief are time and weather.”(Home)
“She took the paper and opened it up. A map. There was the river, and a road, and between them, fences, a barn, woods, an abandoned house, all of them sketched in and carefully labeled, and in the woods a clearing, and at the upper edge of the clearing an X and the word ‘morels.’ In the lower-left-hand corner there was a compass, and a scale in hundreds of paces, and in the upper-right-hand-corner a dragon with a coiled tail and smoking nostrils.”
This Is a gift to the sister, Glory, by her brother Jack in Home. (Morels are dear to my heart, so I liked this image.) Actually I think of these books as homes of sheer poetry – excuses for the characters to walk around in them and either live in them or become transient through them. Home and Lila seem like back-stories for Gilead, which won a Pulitzer in 2005 (among Robinson’s many awards for her writing.)
“And then the sun flung a long shaft over the mountain, and another, like a long-legged insect bracing itself out of its chrysalis, and then it showed above the black crest, bristly and red and improbable.” (Housekeeping)
“(The Desoto) gleamed darkly and demurely, like a ripe plum…Jack put his arm out the window, waving his hat like a visiting dignitary, backed into the street, and floated away, gentling the gleaming dirigible through the shadows of arching elm trees, light dropping on it through their leaves like confetti as it made its ceremonious passage.”(Home)
“Sometimes we left when we smelled the hoboes’ supper – a little like fish, a little like rubber, a little like rust…” (Housekeeping)
The undercurrent of violence and instability haunts all narratives. The Reverends or the great-aunts always try for normalcy, which is never forthcoming. “Sylvie talked a great deal about housekeeping. She soaked all the tea towels for a number of weeks in a tub of water and bleach…It was for the sake of air that she opened all the doors and windows…for the sake of air that on one early splendid day she wrestled my grandmother’s plum-colored davenport into the front yard, where it remained until it weathered pink.” (Housekeeping)
There is some fire and brimstone in the character of a Bible-spewing forebear, but the subsequent pastors watch civil-rights battles on the news on TV and discuss John Foster Dulles, hanging the story straight in the 1960’s. They puzzle over the next generation, wandering in the wilderness of disappointment. The pull of normalcy appeals to just a handful of the family members.
Marilynne Robinson taught the Iowa Writers’ Workshop 1991 through 2016. She was born and grew up in Sandpoint, Idaho. She has written some weighty non-fiction involving such topics as nuclear pollution and modern thought. She was raised Presbyterian but later became Congregationalist. She is an advocate of the ideas of John Calvin. She writes articles, essays, and reviews for Harper’s, The Paris Review, and the New York Review of Books. She has been a visiting writer or professor at Amherst and Yale.
In one sequence the two young sisters in Housekeeping fashion a snow woman in the yard. “Her figure suggested a woman standing in a cold wind. It seemed we had conjured a presence. We hoped the lady would stand long enough to freeze... We went inside for lunch, and when we came out again, she was a dog-yellowed stump in which neither of us would admit any interest.” The shifting sands of fate and family spoken in so many metaphors– Robinson provides an amazing four-volume carpet to fly us into her created melancholy world and away on, her images not soon forgotten.
Rules of Civility, by Amor Towles
The title refers to George Washington’s 110 social maxims for himself, ending with, “Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire called Conscience.” All of the maxims are printed at the end of this fine Towles book, and a symbolic copy of the little maxim book itself appears often in the action.
The story is quite Wonderful Town-ish with two attractive “working girls,” one from Indiana, one from Brooklyn, who are seeking to hang out with “swells” in 1937-38 New York City. The two women have many trials and tragedies, but manage to keep their spunk and wisecracks coming, over the flowing champagne and gin-and-tonics. The plot takes a breath quite often for thorough appreciations of paintings, furniture, décor, architecture, and fashion, including Bergdorf’s windows. A practice-shooting sequence, with guns laid-out by servants, is quite effective in setting the man/woman combative tone.
The author knows how to keep a story going – one wants to keep moving on to the next chapter, the young women’s social climbing always accomplished, but then always more unexpected turns. One of the girls is a well-read bookworm. Her story takes over the novel, as the other young woman moves to Los Angeles (do we anticipate another novel with her story?). Passages and advice from Walden and Agatha Christie’s books pop-up in the narrative. Changing partners, repercussions, glittering diamonds, nascent jazz, bookstores, and restaurants dot the sophisticated landscape. One thinks of the books of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dawn Powell, or Pete Hamill in the Manhattan-ness of it all.
In reference to the song Autumn in New York, written by a Belarusian named Vernon Duke, coming over the car radio in a pivotal scene: “Yes in the autumn of 1938 tens of thousands of New Yorkers would be falling under the spell of that song. Sitting in the jazz bars or the supper clubs, the worn and the well-to-do would be nodding their heads in smiling acknowledgment that the Belarusian immigrant had it right: that somehow, despite the coming of winter, autumn in New York promises an effervescent romance which makes one look to the Manhattan skyline with fresh eyes and feel: It’s good to live again. “
I swam through the rest of the book, dizzying in all its bar-hops and intrigues. I remembered well the minor character that becomes the major character’s (Kate’s) husband. She reflects in an epilogue how certain choices and connections shape a life this way and that. The photographs mentioned in the preface become a tipping point in her life, and indeed a metaphor for how one could choose a life lived this way or that.
After a break-up: “I looked up and down Second Avenue like a wolf that’s escaped from its cage. I checked my watch. The hands were splayed between the nine and the three, like two duelers back to back who have counted off paces and are about to turn and fire. The night was young.”
Upon receiving a summons from a rival: “I tore the letter into a thousand pieces and hurled them at the spot on the wall where a fireplace should have been. Then I carefully considered what I should wear. For what was the point of standing on ceremony now? Hadn’t we sailed a few hundred nautical miles beyond grandstanding? Hercule Poirot certainly wouldn’t have turned her down. He would have been hoping for such a summons – practically counting on one – as the unforeseen development that would speed the plow of justice.”
In reading this book, it seemed to be reading me. The city of New York is also a character in this book, perhaps the character, and Kate just its pawn. It made me think of how many friends advised me to move to New York, to where they had moved. And how I did not choose it.
Kate moves beyond her youth into another phase, but still keeps connections to some of the characters (and everyone in the book is a Character with a capital “C” – and many are not what they seem.) One sends her a present beyond the grave. But the pinball effects of youthful experimentation finally stop, and her own true course, as it will beyond one’s youth (usually), begins to take shape. But it’s a heady trip that brings the reader back to youthful memories.
As George Washington would have it, “Be not Tedious in Discourse or in reading unless you find the Company pleased therewith.” (maxim #80).”
Amor Towles is from the Boston area, graduated from Yale, has an MA in English from Stanford, and worked for twenty years as an investment professional. Rules of Civility is his first book (2011) and his second book, A Gentleman in Moscow, has been on the best-seller list for months. He lives in Manhattan with his family; he is in his fifties.
The Roots of My Obsession: Thirty Great Gardeners Reveal Why They Garden
Thirty essays on gardening: I read them quickly in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace on a coldish April night. Yes, one notices a trend in the sentiments. Usually the writer has a gardening mentor; a father, mother, grandmother, or bachelor uncle. Usually the writer is the nerdy one of the family, making little worlds out of sticks and leaves as a child, when everyone else is playing games, or else the nerdy child is off in the woods, noticing wildlife, plants, and bugs.
Gardening becomes the profession and obsession of each of these writers. Yet three of the thirty stand out for me. Ken Druse, a New York Times writer, also the author of seventeen award-winning garden books, among them Natural Companions, and having a radio show and podcast, wrote one such amazing article. A rising river threatens his garden on an island in northwest New Jersey. In 1995, he wrote, the sound of the river was a soothing companion, later the sound became that of increased traffic. Fortunately, in the light of the floods, his house, an old mill store built around 1850, was built one story higher than the garden.
“A few of the dozen or so floods stand out in my memory. There was a shallow, fast-moving one that scraped away big chunks of garden. There was a deep flood… it amounted to mostly retrieving the wooden garden furniture and newly planted sweet birch saplings from the deer fence, where they had lodged. The worst flood dumped two feet of sand on most of the garden. I had to rent a backhoe.”
This man is the most resourceful and resilient gardener I’ve heard of. “One fall, it started to rain and continued through the next day. I put on my boots and went out to take some photographs when I noticed a telephone pole floating by. (You never know when you’re going to need a telephone pole – it has since been cut in half for giant gateposts in the deer fence.) I lassoed the pole with a garden hose and was tying it to a spruce tree when I realized the water was waist high and my camera and tripod had tipped over. The camera was ruined, but every picture came out.”
Nancy Goodwin, co-author of A Year in Our Gardens, and Montrose: Life in a Garden, also wrote a captivating essay, though her garden torment was deer. Montrose, the name of her home in Hillsborough, North Carolina, is a tract of sixty-one acres that has been gardened and forested since 1840. Goodwin’s first discovery was that the prevalent walnut trees cause an alkaline environment, unsuitable for most garden plants. “We harvested the trees near the gardens, sawed the trunks into boards and, after curing the wood for several years, turned it into stairs, shutters, a bookcase, and a table to hold the tiles from Virginia Woolf’s husband’s plant table.”
Unfortunately, her now walnut-free and lavish garden attracted deer by the dozens. The family installed a seven-foot, nine-inch, high mesh fence. She now had to get the deer out of the property. They performed a “deer drive,” which consisted of “twenty-five people at dusk on our fiftieth wedding anniversary when the temperature was about one hundred degrees Fahreinheit.” They walked slowly yet deliberately toward the deer, herding them out the open gate. They had to repeat this and had deer jumping over, and ripping up, the fence, but it finally worked.
Emboldened by this essay in The Roots of My Obsession, I did my own “deer drive-by” as I was walking through Rush Creek ravine, on which I live. Usually I have my cat Tailer with me, as he likes to take long walks. The deer are curious about him, this golden animal who walks with a human, and doesn’t bark. The deer also probably think of me as the birdseed woman, because I’ve seen them eating the birdseed.
At any rate, these deer are large, well-fed (on gardens and birdseed, I suppose), and not afraid of humans. They will walk toward you. At twilight I came across nine of them grazing on the underbrush. The cat was not with me this time. Several deer walked toward me, but I plowed through them to get to see one of the neighbor’s fabulous (and well-fenced) garden full of early spring flowers.
The deer blinked their big-eyed blinks and let me pass. I love them, but they do eat the morel mushrooms too. We all must eat and exist in moderation and peace.
Of all these garden essays, only one had a taste of eastern religion, and less of the disaster or obsessive mode. Margaret Roach was garden editor of Newsday and then Martha Stewart Living (later editorial director of MSL). She writes a blog, A Way to Garden, from her garden in upstate New York. I liked her comment, “When I was raking, I raked – in the moment of raking awareness, neither thinking in shoulda-coulda-woulda monkey mind, nor wandering into daydreams, past or future. Being truly at attention and at one with the task: that sense of perfect union was what I had not found anywhere else, and certainly not at work.”
It was her mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s that landed Roach back in her childhood home, cutting down the overgrown privet hedges and yews. This is when she realized gardening as therapy. The only thing preventing this activity year-round is the cold in upstate New York. “The precious soil eludes me beneath a crusted moonscape… a surface I can often walk on, if I dare, without falling through, an icy deck erected over the garden, a giant baked Alaska.”
Roach felt cut off from her elemental self in the hard-freeze winter. She points out that the root of the word “humility” comes from the Latin humus, for “earth” or “ground.” A good soil is rich in that very thing, decayed plant and animal material.
Well, this book was good fodder for thought as we look toward the season when it will not be so much the imperative to coax things out of the ground, but to start beating them back with clippers and shovel. It depends on how much rain we get – drought to flood, we must nurture ourselves, and our gardens, through it all. Even if it’s only one little houseplant taken to the windowsill. Grow to the light.
Bird Cloud (2011) is the story of Annie Proulx building her “dream home” in Wyoming on the Platte River during the years 2004-2010. She begins by comparing her ever-changing-in-the-light cliff with Ayers Rock in Australia. She takes us through her family’s numerous houses where she grew up. She gives us a complete (and exhausting) family genealogy. All this build-up made me think she had to write this book to pay for the house.
I’m finishing up the second Lost Restaurants of Columbus and Central Ohio book and wanted to read/write about a book that could inform my research. Certainly the planning and building of a house can be compared to planning and building a restaurant, even if it’s a makeover. So many threads to weave together! The writing life can be like a construction job, indeed Ms. Proulx compares the house to a poem.
She just had to convince the architects, the builders, the fence-makers, and even the well-diggers of the poem. The myriad birds who inhabit the property had the poem from the beginning. “The extra pair of ravens came from nowhere, like black origami conjured from expert fingers. As darkness swelled up from the east a full moon rose and illuminated great sheets of thin cloud like wadded fabric drawn across its pock-marked white face.”
Then we get into the meat of the matter. I loved all the (many times frustrating) details of the house-building. The grandiose plan for the stained concrete flooring – which was supposed to be “adobe” colored –went from “glossy liver” to “sickly orange” and then was finally tiled in oceanic blue-green because of Proulx’s chance sighting of the tiles in Santa Fe.
Proulx had to move in before the house was finished, and the builders – the James Gang as she called them – became like her brothers. It was three years before she was ever alone in the house (Dec. 30, 2006.) Proulx kept intense diary notes and steeped herself in Wyoming history, archeology, geology, botany, and of course all the beasts and birds.
She has many writing projects to complete and has to make constant trips all over the world. At home one of her major pursuits is bird-watching, not in the pure scientific sense, but in absolute camaraderie. Nest-building and fledgling-rearing take up many of her observations, also the birds’ hunting, feeding, and predator-deflecting. “The James Gang was lucky enough to see one of the bald eagles dive onto a large fish, lock its talons, then struggle to get into the air with the heavy load, meanwhile riding the fish like a surfboard down the rushing river.”
Luckily, the James Gang included one archeologist, and they and Proulx did extensive professional site-digs in chosen locales on her 640-acre property. The chert deposits, hot springs, and abundant birdlife and game had attracted Native Americans, both ancient and more modern, and they found many artifacts and rock-drawings.
Utterly ghastly is the chapter on the coming of the white man, more than twenty pages chronicling the greed and murder, railroad land grants and cronyism, to the near-extinction of the eagles, thought to kill the lambs of sheep-ranchers. Fortunately this practice was stopped when the general public was made aware of it, but also because cattle ranching became more lucrative. The Native Americans did not fare much better than the eagles – indeed it is a tale of extreme sorrow, as is the story of the sport hunters, many from the British Isles, who decimated nearly all of what was left of the wildlife in the American West.
Teetering on the brink of her wild property, Proulx realizes the weather is the reason no one but the sturdiest of Native Americans ever lived here, and then only seasonally. The snow makes her “access road” inaccessible. The wind is relentless. The drought in the warmer months – well, in Proulx’s words: “A hard, hot wind dried out the lettuces in the garden, tearing petals off any flowers not made of steel. But the young eagles, both bald and golden, loved this heated air. They and their parents were all soaring and zooming, trick-flying, mounting high and then rolling down the air currents. At one point I could see seven eagles flying above the cliff at various altitudes, some so high they resembled broken paper clips.”
Proulx annotates this book with all her scholarly references. It is a wonderful read – except the greedy parts, showing us that the current display of government greed has long-taloned precedence – but I could pick this book up again and dive in anywhere, and be delighted with her paragraphs of struggles and victories. This tour-de-force of house-building and site-searching is good but not over-gossipy tale-telling as in Alexandra Fuller; and includes proper scientific names of flora/fauna as in the writing of Annie Dillard. (Both authors I recommend highly.)
“Walking on the land or digging in the fine soil I am intensely aware that time quivers slightly, changes occurring in imperceptible and minute ways, accumulating so subtly that they seem not to exist. Yet the tiny shifts in everything – cell replication, the rain of dust motes, lengthening hair, wind-pushed rocks – press inexorably on and on.”
Proulx’s second novel, The Shipping News, (1993) won both the Pulitzer Prize and the U.S. National Book Award for Fiction. It was made into a film in 2001. Brokeback Mountain, a short story, was made into a film in 2005, and in 2014 was an opera in Madrid, Spain, with libretto by Proulx. She won the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction for her first novel, Postcards, and she has won many other awards for her writing.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Swamplandia begins with the sudden death by cancer of a mother who was famous for her dive and swim into the BigTree alligator-wrestling lagoon in the family’s theme park in the Everglades. Ava (one of the narrators), Ossie, her sister, and Kiwi, her brother, are left behind with their father and grandfather. Ava’s philosophy of life is – exploit fear of weakness over tourist’s heads like a “black balloon.” The mother was the attraction to the park; when word spreads she’s gone, the tourists, and the ferry that brings them, cease to arrive.
Just like the ten little Indians (the BigTrees are actually mock-Native-Americans), the population of Swamplandia falters rapidly. First Grandpa Sawtooth is put in a boat-like institution – he’s followed the instincts of the alligators and bitten a customer. Brother Kiwi defects to the World of Darkness theme park to try and earn some money. Big Chief, the dad, goes off on a “business trip.” The two sisters are left to take care of the hibernating theme park – but the alligators are not hibernating. The girls find that an old dredge has washed up nearby.
Big sister Ossie feels she is having an affair with a long-dead dredgeman. Little sister Ava has been learning to alligator- wrestle, so she is one tough cookie, but the beyond-the-grave liaisons creep her out.
Here I was reminded of Arthur Ransom’s Swallows and Amazons series – children who are left to themselves on islands, children who have lots of survival skills. I recommend these books highly.
I was also reminded of Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, the sisters in Africa, children of missionaries. I recommend anything by Kingsolver highly, and Poisonwood is a tour-de-force.
The “Seths” (the BigTree name for gators) produce a pure-red hatchling that Ava knows is a token of good fortune. The little gator does indeed become the turning point of the novel. Much water passes through the swamp before this happens, though.
Suddenly Swamplandia turns to the biography of the deceased dredgeman, Louis Thanksgiving. In many ways it’s also a history of Florida. Ossie disappears along with the ghost dredge. Ava is left alone – but no, a “gypsy Bird Man” shows up (he rids your island of buzzards) to witness Ava’s first dive into the alligator pool. She does so with aplomb in the style of her late mother.
At this point, not halfway through, a Vonnegutian sense of absurdity overtook me. I remembered reading the review of this book vividly; I vowed I would never read such a wacky, tacky novel.
Clouds of moths, mosquitoes, and buzzards guide both spirits and humans through swamps. Ava asks the Bird Man to guide her to the underworld, something they might both believe in, and through swamp myths they know the exact place you can enter it. Parallel trips to hell – Ava and the Bird Man in the skiff, and Kiwi in the World of Darkness theme park – in alternate chapters further the traveling action.
This book was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize. Karen Russell was the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Prize” in 2013. She is from Coral Gables, Florida, so she knows her Florida – flora and fauna and history. She attended Northwestern and Columbia Universities, and has received many other awards for her writing.
I didn’t find this an uplifting book, more like a “valley of the shadow of death” book warning about sawtooth swamps, strange men, commercialism, and adolescence. The reuniting of the family felt a lot like the Addams family. Yet the writing style sings of language at its best, the flow and metaphors fairly flying. From the bite out of the front jacket, to the exhaustion I felt at the end (at all the intricate details of skin lesions and ailments, among other things), the note of realism, amid all this cartoonery, sounds ever true.
I’ll give an example of her prose:
"Now that Kiwi had at last made it to a suburb it was easy to want the swamp. What was this fresh hell? The World of Darkness seemed like a cozy and benign place compared to the sprawl of these stucco boxes, these single-family houses. Kiwi saw no coconuts and no creeks. The Pelkises had a Poinciana tree dragging magenta combs over the grass and a bunch of rusting croquet wickets in the yard. Inside, they had a Wurlitzer piano and a mantel covered in what appeared to be hundreds of tiny porcelain cats. The Pelkises’ décor was such a clean and pleasant variation on the BigTrees’ cabinet of gin and lizards that Kiwi found himself holding tightly to the edge of the Pelkises’ Lysoled table, as if these shiny surfaces were trying to buck him. Instead of a Juggernaut Human Cannon, they had a green Toyota. Instead of a Gator Pit, their backyard had a shrunken plastic house that contained an animate cotton ball that turned out to be a dog.”
The reading is easy and funny. But inside this incredible tortilla of prose is some very hot and unnerving sauce. And you’ll think twice about going into the Everglades.
Jack London’s The Valley of the Moon
Big Billy Roberts and the young woman known as Saxon are Jack London’s figureheads for the young working stiffs of the early 1900s in the San Francisco Bay Area. London paints a stunning panorama of the hard work that people were engaged in, to make ends meet – Billy is a teamster, working with horses, Saxon is an ironer – and the wild play they participated in to “let off steam.” Dances and picnics had as a sideline “games” among the different unions which turned into brawls. Bill Roberts gives a portrait, to Saxon, of his boxing career and why he quit. But just the mention of his name gives his would-be assailants pause.
Saxon is the character in the novel who stands for all that is noble about the pioneers who came across the country in their wagons and settled California. Her mother’s lyric “pioneer poetry” glides over the action. The brawler and the poet’s daughter have a whirlwind romance and get married. All is lovey-dovey with details of Saxon’s undergarments and baths (to show she is highly civilized, I imagine). But as counterpoint, London shows the sweeping drama of unions, strikes, socialist meetings; with other characters standing in for the pessimist, the agitator, the world-weary (“Democracy – the dream of the stupid peoples. Oh, la la, my dear, democracy is a lie, an enchantment to keep the work brutes content, just as religion used to keep them content…. The world belongs to the great and clever.”) And this book was published in 1913.
The violence of the novel escalates into mass hysteria and murder, recriminations, hangings, jailings, all due to strikers and scabs and police and whole neighborhoods getting into the fray. Saxon has a miscarriage in the middle of the bloodiest battle, which happens to take place in her yard. Their “sweet back bedroom,” instead of receiving a guest or a baby, is initiated with a bleeding man. Bliss gets turned on its head.
Fortunes rise and fall as quickly as the tides in San Francisco Bay. Bill Roberts goes back to prizefighting for money and loses, and then is jailed for beating up their lodger. Saxon, alone, becomes a wanderer in strange neighborhoods, and out on the mudflats and jetties, where she meets “Jack,” a young man who takes her sailing and fishing, obviously a symbol of freedom and the sanctity of nature. Saxon’s soliloquy: “The sun was good; the wind was good, as was the keen salt air in her nostrils; the blue sky, flecked with clouds, was good. All the natural world was right, and sensible, and beneficent. It was the man-world that was wrong, and mad, and horrible.”
This novel then splits in half like a coconut. After one more act of violence, the fight goes out of Bill and he allows himself to be persuaded by Saxon to start off, on foot, and look for their Shangri-la farm. They talk incessantly about the myth of land-hungry “Anglo-Saxons” and of one father in the Civil War cavalry and one father taken as captive by the Indians. No sooner are they out of Oakland than they’re discussing Portuguese farming techniques ala Louis Bromfield. The “tramping” half of the novel allows London to show various kinds of farming done in California at the time. Saxon, now a liberated woman, learns to extract information from all the amazing people they encounter (all seem to be thinly-disguised friends of London’s).
A stray character from earlier in the novel reappears as a “natural” man in Big Sur. They have stumbled upon “Bierce’s Cove” (again, London tipping his hat to a fellow-author) and then it gets into the bohemian scene of authors and poets and artists in Big Sur and Carmel. Saxon learns to entertain with her singing and her ukulele. Bill entertains with his physical prowess. He is offered heavy labor wherever they go. At times he wins a prizefight or two – he doesn’t want to fight, but they need money.
Again the tramping around California and then Oregon. They hit every climate zone and comment on every ethnic group. The Chinese, Japanese, Slavs, Italians, Greeks – they know how to farm! The “Anglo-Saxons” aren’t doing too well. Their now-rich farm children don’t want to work so hard and go back to the cities. Bill and Saxon have no trouble camping when and where they like. They do a lot of house-sitting. They finally buy horses and a wagon. The fabled “Valley of the Moon” – in Glenellen, California, near Sonoma, is miraculously found.
Then the third section of the book shows how much they’ve learned. The business acumen is head-churning – lots of (actual) horse-trading and discoveries of clay (makes bricks to build cities) and hiring of workers – one assumes their winery is standing just off-stage right. One of their acquaintances is going off to bottle the mineral water.
Jack London and his wife did build their dream house in the Valley of the Moon. One assumes it was paid for by the writing of this book, and that their farming research was poured into its pages. One thing that was even more melodramatic than this fictional story – the Londons never lived in the house. It burned down before they ever lived in it. You can go to Glenellen and see it, the “Wolf House,” with its meant-to-be interior pool reflecting the moonlight onto its charred walls, open to the elements.
Leveque by Michael A. Perkins, a 'Towering' work
Under the rough-plywood braces on the mythological murals and astrological elevator doors, I felt I was “on safari” in the lobby of a celestial cylinder.
I re-read Michael A. Perkins’ Leveque: The First Complete Story of Columbus’ Greatest Skyscraper (2005) before the Columbus Landmarks tour of the “reborn” LeVeque Tower. Though still needing a lot of work, the Tower now boasts an airy street-level second lobby open to several renovated floors. That was one of the staging areas for our tour. The tour included the magnificent (but still under renovation) original lobby, then multiple floors, some with finished apartment / condos / hotel rooms, others with building materials stacked up. The penthouse with spectacular views was open for those wanting to sip champagne in heavy heat (no AC up there yet).
Perkins takes the reader on a similar whirlwind tour of the historical building. Each chapter adds context of the major news events of the era, and of local history, which is quite helpful.
The tower was originally the American Insurance Union headquarters, dedicated on September 21, 1927, with four thousand regional delegates of the AIU crowded into the Keith-Albee Palace Theatre. The building rising in splendor above their heads was known as the “Citadel.”
How Columbus’s iconic building became known as the Lincoln-LeVeque Tower is the long, and harrowing, tale of the book. That new investors are bringing the Tower and the interior hotel rooms (formerly of the Deshler) and office spaces back to, and beyond, their former glory is nothing short of a miracle.
Perkins dedicates 46 pages of the 137-page book to the Citadel’s birth and construction – and some workers did give their lives to the project. But despite the singing of hymns to the built-to-last skyscraper at the dedication – tallest in Ohio, fifth-tallest on the planet at the time – the looming Depression was already undermining the company’s finances. The building soon became the “folly” of the AIU’s founder, John J. Lentz. Boldly, Lentz had designed the esoteric interior décor and the immense statuary on the outside with archangels, eagles, and the “Collossus” series of four outside the top windows. In 1931, symbolically, an angel head crashed to the pavement (no one was hurt.)
And to think the Citadel’s beacons had once been a symbol of protection for the masses, and that zeppelins were to have moored on the tip!
Charles Howard Crane was the young architect of the project, who moved to England in 1935 and made quite a career for himself there and in Europe. Fortunately for the Tower’s future, the Deshler Hotel partnered with the AIU and took many of the rooms for the hotel.
But office tenants defaulted on their leases, and AIU policy-holders never received their complete insurance monies.
Radio played a huge part in this building. Perkins devotes twelve pages to WAIU, the first station to occupy the Tower – later WHKC, then WTVN – and WCOL. In 1983, John Fraim lived on the 44th floor in the “penthouse,” specially designed for his private use. He broadcast there for WCOL amid breathtaking views of Columbus.
After a much-scandalized bidding war for the Tower in 1944, by then a “graying tomb,” the building had its new owners. John C Lincoln, who had many investment properties, and Leslie L. LeVeque, a successful property manager, won the bid over developer John W. Galbreath. By 1946 most references in the décor to the once-mighty AIU were obliterated; though thankfully much of the over-the-top touches remained (not the falling statuary, but eagle removal allowed for convenient lighting-bracket space.) The myth is perpetuated that employees in the building put their bodies in the way of the wreckers who were about to remove the amazing brass astrological elevator doors.
Sadly, Mr. LeVeque and his wife were killed in a small-plane crash soon thereafter. Their son Frederick would eventually have the same sad fate. Mr. Lincoln passed away in 1959. By 1964, under the name Deshler-Cole, then Beasley-Deshler, the hotel was razed in 1969.
Katherine LeVeque, Frederick’s widow (they were married in 1949), saved the wonderful 50 W. Broad Street icon once again. She hired workers to give the building a much-needed washing by hand – and testing each block that it was secure. The original color was “faux white oak bark.” The windows received storm guards, and the Tower received new elevators, a parking garage, and the office tower One Columbus was put into the old Deshler site.
Now we on the tour sat in our white chairs in the spiffy lobby and dreamed of all the rooms of this once-proud lady getting a facelift. Downtown living had caught up with the suburb-loving Columbus. Michael A Perkins has done her a service with his photo-filled book. A native Columbusite, he worked for WCOL and later for WBBY and WTVN – in many different capacities. At the time of the writing of the book, he headed his own creative consulting firm in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Columbus Landmarks Foundation has been a strong force in preventing demolition of our most cherished past. Their handsome brochure and tour of the LeVeque Tower states that “a group of local investors” is committed to its renaissance. Schooley Caldwell architects lead the design team, made possible with Ohio Historic Preservation Tax Credit (OHPTC) and City of Columbus streetscape grants.
It was a wild night in the old building. May she shine forth in the night. (But I guess no zeppelins will be arriving.)
Of Chiles, Cacti, and Fighting Cocks: Notes on the American West
“Notes on The American West” (More than notes, a symphony of sorts! - CH )
Recently I journeyed to Santa Fe. My local hosts had gathered every slick magazine and local hip newspaper about Santa Fe they could find to whet my appetite and help with sight-seeing choices. The things I noticed: the models for clothing and jewelry in these publications looked like real women, not twelve-year-old waifs. Art was vibrantly colorful, prolific, and expensive.
Of course, all buildings in Santa Fe are one or two stories, and made mostly of adobe. The rich people live up in the mountains. A lively scene, from Native Americans selling jewelry, to poets selling poems off an old typewriter, to costumed dancers and busking musicians, flourished on the square.
Marriage parties regularly emanated from the front door of the Loretto Chapel with the legendary circular stairway to the choir loft. Hordes of women, both bachelorette and others, imbibed margaritas on balconies and patios. We went to the Tesuque Flea Market and the café nearby, the fabulous second-hand store Double Take, bookstores, Mexican restaurants with the famous red/green chiles, and the surrounding towns of Lamy, Madrid, and Las Vegas, New Mexico. We walked along the Alameda, a pleasant stream in all the dryness, also sculpture gardens with nearby streams.
Alan Watts calls the ultimate experience of love and beauty “like containing water in paper and string” or “shutting wind in a box.” This was how I felt trying to convey the feeling of looking out over the desert and viewing the purple mountains (yes, the majesty) and a lonely, anvil-shaped mesa in the sunset, or the Santa Fe art-sculpture wind twirlers and the ristras of hanging chiles, the shadow of a wooden ladder.
So I looked for a book that could capture my recent experience and expound on it. I found it in Frederick Turner’s Of Chiles, Cacti, and Fighting Cocks. I hasten to add that I saw no fighting cocks, but I did see some peacocks that roam around the San Marcos Café. Turner is one of those authors who will follow a fascinating subject to its lair, and fighting cocks was one of those. With great difficulty he got into the inner circle of the birds’ owners and wrote what he saw. Along with John McPhee and Peter Mathiessen, Turner the traveling essayist ingratiates himself into a group and tells it like it is. He puts himself and his reactions into the telling – a gripping feeling of being there. He is also a terrific historian and provides the background to the story.
The chapters of the book range from Billy the Kid, the herds of wild horses, the Czechs and Basques that settled in the American West, buffalo, cactus, the authors who first flamed the Western fantasy, chiles, white-water rafting, irrigation ditches, Native American history, Spanish explorers, and those fighting cocks. Turner’s credentials are intact: he has written a book on John Muir, edited Geronimo’s 1906 autobiography; and written books on baseball, jazz, Henry Miller, the Gulf of Mexico, and a novel of the JFK years. He graduated from Denison and the Ohio State University, and then earned a PhD in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. He was a professor of English for many years, then began to write for reviews, quarterlies, newspapers, magazines, and journals. The excellent essays got collected into books.
Turner was born in Chicago in 1937. His first essay in this book tells the thrill of playing cowboys in the suburbs. William James’s Lone Cowboy (1930) and James Willard Schultz’s My Life As An Indian (1907) were books that fired him up, along with the usual movie cowboys.
His parents actually took him to the West when he was a boy. Here’s the description of his arrival:
"When in my late twenties I first looked on Paris, my heart sprang out toward the splendid city like a bird, and I am not sure it has ever come back. But that was nothing to what I felt in that morning moment when I stood with my family on the worn bricks of the station platform and looked across the tracks to the little town founded by Buffalo Bill himself. I saw men going about their business under the brims of Stetsons while here and there a horse stamped in the street. And then, on all sides of town, glimmering purple and red and still flecked in their creases with last winter’s snow, the Shoshone Mountains… in this moment and forever after my sense of scale was wrenched into a greater amplitude, and unwittingly I became a fellow to those explorers of the previous century whose eyes had first gazed on the stretches of the American West and who never afterward were able to refocus them on the smaller and tamer vistas of the known."
Yes, the desert dust gets into your nostrils and never comes back out. I cut up those Santa Fe newspapers and made collages for my friends as souvenirs, and brought back “magic” stones from the New Mexico streams. Santa Fe may be civilized, but the spirit of the West cannot be civilized.
The Ferocious Silence
Darryl Price’s poetry opens up this kind of terrain: down-to-earth, but taking us to a safe distance above forbidding landscapes. The cover depicts comforting meadow-plants in the foreground, then five mountain ridges, each a little spikier into the distance. A sunset band of light hovers above the last ridge, encapsulating and highlighting Darryl Price’s name; then in icy-white is The Ferocious Silence in the browning sky like an extra-terrestrial poem in itself. The poem on the back, “Animal Hospital,” gives a taste of the escape valve to the Land of Poetry: “We’re going to free the moon tonight” is one of the lines.
Darryl and I both assist our book-loving customers at Acorn Bookshop in Grandview. Just like I move books from one display spot to the other, Darryl moves poetic perspective from place to place to better show it off. One such metaphor he moves quite a bit is, appropriately, the moon. The moon is “the stylish silver-capped swimmer doing the back-handed tango.” Other moon metaphors are, plucked from poems in no particular order, “one-way, stuck, flour, pillow, wash, attached with string, wolf-licking, tiger food, tinfoil bed.” These moony gleanings catch the reader and make her a rider into the cosmos. Everybody can catch the moon. “Look, this poem’s just a song I wrote with your moon.”
Let’s move on to the stars. Here are some starry metaphors: “clearly-ripened opening stars, hopes and fates, on a spring, strangled, eternal, cloak, swimming, souls of beings, nightgown, made of rooms, ringing.” These are gathered from among the fifty-three poems in the book. “Stars are holes cut out of the fabric of our dreams.” Darryl places himself and his loved ones front and center. “I can look straight down at my writing hands, even my arms, and see there a pulsating milky way stretched
The sun makes an appearance as “an old patched-up fellow with a yellow beard,” and “Here the sun is lucky to have a pair of scissor-open shoes to freeze in.” I keep seeing flavors of Cooper Edens, Hafiz, and Richard Brautigan in the winey overtones. I hear Brautigan in Darryl’s repetitive passages in poems such as “Birds Fly” and “If It’s Not Love Maybe” and “Save the (fill in the blank)” from “How To Remember Important Things,” like Brautigan’s “Trout Fishing in America” sequences, which are highly effective in all cases. Hafiz comes swimming to me in this line: “Only some of us chose to listen to some new music, not the kind you have to dress up for, but the kind you have to show up for inside of yourself.” Hafiz is the wildly Great Being-as-love-engrossed Sufi. And Cooper Edens flies toward me at this point: “We wanted to know the rough unexpected skin of the road we were on, even if it went unraveling under the doorway like a broken dam.”
And then again, (Cooper Edens being a child’s book writer and illustrator of fantasy caliber), Darryl writes with this visual clarity: “Looking for the red town where you used to live in a silent window with curtains.” “Take as many tall trees as you can and stuff them into the cotton bags of clouds like dried snakes.”
One of the stars of Darryl’s show is poetry itself. He sees it as a free choice of the human condition or situation. He scoffs at what scholarship has done to the free spirit, and disregards poetry gentry. “Poetry is a partnership with your own deepest feelings. It’s not a silly chess game with the reader.” Darryl has three muses: Emily Dickinson, John Lennon, and Patti Smith. He outlines his reasons for his thankfulness to them. “Poetry is a responsibility. It’s not for the faint of heart.” To prove that, Darryl has published thirty-three chapbooks and has a poetry-and-art online publication, with his wife, Melissa, at olentangyreview.com (also will take submissions of fiction, essays, humor, photography, cartoons.)
You could take one of these poems a day, like on doctor’s orders, as food for thought, girding loins to face another challenge to love, and dance, in the face of indifference or adversity.
“Take a river then and pour it on your hair like a silk scarf and laugh our loud.” The shortest poetry path between two points. After hearing Darryl read his poems, it seemed that everything everybody said was suddenly poetry.
All of the above quotes from The Ferocious Silence. Books available at Acorn Bookshop in Grandview, or contact Darryl at email@example.com
Moby Dick in Pictures
This month I’m reporting on a book that stopped me in my tracks. It’s Moby-Dick In Pictures – one drawing for every page – by Matt Kish. He was behind a stack of these at the Ohioana Book Festival several years ago. I opened it and had to have it. It’s a futuristic, cartoony, collaged, baubled, dripped, demon-like, words-as-art, blob-absorbant, painterly, yes, even psychedelic four pounds, five ounces of tour-de-force. Two inches thick in paperback, also there is a slipcased hardback edition of which I don’t know the weight.
Recently, Mr. Kish came to talk to The Aldus Society, Columbus’s own literary and book-arts group. He is as good a speaker as he is an artist. He is a librarian in the Dayton Metro Library system. His wife is also a librarian in Dayton. He has, in addition to Moby-Dick, illustrated Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, The Revelator by Robert Kloss, The Alligators of Abraham by Robert Kloss, and The Desert Places by Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss.
Mr. Kish lists his early experiences as My Book House, Dante illustrations, and his father’s science fiction paperbacks. Later, there were comic books, video games, album covers, and that classic 1956 film of Moby-Dick starring Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab. Kish’s love of monsters and super-heroes “bled” into the man-whale allegory.
“Bled” is a good word – Kish poured his heart and soul into this work. He vowed to illustrate a passage or a line from each page of a 552-page version of Moby-Dick (he chose a Signets Classic paperback edition). He selected the passage in the morning and thought about the drawing all day. Then he literally closeted himself at night – for much of the time his studio was in a closet – and used ballpoint pen, marker, paint, crayon, ink, and watercolor on “found” paper. The results are visceral: whales and boats and sailors – eyes, teeth, mouths – sea waves, brain-like matter, and abstractions. The collages are inspired: one of them uses a dollar bill. The juxtapositions on the “found” paper: priceless. He used old technical manuals, old notebook paper, book pages with text, and re-purposed them.
Mr. Kish has no formal artistic training, save his head, a “seemingly limitless warehouse for images” as he puts it. What is even more striking is his self-discipline: he kept at it daily for a year and a half, starting August 5, 2009. He posted them on his blog immediately. The response was amazing. Bloggers and Moby-Dick aficionados sent encouragement. Eventually Kish was invited to Brooklyn to give a talk. The illustrator Sophie Blackall suggested an agent – and a book deal was signed after Kish had completed only half of the illustrations.
Other interests of Mr. Kish led him to approach the estate of Italo Calvino to illustrate the Invisible Cities but to no avail. He will be part of a two-man show, with Robert del Tredici, at the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati. Kish’s part will depict “Chasing the Whale” – eighty new drawings, inspired by the Moby-Dick preamble and chapter 32 of same – a tautology of whales.
I’d like to sculpt a stand for this book and turn to a new page each day – much like huge old Bibles and dictionaries were displayed. And let the passage and drawing be a meditation and direction for the day.
The Mad Boy, Lord Berners, My Grandmother and Me
The author met her grandfather, Robert Heber-Percy (the “Mad Boy” of the title) when she was seventeen and he in his late sixties. He was full of risqué humor and provocative remarks, though proper etiquette in dining, accommodations, and dress were observed. It was the English countryside, a manor house, and a historical setting. A pattern emerged in her observation: a genteel but witty life went on here, a salon on weekends, where the rich and famous gamboled in the glow of the eccentric man who created it all: Lord Berners, Gerald, a kind and avuncular surrealist who painted, composed, wrote ballets and plays and poetry and novels, and loved to be surrounded by people.
To that end, he acquired the “Mad Boy” when Gerald was forty-eight and Robert twenty, in the early 1930s. Robert moved into Faringdon House in Oxfordshire with Gerald. Robert was a mass of energy: he ran the estate, the stables, the gardens, the hunts, the neighbors, and handled the myriad details so that Gerald was free to pursue other interests. Then in an unexpected quirk of Fate, the couple’s ideal relationship became complicated by a woman with whom Robert had had an affair. This woman would be the author’s (Sofka Zinovieff’s) grandmother, Jennifer Fry, a glamorous, inquisitive, young woman who brought a baby girl into the mix at Faringdon, after she and Robert were married in 1942.
The ménage à trois did not last long in the manor house, but all parties kept in touch and were provided for. The young mother’s wicker handbag in the shape of a fish was never removed from a certain chair, for example.
The author points out in her introduction that these three characters were rebels, not conventionally educated, but all highly intelligent and many-faceted. So that these three do not become caricatures or forgotten entities, Zinovieff resurrects a carefully researched biography of each in turn: before, during, and after their co-habitation. During World War II, the soldierly takeover of the manor is also well-described. Above all, the photos are fabulous – many by Cecil Beaton, who was a house guest among many notables such as Salvador Dali, Elsa Schiaparelli, H.G. Wells, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Igor Stravinsky, Clarissa Churchill, David Niven, the Mitford sisters, Evelyn Waugh, Noel Coward.
One is struck immediately by the beauty of the production of this book – end-papers depicting murals from the house, and an attached hot-pink ribbon to mark one’s place. Illuminated capitals start each new section.
The frontispiece photo is one of the flock of dyed doves always managed for decades by household servants (“Blue, green, orange, pink, and mauve, fluttering up like a hallucination … They swooped a couple of showy circuits around the roof of the house before landing nearby and picking matter-of-factly at dead insects on the wheels of our car.”)
There was once a special horse, Moti, who joined the assembled at tea every afternoon inside the house. Gilt mirrors and sconces were everywhere, paintings, floral displays, period furniture, what one might expect. But through Gerald’s influence, every room was comfortable rather than formal. Eclectic, humorous arrangements, such as Gerald’s lion-footed sleigh bed and traveling clavichord, were the norm.
For Robert’s twenty-first birthday, Gerald built the Folly, a turreted cylinder rising on a nearby hill, for a breathtaking view of the Cotswalds and the Berkshire Downs, also the vast prehistoric creature, the White Horse of Uffington. In World War II it was useful as a lookout.
The charming life continued in spite of the war and the needs of a small child (of course, there were nannies). All was jollier again when the war ended; however, Gerald died in 1950 and the great spark was gone. Robert inherited the manor and kept it in top condition. The baby, Victoria, grew up to be a beauty – in fact, a Beaton photo of her in Harper’s Bazaar led a Russian geologist, Peter Zinovieff, ten years her senior, to seek her out and marry her.
The author of Mad Boy was born in 1961 to be followed by two siblings. Her parents went from being upper-class types to being bohemians – her father moved from geology to “computer music.” Sofka managed to grow up and was educated at Cambridge. She married Greek Vassilis (they met in the Soviet Union) and they took up residence with their growing family at Faringdon for a time, after she inherited it from Robert. She delineates the countless responsibilites of owning a manor house and environs – tenants, tradition, opening to the public, thievery, hunting rights, garden rights, social engagements, selling priceless art to keep things going.
To save her family’s legacy, she wrote this much-indexed and annotated and photographed history. The lively spirits of the house’s former occupants, not to mention the panorama of the historic times, fill the heart with mirth for their exuberant lifestyle.
Lost Restaurants of Columbus found in fabulous new book
Lost Restaurants of Columbus, Ohio, by Doug Motz & Christine Hayes
Doug Motz and I have been producing this “labor of love” book (because we loved the restaurants and our research!) for all those who like to eat and for those who like to remember. Lost Restaurants of Columbus, Ohio is due out by Arcadia/History Press this month.
One thing we learned was great respect for anyone intending to start a restaurant. I have developed a little “licked before you start” acronym – “llippt” before you start – which means “lawyers, landlords, insurance, partners, parking, and taxes.” Whew! And the parties involved just want to feed people! Don’t forget the building and health inspectors and “location, location, location.”
Some downtown restaurant owners thought they had the best locations – and then the foodie trend moved to the suburbs. Some of our most-cherished downtown restaurants we wrote about are the Maramor, Foerster’s, Mills, Kuenning’s, the Clock, Tom Johnson’s Seafood, Marzetti’s, Water Works, Seafood Bay, the Clarmont. These are just ten of the forty-eight venues we cover. We chose among a cross-section of American-style diners, neighborhood haunts, downtown favorites, lavish dining, themed eateries, and chains. Columbus – and environs – was a test market for fast food of all kinds. Many did not make it.
We also chose places about which we could find the most information. Many restaurants and owners and managers slipped under the surface without a ripple. Doral Chenoweth, Jr. salvaged a lot of restaurant news in his tenure as the Grumpy Gourmet for the Columbus Dispatch. He helped us greatly, as did many others.
We look forward to hearing dining stories from our readers. If your flat-out favorite isn’t in the book, we would like to hear about it for (maybe) a Volume II.
Here’s a story-within-an–article about “The Grand Tour of Long-Gone Restaurants.”
It was a summer of extremes: hot and still, or cool with torrential rains. The latter was happening for my first foray. I did get to stand inside some, and, outdoors, investigate rain-shiny architectural details. The heat, on a slow Sunday downtown with withering food trucks in evidence, hampered my second tour. So many established venues ended up as parking lots, or were replaced by now-empty modern buildings. Downtown revitalization looks promising unless you really look into the real-estate that goes begging.
I did see a person with a white wig, skin painted purple, with abbreviated purple togs. I was aware that “Pulpfest” was in town. I saw skateboarders, which made me feel at home – my son was a professional “skater” and “skate-movie” maker. I saw types who were judging the logistics of grabbing my purse and running, and, fortunately, thought better of it. I saw tattooed young couples at trendy DeNovo and in the outdoor seating of Tip-Top.
I walked and/or drove by eighteen sites of restaurants we wrote about. One was WAY farther south than I had imagined. My best “finds” were the old, restored photos of Foerster’s in DeNovo, which occupies its former site, and the old-looking new apartments on Gay Street. All told, it took me four-and-a-half hours. I was imagining the Columbus I knew six decades ago, not so tall, not so clean, but with a lot more character, (think old New York City), a lot less empty buildings and parking lots, and lots more places to eat, many open twenty-four hours a day.
Foerster’s wins in the longevity category – one hundred and twenty years. Reeb’s comes in second with seventy-nine years of serving fine meals. Marzetti’s comes in third with seventy-six years – and of course the salad dressings still survive.
Doug Motz and I and the book will be at a book launch at the Acorn Bookshop in Grandview on Monday, December 14, 2015 at 6-9 pm.
Owl at Home
Owl At Home is my favorite children’s book. The front cover, Owl gazing off-center with a book and candle in his wing-arms, in robe and pajamas and slippers, compels one to open the book; the rear cover, Owl gazes right at you, standing on his doorstep in the snow, wishes you good-night. “How very strange!” are the last words over the rear drawing – and the stories are a strange, existential portrait of a very domestic Owl. And, let me say up front, Owl has always reminded me of my father.
Opening the book, we once again encounter Owl peering out from the front door, with a wider view of his house amid huge tree trunks in the snow. The house has lots of paned windows and a smokestack of a chimney.
The fireplace is featured in the first story (thus the wide, stony chimney). Books are above the mantle. Ah, a house with books. Cozy. Owl is in his comfy chair in front of the fire eating hot pea soup and buttered toast for supper. Repeated knocking at the door prompts Owl to invite Winter itself to come in and warm up. Winter is a bad guest – putting out the fire, dropping snowdrifts all around, turning soup into ice. Winter is entreated to go. Winter departs with a slam of the door. Owl resumes his fire and his coziness. The soup does melt and turn hot again, but the books look a little worse for water. Owl’s countenance is dreamy – he makes me think I could endure Winter, too, with enough firewood.
The second story is about things that go bump in the night – literally, two bumps under Owl’s bedcovers that might be his feet. Covers are thrown this way and that, the bed finally crashes down. “I will let those two strange bumps sit on my bed all by themselves,” says Owl. Owl sits on his chair by the fire again, to sleep in peace. This time we see gobs of books behind him. The candle, symbol of enlightenment, is again nearby. Owl is teaching me to just leave adversity and move on.
The third story is “Tear-Water Tea.” Owl sits by his other fire, the wood-stove in the kitchen, leaning his sad eyes over the open teakettle. Owl thinks of various things that bring tears to his eyes – and he fills the kettle up. “Books that cannot be read because some of the pages have been torn out.” “Spoons that have fallen behind the stove and are never seen again.” In the final panel Owl is back in his comfy chair (no candles this time) with his slightly-salty tear-water tea. Owl is advising to make positives out of negatives – and make those negatives even warmed-up and assimilated!
Next story: Owl tries to be upstairs and downstairs at the same time. Lots more books are depicted in the background. He tries to yell to himself, but no answer. Slippers are flying as he climbs up and down faster and faster. Finally he ends up on the middle step and opines that he has successfully made himself tired, but not multi-situated. Owl warns me about multi-tasking, and multi-being. Slow down and smell the slippers.
The last story is something I notice all the time: the moon following along! Owl is at the sea, but notices the darkness being dissipated by the light of the moon. They make friends, Owl and Moon. Owl walks by skinny birch-like trees, then over a bridge, then by grasses. The moon follows. Owl tries to shake the moon off. “You would not fit through the door. And I have nothing to give you for supper.” Owl tries yelling good-bye. He gets to his house. The moon is behind clouds now. It is dark. Owl gets his pajamas on. The moon comes back out. Owl observes the moon from a high window. He is at last delighted to see his friend. “Owl did not feel sad at all.” Owl is teaching me that friends are fine in some situations, but just not all the time.
The story of Owl is made even more poignant as Arnold Lobel died young, of cardiac arrest at age 54 in 1987. He spent twenty-six years illustrating nearly one hundred children’s books.
He wrote stories too, of course, but, as he is quoted in the New York Times, “Writing is very painful to me,” he said in an interview in 1979. “I have to force myself not to think in visual terms, because I know if I start to think in pictures, I’ll cop out on the text.”
Lobel was a small, sickly child who was often bullied at school, but who made up for it by enthralling his classmates with stories he invented.
Lobel graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, in 1955. He married Anita Kempler that year, another art student at Pratt. They collaborated on several books. They also collaborated on a daughter, Adrianne, who is a set designer.
Lobel loved children and animals. He put his heart into the mouths of his invented creatures. Some of his most notable books include the “Frog and Toad” series, four books, one of which was a 1973 Newberry Honor Book. In 1981 he won the Caldecott Medal for Fables.
Culinary Adventure at Tai Tiki Polynesian Bar Grill & Sushi
Perhaps not everyone reads a book to prepare for a restaurant review. I read The Hidden Worlds of Polynesia by Robert C. Suggs, published in 1965. The book involves an archaeological expedition to the Marquesas Islands. I anticipated my visit to Tai Tiki after relishing the stories Mr. Suggs told of the modern Marquesans and their meals of fish, wild pig, chicken, taro, yams, bananas; and stories of the ancients with their pearl-shell fish-hooks, excellent sea-faring knowledge, and tikis.
Thus prepared, I entered the glass door at 1014 N. High St. (at Starr) and admired the tiki there with brazier mouth. This is a sister restaurant to Tai’s Asian Bistro on Lane Avenue. Tai and Gail Liu have created an upscale Polynesian Bar and Grill in the Short North. They were associated with the greatly missed Kahiki, so the Kahiki tropical drinks are found at Tai Tiki – as they are at Tai’s Asian Bistro. I ordered a zombie, which comes in the skull cup. I ordered it in honor of Mr. Suggs’s assistant in the book, Corpse Eyes, thus called because he knew all the stories of the ancient past, and could predict the future. The zombie cocktail had a real bamboo skewer with pineapple, a cherry, and some kind of palm-like vegetation on it. It was potent.
I sat in a corner under the Gauguin prints. I could keep my eye on everyone and the street. The interior seats 100 and the patio seats 20. Four kinds of sculptural light fixtures are the dominating factor of the large but carefully divided room. Soccer was on a subdued television over the bar. I was delighted that the music was also subdued: soft jazz, Spanish guitar, and classical. I have had to leave two Short North restaurants in the recent past due to the loudness and awfulness of the “music.” Toward the end of my stay at Tai Tiki, some rock came on, some Hendrix and Stones at the front end. My suggestion is to keep the music as toney as the surroundings.
Now let us get to the menu. The sushi list is vast. The wine list is extensive, indeed, the far wall from me was covered with wine bottles displayed as décor. But I stuck to shrimp as a deciding factor. The coconut shrimp appetizer was a surprise – long five-inch encrusted sticks – but no skewers inside. The accompanying sweet-and-sour sauce and arugula were just the right amount for this ample creation. When I go out to eat, I like to find something I could not create. How they get the shape and coconut adherence of these sticks is beyond me. I enjoyed every bite, interspersed with sips of the zombie. I felt tropical and taken away from reality, even though I could see T-shirted people passing by.
There was a large table of lei-wearing partygoers (well-behaved) to watch, and a table of people who looked like they’d stopped in after work (separate checks). Many others were on the patio and in the open front window area. I stopped watching the others when my mountain-shaped shrimp pad tai arrived. The shrimp were succulent, large, and fresh. Flecks of parsley and lemon grass greened the otherwise beige mountain of noodles, eggs, sweet onions, crushed peanuts, and sprouts. Plenty for dinner and then lunch the next day. It was excellent. I had the bread pudding, too, saved plenty for breakfast the next day. I ate the salty caramel ice cream off the top, of course, and some of the soft pineapple heart underneath. (How did they get that so soft?) Some good decaf went with it. They brewed me a fresh pot.
A far cry from the poi-laden cuisine of the real South Seas, and the bitings of the aptly-named “nono” flies who eat the inhabitants. I was delighted to learn in the Suggs book that Robert Louis Stevenson (In the South Seas) and Herman Melville (Typee) both wrote of their visits to the Marquesas – for future reading before my next tropical foray.
The tiki culture of the Marquesas was found to be just in the apex of their civilization, just before the Europeans came, who caused the collapse of the entire culture in less than a century. The Marquesas were the source of the colonists to Easter Island around A.D. 350 to 400, at least that is the information given in 1965, and you know how large the tikis (moai) grew in Easter Island.
Marquesan history is full of warfare: tribes and subtribes locked in bloody conflict over the rights to garden lands and water sources. Caves and secluded hamlets became popular habitations for renegade groups. For the victors, huge dance pavilions were built, higher and higher on top of one another, with giant tikis, platforms in front for the display of sacrificed enemies. Also there is evidence of cannibalism.
All in all, worthy of lurid cover-art on pulp fiction. And maybe those faces on the ceramic mugs holding those tropical drinks are not far from the wildness of those ancient times. Happy Hour at Tai Tiki is Monday through Saturday from three to seven. Tai Tiki’s in the Fireproof Building, so, alas, no crazy fires and dancing and sacrifices except in the tiki’s brazier.
And I want to say something about the service at Tai Tiki: excellent. My every move and wish was anticipated, from wanting lemon in my water, to extra limes with my pad tai, to a little bit of humor: “You were too young to be at the opening of the Kahiki!”
Tai Tiki Polynesian Bar Grill & Sushi opened in May 2015 at 1014 N. High St. Hours are Sunday - Thursday 11a to 10p, Friday - Saturday 11a to 11:30p. Call 614-456-7245 or visit www.taitiki.com
Franklinton's Maggie Fager Library
© Bill Arter
Looking at the skyline of Columbus’s downtown on a recent rainy and blowy morning, I drove east on West Broad and observed the Bradford pears in full bloom; I was searching for the building that used to house the neighborhood-friendly former Maggie Fager Library. And there it was! 969 West Broad is now an office chair business – John Miller informed me that Chuck Sugarman Office Chairs had been there for twenty-five years. He said, “You’re the first person who’s come in here talking about that library!”
We trooped outside, and I showed John the raised letters on the second-floor front – and he showed me the Franklinton Historical Society’s pillar on the sidewalk, with the name of the library and the dates of operation, 1918-1973. We were being pelted by blossoms, and I had ascertained there were no books left upstairs – “just chairs in storage.” So I wandered off back to the Acorn Bookshop.
I looked through my father’s columns on the library, the letters written to him by former Maggie Fager childhood habitués, and Bill Arter’s article on the building. I looked at a book that recently came into the bookstore called False Bounty by Stephen Ransome. The book is stamped “Maggie Fager Library” nine times and has a well-filled check-out card ending in 1952. The prose inside is hard-boiled murder and courtroom stuff from 1948. One thing did catch my fancy – the murder weapon is amanita phalloides – or, poetically, “Destroying Angels,” poisonous mushrooms. I imagine the plot taking place in Franklinton, where, for many years, its readers sat quietly and perused the pot-boiler. (Fifteen cents for three days if you wanted to take it home, three cents for each additional day).
But if you wanted to take advantage of the Maggie Fager Reading Room, there had to be silence. Wrote Dorothy Vollmuth to my father in 1965: “Miss Lewis would tolerate no noise, even a whisper was heard, and brought a stern look or finger on mouth to shush the disturbing one.” The library had two shushing librarians in sequence in its fifty-five years of existence. The first was Sarah Lewis, sister of John M. Lewis, the attorney who handled the Fager estate.
Miss Lewis, who had been a teacher, opened the library with one thousand books and planned to stay two weeks. She was the librarian thirty-two years, until her eightieth birthday. Then she lived to be over one hundred. Hanging out with books has a calming and long-lived effect.
Mrs. Meryl Krinn was the next librarian, and by that time the library was circulating about fifteen thousand books, most of them novels and children’s books. Mrs. Krinn lived to be eighty.
But who was Maggie Fager? The Fagers, Frank and Maggie, operated a grocery store at the library’s address for many years. When his wife died, Frank Fager wanted a way for her memory to be honored. When he wrote a will in 1916, it read “Having observed the great good to be accomplished by the more general diffusion of good reading matter…” He died in 1917, and was buried beside Maggie in Green Lawn Cemetery. The estate was $18,000, and included the frame double in which the Fagers lived and had their grocery.
The Lewises and many others pitched in to get the library started. The brick front was added, with the letters spelling out the library’s name. The library was set up in the west room. The remaining space was let out for lease, to create income. Miss Lewis said: “Everybody knew Maggie and loved her. She did a lot for people.”
Library size does not control inspiration. Howard (Hopalong) Cassady, the football star, was inspired by Horatio Alger books he borrowed from the little library.
Let’s leave Dorothy Vollmuth with the last word: “My Dad would come home from work and the highlight of our day was ‘Let’s take a walk to the library!’ Walk was all we could do, as in those days we did not own a car. Oh the conversations we’d have walking along, my brother, my Dad and I, from Campbell and Martin Avenues to West Broad Street. To us, Miss Lewis was Maggie Fager and all libraries. Another item remaining so poignant in my memory is of the huge fern in the front window. We admired it and loved it, just like Maggie Fager.”
She continues: “What a wonderful legacy a family left to several generations of west-siders. No greater tribute…than to provide such pleasure for growing and grown minds. No radio or television can blot out those memories of quiet, slow-moving days lost in characters of good books which remain forever in one’s mind.”
Mrs. Vollmuth’s father, John W. Greene, “made candy and ice cream from old recipes” in Foerster’s Restaurant of 201 South High Street. In later years he had his own candy store on West Mound Street.
Today I have several of the wrought-iron “ice cream” chairs from Foerster’s. One of them is in the Acorn Bookshop. Two very different films have shot scenes inside the bookstore. In Liberal Arts, the film by Josh Radnor, the male and female fall in love over books stacked on that very ice cream chair. So a trail runs from the Maggie Fager Library, to Foerster’s, and right over to the Grandview site of our shelved shenanigans.
MARGARET MEAD'S EARLY YEARS: BLACKBERRY WINTER
BLACKBERRY WINTER: MY EARLIER YEARS, BY MARGARET MEAD
In this autobiography, Margaret Mead tells us that quite early on she had skills in organizing her childhood friends. She and her sisters and brother moved quite a bit with the family, were home-schooled and also attended small schools in Pennsylvania, lived on a farm, and were never treated as mere children.
As an adult, Mead and her colleague Ruth Benedict made anthropology accessible to a wider public and related it to other disciplines like psychology, economics and trade, politics, music, dance, theatre, costume, and the encroachment of civilization.
In 1920 Mead entered Barnard College, where she fled her freshman year of sorority-rejected bewilderment at DePauw. Her bohemian upbringing, and elementary to high school education had been administered by her forward-thinking (and highly educated) mother and grandmother.
“At Barnard we knew we were free to postpone marriage while we did other things. Never break a date with a girl for a man was one of our mottoes.” The group of young women that Mead ran with was known as the “Ash Can Cats.” Mead went through college majors of creative writing, psychology, and political science. Her later political leaning was thwarted because she was divorced twice, and therefore a political pariah. By her senior year, she had found anthropology, from the influence of Franz Boas, a formidable German thinker at Columbia, who was tackling the greatest topic of “nature vs. nurture” and the questions of the white “master race” with the leaders of the American Museum of Natural History.
Mead’s first marriage, while she and Luther Cressman were still in graduate school, was a hectic time for both of them, always having friend/student/houseguests in, writing dissertations, plotting to travel. Mead and her cronies had a heady time of it in the New York of 1924.
In 1925 Mead left New York for Samoa to study the adolescent girl, and her husband left for study in Europe. In those days, young students were given stipends and sent out “in the field” with very little preparation or supplies. “If young fieldworkers do not give up in despair, go mad, ruin their health, or die, they do, after a fashion, become anthropologists.”
With the help of the U.S.Navy, Mead got her studies underway from the veranda of a dispensary in Pago Pago. Then a hurricane hit, and most of the village had to be rebuilt. But Mead gathered enough information to write her famous first book, Coming of Age in Samoa (1926). The sexual freedom portrayed by Mead of the young women in this book caused a stir and a call for feminism.
A shipboard romance with another anthropology/psychology scholar, Reo Fortune of New Zealand, colored her re-meeting and living with her husband in Paris and New York. At this point Mead was told by doctors she could not have children, and her husband left his religious studies for sociology (later he would become an archeologist). They parted amicably, and Mead and Fortune were married.
Mead was enjoying her job as assistant curator of ethnology at the Museum of Natural History. With funding from her writing and with a museum stipend, Mead and Fortune decided they were ready for more fieldwork, this time in New Guinea. Their choice of tribe dictated the most challenging climb into the mountains. Their carriers left them stranded (with supplies) in an Arapesh village they had not intended to study.
This came at a time when Ruth Benedict was influencing anthropology with this recognition (1927): certain cultures emphasize “ecstasy” and other cultures emphasize “moderation and balance.” The Arapesh people were followed in their study by the Mundugumor people. How well they learned Benedict’s theory!
The Mundugumor suffered from punitive intervention, first by the Germans and then by the Australians. This meant that their warring, and therefore their ceremonies, were over. The anthropologist team discovered that the Arapesh were as mild as the Mundugumor were aggressive. Their marriage relationship strained.
In tandem with British anthropologist Gregory Bateson, Mead and Fortune studied another New Guinea tribe, the Tchambuli. Here, in the mosquito-ridden jungles crossed by man-made channels from river to lake, the three of them worked out elaborate theories of temperament, of kinship systems, of man/woman relations, of how children are brought up, of the “arc” of the “ethos” – in other words, how a society values one thing over another. Of course, they studied their own temperaments, and the result: Mead divorced Fortune and married Bateson.
In 1936, Mead and Bateson went to Bali. They had friends there, and found the Balinese artistically talented and a culture steeped in ceremony, mostly to ward off “witches” and other fearful things. They chose a simple mountain village to study, rather than more ornate and Dutch-influenced Balinese. This was when film came to be used. They realized they needed to throw themselves into the study of photography, along with a new system of recording a set of insights to cross-reference, to go back into the photos and interpret them even years later.
A surprising thing then happened: while Mead and Bateson were writing up their findings in New York, Mead became pregnant (she had had many miscarriages) and carried the child, a daughter, to birth. Mead’s child, Cathy, was immediately studied by an anthropology friend who did “pioneering studies on the propensities of the newborn.” And one of Mead’s doctors was none other than Benjamin Spock, who later used some of Mead’s work in his writings. Mead kept careful “field notes” of herself and the baby.
Catherine did indeed grow up – with an extended family of anthropologists and scientists – then married and had her own baby, T. Berry Brazelton presiding as her pediatrician, another author/pioneer of “natural” birth and child-rearing.
Mead continued throughout her life to publish and teach, some twelve books and monographs as sole author, some five colleges. She co-authored or edited another eight books. She singles out in this autobiography her editing of Ruth Benedict’s writings, An Anthropologist at Work, as one of her favorite accomplishments.
Mead was later discredited, and by others then justified, for her early fieldwork. “I have resolved the way in which I have been publicly discussed, lambasted and lampooned, lionized and mythologized, called an institution and a stormy petrel, and cartooned as a candidate for the Presidency, wearing a human skull around my neck as an ornament.”
Blackberry Winter, the time when
Lies on the blackberry blossoms; without
This frost the berries will not set.
It is the forerunner of a rich harvest.
– Margaret Mead
Time-Travel in an adventurous neighborhood
The Ohio State University District: A Neighborhood History is deftly edited by Emily Foster. It is a sprawling labor-of-love to gather together multitudes of personal histories into one volume, recently published by the History Press. The University District itself is comprised of more designated historic neighborhoods than any other area of Columbus. Let’s enumerate them: Indianola Forest, Iuka Ravine, Northwood Park, Glen Echo, Old North Columbus, Dennison Place (The Circles), the Peach District, the NECKO area, Weinland Park, Tuttle Park. Each had distinct origins, but, like all urban areas, they merge as time goes by.
The stories begin at the turn of the twentieth century. Streetcar-destination neighborhoods sprang up around a largely undeveloped campus. Imagine the OSU campus as a public park. Picnickers drank from a fresh-water spring, the Browning Troupe put on outdoor plays, Faculty Club dinners drew families; there were twilight concerts, lecture series, dance – from down-home style to exotic. The campus was surrounded by single-family homes, just right for the inhabitants to stroll and attend the cultural events. One didn’t need a car; the campus area was like a self-contained small town of shops with ethnic overtones.
The first big change came when the GIs returned home from World War II, and the influx of students on the GI bill created a demand for housing. The single-family homes, some but not all, were torn down to make apartments or turned into rooming-houses. The next threat to the neighborhoods were the baby boomers – more space needed, fast food and hippie shops replaced the mom-and-pop shops. Noise, trash, and crime – residents fought back, because they thought the University would not fail them – but it took a long time for the University to help.
Many personal histories emphasize the positive: the energy of the students, kids running free throughout the neighborhood, the passing scene viewed from the front porch. Many stories told of never locking doors (the childhood of the boomers) to fearing for one’s life during student vs. police confrontations (the sixties).
Stories include the part the local churches played in the formation of neighborhood unity – as sanctuary for the homeless, as helping free health clinics, as providing eclectic, social-minded schooling. We are given empathetic visions of lonely children in an orphanage, and lasting bonds from the first ComFest. We get to experience being penned in like cows in the “drunk district.”
Four-term Ohio governor James A. Rhodes appears as the owner of “Jim’s Place” on North High Street opposite the campus, where you could eat, book a band, talk politics, and maybe place a few bets, allegedly. Folk singer Phil Ochs, who penned “There But For Fortune” (a song I quote often) got his start in OSU campus-area coffeehouses. Famous WWI star Elsie Janis had her house, ElJan, right on High Street in an earlier era. And of course Jack Nicklaus’s family owned a pharmacy near OSU.
The photographs take a backseat to the spoken stories, though there are some wonderful shots at hangouts like Larry’s and of the much-loved waitress at Charbert’s, Vi. Most of the stories are verbatim of the talkers, though Tom Thomson’s are more polished as he did a lot of writing about his growing up amid the district’s natural wonders, the lively High Street venues, and about his mother and grandmother, who moved from place to place around the University.
Tom Thomson: “I was wandering around the campus after school and ended up in the garden behind the Botany and Zoology Building. I spotted a little bird close-up, called a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and after that I was hooked. I was fifteen years old at the time, a ninth grader at Everett Middle School. The garden, now long gone, was the pride and joy of Dr. Nelson Transeau, head of the botany department at OSU. I used to walk around the garden with this dignified gentleman, pointing out bird species to him as we wandered along the winding paths. There I was, a fifteen-year-old kid instructing this internationally known botanist. Well, he was a talker too, so I learned a lot about flowers and trees.”
Fortunately for me, Tom grew up to be a newspaper colleague of my father’s, and one of my father’s best friends. They birded and pooled their knowledge of plants, and some of that fascinating information was handed down to me as well.
One sheds a tear for the older arts-and-crafts homes and other buildings that came down from the wrecking ball, or fire. There is even some nostalgia for the Earth Shoe! Many an apartment dweller spoke of looking out the window to get the time off the Mershon clock.
Brave defenders of the ‘hood, like the Efsics and the Reilly sisters, are still there in the thick of it, with humor, though one of the sisters cannot bear to go down High Street since the buildings were torn down for the Gateway Project. Evil villains in the form of non-existent or identity-hiding landlords are put to task. Positive signs like the re-development of the Weinland Park district are pointed out, though every re-development “kicks the can” of former character down the avenue.
Emily Foster has been a long-time resident of the University District, and, amid many other writing and editing accomplishments, she was associate vice-president for university relations (media, marketing, research, faculty-staff and government communications) at Ohio State. She knows the territory! The energy nearly crackles off the page. She has grasped a large subject and made it live again. And on it goes…
Paul Auster's Dream-like Fiction
Heading toward winter can be a disconcerting experience, like passing through a seemingly never-ending series of doorways, each one a little darker and narrower than the last. If there’s no fireplace to cuddle up in front of with a good book, a warm cat, and a hot toddy, then how about some imagination-firing?
I dream about the bookstore often. It has many forms. Sometimes the dream-store has huge windows overlooking a river, and large birds hover above the trees out there. Other times the store is a cookbook boutique, with fancy little rooms in differing colors to better serve the clientele. My dream–quotes include: “It builds character to do menial work.”
I’m a dream-reporter in Los Angeles after an earthquake. There’s no electricity. I’m letting a young woman use my manual typewriter while we’re all seeking refuge in a hotel. We hear sirens and the clatter/bell of typing. I search for ice and drinks for my “friends” in the dream: Jane Fonda, Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford. Your dream, your book – anything can happen! Even driving away the winter blahs.
Paul Auster’s fiction is the verbal equivalent of the otherworldly “House of Stairs” artist M.C. Escher. Auster creates detailed worlds, which tend to pull in on themselves and self-destruct, leaving virtually nothing in their wake but memories, and those prove fallible.
I read The New York Trilogy, Moon Palace, and The Book of Illusions, so I was able to get an overview of his world – I must say, reading three in a row shakes one’s image of “reality!”
“But when you live as I was living then, all shut up inside yourself and not bothering to look at anything around you, your perspective begins to change.” – Book of Illusions. It seems every character in Auster’s books is either concentrating on one thing, or else noticing everything in a spectacle of re-energy. “After two weeks, he slowly began to return to himself, eventually subsiding into something that resembled peace of mind.” –Moon Palace.
Some characters shut themselves up in apartments, some are in caves in the Wild West, all are looking for meaning within themselves. The inner workings of the mind, and the fascination with words and letters, (one man writes an alphabet letter a day with his meanderings around the streets of New York), and how perception is gained, are Auster’s reasons for writing. But his characters and the quirkiness all around, whether in New York City, or any other exotic locale, drive the narrative. People find themselves working for other’s inscrutable and wild schemes. There are interlocking mysteries, strange coincidences, but above all, the beautiful language and imagination. It’s like Escher’s hand illustrating a drawing hand. The mirror that reflects the back of the head.
Auster even puts himself in the narrative. “Auster leaned back on the sofa, smiled with a certain ironic pleasure…It seemed to be a kind of soundless laughter, a joke that stopped short of its punchline, a generalized mirth that had no object.” – “City of Glass,” from New York Trilogy.
This is not light reading – more like an earthquake to the soul. But there’s a lot of mirth and love, and when Auster makes an appearance, he’s a likable guy, with a wife and son. In actuality, his list of literary awards is immense, and he’s also a screenwriter, film director, songwriter, voice narrator, translator, poet, husband and father.
Life, Death, Love, Hate, Youth, Maturity – all are turned upside-down in Auster’s writings. Who is the person writing? Who is the person reading? Who is the person dreaming?
I loved the stuff. It made me savor every simple thing that happens. And have vivid dreams. And it is a fact that Auster was hit by lightning as a boy – and lived to tell many tales.
Dawn Powell's Short Story Collection of 1952
My mother always gave her opinion of things as though it were a gift to her listeners. As if no other explanation would be necessary, or even allowed.
Dawn Powell’s short stories always have a character such as this, sure of herself. The other character has to flit around this maypole of certainty like a fluttering ribbon. And what a ribbon! Sometimes fuzzed by alcohol, or haunted by the past, or haunted by the feeling that everybody’s in on a secret, except the ribbon character.
Dawn Powell moved from Shelby, Ohio to New York City. So she had some idea of how to stand to one side and observe the passing parade. “There’s something about farm life that gives you the strength to run anywhere in the world. Oh, there were always people to tell me I’d be sorry, strangers wouldn’t make allowances for me the way my own folks would if I didn’t make good; I’d be homesick. But whenever I left I shut the door on that place and was never sorry, nor did I ever miss anybody I left.” This from an autobiographical story called, What Are You Doing in My Dreams?
Powell’s stories – this collection entitled Sunday, Monday, and Always – unfold for you as though you were watching a film. The rightness of her dialogue and situations make you forget you’re reading, and not watching real life. But then a snappy metaphor brings you into her humorous circle.
“They had strange faces, these French Canadian priests, sort of strong and wild and dark, not rosy and delicate like those she knew in Boston, and when they laughed they sounded like harsh sea birds.” – from The Pilgrim“ …It made him want to go to Cuba again and watch Selinda dance at the Sans Souci in the moonlight, with the giant palms walking away into the tropic night like elephant legs, walking away into the jungle dusk.” – from Feet On the Ground.
Dawn Powell wrote short stories throughout her life, at least one hundred known ones. They were published in all the magazines, among them The New Yorker, Collier’s, Esquire, Mademoiselle, The Saturday Evening Post, Vogue. The Lake Erie Record was the first to publish one of her stories in 1915. She thought of story-writing as a way to make money to help her through her real work, writing novels and plays.
One in particular stood out for me: You Should Have Brought Your Mink. It chronicles a thirty-something minor actress from New York City returning to her small Ohio town for a visit. Her family is less impressed with her because she didn’t bring the aforementioned fur, but she thinks she’s found a sympathetic ear in an aunt’s house. Powell tells us that the aunt “seemed permanently wedged into her carpet-seated rocker.” After giving a detailed account of her latest New York acting gig, our heroine thinks Aunt Mag is lapping it up like cat’s milk. But then it becomes clear that Aunt Mag is really listening to a soap opera on the radio.
This collection includes all the stories in the original 1952 volume, in their proper order, but includes four more selected by Powell’s champion and re-issuer, Tim Page, who also writes for The New Yorker. And who can resist this stuff from the final added story, What Are You Doing in My Dreams?
“So they’re dead, so the past is dead, and Ohio is gone. All right. Today is here. New York is here. Why go back to the dead? Why indeed? The way it’s turned out I haven’t needed to. For all the dead come to me.
…There they tugging at me, pulling me along on the picnic, my grandmother pulling on one of my arms as if it were a chicken wing…in dreams the sky is always gray…and it’s a very low sky, with hardly enough headroom even for us children. Sometimes a new face appears, someone fresh from yesterday’s obituary page, a New York friend, and this is a problem….Wait for me at the corner bar till I get rid of the folks.
But they fade away, smiling faintly. I don’t hold it against them. Who wants to meet a 1910 Ohio child carrying a basket lunch in a dead man’s saloon?”
Dawn Powell wrote thirteen novels, four plays, and her diaries have also been published in addition to this excellent group of short stories.
Think and Swim
Today I’m reviewing a book called Splash. Edited by Laurel Blossom, it’s a compilation of poems and excerpts and short stories about swimming. It’s from the Ecco Press, 1996, preface by George Plimpton.
I swim quite a bit myself. It’s the best thing for non-gravity exercise, when one feels the weight of the world pressing down. A remarkable change in attitude can follow a good swim. And it’s not that you have to unlock some knotty problem while swimming (though that can happen), counting laps can be a form of meditation.
And so, I looked for a kind of change while reading these pieces in Splash.
A swimmingly good story. Some came close to that floating feeling.
Maxine Kumin takes us in physical lines and connecting “turns” of letters, back and forth, in her poem, 400-Meter Freestyle. Calvin Trillin exhorts us to import a curious European sport called taureaux piscine, a bullfight with a pool in the middle. If you are the matador, and you and the bull end up in the pool together, you win. In Alix Kates Shulman’s excerpt from In Every Woman’s Life, Daisy Streeter contemplates marriage: “Anxiously, she sits on the beach at Santa Cruz watching her choices fan out around her like the branchings of a complicated seaweed newly risen from the depths.” She finds her answer in swimming and dreams.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, the more famous authors, both in the book and those recommended in Ms. Blossom’s introduction, weight the reader/swimmer down with a complicated plot. Often the upper-class characters in Dahl, Maugham, Fitzgerald, Cheever, and London are having marital problems, alcohol problems, money worries, or all of the above. No one was having much fun, at least, not for long. Swimming is an activity to get to some other place, sometimes quite manipulative.
Cheever’s Twilight Zone-y story, The Swimmer, (made into a film with Burt Lancaster) charts the route of a well-liked character on the cocktail circuit, swimming from pool to pool to get back home. “Here, for the first time in his life, he did not dive but went down the steps into the icy water and swam a hobbled sidestroke that he might have learned as a youth…. He had done what he wanted, he had swum the county, but he was so stupefied with exhaustion that his triumph seemed vague.”
I kept looking for something to float through my eyeballs, like Dale Chihuly’s swimming pool with art glass secured under the transparent bottom, backlit for watching while swimming. Something with pizzazz, like my swims. But many of the written-about swims were grueling long-distance swims, Olympic competitions, down-home yarns, swimming lessons. All variations, but unlike a Ms. Frizzle dress.
In case you didn’t know, Ms. Frizzle is the heroine of a children’s book science series. Her dresses have all-over designs on them, always matching the subjects of her science lectures. Lightning bolts for weather, octopi for oceans, etc. Then she and her students get on the magic school bus and go to planets or the bottom of the sea. I wanted to gird myself with swim goggles, envelop myself in wavy woo-woo, and imagine myself in a water dress.
Doris Lessing’s Through The Tunnel takes us on a harrowing, narrowing challenge, much like Barbara Kingsolver’s The Lacuna takes the boy protagonist through an oceanic tunnel to a new world or a new awareness. Fathers, mothers, brothers, husbands, try to find understanding of the elusive swimmer. It’s a singular sport, for the most part, unless you’re Eleanor Holm, a backstroke champion who had been thrown off the 1936 Olympic team for drinking champagne on board ship. (Somehow, a far cry from steroids.) Eleanor recouped her loss by providing aquatic displays for impresario Billy Rose’s Aquacade, to be followed by Busby Berkeley’s swim-girls-by-the-thousands films, and the great Esther Williams, the “athletic-romantic ideal of womanhood” (words of Laurel Blossom).
I am fond of Esther Williams because she turned up as a grandmother of one of the students of the Montessori school where I taught in California. We got to auction off one of her swimsuits in the fund-raising auction. Time was good to Esther Williams, she looked terrific.
One of my favorite books, Growing Old Is Not for Sissies, features some lady swimmers in their golden years looking good also. I am proud that one of those amazing aged amazons taught my son how to swim in a private setting. Quite different from my experience at the YMCA in Columbus! (Pool still there, but much smaller than I remember. And my childhood swim teacher? A bellowing man much more into crowd control than finesse.)
Well, I must finish with an excerpt from the novel I will probably still be writing on my deathbed:
Anonymous doughy bodies churning through the glassy liquid in pre-ordained paths. Swimming toward the cross painted at the end of the lane: her time-after-time target, so easily attained, gliding through the blue. The meeting of the eye of the spirit, and the weight of the matter, at the black cross. She loves it when the shallower bottom gives way to the deep end: like going from the ‘normal’ consciousness to the dream/deep consciousness. To hover over the black line like a dragonfly, movement inherent but still hovering.
She had her theory of the four kinds of swimming. ‘Tin-toy arms’ was for the mechanical feeling, the metallic repetition when fluidity folded into mechanism. ‘Pulled-by-a-string’ was when the black cross compelled her forward, without any effort of her own. ‘Water strider’ was saved for the times that she felt absolutely buoyant, skimming the top of the water without effort. And ‘dolphin’ – well, that was the ultimate, to feel at one with the water, both above and below.
The swim was broken up into specific pieces – for example, her favorite lap is number eleven. The numbers please her as she counts in a Pythagorean heaven. For lists, there’s always time to make elaborate mnemonic devices to remember them by. And yes, even poetry can be made-up along the way, pillows on a private passage.
I thank Laurel Blossom for “dredging” up some fine tales of swimming. We will be looking forward to Volume Two.
The Mushroom Library and the Underground Excitement
In spring, a young woman’s thoughts turn to – mushrooms. Yes, and spongy loam, brackish leaves, decomposing logs. All the good things of life stirring anew. Compost nirvana!
The ephemerals – wildflowers – are popping up. Among the May apples we look for morel mushrooms. I ate a lot of morels and had this dream: the bookstore had two front rooms – one deep green and one deep purple. Against the walls of each room were elegant couches in colors matching the room. I walked through the rooms, all the while getting angrier about the absence of the books. I stepped into a third room, a long warehouse where the books were stored in a not-so-orderly manner. I came back into the front green room and saw a demon child. I knew it was all his fault.
I yelled, and I mean really yelled, not just a dream yell. I woke up yelling.
Maybe I shouldn’t eat so many morels in one sitting.
I looked through my collection of mushroom fiction. They are:
The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Eleanor Cameron, 1954. This is a gee-whiz story about a couple of boys who make their own spaceship and fly it to the planet Basidium –X, aided by a gentle, not mad, scientist. The boys save the future for the little green people of the planet and fly back home, all in a matter of a few hours. Edible mushrooms are the sideline industry of the scientist, and seem to be scenery on the planet. “Steeper and steeper became the path, and around them, on all sides, rose up the great thick-stemmed mushrooms and other peculiar plants with pale, branching arms…”
Everything Under A Mushroom, Ruth Krauss, 1958. A little play-within-a-play, children make-believing they are everything from a pizza seller to the moon. At times the over-arching mushroom, which appears on every page, has light bulbs hanging from it, other times it seems to be dripping stars. Also children hang from it with ropes. “The other girls at the party didn’t care because they all had warm bathrobes” and other non-sequiturs dot the Sendak-like illustrated child-landscape by Margot Tomes.
The Mushroom Center Disaster, N.M. Bodecker, 1974. The beautifully drawn (by Erik Blegvad) mushroom-house town gets trashed by picnickers, but the resident insects turn the trash into assets for the community (pie pan swimming pool, bottle greenhouse). When the traveling beetle first comes upon the town, the sign reads, “Mushrooms for rent by the month or the year.” Must not be snowy in this locale.
The Mouldy, Nicola Bayley and William Mayne, 1983. A mole causes havoc in “the great garden of the world.” “Rootwives” with medusa-like hair brew punch and make honeycake. Talitha, the daughter of the king, fights the mole, which he likes, then offers to marry him. The hedgehog leaps into the breach and offers to marry the mole instead. Delicious-looking roots, wildflowers, and mushrooms wriggle across the illustrations. Although, the Mouldy’s stores of Thistle Soldiers, snails, beetles, and worms in glass jars and bowls could provoke weird dreams.
When The Root Children Wake Up, based on a German book first published in 1906, by Helen Dean Fish. This book always reminds me of my affection for well-appointed underground or hollow-tree dwellings such as those depicted in Peter Rabbit, The Wind in the Willows, and the stories about Uncle Wiggily. The Earth Mother wakes up the Root Children, who have scraggly little root-like child hair at first, moving on to blonde as they emerge from underground. The little girls sew their brightly colored dresses and become wildflowers; the little boys clean and paint the insects and get them ready. The boys wear green cloaks and wave fronds of grains. The Illustrations by Sibylle von Olfers include firefly helpers to light up the dank earth and different pastoral scenes in each drawing of what’s above. What fascinates me the most, however, is a window that looks onto nowhere. Earth Mother sits by it, “comfortably with her tea and her knitting.” It has a rough wooden cross as a pane-separator, and the curtains have roots hanging down from the edges. Earth Mother’s tea-steam seems to float out the window, toward – dirt! Her ant helpers are busy winding her yarn and bringing her glasses.
Mushrooms make their appearance when the Root Children get into the forest.
Bringing the Tropics to Central Ohio: The Kahiki and the Tiki Lit
When we went to the Kahiki in the afternoon: gray wintry day outside, coziest blue aquarium room inside. The one-year-old with us tramped all over the place, from fish-admiring to mock-thunderstorm-on-birds. There were few customers, so the young parents and the delighted grandmother (me) chose the best table and ordered fancy drinks. In lighting the grog, the waiter spilled the drink all over the table. Flames leaped up, but they did not burn the surface, or us. The orange-red glow on our faces contrasted sharply with the marine-blue of the aquariums. The one-year-old was impressed, we were elated.
Two generations before, I was there at the opening of the Kahiki. My father must have written about it in his column in the Citizen-Journal. I remember the heaving chest of the Mystery Girl in her bra and grass skirt (keep that skirt away from the flames), serving my father and mother the volcano-ish Mystery Drink. Afterward, the owner or manager took us “backstage” to the interior of the “sacrificial altar” wall, and there was an office and a looking-out place with a one-way glass. It was a dark mirror on the other, restaurant, side. I was impressed by this – I’d say I was about thirteen. My favorite television show at the time was “Mr. Lucky,” about a gambling ship, and this window had a flavor of that kind of life. However, I did not grow up to be a gambler.
I did grow up to love “tiki” stuff. I went to the Kahiki regularly, after I moved back to Columbus, sometimes with an art car to interact with happy people in the parking lot. Earlier, when I lived in California, and flew in to Columbus, I would rent a car at the airport and drive directly to the Kahiki, have a Mai Tai at the bar, buy trinkets in the gift shop. I do have a nice Kahiki/tiki kitsch collection.
I was there for the last days of the Kahiki. My companions and I gave ourselves a self-guided tour of the party rooms downstairs. Certainly fun had been had there – the “tacky factor” was high. It looked like a stage set for a production of South Pacific, after the actors had left.
The restaurant should have been moved, piece-by-piece, to the riverfront. It would now be a world-class destination for kitsch collectors. Later attempts to re-create the Kahiki just don’t have the magnificence of the war-canoe roof and the multiple-village interior. I know people in San Francisco, tiki zealots, who traveled to Columbus just to experience it, another bead on their collector’s necklace of Polynesian bars and restaurants. Our city leaders really missed the canoe, so to speak, by not saving the Kahiki. It would have kept us on the map as the multi-cultural (and fun) city that we are, out of the ashes of wonder-full white bread.
Where did the Polynesian polyglot begin? First, Captain Cook in Hawaii and the French colonization of Tahiti. The proliferation of Gauguin prints set the minds of land-locked folks into a flower-burst of color and sea-smells. The plunk-down of island-y things in the middle of plastic and chrome began with restaurateurs in California in the 1930s, ‘40s. and ‘50s, most notably Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s. World War II brought the South Pacific into frightening focus. The writers Robert Louis Stevenson, earlier, and James Michener, later, fired imaginations into high gear. And, for icing on the palm-tree-shaped cake, Norwegian botanist and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl came out with his book Kon-Tiki in 1950.
For comparison, I read Mystic Isles of the South Seas by Frederick O’Brien, published in 1921; Kon-Tiki; and The Book of Tiki by Sven A. Kirsten, published in 2000. In the first, I found perhaps the forerunner of the Mystery Drink: “I had been introduced to a Doctor Funk by Count Polonsky, who told me it was made of a portion of absinthe, a dash of grenadine, the juice of two limes, and half a pint of siphon water. Dr. Funk of Samoa, who had been a physician of Robert Louis Stevenson, had left the receipt for the concoction when he was a guest of the club. One paid half a franc for it, and it would restore self-respect and interest in one’s surroundings when even Tahiti rum failed.” (Don’t knock the Funk!)
O’Brien, who hailed from Sausalito, California, apparently had no want for money. He probably supported his traveling habits by giving travel lectures, with photos, as well as publishing. O’Brien grew weary of the characters of colonial Papeete and “went native” in the farther enclaves. Many sailors at this time fled the discipline of their ships “to live in a breadfruit grove with dryads” and were pursued by the French authorities. The Tahitians hid the sailors, as “to a Tahitian an amorous adventure, either as principal or aid, is half of life, and he would risk his liberty and property to thwart, in his opinion, hard and stupid officials who wanted to separate loving hearts.”
One more quote from O’Brien – I could include many, gushing about the scenery, populace, and wild incidents, but enough – “Mr. and Mrs. Stevenson had walked entirely around Tahiti, to the consternation of the conservative English residents of Tahiti, who wanted them to live in Papeete and hold teas.” Dancing, singing, fishing, celebrating life and love-making seemed to be the order of the day and night to the Polynesians. The missionaries and colonials, despite their best efforts, could not hold back the tide of mirth that permeated these islands.
Nor could you hold back the trade winds and currents. Thor Heyerdahl sailed for ninety-seven days from Lima, Peru, to the reef of Raroia in the Tuamoto Islands – where he and his crew crashed, but found themselves in a sort of Paradise. Heyerdahl’s theory was that the early people from South America populated Polynesia. Modern DNA testing proved him to be partly right. To prove his theory, Heyerdahl built a balsa-wood raft with a sail and floated on the ocean to re-create the mythical journey of “Kon Tiki” and his people. The raft plans were from drawings by Conquistadors of native rafts.
The hair-raising tale of the journey, ably written for the public – his scientific version was published separately – Heyerdahl’s narrative caught the attention of a post-war audience ready for a great adventure story. It sold twenty million copies and has been translated into seventy languages. The 5000-mile ocean odyssey in 1947 led to a film in 1951, after the book, and a re-make of the film in 2012.
Kon-Tiki was serialized in the Columbus Citizen-Journal and put into wide readership. My father, who wrote for the C+J, and his sidekick, Doc Lemon, a WCOL disc jockey, were put into rafts and sent down the Scioto as a publicity stunt, trailing photographers and models wearing grass skirts and playing ukeleles. This was in May of 1951. My three-and-a half-year old self was interviewed by reporters: “Do you think your father will survive?” I began to worry. But I also began to like zebra-prints and leis. (I was probably wearing one.)
I recently skimmed through all of Heyerdahl’s books. He continued his search for clues among the artifacts and statues of the Pacific Islands and Peru, and published his findings. Aku-Aku is his book about Easter Island. You can’t beat those Moai for size. The Book of Tiki, a Taschen publication, is the kind of glossy-and-fun scrapbook style you’d expect from Taschen. They give the Moai and their cousins ample space to glow and glower on the page.
A rather tongue-in-cheek patter flows through the fabulous photographs of tiki and his meanderings from god icon to pop icon. The Kahiki is featured prominently in the book; it was still standing when the book was written. Taschen also published a smaller version of the book called Tiki Style in 2004.
My aunts in southern California, in the formerly orcharded Orange County, both commissioned poolside tikis, in Whittier, carved by Leroy Schmaltz. And Barney West set up his Tiki Junction, where he carved giant tikis, in Sausalito, on the San Francisco Bay looking out over the Pacific. That’s also where our 1921 author/traveler lived. Author Sven Kirsten has photos of himself and his fellow tiki-lovers unearthing aging statues from overgrown motel foliage and thrift stores.
All of this has been warm food for thought during a cold Ohio winter. I look around to see where my tikis are in my living room. Perhaps they feel stranded here, far from home. Perhaps they are thinking that their voyage is not over.
“The voyage was over. We were all alive. We had run ashore on a small uninhabited South Sea island. And what an island! Torstein threw himself flat on his back and looked up at the palm tops and the white birds, light as down, which circled noiselessly above us. Soon we were all six lying there. Herman, always energetic, climbed up a small palm and pulled down a cluster of large green coconuts. We cut off their soft tops with our machete knives, and poured down our throats the most delicious refreshing drink in the world – sweet, cold milk from young and seedless palm fruit. On the reef outside resounded the monotonous drum beats from the guard at the gates of Paradise. (Note: he means the waves over the treacherous reef.)
‘Purgatory was a bit damp,’ said Bengt. ‘But heaven is more or less as I’d imagined it.’” – from Kon-Tiki
Embrace the Gray
January. A skeleton of a month on which to hang a warm coat of story.
Once upon a time there was a little girl who was taken by her parents to a library with a Peter Pan statue and fountain out front. She was allowed to pick out one book to take with her, and they didn’t even have to pay for it! It was at night, and it was a big place with gray walls. She quickly chose Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, and the little family was off into the dark with the new treasure.
Recently I was at the downtown Metropolitan Library on Grant (the place described above; the little girl was me, sixty years ago, and the book was returned) to see Wil Haygood receive the Columbus Hall of Fame Award. All the glitterati and literati were there – it was the opposite of the little girl’s first step into the building. The old gray building was alight with art and movement.
It you haven’t read Wil Haygood’s The Haygoods of Columbus, do. It demonstrates what a boy with determination can accomplish to transform his life. It vitalizes a Columbus that can often be dreary in January.
That got me to thinking about what book has a good winter scene. Let’s stick with Ohio authors here: Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852). What could be more cliff-hanging than running across the ice floes on the Ohio River to freedom? This scene of Eliza: “The frosty ground creaked beneath her feet, and she trembled at the sound; every quaking leaf and fluttering shadow sent the blood backward to her heart, and quickened her footsteps.… the swollen current and floundering masses of ice presented a hopeless barrier between her and her pursuer.”
I have to admit, I think about the scene as depicted in the film The King and I, the Thai version. “Run Eliza – Run from Simon!”
And how about rain? Louis Bromfield’s The Rains Came (1937) is a saga of Brits in India who go about their lives at dinners and parties until the dam breaks in an earthquake, and then it is a matter of fire, flood, and survival. Some great characterizations and even romance flourish in the soggy morass.
“Showers fell every half hour, brief and sudden showers during which the water fell in torrents, but no longer did the rain continue day and night unbroken, flooding the fields and swelling the river. Between the showers there were moments when the sun appeared ... so that all the countryside was like one vast steam bath.”
Ah – there’s an image to warm up January.
For sun, I was thinking about something a little lighter – how about Charles Schulz’s Peanuts? Schulz is not from Ohio – he’s from Minnesota – but he admired Milton Caniff, and Schulz’s Peanuts cartoons (begun in 1950) are featured at Cedar Point. Except for a few rainstorms on the pitcher’s mound and seasonal snow, all I can remember is constant sunshine in the “child’s” world. A recent re-viewing of some of the old strips gave me renewed laughter.
Charlie Brown: “What if everyone was like you? What if we all ran away from our problems? Huh? What then? What if everyone in the whole world decided to run away from his problems?”
Linus: “Well, at least we’d all be running in the same direction.”
Sounds like Thurber’s Columbusites running in The Day the Dam Broke.
So there’s some Ohio-author reading for January. If you’re not a snowbird who flies away, or a globe-encircling pioneer, you can pretend to be one from your cozy armchair. If you venture out, there’s a whole world of Ohio authors over at the Ohioana Library.
Speaking of your cozy armchair, let’s move on over to the couch for some writer’s therapy. Even if you are just writing thank-you notes, or if you are using January to get back to your novel, I think these are fun. First, imagine your body filled with large, star-shaped marshmallows. Then, when you’ve had your fill of that, imagine your body filled with simmering vegetable broth.
The next one’s inspired by the woods: imagine your body filled up with twigs. I like to think of them as twisted into little bundles. Then, let them melt away and have your body filled up with mashed potatoes (warm, with garlic if you like).
Next, imagine your body filled up with ribbons. Now that you’re completely light and colorful, make yourself a submerged iceberg in a turquoise sea. Float.
Now imagine you are a custard pie – all gooey but firm in the middle, and a flaky, but strong, crust. You have a clear glass pie pan to lean on.
These kinds of exercises are good for writers, indeed, for anyone with an imagination. And for teachers: they have to “perform” every day. What if a teacher-enforced nap continued from kindergarten straight through adulthood? The afternoon siesta can be a good thing for all concerned.
A good time to exercise the imagination muscles.
Imagine if everyone kept a diary of imaginings and dreams – and met with a group weekly to share them – right after nap. (This is sounding more and more like the “art police” state.)
If I Ran the Zoo! We’d all have to do it, instead of paying income tax. With a little imagination, we can learn to Embrace the Gray. Virginia Lee Burton and her Mike Mulligan book got me off on the right start. As I recall, she also has one about a snowplow.
Christine Hayes works for Acorn Bookshop in Grandview at 1464 W. Fifth Ave. across from Giant Eagle. They are open 7 days. Visit www.acornbookshop.com or call 614-486-1860 for more information or email Christine at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Whorls of Autumn
I’m spelling out, as though with a planchette, the whorls of an autumn afternoon – no particular rhyme or reason to it, the meander to see where our little stylus will land. I’m walking as a funambulist, overlooking the books, the bookstore, the block, the town, speeding up toward the clouds as if dreaming. Then coming back down, plunk!
I know this is all rather twee, but it must be done or no idea will come at all.
So much for the introduction. Many people sold books to us today, but not many bought. It’s all in the cards, the vacations, the money, the suggestions from the radio, television, computer, print, and/or friends and relatives. About what and when people read.
I’ve been reading the New York Times Book Review, plugging in to what the post-modern reader might read and what the post-modern writer might write. There’s the usual smattering of history, magical reality, gossipy twaddle.
Everybody wants a bookstore in their town, but only a few come in often enough to actually support it. Everybody wants to get rid of books, but only a few want to add to their collection. Most everyone likes books, but many people consider their computer and television consumption enough information for one day.
But I long to enter a world of someone else’s making – not actually a real world, but not actually a fake one either. One that is all-encompassing, funny, strange, intriguing. Something that I look forward to reading, at least a chapter at a time, that has an arc of involvement – not silly, not horrific, not gossipy, but real drama and real feelings, even if fiction. A little exotica, a little erotica, a little camp, a little lamp in the wilderness. Something that can be applied to everyday life, to give it pizzazz.
A scene-from-a-book cartoon that pops up in the mind while cooking. A book-memento saloon in the feet to keep them springy. A just-read platoon of ideas to establish a plateau in the watery canals of the soul. The Dharma Bums by Jack Kerouac has pizzazz.
“But it seemed that I had seen the ancient afternoon of that trail, from meadow rocks to lupine posies, to sudden revisits with the roaring stream with its splashed snag bridges and undersea greennesses, there was something inexpressibly broken in my heart as though I’d lived before and walked this trail, under similar circumstances with a fellow Bodhisattva, but maybe on a more important journey, I felt like lying down by the side of the trail and remembering it all.”
Kerouac walks the beat trail with Gary Snyder, thinly disguised as Japhy Ryder, and Allen Ginsburg (“Alvah Goldbook”) and all the other beat luminaries of the era, hiking and partying and catching hitch-hiked rides, and freight trains with hobos, from Berkeley, to his mother’s house in North Carolina, and back to a cabin in Corte Madera near San Francisco, and then up to a fire lookout in Washington, with an early-on sixty-page side trip into the California Sierras, on a mad weekend jaunt in sneakers, where fancy mountain-climbing gear goes today.
Kerouac was born in 1922 and died in 1969. He wrote 28 books of prose and poetry. His most famous work, On The Road, was published in 1957. The Dharma Bums was published in 1958. On The Road has more experimentation in narrative forms. Dharma Bums is more straightforward and clearly shows that Kerouac was attempting to become Buddha-like and ascetic. But it is obviously a humorous and beat Zen. “Now you understand the Oriental passion for tea,” said Japhy. “Remember that book I told you about the first sip is joy, the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.” “Just about old buddy.”
In the Marin county scenes, I was startled to see that they were hanging out in Corte Madera and on Mt. Tamalpais, places I lived. But they were carrying on in 1956, when I was eight years old and in Columbus, Ohio! It would be twenty years later that I would occupy the sites of their madness and poetry. It must have been a gleam beckoning to me. “The crack of the dying logs was like Japhy making little comments on my happiness.”
My second book of this reading frenzy was Wright Morris’s Solo. Wright was born in 1910 and died in 1998. He spent a lot of time in California, and writes of the abundant oranges there that he misses in the cruel European winter. For Solo is a travel chronicle of his time vagabonding around Europe in the 1930’s, while he was in his twenties, published while he was in his seventies.
I, too, vagabonded about Europe and Northern Africa while I was in my twenties. Wright encounters Nazism on the rise, but manages to stay away from it. I am glad I enjoyed my personal geography in a kinder, gentler time period.
Wright took off from California in 1933. Hitch-hiking and train-hopping, he made it to Chicago, where he spent the summer at the Century of Progress, a World’s Fair, and made enough money to get to New York and take a freighter to Antwerp. He met well-defined characters from all countries of Europe on the freighter, and from a Mr. Liszt he received advice to go to Vienna instead of Paris.
Liszt helped him find lodging, where he met more characters, rather like those out of Dickens. He took to hanging out at the Foreign Students Club, where he became most popular. A friend took him to a castle where the slightly off-kilter occupants were living as in medieval times. The cold Austrian winter nearly killed poor old Wright, who was asked to stay on rent-free in exchange for labor. The “Meister” and his wife and various relatives and servants populated the anachronistic revels, soon to come to an end in the war years. At the time, Wright was amazed to see the inhabitants ordering things out of a seven-year-old Sears catalogue. The things eventually arrived!
He saved enough money to go on a bicycle jaunt in Italy with a school chum. They make it to Rome, Naples, and Capri, but wind up for a few days in an Italian prison with the explanation being only, “Il Duce” and a shrug. He does finally get to Paris.
“My room was on a turn in the stairs, where a lot of the tenants stopped to scratch matches. I had a window on the street, a chair to put my clothes on, a cot about four inches shorter than I was. The lavatory was up about one flight of stairs and had the usual crouching arrangement. How do you explain the French coming up with something like that?”
Wright published 27 books. He is most remembered for his depictions of the Great Plains. He is a master at showing life as it is lived; and known, like Kerouac, to have experimented with narrative forms. “That what I saw before me was a snippet of time, cut from the moving reel, a specimen with more of a past than a future, a crack in time’s door that I had my eye to, where no bird flew, no child played on the pond ice and no dog barked. To be out of this world was to be out of time. One day I liked it. The next day I thought I might go nuts.”
A Sea of Books
“Literature is a big sea full of many fish. I let down my nets and pulled.” – Langston Hughes
Recently I cleared out the lower level of my house. The physical bare bones of the ordeal left me with this realization: I took ten bookshelves and one huge dresser out of the room. I had on my hands Davey Jones’s graveyard for books and magazines and other printed and photographic material. The accumulation was not only mine, but my father’s before me – the room occupied by him as a study from 1956 to 1989.
Would that I could have used a dredge, instead of manual labor. The path from the room to the outside world led through the woods. The summer ravine called to me as I trudged through the undergrowth with empty shelves and books, books, books.
As I was undergoing this somewhat painful extraction, I purposefully read two books side-by-side: The Big Sea by Langston Hughes, and Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.
Hughes’s autobiography is of his early years, his jobs ranging from teaching English in Mexico, truck gardening, being a seaman, doorman, cook, clerk, waiter, busboy; and his continual success in getting his poems and stories and novel published. He was famous in America and Europe while alternately working menial jobs and attracting wealthy mentors. He also managed to attend college and travel around the world. He had a great time during the Harlem Renaissance, and in Paris. He never let racial prejudice get in his way.
Hughes spent his youth shuttling back and forth between his poverty-stricken mother in Cleveland and his rich father in Mexico (his father was not Mexican). Talk about a schizophrenic background! I especially liked Hughes’s description of being with a patron in Venice (Italy) and looking for something else besides … “palaces and churches and famous paintings and English tourists. I began to wonder if there were no back alleys in Venice and no poor people and no slums and nothing that looked like the districts down by the markets on Woodland Avenue in Cleveland.” He found what he was looking for… “too dirty to be picturesque.”
I picked up a 1954 paperback copy of Esquire short stories (my father’s) and encountered Hughes’s story “A Good Job Gone,” about working for a wealthy man in New York City, fixing sandwiches and drinks for the man’s many girlfriends in the middle of the night. The other obligation of the job was to get drunk with his employer when the girlfriends weren’t around. A slice-of-life, gritty but entertaining piece – and in the same paperback (first published in 1940) was Hemingway’s “On The Blue Water,” which contains the germ of The Old Man and The Sea (1951) within it; it is Hemingway’s explanation to an elephant hunter about why deep-sea fishing is just as thrilling.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift From The Sea heads the opposite direction from Hemingway – she counsels women through the phases of life by comparing each phase to the architecture of subsequent seashells. Her writing while she is on a solitary beach vacation is a “room of one’s own” soliloquy. Lindbergh had five children, twelve grandchildren, wrote many books, and was in the limelight with her famous husband, Charles Lindbergh. (And her firstborn was kidnapped and murdered.) This book is a paean to tranquility in the midst of turmoil.
What surprised me about my two Sea-titled authors – Hughes and Lindbergh both speak about the right NOT to write. They each love writing and the freedom to express themselves, but also claim the freedom to abandon it to the sea-wind at times, to better resume the task later.
During this intense reading and moving period, I found it difficult to sleep. So I was inspired to write this piece about:
The Night Ravine
My bed is placed high, in front of a picture window. The picture I see, starting a few inches from the window, is a mass of trees and some sky behind the leaves. The land slopes far below me, as my bedroom is on the top floor. The leaf-strewn ground of the forest runs down to Rush Creek. This was my childhood bedroom and is still my bedroom now, with a hiatus of 32 years in California.
In my sixties now, I am having a new condition: waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to get back to sleep. Rather than read, worry, or take sleeping pills, I do this: lie in state. I meditate and listen to the ravine sounds. I breathe the crisp air when it is not raining, and feel the breeze of the oncoming storm when it is. I throw the covers on and off accordingly. All this is punctuated by train horn-blasts every fifteen minutes.
What a strong symphony of katydids, locusts, grasshoppers, crickets, and even the cardinal or owl in the middle of the night! Screeching critters in an explosion of outrage over some unexpected encounter! The slow and rhythmic deer tromp, the metallic scrapes of the train, some partying teenagers, truck tires on the freeway. The blinking remaindered firefly wanders on, still looking for its mate.
My favorite thing is distant thunder. One never knows if it is an airplane, a train sound, a truck, at first. Then it is repeated, as one strains to hear. Real thunder! Are there clothes on the line? (A brief pause from lying in state while one runs outside and pulls the sweet-smelling clothes off the line.) I brush off my bare feet and get back to listening. Storm-wind shivers far-off leaves, then closer ones, then the ones outside the window. Lightning can invade even closed eyelids. The rain shushes all other night things. Thunder shakes the house.
The bus grunting along starts at 5 a.m. Then the cardinals pipe up at the first hint of dawn. Sometimes I am still awake, snug in my layers of blanket and of sound.
The Wallpaper Caper
I recently I visited my friends’ house in the Old West End of Toledo, Ohio, and they had just acquired the house directly behind them, a three-story fixer-upper with an attic. There was much talk of the wallpaper in the attic. I imagined a panorama of resplendent magnitude. When finally “taken up,” I discovered a creepy place with terrifying holes in the floor (“Don’t step there, you’ll fall through!”), and a back room with some innocuous nursery-rhyme stuff. This field trip into the upper reaches of nostalgia underlined for me a fact: there are those younger than me who don’t remember an era of amazing wallpaper.
I know that many upper-class houses still and always have had the fillips and filigree of fine wallpaper. But in the middle of the twentieth century (before and after World War II), juicy wallpaper became happily available to all walls, as did new adhesives which didn’t harbor insect life. My Uncle Virgil worked for Columbus Coated Fabrics, so we had repeated printed rural scenes and mandalas all over our walls. I believe these pieces we got were “ends.” I remember peeling a United States-shape off the blue-and-pink floral stuff next to my child-bed. My mom didn’t like that.
Then, I got to investigating books on the subject of wallpaper.
“Paint can seem dull in comparison with the wonderful opportunities presented by wallpaper.” (Even red?) This is from Paper Magic, by Jane Gordon-Clark, Pantheon Books, 1991. Her opening sentence, paraphrased, is wallpaper has three qualities: (1) has a high degree of finish (2) creates a mood (3) reflects the personality of the occupant. Even textured paint cannot convey the hi-jinks and 3-D-ness of a strong wallpaper pattern. Today, there are four ways to produce decorative paper: block-printing, machine-printing, screen-printing, and hand-stenciling.
Who has not heard of the reproductions of wallpaper in historic buildings from old photos or drawings or scraps found? The colors can be shocking: pink and chartreuse, for example. No accounting for by-gone taste! I suppose after the log-cabin look, or the restrained colonial look, the advent of bright color-printing was too hard to resist!
The first wallpapers were made to simulate tapestries and stamped-leather hangings in the castle. Ms. Gordon-Clark tells us, “The woven look creates a cocoon effect.” The fabric-look wallpaper can have covered furniture in a matching fabric, or be reflected in a mirror. Or the design imitated in paint on wood. Escher-like effects are boundless. Wallpaper can simulate stone, brick, wood, marbling, murals, trellises, maps, stained glass, tile, even bookcases. Wallpaper can even cover a car, but this takes some skillful cutting of the paper, and many clear coats over it.
Wallpaper can make panoramas! It can go on ceilings and lampshades! We can see incredible Chinese things, scenes of exploration and transportation, pavilions of
exotic climes, stripes, animals, birds! Wallpaper can make borders, frames, swags, festoons, and my favorite, the “dado – filler – frieze” formula which is a heavily patterned paper on the bottom, a different pattern on the upper, a border at waist-level, and several other borders at the top. The author calls this “unbridled indulgence from the Victorian era.” Often one of the patterns is repeated on the floor. Six or seven patterns, rather like a quilt is made, can be piled one on top of the other.
On the other extreme, don’t forget rice paper and other delicate art papers that can be used on walls or windows.
As a small child, I remember the morning light that set the silver leaves on the ceiling-wallpaper moving in a mesmerizing pattern. I took this as an early warning that things are seldom static, and always magic. This was at one grandmother’s. At the other grandmother’s house, her bedroom had buttery yellow roses, my bedroom had luscious red and pink roses, almost too beautiful, and the mysterious “lodger” bedroom had the same roses in other-worldly blue. These flowers were larger than life. At the beginning of my life, my parents lived in Grandview. When that house came up for sale, I went inside to get a peek. I was thrown back in time with the view out of the baby nursery window at an ancient apple tree; but it was the yellow floral wallpaper in what would have been my parents’ bedroom that raised the hairs on my neck. I remembered it. We moved from that house when I was five months old.
In Off The Wall, a book by Lena Lencek and Gideon Bosker, Chronicle Books, 2004, pages filled with ten-inch-square examples of exquisite wallpapers inspire the reader. The authors have historical text and cultural iconography, stunning closeups, and paper done by artists such as Niki de Saint-Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Matisse, Calder, Saul Steinberg, all in compelling color.
A chapter on children’s wallpaper touts the ability of the little ones to “enter” the visual stories depicted all around them. (Perhaps this is what happened to my friends in the Toledo attic.) Mention is made of a “constant and reassuring rhythm” of the repeated patterns.
This brings to mind the 1892 short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I had the dawning realization, as I re-read this early feminist fiction, well-known in its day, that I had seen this portrait of a madwoman performed. Yes, this story of a normal woman imprisoned in a former child’s nursery by her husband, was performed at Worthington High School by a student, complete with the crawling and the wallpaper-peeling. The woman protagonist is trying to let “the woman behind the wallpaper” out. The doctor’s diagnosis for her depression was “hysteria,” a catch-all for women’s ailments of the day. She was not allowed to do anything but look out the window or sleep. The wallpaper made her go mad. Perkins’s story did much to shed light on this bogus diagnosis.
“Either that wallpaper goes or I do.” –Oscar Wilde on his deathbed
A friend told me a true fact in reaction to this story. “Only one person in a couple should do the actual wallpapering.” Her husband’s parents had been professional paper-hangers. “He did all the papering, and I held the bucket.” They are still married. And the wallpaper is still up. No one went mad.
Wandering Round the Book Shelves
I think it was the clowns. Now that I’ve seen the book again, I think it was the clowns that made me remember the book so well. That, and the fact that Geppy the horse could become invisible in front of a red-and-white-striped circus tent.
Geppy was a detective who happened to be a horse and red-and-white striped. This was in a childhood book of mine which was also red-and-white striped on the outside. The book became my “holy grail” to find again. I knew that Geppy was short for Susagep, Pegasus spelled backward. These were my clues. I searched for this book in used bookstores from Maine to California. I tried to search online, but with no clue to title or author, it was fruitless.
I mentioned the book search to Tony Clark. Tony is an excellent online bookfinder who used to work at OCLC (originally Ohio College Library Center, now Online Computer Library Center) based in Dublin, Ohio. Tony was able to trace the word “Geppy” and find the book in Seattle. This copy was an ex-county library book from Klamath Falls, Oregon, last checked out of the library on March 22, 1994.
Tony had the book sent to him, and then placed it in a box of books he was selling to the Acorn Bookshop, where I work. George, Acorn’s owner, was in on the secret and had his camera ready. I am the frontline person in Acorn for looking through book boxes. But in true sit-com fashion, every time I got down to the bottom of the box, I would get called away by the telephone or a customer. Little did I suspect that the paparazzi were lying in wait.
Finally I got to the book. I recognized it instantly, even though it had a dust jacket disguising the striped-ness of the cover. It was The Great Geppy, by William Pene du Bois, first published in 1940 by the Viking Press. I clasped it to my bosom and photographs were duly taken.
Christine unearths a childhood memory.
Photo © George Cowmeadow Bauman
I saw myself in my mind’s eye on the floor of a little walk-in closet we had in a farmhouse in Blacklick. I was reading the book while eating a coconut cookie. Such associations we make of the precious memories of childhood.
I re-read it that night. Geppy has a rather convoluted plot for a child’s book, though those were convoluted times. Geppy tries on the occupations of all the different circus performers in turn, the better to spy on them, the better to determine who could be stealing from the safe. Finally we get to the shooting-out-of-the-cannon climax, and the silent but wildly-dressed clowns are involved. Geppy sprouts wings (someone has surreptitiously put them on), and is saved.
The drawings are skillfully and rather surreally handled by Mr. Pene du Bois. The clowns are never dressed the same way twice. I became a professional clown later in life. Geppy’s friends and saviors must have influenced me to change my stripes, chameleon-style, to fit each new situation.
Geppy solves the mystery and then becomes a partner in the circus. He is never looked down upon, or even has to suffer one wink of disbelief just because he is an English-speaking horse and striped. Everyone accepts him for what he is, one great detective.
I did a little detective work on Mr. Pene du Bois (easy to do with Google.) Born in New Jersey but educated partly in France, Pene du Bois was a child prodigy. He accepted a scholarship to the Carnegie Technical School of Architecture after high school, but in 1936, when he was just twenty, his first children’s book was published. Geppy was done when he was twenty-four. He won the Newbery Medal in 1948 for The Twenty-One Balloons and Caldecott Honors for Bear Party and Lion. He was one of the founding editors of The Paris Review.
The coda to the Geppy story is this: about two months later, I was looking through a box of books someone (not Tony) had brought in to sell. And there was another copy! This one did not have a dust jacket, so the red-and-white, though scruffy, stood out. Since then, we have sold it to an Acorn regular, who, like me, appreciates the odd children’s book.
Wandering Round the Book Shelves
I read books in tandem – last month it was two by the same author, vibrantly vintage romance novels – this month I report on biographies of two American icons, one very real, who disappeared at age twenty, and one not real, who is approaching her ninetieth birthday.
EVERETT RUESS, VAGABOND FOR BEAUTY, W.L.Rusho, 1983
The fire crackles down to embers. The lone boy hears his pack-burros snuffling outside the hogan. He eats the last of his frying-pan bread and beans whilst snuggling into his woven saddle-blankets. He writes letters to his parents, brother, and friends, of his adventures in the trading posts, the exquisite beauty of the mountains, sunsets, and arroyos, and his friendship with the Navajos and other tribes. He puts the finishing touches on his drawings and watercolors of the day, and then composes a poem of the thrill of being in the mountains.
Everett Ruess was born on March 28, 1914, (amazingly, two days after my own headstrong mother!) into an unusual Los Angeles family. His mother was an artist and taught her son the skills of painting, sketching, lyric prose, poetry, block-printing. His father graduated summa cum laude in three years from Harvard Divinity School, and worked as a Unitarian minister and director of education and research in the Los Angeles County Probation Department. He taught his son to question everything and find meaningful and mystical answers to life’s most important questions. They had a family quarterly of poems and artwork. The family seal was a sun dial with the words, “Glorify the Hour.”
All this background is to set the stage for Everett’s bold departure from home at age sixteen to go to Carmel, to the Sierra Nevada, all the California coast, and then on to the vast desert wilderness of the Southwest. His dream was one of pursuit of beauty and oneness with nature. He did brazenly introduce himself to artists like Edward Weston, Maynard Dixon, Dorothea Lange, and Ansel Adams, not only befriending them, but becoming like part of the family.
Everett had no ambitions whatsoever in civilization. He did spend some time with his parents in between jaunts, even attending UCLA for a semester, and maybe half a year in San Francisco attending art and music and soirees. But then he would have himself dropped off in the middle of the wilderness with very little money or food, and make his way selling his art and living off the land. (His elder brother Waldo became a diplomatic aide and then an international businessman, wandering the world much as Everett wandered the Southwest.)
And then, in early 1934, Everett disappeared without a trace into the barren Utah desert. His burros were found but none of his pack. Search parties found nothing. Some say he was murdered by cattle rustlers or some Navajos, and others speculate he orchestrated his own disappearance. The mystery of his death rivals that of the disappearance of Ambrose Bierce, and at another time, the beat poet Lew Welch. The magnificence of Everett’s prints and writing put him on the same pedestal as John Muir. Just a little difference in age.
FINDING BETTY CROCKER, Susan Marks, 2005
In the 1920s the corporate race for the household dollar was intense. The Washburn Crosby Company, a forerunner to General Mills, invented a woman named Betty Crocker to be a member of the Home Service Department, where she would be a “friend” to consumers on the subject of baking.
Soon Betty Crocker, in the guise of several actresses, would have her own national radio show, which, during the Great Depression and World War Two, broadcast money-saving recipes, rationing tips, and messages of hope. Betty, although fictional, received millions of letters, and was a beacon to women looking for self-worth (which, it must be said, was found through “the lightness of their cakes.”)
Betty had many corporate twins, including “Julia Joyce” who was a spokesperson for White Castle. Julia had to convince homemakers that White Castles were nutritious. An actress one-upped Julia by appearing regularly on the George Burns and Gracie Allen Show as Betty Crocker.
Betty’s image was updated over the decades, but in the American memory she remains somewhere in the 1950’s with the publication of “Big Red” – Betty Crocker’s Picture Cook Book, the “Kitchen Bible.” Betty’s Cook Book had strong rivals with The Joy of Cooking and The Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book (also red), but the Betty Crocker one is the one we can’t keep in the bookstore.
Betty, like Everett Ruess, has remained forever young.
Wandering Round the Book Shelves
It was an odd day, a rainy, obscure, dark day in July, the nineteenth, the twentieth anniversary of the opening of Acorn Bookshop, in which I’d worked, almost ten years to the day. There was a trend that day for the customers to buy mysteries. I was studying the New York Times Book Review, always wondering if any of those titles would make it into the store.
Then a young woman bought One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Marquez, she had a grand tattoo of an old Underwood typewriter, skewered, with surrounding papers also skewered, on the branches of a dead tree. Her backless summer dress revealed the scene.
An unkempt mathman was rebuffed from buying an abacus because it was store décor.
The plants were calling to me to water them, so I did. They need so little, just a little moisture, to be happy. The rough edges of the store could be kicked back into place readily – piles straightened up, a few alphabetical adjustments. Books’ dust jackets could get a plastic cover – and hide all faults.
Bookstores can be timeless places – so many people just don’t know how to lose themselves in a bookstore. Some men guiltily buy books and admit they have to sneak them into the house, because to a wife they are clutter. The bookshelf, properly managed, can relieve all that.
The twenty years aren’t showing on this fine store. She looks just as young and as refreshed as when she opened. The ships are ready to sail you away – if you buy into the notion of books as ships, always standing at port, alert, trimmed, compact.
We get lots of young people who ask what we are reading, what book can they read to change their lives. Well, there’s Vonnegut, Brother Kurt, we think of him as a brother because he’s from our unofficial sister city of Indianapolis. His books can be read over and over, he’s timeless, really, he writes going backward and forward in an absurdist’s view of time. I keep his photo over my writing desk as my muse.
Steinbeck and Hemingway follow as other recommended authors. They start from a perspective of personal history in a specific time, and then go on to give a universal flavor, flair, taste, and smells.
We always sell out Kerouac’s On The Road, movie or no movie. Herbert’s Dune and Tolkien’s The Hobbit we cannot keep on the shelves, same with Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. We sell lots of poetry, modern and vintage, Rumi and Hafiz as well as Eliot and Tennyson.
Speaking of vintage, we do buy a few older books with chromolithography on the covers, when books had no dust jackets, and gilt and artwork curlicued across the front board of the book. I am reading two such books right now, which came in separately but have the same author. Betty’s Virginia Christmas and The Fortunes of Fifi are both by Molly Elliot Seawell. “Betty” is red with green holly and a gold hunting horn and spur printed on; “Fifi” is light green with pink flowers and gold rope-twining around the elaborate title. Both have illustrations in color of the forthright heroines and their suitors. Never a dull moment for these two young ladies. In fact, in the first chapter of Fifi, she meets both the Pope and Napoleon.
A parallel is my situation in the bookstore. One never knows who will come through the door, and what the request will be. I keep active by running up and down the stairs to hunt for just the right volume for that special person. We get a “Eureka!” moment about once a week, when someone finds the book for which they’ve been searching for a long time.
The listmakers, the timekillers (we are next to a barbershop and on the bus line), the browsers, the present-buyers, the students, the teachers, the soul-searchers (we have lots of New Age and self-help), the technicians, the scientists, the artists (we have lots of books with pictures!), all come to be enlightened. And even though books are heavy when they get cumulative, they are light when they create light bulbs inside your head.
The books fly out from the store to points all over the world. They get put into anonymous packages and innocently travel to their destinations, ideas stored (like in a computer!) between their covers, little flat-out time-bombs of information. Then they get to bide their time on a shelf, always at the ready for the recipient to refer. Little blasts from the past. One can almost feel the author glowing and gloating over actually getting a book published, with each turn of the page.
So on the rainy day in July, I had lots of company. One had only to lift a cover to hear the crowds cheering. But then, it was as quiet as a library, with soft music playing.
Acorn Bookshop is located in Grandview Heights at 1464 W. Fifth Ave. Visit www.acornbookshop.com. Christine Hayes can be reached at email@example.com
Haft's Acre Draws Crowds in the Short North
Wrestlers in the the Haft's Acre in 1942.
One of the most colorful corners in all of Columbus was that of Goodale and Park. In 1885 the first venue was built there, the Park Roller Skating Rink. It had other uses during its tenure, industrial storage and an armory for the 14th Regiment.
The rink was rebuilt in 1897, using a design by the local architectural firm of Yost and Packard. This time it was the 8,000-seat Columbus Auditorium, also known later as the Goodale Auditorium or Goodale Hall. We know that the building was deteriorating when the Mystic Shrine Circus was held there in January of 1910. The last event to be held there was a wrestling program including one Al Haft, Jr., billed as “Young Gotch,” on January 31, 1910. On February 18 of that year, the auditorium collapsed under the weight of newly fallen snow.
In December 1912, a temporary structure was built on the site to be the Billy Sunday Tabernacle. It was built of wood in four days. Twelve thousand people could fit in, with a choir of twelve hundred. The Billy Sunday Crusade lasted from December 29, 1912, to February 16, 1913. After a record 18,333 conversions under its ringing rafters, the structure was torn down.
In September of 1917, the Columbus Bicycle Stadium was erected on the site, with seating for 4,500 persons. It was a one-tenth-mile board racetrack, featuring mostly one-mile races and five-mile races for professionals.
An open-air arena for wrestling and boxing was opened on the site in 1920 by Harry Sully. It was called the Fairmont Arena through 1926. It became Haft’s Acre in 1927.
Al Haft cut a wide swath through many years and venues in Columbus. After his own start as a wrestler, he became a wrestling trainer and promoter of wrestling and boxing. He owned a gym called the Quality Athletic Club on Broad Street, he had a restaurant and arena on Main Street in Reynoldsburg, and he had an arena at the site of Olentangy Park (now Olentangy Village). He would start training young men as young as thirteen or fourteen. Ben Cowell, who later became a promoter of roller derby, and then all kinds of entertainment, started as a wrestler with Al Haft in the 1920s.
Haft was always scouting new talent. He found one of his protégés on Muscle Beach in California, Ray Shire, who later became Ray “The Crippler” Stevens. Other names in wrestling associated with Haft were Frankie Talabar (a favorite, he was the local sheriff too), Mildred Burke, Stacy Hall, Don Eagle, Farmer Brown, Whitey Walberg, Juan Sebastian, Don Fargo, Great Scott, the Swedish Angel, Lord Landsdowne, Gorgeous George, Handsome Johnny Berend, and “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. These are just a few, as Haft was a trainer/promoter from 1919 into the late 1960s. The Short North/Flytown arena operated from 1927 to 1957.
* * *
I was born in White Cross Hospital which was half a block north of the arena, on Park, in 1947. My Great-Aunt Gladys Van Rooy thought it convenient to visit my mother and me in the hospital, then take in a night of wrestling. The Leland McClelland drawing in Bob Thomas’s Columbus Unforgettables (Number Three) shows many women in the audience at Haft’s Acre.
Dave Weltner remembers all of Haft’s arenas fondly. Dave’s father managed a motel across from Haft’s Reynoldsburg arena. Dave was in graphic design school at the time, so he did caricatures of some of the wrestlers for promotional material. Dave says, “They were all nice guys regardless of how nasty they were in the ring.”
“Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers claims to be the prototype of the cocky peroxide-blonde villain. He gave the first, or among the first, bombastic interviews, with colorful put-downs of his opponents. He was also the first to use “flying” moves in the ring, and the “Figure Four” Leglock. (I can just hear other wrestlers violently opposing these claims.)
Al Haft’s hobby was raising prize cattle and horses. It was said he “was a firm believer in the two-hundred pound kind of grappler,” maybe in livestock as well as humans. At certain times Haft was in hot water with the IRS, as well as other wrestling promoters over claims of “world championship.” Haft helped form the Midwest Wrestling Alliance in 1931, the National Wrestling Alliance, and the World Wrestling Alliance, in 1948. I like their slogan, “From Mexico to Columbus to Japan.” Thereafter, claims of “world championship” were more regulated, and Mr. Haft ironed out his tax problems.
On July 21, 1955, an OSU football player named Hubert Bobo dropped out of OSU to become a Haft’s wrestler. He even gave up an offer of professional football to stay with Haft!
Clarence Nonemaker was the popular referee at Haft’s Acre, though he took his fair share of “boo’s.” Before Haft’s Acre was demolished to make way for urban renewal, Haft moved part of the “show” to the Old Memorial Hall, where the first televised wrestling match in Columbus was broadcast in the winter of 1950 over WBNS-TV. The show lasted 13 weeks, because Haft realized that television would kill his takings at the gate. Later on, television wrestling resumed on Saturday afternoons at WLW-C with car dealer Lex Mayers hosting from his Main Street Bexley arena, with Clarence Nonemaker still refereeing.
But we have neglected the boxing side of things. After World War Two, Al Haft booked Joe Louis to come to Haft’s Acre. Doral Chenoweth was there:
“Joe was broke, past his boxing prime, living in Vegas, and owing the IRS. The local IRS phoned then Citizen editor Jack Keller… they were going to grab his ‘purse’ from Haft after the last match. Two agents met Haft and Joe in the leaky dressing room. I was there with Citizen photographer Herb Workman. During the crowded movement in the small space, Al dropped a coin…it fell between the slats serving as a floor…Joe, very polite and quiet about what he knew was happening, deadpanned, ‘Is this my purse?’ He bent over to finger out the coin and handed it to one of the IRS agents…After that scene, Al took Joe and a couple of others, including me, to the Seafood Bay a bit south on High Street, in a better neighborhood…”
Doral Chenoweth remembers the discarded site of Haft’s Acre “looking like a boarded-up junkyard.” He says the Haft’s Restaurant in Reynoldsburg was “rather fine but had a stable of muscle men training in a smelly exercise room behind it.” The Reynoldsburg property was eventually sold to Huber Homes.
So ended the Haft era in Columbus. But imagine the Goodale/Park outdoor arena with wildly enthusiastic crowds and the lights illuminating the night sky, the referee separating the warriors, the announcer fizzing up the spectators. The legacy of the colorful corner lives on – especially during ComFest when the Jazz Stage holds forth on the site of forty years of lively combat!
Note: I would like to thank Dick Barrett, Doral Chenoweth, and Dave Weltner for their research and recollections.
Elsie Janis: A Star is Born in the Short North
Elsie Janis was a household name from the turn of the century through World War Two. Her immense talent earned her a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She was a singer, songwriter, actress, comedienne, and Hollywood screenwriter and composer. She was born in the Short North at 337 West Fifth Avenue. Yet there is no plaque there to mark the spot. She was born is 1889 and died in 1956.
Much like Shirley Temple, Elsie showed signs of talent at a young age. She took the stage at age two. And much like Shirley Temple, Elsie had a stage mother, Jennie Milner from Bucyrus, who was behind her daughter all the way. In fact, Elsie bragged that she and her mother were together every day of their lives.
Like any celebrity’s facts, there are conflicting stories and addresses. Some say Elsie was born in Marion County. John Bierbower, Elsie’s father, at one time a railroad clerk at Union Station, was from Marion. He and Elsie’s mother were divorced over Jennie’s intensity to put their child onto the stage. But “Little Elsie” Bierbower, as she was known then, loved to perform.
She was a child of the Short North, no matter where she was born. Her parents came to Columbus in the 1880’s, and their successive addresses were 1294 Hunter, 1284 Neil, 57 or 58 Clark Place. Other addresses were on King Avenue, Smith Place, and Hubbard Avenue. Perhaps the constant musical practicing warranted a constant state of moving on. Or perhaps the young family was always looking for something better. There was also a brother, Percy, who later disappeared from a ship in mid-Atlantic on his way to London to be in a play.
Early venues for Elsie’s theatricals were old First Congregational Church, Milford Center school auditorium, The Columbus Charity Ball, a summer camp in Sunbury. When Jennie thought Elsie was ready for real Vaudeville, she took her to Buffalo, New York, where she offered to have her perform for free. If the impresario liked what he saw, Elsie would be paid $125 a week – a large sum in those days. He liked what he saw, and “Elsie Janis’s” career was launched. At age ten, Elsie performed at the White House for President McKinley. At age eleven, she was a Vaudeville headliner. At age seventeen, she starred on Broadway in “The Vanderbilt Cup,” in which she drove a car onstage in fashionable driving attire, in addition to her other musical and theatrical endeavors. Many other Broadway plays followed.
But the endeavor that brought her the most attention was the fact that she was the first woman to perform for troops at the front. Elsie performed her “Doughboy Revue” as many as nine times a day in France during World War One, with audiences of as many as four thousand. She also raised funds for Liberty Bonds. She was called “The Sweetheart of the AEF” (American Expeditionary Forces). After the War, she followed her success with a Broadway show she wrote and starred in called “Elsie Janis and her Gang.”
Elsie and her mother had built a house on High Street called “El-Jan” on the northeast corner of High Street and 18th Avenue, now the site of McDonald’s. There was also a “practice barn,” and Columbus locals often saw Elsie turn her legendary cartwheels, and heard her do her famous impersonations of Will Rogers, John Barrymore, Beatrice Lillie, and George M. Cohan. In 1911 Elsie rented it to Alpha Phi sorority, and she and her mother moved to Tarrytown, New York, to an historic manor house. When her mother died in 1930, Elsie moved to Beverly Hills. She had already been writing music for the new “talkies.” She wrote for films such as Gloria Swanson in The Trespasser and Bette Davis in Dark Victory. She also starred in films herself, often writing and composing for them, such as Close Harmony and Paramount on Parade.
In 1932, at age 43, Elsie married Gilbert Wilson, sixteen years her junior, a Chicago broker. The marriage lasted fifteen years, and they parted amicably. Elsie wrote several books, one called The Big Show: My Six Months With The AEP, and her autobiography called So Far, So Good (1932). She died at home in Beverly Hills at age 66. She is buried in Forest Lawn in Glendale, California.
Elsie’s last film was in 1940, Women in War. In a 1939 show called Vaudeville Revival in New York, the then fifty-year-old Elsie starred and turned her cartwheels just as she did at age five in the Short North.
The First Jai Lai
The Jai Lai Restaurant first opened its doors as a small café at 591 N. High St., on the corner of Poplar, just a few days before Prohibition ended in 1933. At the beginning it was a saloon set up to sell whiskey and beer, legally, by the glass in front of its atmospheric bar brought northward from an old southside saloon. But Ohio had a law in the 1930s forbidding the word saloon. The hot food requirement for a tavern or a café, in the Jai Lai’s case, was a silvery coffee urn and two mugs.
It had a modest ground-floor room in an 1870 building of four stories. The High Street entrance had a recessed doorway. “Genuine Turtle Soup” was a sign that stood in the window, but it was just a come-on. Everyone was so excited by the repeal of Prohibition that no one cared about soup.
Opposite the bar with its stools were a few tables and chairs. A strip of new linoleum ran down the floor like a highway of refinement.
Jasper E. “Jap” Wottring had pulled off the opening of the café by borrowing $1500. Previously, he had a small saloon at 46 W. Spruce St., his partner in that endeavor was Fritz Wentzel, Flytown’s bare-knuckle fighter. It was called The Old Vienna Café. They fed Flytown workers lunch on plank tables.
In the Jai Lai’s 22 years on N. High, it expanded and became a famous restaurant and banquet spot. Beef stew for lunch and prime rib of beef for dinner became standards. Wottring named it the Jai Lai after the Jai Lai Club of New Orleans.
Along the way, the building had four landlords. One of them was Dr. J.W. Tall, a Goodale Street dentist. He put the wide High Street front on the Jai Lai of sheets of orange and black opaque glass.
“Jap” Wottring provided the Jai Lai with interior stucco Spanish arches to support the rooming house overhead. Decorations ran toward shawls, gourds, black ironwork, and moose heads. Eventually the heads of all horned and antlered animals of North America were displayed, including some bagged by Jai Lai staff men. The biggest moose kept his glassy eyes on the back door. (We ate there once a week and my father always told me the moose, hanging on the wall above our regular table, was drooling into my dessert.)
Also there were flashy aquariums on walls and in walls. Always the water in the aquariums was crystal clear. The tropical fish were dazzling. Birds of brightest plumage were mounted in glass cases.
No televisions blared in those days, but there was a sports theme. Hired as a host was “Chappie” Geygan; he grew up in Sacred Heart parish and had played baseball in the major leagues. Charley Dunlap, a waiter, had been a boxer. The city’s arena for wrestling and boxing, Haft’s Acre, was directly to the west of the Jai Lai.
Lord Landsdowne, who had a monocle and wore an Inverness cape into the wrestling ring, favored a circular booth at the Jai Lai for his coterie. Visiting actors, politicians, and sports figures all made it into the Jai Lai.
The waiters, in starched white jackets, were distinctive. Johnny Woodruff had worked at Magly’s, a classy seafood house of streetcar times. August Hefner, a waiter from Germany, lectured on international politics. I can remember him using plates and silverware and tablecloth to illustrate a point about World War Two.
In one of the Jai Lai parking lots was a carwash; hundreds of diners drove away in clean autos.
I have wonderful memories of the chilled white plate with crisp vegetables to start, the “Cesta” Salad (the “cesta” being the basket used in the game of Jai Lai, a sort of Latin handball), the prime rib of course, and the raspberry sundae served in a small silver goblet.
The Jai Lai moved to its second location on Olentangy River Road in 1955, which was later turned into the Buckeye Hall of Fame Café. During that Buckeye Hall of Fame transition, the Jai Lai’s beautiful wooden bar was moved back to the Short North, to Little Brothers.
But to return to the heyday of the first Jai Lai: Tom Scully was an inspector for the Columbus police, and he used to say, “If I want a detective in the afternoon all I gotta do is dial that phone at the back of the Jai Lai bar.” Who needed cell phones back then when everyone went to the Jai Lai?
Christine Hayes and Arnett Howard have been keeping a running blog of Columbus history with anecdotes and points of interest since January 1, 2011, for the Columbus Bicentennial. See their work at columbusbicentennial.blogspot.com
A Lazarus Family
© Jennifer Hambrick
I was recently honored by David Meyers to write a foreward to the book on the F&R Lazarus and Company. It has recently come out from the History Press. David and his family, wife Beverly Meyers and daughter Elise Meyers Walker, have collaborated on the history of the department store that was at the heart of Columbus. I have found that there are two categories of people in Columbus, those who felt Lazarus was the center of their life, and those who did not (they arrived later in the game.) This book provides the experience they missed, and for the rest of us, it gives us the background on what made the store so enjoyable and what made it go away. The book is available for purchase at the Acorn Bookshop and the Columbus Historical Society, among other places.
Our family was a Lazarus family. My dad did the selling, and my mom did the buying.
My father was Ben Hayes, who, in addition to being a popular columnist for the Columbus Citizen, later the Citizen-Journal, sometimes wrote advertising copy for Lazarus and other businesses around town.
As a result we were chosen to be the “poster family” for Lazarus’s Father’s Day advertising campaign in June of 1953. The unabashedly silly photos were used to sell everything for Father from “asbestos gloves” for the barbecue to the plastic revolving poker “Chip-O-Matic.”
My mother, though depicted as a painter in the ads, was an accomplished seamstress. She and I spent much of our time in the fabric departments of Lazarus downtown. Both the bargain basement and the rarified atmosphere of the larger fifth floor fabrics were my playground and second home.
I did like the toy department, especially dolls. You can bet my mother made some fancy doll clothes. I still have the dolls and clothes.
Once there was a TV special about two children, a boy and a girl, who were accidentally locked in Lazarus downtown overnight. They played with the toys, yes, but they jumped on the beds! I always wanted to jump on those beds!
I did try on the ladies’ hats and sat in the easy chairs. The jewelry counter by the air curtain front door took up a lot of my time. And I loved to go the Chintz Room and eat the nut bread. My mother got us all “dolled up” to go shopping, so we always had lunch downtown.
When I was in the Chintz Room with my father, (he took his daughter to work before it was even fashionable), we never got to eat lunch uninterrupted. People chatted with my dad constantly, giving him items for his column. At that time my father may have been the most recognizable person in Columbus, along with his first cousin, Woody Hayes.
We had very long lunches. I ate slice after slice of nut bread. In addition to the human interest stories and gossip, my dad wrote about Columbus history. He never forgot a name or date. He was the amazing Columbus history raconteur. Sam Perdue, the former city editor of the Citizen-Journal once said of him, “He had a fantastic and endless knowledge of Columbus.”
I am so glad David asked me to write this introduction. My dad would have loved this book. In fact, he would have written this book. He lamented and wrote about the loss of so many Columbus landmarks, including the people who made them. No one could have foreseen the loss of such an institution as the F&R Lazarus Company, although, like its biblical namesake, the building rises again in a new configuration.
I still have the Lazarus Centennial Commemorative plate with six white carnations circling the three block buildings, the annex, and the parking garage in the center, and all the former incarnations around the edge. (pun intended)
My mother always went to the foot of the escalator to shake “Mr. Lazarus’s” hand. One of the brothers was often there to meet and greet.
A plate and the echo of a handshake. Doll clothes fabric. Old photos and ad copy. A nut bread recipe. And now this book in your hands. Lazarus, we loved you.
The Hayes Family Reunion 2011
The Hayes Twelve
The goldenrod and the purple asters at the roadsides peeked through the mist as my cousin Ginny Hayes expertly drove us from Worthington to the shelterhouse (with electricity!) at Wolf Run in Noble County, Ohio, site of the Hayes Family reunion. Ginny got the coffee and decaf going as I arranged my tunafish sandwiches for the potluck. Louise and John had driven from Charleston, West Virginia, and were waiting for us. In varied vehicles the Hayes family came in, seventy strong, from many states and locales. Crock pots, trays groaning with pies and casseroles, baskets laden with surprises emanated from the vehicles as each group arrived. We covered the four long and two short picnic tables with pristine white plastic sheets. Ginny brought a card table and on it was the photo of the twelve offspring of Ike and Mariah Hayes. For most of us a grandparent was represented among the twelve. Others were married to a Hayes descendant.
Ike and Mariah Hayes lived in Middleburg, also in Noble County, not far from our picnic site. The “Hayes Nine” were the nine boys of the ready-made baseball team, the three girls of the photo sported large bows in their hair. None of the original twelve is still living. As my cousin Jeff put it, “We are the old ones now. I go to the cemeteries to figure out who’s who.”
My father claimed he had “cousins by the dozens” back in the 1920s, and the same is true today. There are three Christine Hayeses, two in Columbus and one still in southern Ohio. I am the bookseller/ artist/writer, another is a teacher at Upper Arlington High School, and another is a Highway Patrol officer in Noble County. From our cousin Mabel’s scrapbook we learned that a “Christine Singer Huffman,” perhaps sister-in-law of our great-grandmother, worked at a tobacco tying house in a town called Sheepskin, which may not exist anymore.
All the children, among them Hannah, Ashley, the twins Ryan and Rose, were jolly and playful. Ryan and Rose went barefoot on the damp ground. There had been a mighty thunderstorm that morning between 2 and 4 a.m., but our fall day was sunny, not too warm, not too cold. The spirits of the Hayes family ran high. Some women went off to a far picnic table and hooted and hollered. Children ran between groups, were picked up and coddled.
Many of the Hayes clan had worked in the oil business, or in farming, cattle, tobacco. Mabel still minds the cattle and the hay in Middleburg. Today we have a State Representative in Bill Hayes of Pataskala. His wife Carolyn is writing a children’s book about our other cousin, Woody Hayes. A Woody Hayes one-man play was performed in Columbus this same weekend. Cousin Dale of Alabama had seen it and brought us the playbill. He said there had been a lot of swearing, and that ten-year-old Hannah, also in the audience, was warned not to repeat it. But Dale was glad he’d taken her, as the portrayal of the legendary Hayes was uncannily correct.
Many Hayes out-of-towners had been to the Ohio State football game as well. One only was sporting an OSU sweatshirt “You Win With People,” Woody’s motto, written across it, but others wore the traditional OSU ballcap. We had our own Woody show going. I sat between two cousins who had the Woody overtones, but even better looking, as they had not had the travails of our illustrious cousin.
These two, Bill and Jeff, went over some of the legendary Hayes stories. Biggs Hupp, a Woody maternal uncle, was invoked, as the penultimate bully, he and his brothers beating up both the Hayeses and the Huffmans “on the bridge.” “The blood ran in the creek.” I’m sure these fights have grown larger in the years of telling. “Now they’re buried in the same cemetery!”
A marker for our Civil War veteran, David Hayes, Ike’s father, was recently placed by the veterans in Ogle’s Ridge Cemetery. A cousin Claire had been instrumental in its placement. I sat with Claire’s widow. All cousins agreed David had been killed at Antietam. (Actually in the battle of South Mountain, Maryland, Sept. 14, 1862. His grave is not marked at Antietam.) Christian Huffman, originally from Germany, grandfather of Mariah, came to southern Ohio in 1833. Christian buried five wives and a missing hand before he himself had died. “The dog ran away with the hand.”
I also learned from Wayne Shilling that he had a ’48 Buick parked out by the Whipple straight (the only straight piece of road for miles.) He couldn’t drive it as he had just had heart surgery. Edgar McVay ran the family’s general store in Stafford. “You had to get what the farmers wanted, you couldn’t lose a customer. Everything came in barrels as they could roll them on and off the steamboats easily.”
The stories ran on: Ellis Hayes, another huge man, would flip a kid a silver dollar for shining his boots. Inez referred to herself in the third person” “Inez did all the work. Bessie did no work.” These were two of the big-bowed sisters. Ellis was their big brother, and my great-uncle.
One by one the jolly Hayeses departed. They were not huggers or hand-shakers for the most part. They did keep a twinkle in their eye and good recipes in the cupboard.
Several of us cleaned up – there was not much mess. Ginny and I went over the names and relationships all the way back to Gahanna, where she showed me her 1891 architect-refurbished old schoolhouse office. Two blocks away was my first elementary school. It looked uncannily the same.
Ginny drove me back to Worthington. I was in bed not long after, visions of days gone by dancing in my head.
The Ten Wonders of My World
Christine Hayes caught in the wonders of the web of life.
I’m talking about MY world – my wonders need to be adapted and updated to this century. At this, my August natal anniversary, I pause to reflect and count: not just structures, but tastes, smells, auditory things.
(1) Let’s get the imposing and the possibly calamitous out of the way. I went to a Puerto Vallarta supermercado called, appropriately, Gigante (Giant), and saw my world’s largest pyramid of full bottles of Presidente Tequila. It climbed to the vertiginous ceiling from a base taking up an eighth of the store. I looked closely and could see no wires, glue, or other restraining features on the bottles. I was still living in San Francisco then, and, always being conscious behind my eyeballs of the possibility of earthquake, was flabbergasted. I had just been to a party in a new Italian restaurant in San Francisco, at which I admired a two-story display of decorative Italian olive-oil tins on interior multi-leveled shelves. Each tin was held firmly to its shelf with a plethora of piano wires. But no visible safety precautions on the seemingly millions of tequila bottles. In Mexico there are few rules, except don’t drink the water.
(2) I must make comment on the number of times my son said “Blabber, blabber” while I was talking to him. I would say from about age eight to age thirteen was his prime “blabber” time. After he became a teenager he was much more approachable to my world.
(3) Amount of times in my world that I heard the song “Lola” (originally by the Kinks), played by a band called Little Nemo: thousands. I was living in a basement in South Laguna Beach, California, and their rehearsal space was just on the other side of a thin partition. They knew “Lola” and one other song, but “Lola” it was most of the time. Needless to say, I would rather not listen to “Lola” ever again.
(4) Most dreaded thing in my world: having a tooth extracted at age five. For some reason, my parents told me about this over and over before it happened. Sadistic. I had an escape route planned in my head for the grim morning that this trip to the oral surgeon was to take place. I did not follow my plan: I was trapped like a bug in a rug. I remember the bizarre dream I had in the chair when they gave me the knock-out gas: “You’re doing just fine,” the doctor was saying as he looked down into the pit that had opened up, into which the dentist’s chair had fallen into the floor below. Large brown steel-wool-like creatures were grabbing at me. “That’s just fine,” said the oral surgeon. (Then I didn’t remember anything else.)
(5) My friends had the most inaccessible house in San Francisco, a wonder to my world. They lived on Macondray Lane, which was not a street but a path, albeit a beautiful one. The streets surrounding this neighborhood of Russian Hill are some of the steepest in San Francisco, never yielding a scary sloped parking place. So walking steep grades to get there was the norm. The house was quite small, but they managed to have parties there. (The person sitting at the back of the dinner table had to stay there for the duration of the party.) It was a marvel to see the Chinese cricket house made of bamboo as décor inside their little house.
(6) The world’s most complicated vegetable: the artichoke. I love the taste or I would not mess with them. But they are a piece of work to eat. I used to love to see fields of them growing around Watsonville and Salinas (California). We went to the Artichoke Festival in Watsonville and I ate fried mushrooms, artichokes, and strawberry shortcake in quick succession. Do not ever do this.
(7) My world’s most treasured possession: my transistor radio. About my son’s “blabber” years, eight to thirteen, I was inseparable from my radio. Call it the iPod of its day. I was tuned into the early rock and rhythm and blues of the day. My parents did not interfere. Maybe they were guilty from the tooth-extraction incident.
(8) Most bizarre place in my world in the U.S – I was living on a ranch in Sonoma, and one day decided to walk out into the flat fields. I encountered an old railway station with the name “Wingo” on it, in the middle of nowhere. Later, I saw a Norton Buffalo video with the Wingo station as its set. Was it built for Norton Buffalo or was it real?
(9) Now, two western-style frontier towns in my world – one counting as the most bizarre outside of the U.S. – near Alicante, Spain we stumbled across a Western movie set built for the 1965 film Viva Maria! We stayed there in our hippie vans in 1969. A little man showed us photos of himself with Brigitte Bardot and Jeanne Moreau, the stars of the film. Also there was a Western town in Petaluma, California, known as “Recycletown.” In the middle of hot, dry hills were wooden-framed stores with bins of recycled stuff in them.
(10) The most extraordinary notion in my entire world is that I am alive, that I wake up each morning and there is another day to have adventures in, in which there are surprises for me around every curve, new people to meet, old friends to enjoy, news to gather and share, new art to make; children born, old people passing away, old notions discarded, new things to be learned, books to be read, wonderful meals to be eaten. Viva la vida! (Here’s to life!)
Christine, a sturdy child who ate her asparagus.
The worst part is knowing the asparagus might still be under the blacktop.
They built Eastpointe Shopping Center over the 100-year-old asparagus patch belonging to the farmhouse I grew up in.
This would be in Blacklick, which was way out in the country. This would be the former “Joe’s Corners,” Broad Street and Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road. (An eatery and filling station called “Joe’s” named the corner.)
What if the asparagus is still growing sideways under the blacktop? What if the amazing amount of asparagus survived?
If I ever wanted to blow up anything, which I don’t, it would be that blacktop. I played in the asparagus ferns when they grew big, and it made a feathery forest with red berries for a small child.
But my strength comes, like Popeye with his spinach, from my childhood eating of tons of asparagus (parboiled, never overcooked.)
This thought of the blowing-up of things came from the unfortunate news that the café in which I used to hang out in Marrakech was blown up by a bomb on April 28, 2011. It was the Argana café on the Djemaa el-Fna square, a place everybody went to see and be seen.
The square is famous for its storytellers, snake charmers, lamb shish-ke-bob sellers, and, as I recall, its hash cookies and candy.
Time seemed to stand still for this city and this place. The souks, or casbah, was a winding labyrinth with sun streaming through slats in the ceiling onto narrow lanes of shops and houses. Venders touted their wares and bid the passerby to come in and see.
The houses were ancient wooden doors that opened onto four stories of stucco rooms around a huge courtyard. Cooking was done over fires in the central patio and animals were kept on the roof.
But to think that this ancient square and café were ripped apart by a blast is to think of a tear rent in time. One can only hope that those who lost their lives in this blast did go to another equally exotic and ancient oasis.
Another place I frequented that was fire-bombed (at night thankfully, no one was hurt) was Mystic Arts World in Laguna Beach, California. It was the heartbeat of the community; groceries (organic, of course), clothing, incense, jewelry, artifacts from around the world, all were sold at Mystic Arts World. The décor was heavenly.
My Laguna Beach correspondent reports that many businesses have opened up in the former site over the years, but all have been transient. As I recall, there is little parking at that site. But in the old days no one used a car to get there anyway. We visited daily for our social networking and aromatic breaths of incense. Then we meandered off to the beach.
The rumor was that the “narcs” as they were called in those days, bombed Mystic Arts World. No one was ever brought to justice for it. It is as though the site was blessed and then damned.
No one has solved the mystery of the fire-bombing of Starbucks in Worthington, the fire-bombing made to look like a lightning strike. And Joe’s Corners used to have a lot of car accidents out front.
Which goes to show that accidents and arson can happen just about anywhere people congregate.
I think I will go parboil some asparagus and try to make myself invincible.
You say Acorn, I say OHCORN
Brahmi, Kelly, George, Jack, Christine, and Norman are waiting to greet you at Acorn Bookshop
Acorn Bookshop has been open eighteen or nineteen years now, we’ve forgotten which, and I’ve been there nine or ten of those years. That’s a big chunk of time. We’ve got a big chunk of books. We get more every day.
Fortunately, people come and give us money to take some away, either in person, or, we send them all around the world. Jack in the Back lists them online and they take the bait. Norman Downstairs packages them up. Kelly Online perfects our website and entices more people to buy on EBay.
Brahmi and George and I handle the hordes at the cash register. We wrestle the book carts to the outside, give some books free to the deserving. We’ve also been known to give student and Aldus Society-member discounts. We buy books Tuesday through Saturday. We love to handle books and make fun displays.
My car has the license plate of OHCORN, which stands for Ohio Corn, the theme of the installation I do with magnets on its metal hide. Just by coincidence it sounds a little like Acorn. And the car is always full of books, books I’m taking to someone, books I’m reading, books I’m copying pictures out of, books I’ve published, or books I’m in. (Wild Wheels being one.) A veritable bookmobile. I even have a collection of books with “Corn” in the title.
Let me hasten to add that our little store is in no way associated with any political organization or other store with the name of Acorn. It’s just that the original owner wanted to plant seeds that grew into mighty oaks. And I think we can now say we’re living up to that rooted metaphor.
Also let me hasten to say that George Bauman is the captain of our ever-growing ship, and his energy and foresight, (also his kindness in trying to herd his employees who behave like a herd of kittens), give the store its quirky and inviting flavor.
One of the first things a person notices upon entering are the rules. First and foremost, “NO TAP DANCING” in red and purple neon. We have confiscated tap shoes. But, if the sign is turned off, we’ll allow a little soft-shoe.
Other rules are: do not ask for a computer listing of the books in the store (we do have a computer listing of the online books). If you want to volunteer to make such a store list, gratis, we would appreciate it. Also, we want you to inspect the book you’re buying, because it has been gently used. We don’t expect to see that book again. We may buy it back from you, or we may not. (As I said, we already have a LOT of books.)
The next rule is always everyone’s favorite: “Parents of children who are allowed to run wild in the store are subject to beheading.”
And the last rule is: Store Decorations Not For Sale. We Just Wouldn’t Know The Place Without Them. We have a nosy Alice in Wonderland, with her nose chipped off (I got her for 10 cents at a garage sale.) We have a Noah’s Ark teapot. We have potted plants, numerous cows (George’s middle name is Cowmeadow – really), gargoyles, stuffed animals, toys, and artifacts our friends/customers have brought us from all over the world.
I’m the cartoon-meister. We have lots of cartoons and book-related articles on the walls and shelves. We have every subject of book (“from Art to Zoology” as George puts it). We have lots of paperbacks and lots of high-end tomes. And lots of good reading.
What we don’t have is a cat. Biblio’s revered photo is behind the desk. He resides at George and Linda’s home now. We like to have the doors open when weather permits, to catch that Fifth Avenue passerby, and the traffic just outside our doors is not conducive to cat-wandering. So we have to settle for stuffed cats.
But not stuffed shirts.
Acorn Bookshop is located at 1464 West Fifth Avenue. Call 614-486-1860 or visit www.acornbookshop.com
Uniforms...French Maid (Christine) and Sailor Suit (Lucian Moon)
I’ve worn the red-and-white uniform of an English serving-wench at San Francisco’s Sir Francis Drake Hotel. I’ve walked the covered streets of the Kasbah in Marrakesh, wearing an all-encompassing djellabah, as all the men did, and the women in burnooses. I’ve strolled the perfumed gardens of Esalen in Big Sur, where clothing is optional.
The multi-pocketed khaki uniform of the cablecar gripman or conductor (regulation SF MUNI) was not much to write home about – but an unusual conductor I knew had a jacket thoroughly and humorously covered, back and front, with safety-pinned on “Safety Award” emblems. He became the father of my unusual and talented son. So I fell to the lure of the extreme uniform, or mockery thereof. His father gave my son a little sailor suit which he wore for several years.
The appeal of the fashion uniform beckons to the teenager. To my chagrin it was “grunge” and piercings when my son entered those years. I was amused to see beautiful young girls dressed in huge jeans with 4 inches of boxer short waistline showing around their slender naked middles, and tanktops under plaid flannel shirts. A little wool hat finished the ensemble. The boys wore exactly the same thing, except with T-shirts. A far cry from my high school girls’ “uniform” of a pleated skirt and cardigan sweater. And the boys of my time wore Madras shirts and khaki pants. We did not blur the lines of gender-specific clothing, though girls wore their boyfriends’ letter jackets (not me).
My mother welcomed the colorful “hippie” look for me as a teenager. She willingly sewed wildly floral or psychedelic-print muumuus and caftans. Then she came to see me at a restaurant at which I was working as a server. She was aghast to see me in a “little old lady” dress (as she called it), a sheer chiffon number I belted in, and she’s right, it was something my grandmother would have worn. I continued to favor weird thrift-store fare, wearing the ever-popular-in-the-sixties army jacket over it. I switched to a cub scout jacket when I moved to San Francisco. But the chiffon had to go. It’s cold in San Francisco.
But all the while, being so outrageous, I was just wearing a uniform of the time. The clothes were cheap and plentiful in the thrift stores. And a whole generation of former debutantes must have left us their girlish ballgowns and old-lady house dresses. We went about like remnants of an interrupted society ball of the 1906 earthquake, female and gay male alike.
When it came time for me to sew something for fun, I made blobby Indian-bedspread drawstring pants and skirts and tops. The fabric was pretty and easy to work with, and smelled like incense. But the shapeless forms I made! One wonders what happened to darts and subtlety. My mother called the tops “dishtowel tops” and some I did make out of actual dishtowels and lace table-toppers. These also were worn throughout the hippie world.
For a time I made belly-dancing clothes, another uniform. I channeled all the chiffon into the pants. But I grew weary of sewing coins onto bras.
I gave much of the glitz away when I had my child. I became a member of another societal group, the Earth Mothers. I did wear Birkenstocks and I did wear cotton. I was never drab, though, always choosing my clothes for bright color. I also donned a new kind of uniform: the clown costume. Also rabbit, Santa, fairy, but mostly clown. I moonlighted from my teacher’s job to work children’s birthday parties, and also took care of children at night and on the weekend. I had a suitcase of costumes, props, and then warmup suits that took me around the clock in Marin County.
One of my characters I liked to portray was the French maid. This was not a risqué costume, but a black and white, frilly, knee-covering maid’s uniform of my own making. This was not for children’s parties, but as a greeter and hors d’oeuvre server at fundraisers. I named myself Florence Kroger after an artist who did pictures of small children. I did not use a French accent. I was a French maid via the Midwest, though I wore fishnet stockings.
The fishnet stockings moved on. When I left California, I took them to a young “goth” girl (a friend of my son’s) at her place of work (fishnets in a plain manila envelope). I had overheard a mother in my public art studio say, “Since my Jimmy’s been hanging out with her, he’s been getting weirder and weirder. Yesterday he went to school in a dress.” So I knew the young goth and Jimmy could figure out what to do with the fishnets.
The one uniform I never got was the sky-blue jumper and the white blouse of Columbus School for Girls. Two of my friends attended school there and I was wowed by their uniforms. I was determined to go to school there, but my parents did not agree. Imagine my surprise when I finally walked the hallowed halls of CSG for the first time as an adult, and I saw they had changed the uniform!
But I did get my blue-and-white. I got to wear the ever-lovin’ uniform of Alice in Wonderland herself in a Worthington High School production. I gave that costume away too, to a young woman of Alice-y persuasion. It’s good for costumes to move on and gather more momentum and sweat.
Christine Hayes and Joe, Summer 1949.
One holiday memory that sticks is a gathering of good friends at a table one Christmas day in German Village, a British dinner in the afternoon, all of us gathering in the kitchen and then at the dining room table, where there were English “crackers” at each place setting, small, brightly colored paper tubes.
Pull the cracker apart with a “bang,” (a website assures me they are not dangerous), find the paper crown enclosed in the cylindrical affair and wear it. Also enclosed is a surprise toy and a joke or fortune. Setting the tone for the coming year. Everyone must wear their crown or the fun doesn’t work. So you must offer them, if you are offering them at Christmas dinner, to fun-minded people.
I once dreamed that we flew off the Bay Bridge in San Francisco, looking toward Oakland, and the car landed softly on the water. The auto continued to float near boats, and then we simply drove on top of the water to Heaven, a garage with red walls, large art on the walls, a little water on the floor. This was followed by getting out of the car and joining a British Christmas party complete with crackers, clowns, crown-bedecked jolly folk, and, of course, cats.
The coziness of both parties, both real and dreamed, was comforting. I do want to go to that Heaven, a goal. I suppose it would get old if you went off to your woozy dreamland every post-party night and woke up every day to do it all over again. The movie-style Groundhog Day syndrome.
My father, the columnist Ben Hayes, loved Groundhog Day, the holiday. He drew strange pictures of groundhogs, and wrote poems to them. Perhaps it was because he was not tormented by them in his garden.
I don’t draw cats, but I do admire their devious behavior.
I ran out to the store one night last week to get some forgotten cookie ingredients for cookies already in the making. I was gone but a short time. When I returned, I was startled by a mess of green stuff and plastic bags on the floor.
“Robbers!” I thought, but upon closer inspection I realized it was catmint and catnip that had been in the spice cabinet, the door of which I must have left open. My friends are always growing the stuff and giving it to me. My two orangies, Tailer and Raji, stood by the door and blinked their eyes innocently. Later, they returned to the scene of the crime and rolled and licked in it until I took the whole mess out to the garbage.
These two cats are both rescue cats, one from a shelter, one from a motel room. They are best friends. Very little hissing was heard upon their meeting.
They live in a neighborhood where dog-walking is prevalent. I used to sing, “Walkin’ The Dog” with the embryonic Dantes back in Worthington High School, but that was my only dog-walking experience until I had a dog-walking gig in San Francisco, with the infamous Cervantes the Afghan, who met a cruel end on Clayton Street, I hear.
Let’s hope he went to doggie Heaven, with red walls.
I did write about a dog recently, and they liked it at the Thurber Treat. I was one of four winners, captioning and writing about one of Thurber’s cartoons. Here’s my winning entry, about a bloodhound sniffing a large wooden box. A Thurber Dog Thinks These Things Through – “All is calm. All is cool. I don’t sniff boxes as a rule – could be mold, could be must. Could be hollandaise on rust. Could be lively, could be dead. My nose’s flowses – hoses to my head!
What I really like is socks! Smelly socks that smell like lox. Not locks that on a locker go – lox that go with cream cheese, bro. Gimme lox that’s pink, pink, pink! Gimme socks that stink, stink, stink! I think they’re lurking in this box! Take the locks right off this box! I mean the locks that maybe rust! Not ones that go with bagel’s crust.
Bust the locks and give me socks! Give me socks or give me cheese. Ones that stink up any breeze. One whose scent you cannot lose.
Whatcha’ choose when you choose your socks and shoes? Socks detoxed and shoes renewed. Any dog would say, “Pooh-pooh.” “Woof woof” is for a cockapoo.
All is calm. All is cool. A Thurber dog thinks these things through.”
That’s it! I can go on forever about cats, but dogs make me terse. Birds are something else again.
We came out of Mike Harden’s memorial at rural Liberty Church and an immense flock of starlings dipped and swooped over the cornfield next door as we attendees on Mike’s life and death blinked in the sunlight. The birds put on quite a show as the shining light changed their group color from black to pewter to silver and back again. They played beside the rugged, timeworn graves, flipsiding into eternity.
Mike might have liked it.
October 2010 Issue
Postcards From the Legible
Christine Hayes selling homemade postcards at the Noe Valley Street Fair in San Francisco in the late '70s. © Ed Buryn
I went through my postcard collection, and sold some. It was amazing to re-read the jottings of my friends – my, we flew on airplanes at the drop of a card! Postcards were the e-mail of those days.
We were young and mobile, and airfares were affordable. I was also amazed to see that now people will pay good money for a crazy old postcard – some of them created by my friends, as it was all the rage to make your own postcards (as it was when photography first became available to the non-professional). At the time of my postcards, color copying first became cheap and available.
Turning small rectangles of paper into art, and then years later back into cash – then into food and drink and more art. I like it.
Some of the messages I read on my postcards: “I am staying just downriver here (on the Ganges) where the Beatles met the Maharishi. India is a study in extremes – ten hours on a train from hell and then staying in a palace. It takes endurance. I arrived with a broken arm (fell on the ice) so I fit in with the street disabled.” And also: “The real celebration is not that you were born, but every time you can feel the lamp inside is burning, every time you can feel your heart. Being true to yourself is the celebration.”
**** **** ****
Speaking of airplanes, the road to the Vinton County Air Show is paved through trees and hills, and mists rising from goldenrod-riddled fields. In the afternoon, the sizzling, cornhusky, exhausted ochre of the fields contrasted with the expressionistic expanses in the evening breeze, fluctuating among the hues, brown, pink, and yellow.
The amount of people willing to pay $10 per car to watch airplanes in the hot sun made me think free enterprise is still alive. Many witnessed a flying remote-controlled lawnmower. Three black-with-star Russian “Yaks” performed precision flying. A loop-de-loop display by a cherry-vanilla plane was eye-popping. A ruse of escaped prisoner (flying a plane he doesn’t know how to fly) was also an attention-grabber.
**** **** ****
It also grabbed my attention that stores of THREE friends were closing simultaneously: On Second Thought in Worthington, Areopagitica in Clintonville, Byzantium in the Short North.
For On Second Thought’s closing, owner Jen “Pen” Richards wrote a last will and testament. She bequeathed something to favorite friends and customers. Those of us (four) who showed up for the reading on a Sunday afternoon also got tangible items.
I got a small rocker to rock in, since I wrote a column about a chair a few months ago. Also, I’ve been known to rock a little to music.
When I downloaded the complete will, it printed out to nine pages! (Jen did not read the whole thing to the small gathering of us.) She did make a “mystery” phone call to one of the tangible recipients, and he was there in minutes to collect a coveted mug.
Some of the other bequeathings: “Front doorstep ding dong ditch fun,” “Golden curtain dressing room moments for people who need people,” “Robe-like relaxation,” and “Vicarious travels on a couch.” (Sounds like my postcard trip into the past.)
Areopagitica was filled with people shopping for books at 10:30 pm at 75 percent off. Many of their books showed up at Acorn Bookshop where I work. Doug and Rebecca Rutledge are closing the store but continuing their online presence.
I questioned Jeff, husband of Joyce Griffiths, owner of Byzantium. Jeff said they were looking forward to all the moving being finished, then they will be spending more time in their second home on Anguilla. Jeff had a gleam in his eye as he looked off toward the future. I presented him with a beading book with Libby Gregory’s handwriting in it.
I sure hope America doesn’t become a land of empty storefronts. I am reminded of Allen Ginsberg’s poem in which he shouts, “America! For Sale!”
We went to the Short North for Gallery Hop in September with the art cars to promote the Hot Times Festival. We found the Short North to be thriving in storefronts and enterprise. May it always be so!
The Detroit and Toledo Weekend: Fantasy Houses
The Dotty Wotty House at the Detroit Heidelberg Project
Photo © Greg Phelps
First, the art cars went to Detroit. We visited the Heidelberg Project, Tyree Guyton’s 24-year massive “junk art” project in the heart of Detroit’s blighted east side. We met Tyree in front of a house with porch decorations made of bottles, flower pots, used appliances, rusted metal, crutches, mannequin torsos, clocks, paintings, statuary, toys – well, you get the picture. The polka-dot house has more of a painterly look – and the dots extend from the house onto the street.
We loitered in front of a house covered with aging, nailed stuffed animals, all turned white with exposure. “The House That Makes Sense” (we didn’t see) was covered with pennies. The ideas, and the propped-up paintings and found-art sculptures in the vacant lots, are endlessly springing from Tyree’s head and helpers.
We were looked over by some locals. Classical music, so right for the quiet street, emanated from the decorated house. A man on a Schwinn Sting-ray, the bike sporting a tiger tail, welcomed us to the neighborhood. In the short time we were there, the ice cream truck came by, two taxis, and a construction vehicle. We saw painted tire sculptures, and little art car sculptures. Trikes, bikes, and shopping carts were up a tree.
Forty square miles of Detroit are vacant – from a quarter to a third of the city – creating a weird landscape. Innovative community-building work, such as the Heidelberg Project (which takes its name from the street), has been going on for years.
Former Detroit mayor Coleman Young was not helping the Project when he ordered the destruction of many of Guyton’s works: artful houses torn down without warning, many artworks of found objects carted away. But now the Heidelberg Project receives money from many sources, including selling product from its website. There will be an event at the Project on August 14, kicking off its 25-year celebration.
We talked at length with Lisa Marie Rodriguez, a native American who has given over her studies at Wayne State University to work a year at the Heidelberg Project, to build three things for the community, and to transform the tearing-down lot into a thing of beauty.
We were most impressed. Nearly finished are her huge art-glass sign on a brick dais, and the brick-and-tile sundial in the shape of an artist’s palette on the ground. A human acts as the gnomon and casts the shadows on the tiled hours. We sat with Lisa in the glade that will become a seating area, firepit, and drum circle. It was bucolic with birds chirping and leaves rustling, not at all like being in the inner city.
We had to bid Lisa good-bye, but not before admiring the street sign that read, “Things Will Get Better.” Since then we have learned that Tyree and the Project are the subject of a film “Come Unto Me,” about the creation, destruction, and rebirth of the Project. Many shoes are used in the artwork, symbolizing the Holocaust and the souls of persecuted people everywhere. Taxis are another motif, symbolizing that we are always on a journey. The name of God or Yahweh, and the Cross, are also ubiquitous.
Lisa Marie Rodriguez beside her sign she made for the Heidelberg Project (named after a street in Detroit.)
Photo © Greg Phelps
My art car says “Life Is Short But Wide” so we widened our driving route down the freeway to the Old West End of Toledo, images blazing behind our eyes. We were welcomed by the hospitality of our Tiki art car friends, Angela and Melanie, fresh egg dishes provided by the backyard chickens, and veggies from the garden. We had a refreshing wade in the woman-made lagoon. Friends and family flowed freely from the main house to the coach house studio. New baby Adelle was adorable – very used to large crowds and the rabble of pets.
The next morning it didn’t rain on our King Wamba Parade in conjunction with the Old West End Festival. Five art cars elbowed their way through bands and politicians riding in unadorned cars (except for boring signs.) The Old West End is all about architecture; it’s a most enjoyable parade for ogling mansions with turrets, garrets, balconies, and porches. Melanie was the honorary King Wamba, Angela was the Duchess, and Adelle was the Princess. We were honored by our hosts’ high standing in the community.
After the parade, we liked to sit on our friends’ porch and watch the human parade go by. It was time to shop at the garage sales! Oops, it started to rain, which was good as the allotted money was already spent. But boy do I like my cartoony mushroom tray, carnival glass, ceramic bowl, brick house 3 Little Pig plate, books, red slip, and poster for a Western Air Express plane flying over San Francisco Bay in the 1930’s on a golden afternoon.
Before leaving town we went to a downtown Toledo gallery and saw Melanie’s small-scale, burnt-wood, European and Hobbitty city block with vehicles on the street, amazing miniature books in the bookstore, little jars in the apothecary, and so on, but most props made from found and natural things. You could look into fantasy windows and displays (Melanie and Angela’s house and studio also feature these small buildings and environments.) We were also impressed with the gallery, called Space 237, and its gift shop with wonderful things to buy, and a decorating project going on in its alley outside. Talk about reclaiming blight for beauty! Our weekend was full of it. Melanie’s microcosm of the Heidelberg Project, the swirling of the parade like a peacock strutting through the neighborhood.
We bid Toledo good-bye and we’ll see our friends at the other art car rendezvous.
Lucian and the Lullabies
Lucian and the Lullabies
Yesterday was the 35th anniversary of the conception of my son Lucian, also the 104th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. He was conceived in my art studio in the North Beach section of San Francisco, on the corner of Powell and Francisco. I was going to name him Francisco, but I didn’t want him to go around with nicknames like “Frankie” or “Frisco.”
I had a list of names that I was going to choose from, which ran the gamut from “Domingo” to “Vanilla.” It was 1975, you realize. I spent a month deliberating and then decided on “Lucian” which was not even on my list. It means “enlightenment,” and I think he was, and is, a bright bulb in the circus canopy of existence.
Which gets me to my next topic, books, the light of our meager Midwest lives. I read Lucian lots of books, his most favorite were the Tintin series. But my favorite childhood book has been lost in the mists of time. It involved a circus horse named “Susagep,” which is Pegasus backward. Susagep was a red-and-white striped horse so she blended in with the circus tent and became invisible. She could overhear plots and foil them. I have a quest to find this book, but I almost don’t want to find it. That would spoil the quest.
I also sang Lucian a lot of songs. When he could finally talk, his first words (almost) were, “Stop singing.” So there went the lullabies. He was not a lullaby kind of guy. I remember when I got him a playpen, and I thought I was going to be able to get some writing done. He would stay in there long enough to throw all the toys out of the playpen, and then howl. And he had a great throwing arm as a baby, too. He probably could have been a pitcher.
He turned out to be a really good artist, and a professional skateboarder. He has combined those talents to be an art director for a skateboard and clothing company, Satori Movement. In spite of the company trying to put a softer face to the skateboarding genre (if you haven’t experienced the roughness, pick up a skateboard magazine – say, Thrasher – and read a couple of pages), Satori has more of reggae bent than a lullaby lilt.
In fact, Satori has issued several reggae CD’s including one I own called “Ras Attitude: Highgrade Blend Volume II” which is the perfect thing to play late at night when you are in a feisty mood.
Speaking of feisty moods, Lucian was in one his whole life until he became a teenager. Then he became a pussycat. He told me would have been really, really bad if he didn’t “thrash” his way through life skateboarding. I used to take Lucian and his friend Jesse on forced marches in the Marin County mountains. They would get long sticks and hit all the plants along the path for miles. The plants were all dead anyway, as it doesn’t rain in Marin from April to November (well, it didn’t used to until the weather got strange.)
Cut to when Lucian became an adult, and helped raise a child. He gave advice to his friends that they should take their children hiking in the mountains, it was the best thing for them. I noticed he didn’t tell them to sing lullabies.
Lucian drew comic books, with the most amazing perspectives and plot twists. He did not pursue this, but I copied them and tried to sell them. Later he worked for Last Gasp comics at the Maritime Hall rock concerts, selling product, and then designed some of the posters for the rock concerts.
When he left Sir Francis Drake High School and went on to the San Francisco Academy of Art, they had him designing posters and CD covers. He was already doing that in real life. So he quit and he has not stopped designing. He also films skateboarding movies. It’s one thing to star in them, but it is another to skateboard alongside while holding a camera (sort of like Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards.)
Lucian’s now living in Eureka. I forgot to tell you his middle name, “Archimedes.” When Archimedes discovered the law of displacement while in the bathtub, he was reported to yell “Eureka!” as the gold-diggers did when they found gold in northern California.
Here’s my parting lullaby:
On top of Eureka, all covered with gold,
There’ll be my sweet Lucian, delight to behold.
With his dog Lupe, loping wild and bold,
Long may his story be forthrightly told.
Aunt Pearl Archer, a Memory
Aunt Pearl Hayes Archer on the left, and Christine’s mother Betty Moseley Hayes on the right (about 1929) as teenagers posing in Dexter City in their new matching coats – they did not know they would be sisters-in-law.
My aunt was a fixture in my life, always. She had a daughter, Cindy, exactly four months younger than me, to the day, and we were clumped together as a little blonde grouping in many early photos. We played dolls a lot. We played on my grandparents’ bench swing on their big front porch a lot. We tested its ability to go high and low. We were testy little girls. My Aunt Pearl had to put up with our mischief.
Cindy and I both had older brothers. We liked to run around and be wild with them. We went to the sawmill across the street in Dexter City where we were not allowed. We went to the swinging bridge on Duck Creek where we were not allowed. We were blissfully unaware of our singular history in the southern Ohio scheme of things.
Our mothers were best friends when they were girls in Dexter City (Noble County, Ohio.) They were born in 1914 and went fishing and swimming in Duck Creek. My mother had an aunt who married well in Cleveland, and my aunt Pearl always remembered my mother’s Auntie Gladys arriving on the train. My father was Pearl’s brother; the Hayes family lived right by the train station. The girls anticipated what Auntie Gladys would be wearing.
My mother, Betty Moseley, was the oldest of six and my aunt, Pearl Hayes, was the third of four. My aunt blended in with the six Moseleys. She spent her most treasured time in Marietta with my mother’s Grandma Mary Tilton. The basement of the Marietta home was filled with kids and laughter, and the fishing was good in the Muskingum River in Marietta.
The Hayes family was voluminous. Pearl’s father (my grandfather) was the second of the twelve children of Ike and Mariah Hayes. The third son of Ike and Mariah was Woody Hayes’s father. Woody and Pearl were first cousins and good friends. She would like it to be known she was always an ardent Ohio State fan.
In 1929, as teenagers posing in Dexter City in their new matching coats, Betty and Pearl did not know they would be sisters-in-law. In 1937 Pearl married Virgil Archer of East Union, Ohio, whom she met walking around the square of the courthouse in Caldwell, Ohio. My mother had a mysterious first husband she did not like to talk about. Both of them had sons.
Before Virgil went to World War II, Pearl and Virgil lived in Columbus. My father graduated from OU in the 1930’s and then moved in with them and worked for the Ohio State Journal. My uncle worked for Byers Auto Sales and Pearl went to beauty school. My mother came to visit Pearl at the beauty parlor. Pearl said, “Why don’t you go visit Ben at the newspaper?”
And then it all worked out and my parents got married. In 1946-7, Betty and Pearl were expecting again. At one point in the dual pregnancies they took Grandma Hayes to the circus. Pearl loved to tell that her mother told Betty and Pearl not to look at the gorilla-suited clown lest their babies be “marked.” The two couples were delighted to both have girls. (We were not born with gorilla fur, but who knows what effect was wrought upon our demeanor.)
Pearl babysat me while my parents were out on the town. My father had moved on to be a feature writer for the Columbus Citizen. Virgil, who had become an executive at Columbus Coated Fabrics in charge of design, was also a bowling champ. My cousin and I played “school” with our dolls using his bowling scorecards.
My aunt Pearl passed on last October. In moving her things out of their assisted care apartment, Virgil said, “Take everything but my bowling trophies.”
I made a Valentine piece for the iHeART show at Junctionview last week, using some of Pearl’s voluminous costume jewelry collection. I made a Pearl heart and a Virgil heart from paper mache, gluing the jewelry on. They had been married 72 years.
Virgil’s still alive and thriving. Of the four of them, he’s the most mellow and appreciative. May the best man win! He’s 95 on March 3.
Pearl was a founding member of the Westerville Art League. She lived long enough to be honored as such by the League on April 20, 2008. Pearl made collages of natural elements – leaves, flowers, tendrils – and made funny cartoon drawings. She also was a member of the Westerville Antique Club. I have the amazing family heirlooms and many of her collectibles. And yes, pack-ratting does run in the family.
Both Betty and Pearl had the knack for mimicry and the gift of good memory. My father, known for his sharp mind, would call Pearl when he couldn’t think of a name. Pearl had the foresight to write names on the backs of photos!
And Pearl could tell a story with the knack of her Hayes uncles. (Virgil hardly got a word in edgewise.) Both my grandfathers and their brothers worked in the oil business of southern Ohio. Each family had their own rigs and crew. Stories of hunting dogs, tobacco farming, and characters who lived in the hills were family legacies.
My cousin Mary Hayes Hoyt, Woody’s niece, was interviewing Pearl about Woody’s childhood (another cousin is writing a children’s book of same). Imagine our surprise when Pearl came up with raunchy stories! Not to be repeated here! I think the cousins by the dozens in the Hayes family were a rough-and-tumble bunch!
In her later years, I took Pearl shopping. She loved to look at clothing and jewelry. She was always complaining about not having enough hose. She rolled her hose up to her knee. In looking at old photos, I realized she had been doing this since the ‘30s.
I went through all the drawers and boxes in the last few months. I collected all the hose. There were exactly 54 pairs. And all the shoes! And the sweaters! Poor Virgil never got to put his clothes in the closet! I started to take it all away, at his behest.
As I was lugging the boxes out, Bernardo, one of the nurses at her assisted care, who had not been told she had passed away, looked at me and asked, “For Peril?” in his lilting accent. “Ah yes,” I replied, “For Peril.”
I have her ashes with my mother’s in the upstairs closet. They have money in fancy purses and good luck tokens and my aunt’s angel collection surrounding them.
I resemble Pearl in her early photos, although I have many traits similar to the Moseley cousins. What a legacy from the fishing girlfriends! I wish I could be a dragonfly listening to their conversations in the 1920s, two girls sitting out on the log over the old fishing hole.
My cousin Cindy passed away before Pearl. I have some of her dolls that we played with. Who will continue the lineage of the wild and funny girls?
Christine's friend Emerson Burkhart in his chair at home, 1968.
© Tom Thomson
As I start thinking about the chair, the children at the school next door start their morning hubbub on the playground. The chair looks out on the woods, but the window is covered in condensation. The squirrels weigh down skinny branches in their chase; they clamber upon the roof above the chair.
The chair is in a cold room, so I must bring in a space heater and make a cup of tea before I observe the chair. Also the chair, which is next to my bed, is laden with reading material.
I remove the reading material: Three books, Black Like You, by John Strausbaugh; Black Bridge, by William Long (inscribed); Cruel Banquet, the Life and Loves of Frida Strindberg, by Monica Strauss. A box of letters written during World War II between my aunt and uncle. One Fall 2009 Ohioana Quarterly. Six copies of the magazine The Dramatist, and eight copies of the magazine Quill (the latter two piles compliments of Doral Chenoweth). Seventeen New Yorkers, compliments of Linda Mizejewski. One Timeline. One huge packet of clippings and ephemera from a friend in San Francisco. A brochure from the Marin Shakespeare Company, and one from the University of California Press. A $1-off coupon for a coffeehouse in Christiansted, St. Croix, two Caribbean magazines. The Official Ohio Lands Book, by George W. Knepper. We won’t go into what’s under the chair.
The chair was bought by my mother around 1958. It has a matching couch, which is downstairs. It was made by Heywood-Wakefield (est. 1826, Gardner, Mass., says a tag), in a ‘50’s “modern” style. It has a slung-back structure of grained dark-honey-colored wood, ample armrests, seven bottom dowels, (here let me take it apart), four back-support dowels, a bottom spring unit covered in burlap, an eight-piece strong frame for cushions, four mighty dowels for the armrests.
The original cushion fabric was olive-green blended cotton, with the seat and back in patterned gold, brown, green, and beige checkerboard, with abstract black floral ‘50s modern drawings in the centers of the squares. My mother sewed a cover for each of the worn and faded cushions, of rough burlap-y olive green and a swarm of flowers in all shades of blue, green, and purple.
I’ll sit in my chair.
The sun is burning off the condensation on the window. The heater is warming up the room. The sky is a fresh blue, inviting one to optimism. The unleafed trees look stolid but unassuming.
The heater is blowing the Mexican straw mobile around. Eleven woven-straw mandalas and two straw birds perform a playful dance for me.
My view from the floral chair includes a myriad of dolls and stuffed animals cavorting on six shelves. Great-Aunt Gladys’s baroque mirror and lamp, purchased in the 1920s for a splendid house in Cleveland, give ambient light to the motley crew.
I sit by the dresser won by my mother from the Ruth Lyons Show in the 1950s. (Free delivery!) I see five works of original art, by myself and others, eight photographs, two prints. Books, books, books. Jewelry.
I dust and smile at the Royal Doulton Balloon Lady, another family heirloom. She holds fifteen sculpted balloons, in shades of green (3), yellow (3), and nine in curious redwood colors. She also has a basket of flowers, and flowers on her hat. She might have known Eliza Doolittle. She’s sitting stoically forever with those balloons. I bet she’d like a chair like mine to sit on.
I have the cellphone near, to wait for Jennifer Hambrick to interview me about Emerson Burkhart. I hear the furnace knocking, the cats lolling about the closed wooden door with the striped woven fabric, the drone of the heater. I hate to get up out of the chair and go to the computer and type this up for you.
But I will. I hope you have as lovely a chair for your February as I do.
Crucian escapades most mellow: A trip to St. Croix
The soothing yet unrelenting tropical sun – we, too, learned to look forward to the rain as a respite from its searing eye. The ever-sighing ocean, languid for now with its shore break, but we hear the fear of hurricanes in the voices of the Crucians. The always amazing clouds, loafing by at ten miles an hour, the normal breeze speed, in singular puffs and crowning piles, lining up in rows headed toward Puerto Rico.
Tropical birds and frogs, chirping night and day. Lush trees, bushes, and flowers framing every view. Lizards scuttling into sight, doing their little lizard push-ups. And then the full moon – its path to heaven reflected on the ocean.
Hermit crabs and ghost crabs emerging from the sand, off on their tricky business. Cactus prickling out from rocky cliffs. Mountains, green with growth, giving our eyes a luxurious outline on which to rest.
Yes, rest. We do not have to hurtle ourselves forward with each passing hour. The waves hurtle for us. Time to watch a frigate bird soar or a magenta-laden sunset ripen, to savor a potato salad laced with breadfruit. The schedule is to watch the shore from the porch over breakfast and a book, or to be up by seven and hit the beach by eight.
The stucco of the walls is palate-knife-swirled like thick, ginger-colored peanut butter. There’s a heady feeling you can almost cut with a knife. Large stone cones rise all over the island, former bases for windmills of the Danish sugar and rum trade. Colonial-style two-story architecture, heavy on arches, slatted shutters, and deep porches, brighten the landscape with their tutti-frutti colors.
About those windmills – they were built 1750-1800. They were used to grind sugar cane into juice (also ox and mule-run mills did this.) The juice was then used to make sugar, syrup, and rum. Bluebeard and Blackbeard lived here and roamed the waters (they liked their rum.) Going back further, Columbus landed here on his second voyage in 1493, when the Carib Indians (and Columbus did think he was in India) did not welcome him. There were murders on both sides.
I walked to the spot where he landed, Salt River Bay, where there are ruins of forts built by the English, Dutch, and French, on top of earlier Igneri, Taino, and Carib native villages. This site is now a dynamic ecosystem of mangrove forest, housing thousands of creatures like sea turtle hatchlings, crustaceans, egrets, iguanas, fish, and “pulsating jellyfish,” as the brochure says. I found partying goings-on by the locals, many shells and pieces of coral, a lobster’s carapace. (I tried to bring some coral and shells back in my suitcase. Not a good idea. They were confiscated.)
Sir Francis Drake passed through in 1580, attacking the Spanish, who got here first. In fact, from 1625-1848, St Croix changed hands many times, slaves were brought and then freed by 1848. The U.S finally bought St. Croix from the Danes in 1917, to prevent Germany from making a submarine base here.
The ocean is known here for its richly endowed dive spots. I could feel, under its uncluttered surface, the seething masses sliding in and out of the rocks and reefs. Dive-tour companies abound, with catchy names such as Sweet Bottom and Big Beard. “The Wall” drops 13,000 feet quite near the Columbus site as St. Croix is made from a pushed-up plate, not a volcano.
I almost made it to the Wall. At Cane Bay you’re told by a sign to enter the reef through a sandy passage. Then you’re free to snorkel to your heart’s content. At the crescent-shaped bay, the butterflies were in prolific yellow and white floppy free fall, like bits of torn teabags whipping around the dusty dive shop and restaurant. We left the butterflies above for the underwater world, so soothing and undulating.
Sea fans shifted with the currents. Tiny sandcastle-like formations came into view over the next “ridge” of coral, to my eye like a miniature Atlantis. Spiky sea urchins clumped in another area. I followed the glow of a blue chromis swimming in the shallows. Little zebra-striped angelfish scuttled around me in unafraid, sun- reflected patterns. My body flowed with the soft currents over the reef. A golden coral formation flashed its color. But then I saw the most amazing multi-purpled elkhorn clump – looking for all the world like a huge piece of jade I used to see in a San Francisco Chinatown window.
I actually forgot about swimming to the Wall when I saw that clump. I followed a path of brain coral looking like huge cantaloupes back toward the beach. One was much bigger than the others – Einstein’s brain? In fact, swimming over the folds of rock and coral is exactly like swimming over a giant brain, with its furrows and ridges and grayish color. That’s why the colorations leap out.
Arnett was waiting on the shore with the butterflies. We had lunch at the Cane Bay Beach Bar. I felt like I was still underwater. We watched a young couple cavorting in the lime-jello waves with their baby boy.
Al Dorsa, Columbus resident who moved to the top of a mountain in St. Croix more than 25 years ago with his wife Pam, became our destination advisor. One night he joined us at Rowdy Joe’s on the North Shore and the Blue Moon in Frederiksted with fellow Crucian Bonita. They introduced us to Adriana and her band (Latin) and Eddie Russell and his band (jazz). Arnett joined each band for a set with his trumpet. Arnett did a great job during the trip driving on the left, (we got lost just a little bit), but it was terrific to have Al negotiating the mountain roads that night.
Other venues we visited: Off the Wall, with waves bouncing off the rocks, for rum, beer, and pizza; Singh’s Trinidadian Take-out, La Reine Chicken Shack, the Pickled Greek, and Fort Christian Beer Pub. Huge tarpon milled in the water of the Christiansted waterfront at the Rum Runners.
Off the Wall and Rowdy Joe’s are on the North Shore Road. This road, full of twists, turns, cliffs, and spectacular views, reminded me of the road to Kailua on Oahu. On St. Croix, houses dotted the way in storybook colors – and each house looks like it has a story to tell. My imagination runs to hurricanes, pirates, Hemingwayesque inhabitants writing novels. While at Off the Wall I did see a black horse and a white horse running down the road.
Now I sit outside on a cool autumn night and listen to the crickets in the woods rather than the lull of the waves. The luminous turquoise of the St. Croix sea shimmers behind my eyes. I imagine the all-encompassing warmth on my skin.
The memory is not yet elusive. Drinking Cruzan rum and Blackbeard Ale can restore the feeling. The crucial memory is the rest, the ability to let all sift down through a rested mind, and, after reading a book a day for five days, the words drift out of my pen as easily a frigate bird soaring on a thermal.
And when I have to fly over that lonesome valley (they say you have to walk, but I’m going to fly, thanks) it will be a valley in St. Croix with cactus and palms, overlooking a sparkling ocean.
Christine in a Western kind of mind.
In the Colosseum of the 2009 Ohio State Fair was a Percheron-drawn wagon competition. With three-horse and then four-horse matched teams of exquisitely groomed and embellished horses, the drivers executed turns in the ring from their perches on the seats of gleaming black, white, or yellow wagons, each suitable for carrying a wedding party to a picnic grove.
The setting sun shone through the western gate of the ring. Before each competitor appeared, the glint of the horses’ silver harnesses was reflected on the white wall opposite. Prisms of light refracted for an instant – then, the bursting forth of the team and wagon – such beauty and grace and speed and silver.
Miss Hayes mounted atop Diamond, 1952 in Blacklick, Ohio.
All this reminded me of my original childhood dream – to be a cowgirl. I was raised on a farm with a horse, so it was not so far-fetched. Here’s the photo to prove it.
I read Roy Rogers books (I actually met him at the Fair when I was 9) and was obsessed by Davey Crockett. I rode horses: Diamond, on the farm, and various horses at Kitsmiller’s Riding Ranch. My friend Carolyn and I played our favorite game: making up horses’ names from A to Z.
However, the word “cowgirl” is also from that era – a bit sexist – now it should be “horsewoman.”
So my life as a budding horsewoman was spurred on, so to speak, by summer trips across the U.S. – I was immersed, suddenly, in the Western States.
I became a desert-style rock collector. I wore a fancy red Western outfit with white trim, made by my mother, of course. I had a cap gun and fancy holster (I still have it). I was wowed by motels with wagon wheels out front. I swam in pools of Western-themed motels.
Cut to many years later. I am no longer riding horses, but driving art cars. In New Mexico with a motley band of art cars and their creators, the motley band forever stopping at gas stations when one or the other is overheating or otherwise breaking down (are there any art horses?), some Native American young people were attracted to us and befriended us.
They invited us to a barbecue (potluck picnic? powwow?) to which they were heading. We asked them where, and they pointed to the most amazing, Bali Hai-like, mesa in the distance.
We art cartists went on to the Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe instead, where we were part of a show. I always wish we could have followed our new friends to their mesa. That would have been, I am surely hoping, the farthest into the West one might be able to go.
More recently, I went into the West with my friend Arnett; we hiked on paths of shining quartz and mica. Signs warned us about bears and mountain lions. The high mountain air was invigorating and then sleep-inducing. We saw no horses or wagon wheels.
The Roy Rogers Museum has been moved from Victorville, California, to Branson, Missouri. I must make a pilgrimage there soon.
I still have a clay horse’s head I made in Brownies. And a drawing I did as a child of me on horseback. My horse-love has been transformed into other channels. But I sure get a thrill watching those high-stepping, proud horses at the Ohio State Fair.
Grandma Rachel and her brood (L to R): Betty, Amy, Dwight, and June.
I was sitting in my grandmother’s old-fashioned but comfortable living room in a Spanish-style stucco bungalow in Inglewood, California in the 1950s. Suddenly the room tilted and it felt like huge boulders were rearranging themselves under the room. The window pane uttered a large complaint but did not break. I explained the occurrence to my mother and grandmother when they entered the room. They had not felt a thing.
They had been having one of their long-winded discussions, rather like a harangue from my grandmother, and my mother’s comments back. I tuned the verbiage out mostly, because it seemed circular, repetitive, and pointless. I did like the one about the earthquake, where my grandmother demonstrated how my Uncle Dwight stood in the doorway and his head went from side to side and hit on either side of the door. And of course that is how they explained the odd feeling in the living room, a little earthquake.
Other than that, Inglewood was a rather stable place in that era. Even as a close suburb of Los Angeles, it felt like a Midwestern town. In my grandmother’s back yard grew sweet alyssum and geraniums. But she was not the kind of grandmother you would expect – she wasn’t sweet at all.
My memory of her is long monologues about her drunken brothers-in-law, Frank and Charlie; how her in-laws came across the Mojave in a Model T when there were no roads across the desert; and how the louts of the family went fishing and did no work. I bet Rachel (for that was my grandmother’s name) did most of the work – she always wore housedresses, silver hair up in a bun, clunky black shoes, an apron, rolled-up hose, and had housemaid’s knee (bursitis).
The house in Inglewood was purchased in the ‘20s by her in-laws, my great-grandparents. She came to live there with five of her children in the 1930s when my grandfather was killed in a mining accident in New Mexico. The family had just arrived from southern Ohio to New Mexico, and no doubt my grandfather was given the worst job in the mine. My mother, the oldest of six, was already married, a mother, divorced, and living in Cleveland.
Now in the 1950s my mother and I would visit for two weeks every summer.
Inglewood was full of retired people with porch swings and big old lawn furniture. I was sent across the street to visit this couple or that, and sit on their lawn furniture and drink lemonade. My grandmother didn’t particularly like children. She definitely wanted no mess, and a child creates messes.
Hollywood Park Racetrack was a few blocks away. Once my father came with us from Ohio and took me there. I wore a tangerine-orange raw silk dress made by my mother. I felt grown-up. We bet on the horses, but did not win, and I admired the swans in the lake in the middle of the racetrack.
Another outing, this time to the Troubador: by some quirk of fate, and my nagging, I assume, I was taken to see the New Christy Minstrels. My mother and my stepbrother and his wife went; and to my chagrin my grandmother went, too. She was wearing an old cloth coat over her housedress (in LA in the summer!) and carrying a big clunky purse. I was mortified. And then we had to leave after the first set because my grandmother had to get to bed. I’m sure my whining did nothing to ingratiate me to her.
Now Inglewood is “the ‘Hood”and I hear it is a dangerous place. But then it was my grandmother’s lace tablecloth on the dining-room table, trellis wallpaper in the breakfast nook, and exquisite tuna-and boiled-egg sandwiches and summer squash.
I still dream about the yellow-rose wallpaper in my grandmother’s room, and her button box (one of the only things I was allowed to play with); the red-rose wallpaper in the room where my mother and I slept on crisp white sheets; and the blue-rose wallpaper in my Uncle Dwight’s old room.
The back yard had that sweet alyssum and a big old fig tree. I thought the tree was magic and played under it to get out of the relentless southern California summer sun. Near the fig tree was a huge old brick barbecue which I never saw being used, and a shed with my Uncle Dwight’s things in it. I sneaked into the shed whenever I could. It was latticed and cool and held strange objects in it like powders of different colors. He had been in World War II and my grandmother was sure he had things in there that would kill me.
There was also a garage full of things of my aunts Amy, June, Virginia, and Janet. My grandmother complained of the things in the garage and the shed. She knew all of it was dirty and dangerous.
My grandmother was always cleaning. To say you could eat off her floors was silly; you could eat off her sidewalks. She complained so much about raking the leaves of the fig tree and the trees out front by the street (“Dirty Trees”) that one day a crew of men came at her request and cut the street trees down and cut the fig tree back to a nub.
Last time I saw my grandmother she was very old and didn’t recognize me. But I remember the sweet alyssum. I bought some this year for my garden. And I think the greatest treat in the world is fresh figs.
I left my heart in Point Reyes
The moon rises over the edge of the continent, as poet Lew Welch said of the area, "This is the Last Place. There is nowhere else we need to go."
You can’t get more far out than this – an enormous peninsula northwest of San Francisco, actually on a different continental plate than the rest of California. Point Reyes National Seashore is 65,000 acres of nature in the raw, thanks to forward-looking politicians and environmentalists who saved it from subdivisions, oil and gold grabbers, sportsmen’s clubs, rumrunners, loggers, casinos, campers and dune buggies, to name a few threats over the years.
Separated from the “mainland” by the San Andreas Fault, which runs from Bolinas Lagoon to the town of Olema and on under the long finger of Tomales Bay, Pt. Reyes was the home of the Coast Miwok people for at least 5000 years. The Miwok, who lived in redwood-bark or tule-thatch houses, hunted bears, deer, hares, and elk with bow and arrow, fished in the bays with woven-rush canoes, and took clams and mussels from the sea. These Miwok met their sad end, for the most part, at nearby San Rafael Mission from smallpox starting in 1817. (But the present-day Miwok, united with Pomo as the thousand-member Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, have a phrase which means, essentially, “We’re still here!”)
Sir Francis Drake arrived earlier, in the summer of 1579, entering one of the Pt. Reyes-Bolinas bays after having missed San Francisco Bay due to heavy fog at the Golden Gate. His was the first English establishment on the North American continent, hastening the Spanish settlement of the coast when they heard of it.
With the Miwok culture essentially wiped out, except for burial grounds and middens (shell discard piles), the land grants Rancho Punta de Los Reyes and Rancho Tomales y Baulenes were established by Mexican governors in what is now West Marin County. Irishman James Berry and Rafael Garcia, respectively, owned these land grants. The two men grazed longhorn cattle. Two lawyers from Vermont, Oscar and James Shafter, wrested the land away through manipulating land disputes in 1870 and leased it to dairy farmers, mostly Portuguese. Lots of butter went by boat to San Francisco, also wood from nearby Mt. Tamalpais to build the city.
But wait! Native American descendants and volunteers have brought back to life (I’ve danced there!) a re-created replica Miwok village called Kule Loklo (or Bear Valley). They dug the dance house (ceremonial loghouse or Roundhouse) out of the dirt authentically with abalone shells and fire-hardened digging sticks. Festivals and reenactments – the annual Big Time in July and seasonal ceremonies in the Roundhouse – happen there often. The Miwoks were not farmers; they lived lightly on this ground and must have communed with the natural beauty around them. Park Ranger and Miwok-Pomo elder, Lanny Pinola, used to talk about respect for the “Weya” or life-force that permeates all living things.
Communing with waterbirds is a primary activity of the visitor to Abbot’s Lagoon. I was whisked there in 1974 by a friend on a motorcycle – it was my first visit to the Pt. Reyes Seashore. It’s a hike – well worth it – from the road to the lagoon. I remember it like a dream. The world dropped away. Nothing but sun, earth, water, birds, the buzz of insects, the soughing of the scrub plants, and the smell of the fresh wind.
Consider that in 1963 President Kennedy was on his way to dedicate the establishment of the new National Seashore; instead he went to Dallas.
Later it was Kehoe Beach I visited – the scene of a Day of the Dead (honoring) ceremony celebrated by about twenty adults and children. We had fabricated an archway that a person could pass through from the beach into the ocean while invoking the spirit of a loved one who had passed away. We had food, costumes, a fire. We were so engrossed in our firelit rituals that no one actually noticed how dark it was getting. Later, we all turned to face the cliffs and the path that separated us from the cars on the road. My then-young son exclaimed, “We’ll never be able to get out of here!” It did seem wild and isolated.
It was that night that I came to appreciate three things: flashlights, cars with heaters, and hot showers.
A herd of tule elk.
We went as a mass, children between adults, up the rocky cliffside path. The air was thick as black velvet. To our right was a marsh. As we passed, hundreds of birds in the reeds burbled and murmured. It was a comforting sound in the murky dark as we made our slow passage to the cars.
Another time I was above Chimney Rock on a hot sunny Sunday afternoon. A friend left for a while and went on a hike; I stayed to read. Below me grey whales surfaced and played and breathed and blew for at least an hour. I was close enough to read the barnacles on their tough hides. The word for me was “Eternity” and it seemed like one on that wildflower-strewn aerie above the rocky Pacific.
Walking trails lead from the Olema Valley across the pine-covered Inverness Ridge, through lush meadows and eucalyptus and oak-studded peaks to lonely scrub along the sea, often fog-covered. An eleven-mile beach stretches from the Pt. Reyes lighthouse (as many steps down to it as a 30-story building!) to wind-whipped McClure’s Beach at the end. Lunny’s Oyster Farm (barbecued oysters in the shell – yum!) with its sparkling-white crushed-shell driveway is on the shores of Drake’s Estero. The dairy farms (leased from the National Park system) are the only structures other than park-related ones. The park-run hostel is one of my favorite places.
We planted a small pine at the hostel in memory of a friend of my son’s who died. My son’s field-tripping hippie school stayed out there for a week once a year. Leroy and my son Lucian had reveled in the natural freedom. A while later there was a wildfire that swooped down the Inverness Ridge. I heard the hostel had been saved.
I drove out there to see if the tree survived. I jumped from the car and saw that half of it was burned and the other half was green. It didn’t look like the tree was going to make it. Sadly, I turned away after saying words to Leroy and leaving special objects. A dense fog had descended on the landscape. As I approached my car, I heard a snuffling sound. A herd of delicate tule elk were coming right at me! I had to laugh at the chocolate-furred snouts finding what they could eat in the charred chaparral.
Evidence of the earthquake of 1906 can still be seen on the Earthquake Trail near Olema – two parts of a fence moved six yards apart. The land is still moving at the rate of two inches a year as the Pacific plate grinds laterally against the North American plate moving gradually toward Alaska. Mt. Wittenberg (1403 feet) is the highest part of the peninsula. It looks like a sleeping elephant. (While the larger nearby Mt. Tamalpais is called the Sleeping Lady.) The names of the beaches reflect the area’s history: Drake’s Beach, Limantour, Abbot’s Lagoon, Kehoe, McClure’s, all for the early explorer or settlers.
Another ritual: two women and I went to the near-tip of the peninsula on a wild evening. We saw a friend of ours on the way, in the long San Geronimo Valley, who earlier had a run-in with a redwood tree located at a turn in the winding road. He was unhurt and knew help was on the way, so we left him and continued on our pilgrimage to McClure’s, which seems like the loneliest and most beautiful beach in the world. We rattled our gourd rattles and sang, talked, cajoled, and felt kindred to the Miwoks and the raging surf. Much later we felt and lit our way to our car and on the way back rattled and sang to the injured tree and the injured pride of our friend. I hope those women remember that remarkable night as I do.
I used to drive to the beach closest to Limantour when I wanted to process myself away from the vicissitudes of teaching in close-packed-with-people bayside Marin. I drove quickly in the afternoon in order to beat the fog. More people hang out in Limantour and Drake’s than the other beaches due to more park-like amenities. But give me those far-flung beaches any day (or night).
I’m there in my mind even though I moved back to my Ohio home. Witness: I pulled a huge framed print out of a Worthington dumpster; I had noticed its tip sticking up earlier in the day. I went back at night and carefully worked it out. It didn’t have a scratch on it. It turned out to be a landscape from the Pt. Reyes Seashore, down to the pink iceplant and faultline “sag pond” in the foreground. My heart stays in the seashore and the sand and the scrub, oh yes. It hangs on my wall – and reminds me of these stories I tell you.
Author’s note: Many thanks to my friend John Littleton for historical editorial comment and these marvelous photographs. He and his wife Maria Rosa Kaufman still live in this magical place.
Macaroni and Cheese, for Starters
Christine Hayes (costumed) contemplates the impact of comfort foods on her bones. Photo/ George Bauman
Macaroni and cheese – just the thought of it can warm a winter’s day. And maybe some salsa with it – more heat.
Winter just screams out for hot comfort foods. The Screamer in Edvard Munch’s The Scream would calm down if a warm cheesy plate of macaroni was placed in front of him. (My orange cat is lying on my notes – how comforting!) From stand-over-the-sink tacos to baked-in-the-oven-with lovin’ cookies, hot spicy things just taste so much better if it’s cold outside.
I’ve been making baked oysters (cracker crumbs, butter, cream, lemon pepper, oysters) and egg fu yung (small strips of veggies cooked with egg heavily laden with soy sauce).
I’ve been craving eggplant anything – ratatouille, parmesan, or just chopped up in soups and stir-fries.
Cheese moons made from a scone recipe with tangy sharp cheese grated into it – of course serve with piping hot soup (too busy to make soup – try take-out from Benevolence).
My favorite food writer, MFK Fisher, always recommends “loads of hot buttered toast made with good bread” to augment a meal. May I suggest the French Loaf’s (in Grandview) sun-dried tomato bread or cranberry-walnut bread. (I had to stop writing this to go make some.)
I work at Acorn Bookshop – we don’t have a café because the French Loaf is already in our little corner-of-a-shopping-center – with an emerging Walgreen’s breathing down our necks.
We figure when Walgreen’s goes out of business, we can tear it down and build a new Kahiki. Legend has it that Kahiki parts are to be found all over town. We can suck them back together again into the new Grandview Avenue location. Fantasy? We can dream, can’t we?
Those flaming grog drinks from the Kahiki’s garish menu are just the ticket for driving away those winter blahs and financial woes. Once the waiter spilled one of those drinks all over the table – and the table erupted into blue flames that didn’t burn anything. And we were in the blue-tinged Kahiki “Aquarium Room” on a winter’s day – the coziness and fun of that afternoon lingers on.
And Irish coffees – I spent many a happy moment at the Buena Vista in San Francisco, looking out over Aquatic Park and the Hyde Line cablecar terminus while drinking an Irish coffee to fend off the fog and the winds coming off the bay.
On a more wholesome and mundane note, nothing is quite like a warm custard as a winter comforter (milk, honey or maple syrup, eggs, salt, vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon).
Here’s a story by my father, Ben Hayes, about a custard memory:
“The winter of 1918-1919 was severe. The ground at Middleburg (Ohio) was covered with snow from Christmas to Easter. And a tricky rain put a crust on the snow so heavy that it would support a horse. Temperatures were cold – zero and below. Then, in early spring, the flu epidemic struck.
My parents and my sisters (two) were down on their backs, dreadfully sick. If you had that flu – I learned later – you couldn’t lift your head from the pillow.
I did not get the flu immediately. I was a poor nurse, a seven-year-old boy to care for four stricken ones. We were isolated. We were shunned. Others were afraid they would catch it. They were smart.
Up in our barn was our milk cow, Pet. She was dry all ways. From the well I carried buckets of water. She always wanted more water, even if the days were cold, and they were.
It was lonesome work. I would not see a person as I slopped up the dirt path with the water bucket. Feeding the cow was among other chores. But the days were empty and endless for me.
I played in the daytime in the long-empty room above the dining room with a set of circus animals. They were bright paper glued to wooden cutouts. I would arrange them on two wooden chairs, in parades, in front of the fireless fireplace.
I got hungry. The flu victims wanted no food. I did, but I, as a cook, was poor shakes. Biggest recollection I have of the siege is a pan of custard, fresh from Aunt Annie’s oven, left on our outside steps.
I carried the warm custard to the place I’d left the circus animals, and ate all of it.
When the four others had regained their feet, I took flu. I was down two weeks as I recall. All of us emerged pale and thin. After having the flu you were glad to be alive.”
From Hayes Family Stories by Ben Hayes
My Personal Johnny Appleseed
Christine Hayes of the 1950s eyes some apples from an Appleseed-planted tree!
In the early 1950s I was photographed for an article in the Columbus Citizen wearing a print corduroy jumper (sewed by my mother) holding three gnarled little apples. My parents and I had picked those same apples the week before from a gnarled little tree in southeastern Ohio. We had spent some time looking for this particular apple tree, and I remember becoming impatient with the search. I had a hard time (at the time) connecting our search with its importance, which was that someone named Johnny Appleseed had planted that tree.
I am related to Johnny Appleseed on my mother’s side, to Woody Hayes on my father’s side. Apples and buckeyes just naturally piled up on the Hayes-Moseley tables. My mother’s side of the family (Moseley) was noted for its outspoken women, dating back to Aunt Polly Mugrage, my mother’s great-great grandmother. Aunt Polly was the daughter of Parley Chapman, who came up Duck Creek (Noble County, Ohio) with his father Nathaniel on a flatboat in 1805. They took a tract of land just south of Dexter City and lived there. Jonathan Chapman (Johnny Appleseed), Parley’s brother, joined them later.
At that time there was a Disney Johnny Appleseed, with some kind of buckskin guiding angel, who sang songs out of 78 rpm records – I still have them somewhere. The lyrics I still recall: “The Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord, for givin’ me, the things I need, the sun and rain and the apple seed, the Lord is good to me.” And the lyrics go on about the uses of the apple: “You can peel ‘em, you can bake ‘em, apple pie and apple cake-um, and don’t forget the apple-sass.” I am sure I drove my parents crazy singing those songs.
So you can see how hard it was for me to reconcile that scrubbed-clean Disney version of Johnny Appleseed with these gnarled apples. My father always reported, in addition, that Johnny had been kicked in the head by a horse as a boy and was never “quite right” after that, and that’s why the Native Americans left him alone to sow his apple trees in peace. None of that was in the Disney rendition of Johnny’s life. (I always suspected my father of telling tales. My great-uncles and grandfather, the nine Hayes brothers, were famous for their storytelling, and my father learned at their knees.)
But let’s get back to Aunt Polly and my father’s tales of her. Her father and “Johnny” were born in Leominster, Massachusetts. They decided to move to the western frontier, which at that time was the fertile land of Ohio. So they poled their way on a flatboat (I imagine a large raft, but maybe it had more amenities than Huck Finn’s) and landed in Noble County, and were always claimed by the residents of Dexter City, Ohio, as their favorite sons.
Polly Chapman inherited the pioneer spirit. She was six feet tall, an Amazon with a strong mind, completely outspoken, and wore her bodices extremely tight. (I’m following along some notes my father wrote.) She married a short, compact, wide-shouldered Yankee from Maine named Burnham Mugrage. They had 13 children. When young Preacher Johnson once asked her how many children she had, Aunt Polly asserted: “thirteen – and if I’d had half a man, I’d had six more.” She was quoted in Dexter City households as saying: “Do you know what the 11th commandment is? Every dod-burned son-of-a-gun pay attention to his own business.”
Her trips to the store were events. She would send word to Clymer Brothers by a grandchild in the morning. “Grandma is coming to the store this afternoon. She wants no smoking.” Charley Clymer would clear out the loafers, air the store, and cross his fingers.
Among Polly’s sons was Frederick Mugrage. His daughter Mary became Mrs. Quinn Tilton of Marietta, Ohio, and my great-grandmother. I still visit her house in the Rathbone section of Marietta right on the Muskingham River. I stayed and went fishing there as a child with her daughter, my Great-Aunt Gladys Van Rooy. “Auntie” Gladys continued the tradition of the outspoken woman. She bellowed and ordered everyone around, but she could cook, my my! I think she even made apple pies.
Johnny Appleseed is buried in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but his brother Parley and their father Nathaniel are buried on the hill above Aunt Minnie Tilton’s Dexter City Monument on Route 21. This is the site of the former Ogle’s Restaurant. The compound of buildings was still in use as a restaurant and local craft store until a recent flood took away the will of its owners to continue. Duck Creek has a mean streak when it rains too much.
Aunt Minnie (Mrs. Ross Stallings – another outspoken woman on my mother’s side) organized the erection of this Chapman monument and, the story goes, donated her precious rock collection to stick in its cement. As my father said, “She was keen to preserve the region’s history.” The legacy of the region’s history is still regally kept at the former Sheriff’s Office (now transformed into a handsome museum) on the Noble County Courthouse square in Caldwell, Ohio, presided over by the aptly named Joy Flood. She can tell you a thing or two about Johnny Appleseed and his history in Ohio.
So the gathering of old, gnarled apples took me quite by surprise. I can remember feeling some revulsion by having to hold them and pose. If you look closely at the photograph, I am wearing a little silver and turquoise ring bought for me at a trading post in the Southwest by my parents. Miraculously, I didn’t lose it in the ocean as I usually did every summer in southern California. And my fingernails look clean. And my mother was quite outspoken.
A merry dash across Ontario to Montreal - and back to Columbus
Caroline Balderston Parry and Christine Hayes setting out to move Caroline’s kit and caboodle to Montreal.
From the Unitarian Church in Clintonville to the Unitarian Church in Montreal, Caroline Balderston Parry, Director of Religious Education, was moving her kit and caboodle. I volunteered to help. One large white van and 1857.3 miles later (sometimes measured in kilometers), the trip was done.
The merry band of helpers loaded the van down by the banks of the Olentangy. The herons were amazed to see such a large thing in their vicinity. Caroline described the packing as a “Chinese puzzle.” Things were going swimmingly (that’s figurative – no water was involved at that point, thank you) until she got to packing up her home desk. David and Laurie and I then shared a bottle of wine as Caroline mulled things over. We discussed the nature of Virgos.
Finally, we were off! Laurie took our picture as we lumbered the van over the side lawn of Olentangy Village. After errands up High Street, I was taken aback when I realized it was 6 p.m. already. We quickly altered our plans to make it to Buffalo and headed for Chardon, Ohio – the home of Amy and Justin of Tupperware Party fame. Justin kept us laughing with tales of his childhood years in the Clintonville Unitarian Church – where he had his first acting role as a character called the Glop. As we laid our weary heads down on the pillows, a huge thunderstorm hit and rumbled for what seemed like hours. This was a foretaste of our trip’s weather, and our trip’s mantra, which was, “Let’s try to get there before the storm hits.”
The second day featured a side-trip to East Aurora, New York, to the Roycrofters Campus, featuring the Arts and Crafts Movement. Rather than get out of the van in a downpour, we had a gourmet lunch in the van. When the rain abated, we explored the hotel and shops. Mists from the rain gave atmosphere to the beauty of the surroundings. We wandered into the Lusitania dining room and thereby discovered that Elbert Hubbard (founder of the Roycrofters) and his wife went down with the Lusitania. From there we went to St. Catharines, Ontario, to have tea with Rosemarie and Don. They gave us luscious Ontario peaches and showed us a weird orange finger-like fungus growing in their yard.
We entered Toronto with a flourish by finding a perfect parking space near the home of Monica and Jeffrey. Another merry pack of people were there for a dinner party, including Evalyn, Caroline’s daughter. Pasta and salad and wine in dragonfly glasses provided ample fare. We proceeded to the high-rise apartment of Rosemary and Peter who were so kind to give us shelter from the storm, as it were, in the High Park section of Toronto. In the morning we went to Grenadier Park and saw a heron and the former site of annual May Day Morris dancing.
On that third day of the trip we explored Toronto, starting with Pan Fantastic, a steel drum band, wearing island-patterned shirts and performing on the broad sidewalks near a major intersection. I admired a dred-locked woman who played six large drums and then jumped out to get people to dance. We danced. We went to museums called Gardiner and ROM, a restaurant called WISH, the Roberts Gallery with all-Canadian paintings luminous and looming, second-hand bookstores (of course), the Osbourne Collection of Children’s Books at the College Street Library with fabulous gryphons guarding the circular doorway, the Kensington Market where we bought fish in a Caribbean shop. And did I mention it was raining for a time?
That night I cooked fish and tofu and Rosemary made salad and grains for another lovely dinner party which included our hosts and Caroline and me and Camilla and Chester Gryski. I had Camilla sign her book, Super String Games, which I had purchased earlier in the day. This dinner featured artisan cheeses and fruit for dessert. And also fresh-picked herbs from our hosts’ garden which was nestled in among the apartment walls jutting into the trees.
Next day we saw three herons in the park. (Caroline is writing a book about herons.) We went swimming with Evalyn in the High Park Pool. (No rain!) The water was sparkling but cold as a mountain stream. We chose a restaurant for lunch, Mackenzie, as that is Evalyn’s middle name. She is a singer and musician, and after a Greek dinner with Sandy and Phil at Zorba’s (Sandy and Caroline and I had a try-on and giveaway of Sandy’s fabulous clothes before that – trying not to feel guilty as we already had so much stuff in the van!), we went to a nightclub called Lula and saw Evelyn perform with her band. It was a benefit to promote bike riding, and in a side gallery were many beautiful hand-crafted bicycles. We also saw an African-influenced Toronto band called Mr. Something Something. Wearily we made our way back on the subway to our temporary abode. (I said Toronto was like NYC without the barbed wire and no one corrected me, so maybe it’s true.)
The fifth day on to Ottawa. Of course we tried to get to Camilla and Chester’s cottage at Hay Bay, our midway stop, before the storm hit. (We didn’t succeed, but I have become adept at driving a large van in a deluge.) The rain stopped long enough for me to admire the bay from the dock and listen to a deep-throated frog. We had more artisan cheeses and peaches and plums for lunch. The cottage brimmed with towering Canadian art. Visiting the cottage was a highlight of the trip.
But we were on the road again. We took a northerly route to Ottawa, and the land changed from flat farmland (like Ohio) to rocky outcroppings and fir trees and lakes (like Montana). We drove through a huge and complete rainbow to enter Ottawa. (Therefore, more rain.) We got there just in time to go see Greg in a Looney Tunes tie at the Ottawa Sears store (as recommended by Caroline’s workman Harold Plunkett) and buy a washing machine. For, Caroline owns a house in Ottawa, which she lets out to renters. At the grocery after that I noticed a headline which included the words, “Deep Rancour.” Can you imagine those words in an American headline? We were truly in Canada.
We had three rounds of unpacking at Caroline’s house, which she stays in sometimes, and has storage space. Much of the space is taken up with copies of Caroline’s book, Let’s Celebrate, a history of holidays in Canada (she just bought out all the remainders.) We had a swim in the clean Ottawa River. We went to the Museum of Civilization and saw the interactive histories of Canada, the native people of Canada, Folk Art of Canada, and an exhibit called “Jamestown, Quebec, Santa Fe.” This exhibit has costumed re-enactors from Dramamuse, the museum’s theatre company. Caroline’s husband used to run this company before his untimely death. We admired the fossilized stone of the undulating curves of the museum’s walls. This museum needs days to truly appreciate it – I was running through it all too fast. Can you say “return trip necessary?”
We went to Ellie and Bob’s for dinner and arrived just before the storm hit. The clouds coming across the sky reminded me of dramatic storm clouds over the Southwest. The next morning (day seven) we went for a walk among wildflowers and by “Mud Lake” in the nature preserve near her house. On the way out of town we made a mad dash to the National Gallery of Canada and saw Emily Carr paintings and the Group of Seven. I was knocked out by a huge painting of a crucifix surrounded by a herder and his flock of pigs. The native artwork was astounding, too – some carved caribou horns in the story of all life – wow! Finally – on to Montreal!
I know this may be hard to believe, but it didn’t rain anymore for the rest of the trip. Our personal Montreal weather was a blur of our anthropological study of apartments to rent. (At this writing Caroline has probably found a place to land.) We ate with Damian and Allison at a Thai restaurant and a creperie; we crashed at the house of Caroline’s son, Richard of Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre, where the ground floor of the abode was awash in musical instruments. We had fun trying to figure out the French street signs and parking sign “essays.” To our credit we got only one parking ticket. And we found places to park the van!! My take on Montreal was that it was a cross between San Francisco (hilly) and New Orleans (wrought iron railings and circular stairways.)
A note about circular stairways: in Richard’s house, a large one leads from his back porch up to the rooftop garden and rooftop garden bedroom. I got to sleep there. The circular staircase is not a route to take lightly. But the view and the light are spectacular, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. At night the glowing cross from Mont Real shines into the room. If you wake up and glimpse it, it is like a high note into your consciousness.
We unloaded things from the van in Caroline’s new office at the Unitarian Church. Even before she got there, the room contained: three logs (one mysteriously dotted with map puzzle pieces), a bicycle rack, a plastic lobster, a stuffed orca, fifteen hula hoops, a large metal archway with floral decoration, a bird’s nest, a comfy couch, a large dream catcher, a basket of fabric vegetables, Norman Rockwell’s “The Golden Rule” framed. We had been talking in the van, in one of our thousand conversations between Columbus and Montreal, about Rockwell Kent and Norman Rockwell and Eric Sloane. Ethereal piano music (church pianists practicing) wafted into the kitchen as we ate our famous bagels, St. Viateur of Montreal with chevre and lox, and also drifted downstairs while we had later snacks of hummus and carrots and dried cranberries, sounding almost as a benign Phantom of the Opera.
Some more notes about the Church: I recall six photo portraits running diagonally down the wall to Diane’s photo, the new (and first female) minister of the church. The Worship Center has 200 vibrantly purple seats. A sign says, “There are four basic prayers: Wow! Thanks! Help! Oops!” to which Caroline and I added: “No! and Goddam!” On a bulletin board were photos from the “Mystery Friends Valentine Get-To-Know-Each-Other Party.” All participants of this party were in a room (which I visited) painted with a forest, giant sheaves of wheat, a polar bear, an ocean, an iceberg, mountains, a sailboat, ducks, cattails, a fox and other critters, a column that turns into a tree, and has a rug that looks like grass. The sign says “Please remove shoes and at all times respect the sanctity of the altar.” The altar is in two parts, a small log-encrusted table and an octagonal carved-ceramic ten-candle basin which is the original baptismal font from the prior Unitarian church which burnt down in 1996.
On my last day in Montreal we emptied (!) the van into a room in a house for temporary storage, had sushi with Richard who regaled us with stories of eating fugu, a kind of poisonous fish in Japan and surviving, we got lost once again, and ate green tea ice cream on the rooftop. (We ate his cherry tomatoes for breakfast.) By this time the Montreal map-book (one has to turn pages for each little district) was looking like a Christmas tree with the amount of “post-its” sticking out and bending into origami. I washed my hair in Richard’s vaulted Romanesque bathroom.
Caroline and I had croissants and café au lait in the corner café and exchanged gifts and I was off. In an hour I had just missed an interview with Richard on the radio, seen a field of sunflowers, and crossed into Ontario from the province of Quebec. I heard the Cairo-Toronto Collective on the CBC (music) during the first six hours and the CIUT (radio station of the University of Toronto) got me through the latter five hours of freeway driving from the outskirts of Toronto to Buffalo. The two hours of reggae (the Carribana Festival was just happening in Toronto – another good reason to go back another time) was most delightful. I got directions from my college friend Paige on how to get to her house near Buffalo. The official at the border into the U.S. laughed at her intricate directions – they were so intricate that my fried brain couldn’t deal with them at the end of the eleven-hour drive. (Yes, I know that is longer than most people drive but I had taken a side trip up to the McMichael Canadian Art Gallery – which was closed – and walked around for half an hour.)
Paige was waiting for my arrival with gazpacho, brie, bread, and wine. She had just returned from Grenada, Spain, and had stories to tell. It was like falling into heaven to be in her kitchen. This trip was all about friendship and stories. The next day I even heard “Your Story Hour” on a religious station out of Conneaut. Aunt Carol and Uncle Dan told a dramatization for children of the life of Albert Schweitzer as I was approaching a one-hour construction delay on Route 90. They got me through it, and I just made it to Madison, Ohio, to interview the “Blue Belles,” a walker-wielding drill team in blue costumes and blue-hair wigs, before they went on in the Madison Old-Fashioned Days Parade. (My friend Amy of Chardon was appearing with them.)
What a re-entry back into the States! The vitality of the town amid its year’s highlight of a parade was heady. I was challenged to keep up with the Blue Belles and the smoking Chinese dragon ahead of them (martial arts school entry). The Blue Belles are a creation of Troy Bailey of the Ashtabula Senior Center. He got the idea from the characters in The Producers. I was honored to interview him in their bus. But the Blue Belles themselves – wow! They dance to the tune of “Youngblood.” They deserve another article all to themselves.
But you, dear reader, probably would like to get back to Columbus – and I did. Day eleven: I turned in the van, very proud for not having hit anything along the way, except lots of rain and friendship and high times.
The Bathtub Play
Bruce Bouchard as Marat, Christine Hayes as Ramona, and Oakley Hall III as Archimedes in Christine’s 1974 play, A Piece of Assassination. (The blue fabric has a sign reading, “Water.”)
A flash of an old photograph registering at the back of the mind. The Bathtub Play. People who saw its premiere at the Squaw Valley, California, Writers Conference in August of 1974 never forgot the Bathtub Play. Visually, it was stunning. Lengthwise, it was short. And the bathtub was not an artifice: the two historical characters on either side of me were Jean-Paul Marat ( murdered by Charlotte Corday in a bathtub) and Archimedes (enlightened in a bathtub – remember “Eureka?” It had to do with the physical law of displacement in a tub of water.)
I, in turn, wrote the play in a bathtub – a princessly one in San Francisco on the third floor of a four-story mansion on Divisadero. I lived there in an artistic commune of sorts – paying $116 a month to live amid a rich family’s castoffs (they’d moved on to a contemporary house in Marin). Huge gilt mirrors, a grand piano, a conservatory. (I can never write the word “conservatory” without thinking, “Miss Scarlet with a Monkey Wrench in the Conservatory,” the game of “Clue” burned into my memory along with the bathtub.)
The aforementioned bathtub was in a bathroom that looked out onto the conservatory. The bathroom was lined with velvety red-and-gold wallpaper and featured a huge clawfoot tub. There was an adjoining door to my bedroom. My bedroom was small, but had a quirky window in the closet from which you could read the time and temperature (with binoculars) off a building in downtown San Francisco.
The house had been finished in 1906 (and withstood the earthquake) for Dr. and Leona Burnham, we knew. The spacious entryway was lined with benches, where the doctor’s patients sat in waiting. The doctor’s examining room was on the second floor. We knew this because there was a sink in the closet where he washed his hands between patients. Meanwhile, Leona must have been soaking in the tub across the hall. After his work hours, the couple must have gone to the opera. We felt Leona in the house, but she was always a benign and gracious ghost. She approved of our parties, theatrical events, and bathtub soakings. It was Karl Lagerfeld who said that he designed his clothes for a woman who could soak the afternoon away in the tub and spend hours getting ready to go out. (Perhaps that’s why I’ve never owned a Lagerfeld!)
My childhood bathtub was also clawfoot. This was in the farmhouse in Blacklick. The small bathroom there featured ‘50s style avocado-and-ochre medallions on the Walltex (my uncle Virgil worked for Columbus Coated Fabrics.) This bathroom has burned-in memories fraught with symbolism: my brother would put icicles in my bathwater as a joke. A ladder in the bathroom led up to the attic where my father had his writing studio. Writing was an elevated art, in my childish mind.
The other bathtub I remember well was in Casablanca. My companion and I were hitch-hiking from the ancient desert city of Marrakech to the shining white city of Casablanca. Some French teenagers picked us up and bought us Cokes along the way, from dusty Moroccan desert gas stations. When we reached one of the girls’ parents’ house, the mother took one look at the American hippie girl (me) and put me in her art-deco French bathtub. I stayed in there a long time. I am forever grateful for her exquisite hospitality.
I can remember being at Harbin Hot Springs in northern California. They’ve built a little house around the hottest pool which reverberates when you sing in it. The water’s so hot that you must go back and forth to the milder temperature of the large pool.
And then there are the famous sulfur hot springs at Esalen in Big Sur. It’s the height of bathing – literally, because the springs are located on a cliffside with the ocean breaking on the rocks below.
The most unusual bathing experience of the hot spring variety was at Muir Beach. There are hot baths located inside the rock cliff face, next to the sand, but it gets real crowded in there with bathers. So we took shovels and dug the sand and rocks out at the base of the cliff – and when the water filled the basin we had dug, it was hot! Don’t try this at high tide – only low, and preferably at night with a full moon.
But back to the Bathtub Play – it was called A Piece of Assassination. I was obsessed by Patty Hearst and the SLA at the time. It starred Bruce Bouchard (on the left) as Marat and Oakley Hall III (on the right) as Archimedes. And me in the middle. We costumed the play out of Oakley’s sister’s dress-up box and “borrowed” the bathtub from a construction site in SquawValley.
The play was produced two more times – in San Francisco in 1975 and soon thereafter in New York City by a theatre company which later became Lexington Conservatory Theatre. The play was transformed (for the worse) both times. The San Francisco production had puppets as Marat and Archimedes, and the words got changed for the New York production. I had a small baby at the time of those productions and couldn’t be in either location to demand my artistic rights. Oh well – that initial production – and photo – live on.
Outgoing on Olvera Street
Christine Hayes at the Avila Adobe, August 1956.
I was taught to be quiet and polite as a young girl growing up in Columbus, Ohio. This did not prepare me for the man my Aunt June was to marry, Mark Cowdrey. I had met outgoing, boisterous men before – certainly my father – but not one who would spend all his time exploring the world and having fun. He liked me to come along for the ride in his red MG with the top down, with the black cocker spaniel Skipper airing his ears out in the back. We drove from Mark and June’s house on Avocado Crest in La Habra, California, to downtown Los Angeles. In those days, there were no freeways. Mark always pointed out Tennessee Ernie Ford’s house on the way.
We went to Olvera Street. The street was part of the Californios Culture when LA was a part of Mexico (1821-1848). Eleven Mexican families started El Pueblo de Los Angeles in 1781. They flourished with cattle ranches. Agustin Olvera was the first county judge of LA. By 1848 the Mexicans were overrun by Americans. By 1928 the Mexicans were already in ghettos (called barrios now) and Olvera Street was cut off by a highway and by Italians. But a forward-thinking socialite named Christine Sterling decided to save Olvera Street. She raised money. The street was closed to traffic in 1929. The old Mexican buildings were renovated. By 1930 it was reopened as a tourist site. In 1953 it was named a State Historic Park. And in 1956 Mark and I were venturing there, parking the MG by the Mission Style Union Station (for trains) across the street.
In the overhanging arches of the old hacienda –the 1818 Avila Adobe – we could see a compelling garden. I remember hanging back, but from Mark’s beckoning I followed onto the porch and there we saw a woman sitting. He won her over with his banter, and we talked for some time. Well, they talked and I explored the cactus garden lined by rocks, the shady veranda with old-wood poles and hanging vines. I do remember the woman telling us that this was the oldest existing house in LA, belonging to then-mayor Francisco Avila. The only other thing I remember about her historical conversation was the fact that people cured themselves of a number of ills by going over to the pharmacist’s and getting a leech. That really impressed my 9-year-old mind! She pointed out the pharmacy window and in subsequent visits to Olvera Street I would look at the window and shudder.
I learned from Mark’s example that day the value of forging your way in and becoming inevitable. And the value of listening.
Uncle Mark with his albacore, Ensenada, Mexico, 1956.
On Olvera Street also were the first church, firehouse, and theater in Los Angeles. At the oldest continually serving restaurant, La Golondrina, we ate taquitos (rolled-up tortillas with meat) enchiladas steamed with cheese in cornhusks, outside in the dry LA air. We bought St. Christopher medals and huaraches (sandals). My cousin Jim (who was also with us sometimes) and I liked to dance on the gazebo’s tiled floor and hear the echoes. We might have done the Mexican hat dance. Where did we learn this? From cartoons? Soupy Sales?
For some reason, on early TV in Los Angeles, they played the movie Them! over and over. It starred James Arness and a lot of giant ants who are taking over LA. The ants were breeding in the concrete tunnels that were the “rivers” of the LA area. My cousin and I watched this movie a lot. I think it warped us some. Near Olvera Street in downtown LA was Japantown. My cousin and I made fun of the plastic Japanese food on display at the front of the restaurant we always ate in. Especially the plastic octopus. This stuff was supposed to make you want to order the food, but it seemed to have the opposite effect. In Japantown my aunt bought pedestal flowering plum plates that we ate off of for years.
Later we all went to Ensenada, Mexico, with a trailer and slept in a campground. I got a really bad sunburn and got to fish from the beach. My Uncle Mark went deep-sea fishing and caught some albacore. He canned it himself in peanut oil and I can remember how good it tasted. He glued a photo of my dad on a Mexican columnist’s picture and sent it to my dad. It had Fumar in the title of the column which Mark thought meant “humor” but it means “to smoke.”
I’m going to end this memoir with an anecdote about a restaurant in Bucerias, Mexico, a little north of Puerto Vallarta. We were a merry party with a private driver looking for respite from the ubiquitous souvenir sellers on every beach in Puerto Vallarta. But to no avail. Even the most remote beach had Mark-like persevering vendors. So we decided to go up on a balconied restaurant and eat overlooking the ocean. It was a glorious day. Before we could get a bite of mariscos (seafood), however, the mariachis (musicians) were upon us … and the most amazing thing was, the balcony had a huge crack in the floor that one had to step over, and the whole place was listing toward the sea. But we ate well anyway, my eyes looking down over the edge of the crack and watching sand crabs scuttle in the waves and create their airholes in the sand as they dug in.
Tupperware tops off trip to Chardon
Independent Tupperware Consultant Laura Welling demonstrates her wares.
We were hip-deep in snow and Tupperware in Chardon, Ohio.
Chardon, located near Cleveland, is the “Buckle of the Snow Belt” and the county seat of Geauga County. The Maple Festival occurs here in late March (think pancake breakfasts with lots of local syrup). Amy Bennett and Justin Simons got the jump on festivity by hosting a Leap Year Tupperware Party at 7:29 p.m. on February 29.
Amy and Justin, actors formerly known as “Rose and Bud” at the Central Ohio Home and Garden Show, and “Marge and Bob” at the Columbus Symphony Summertime Concerts, among many other roles, invited co-workers from the mental health field, neighbors, and friends to dress in ‘50s style and enjoy ‘50s cuisine while Independent Tupperware Consultant Laura Welling asked ‘50s trivia questions of her audience and demonstrated the famous “burp” top – and other attributes of the enduring and endearing line of plastic home products.
We warmed up by munching Melba rounds, blue cheese bites, Jell-O shots in three colors, pizza, and crudités while listening to Justin’s eclectic record collection. Among his selections for the evening were Judy Garland, the Incomparable Hildegarde, Do-Si-Do with Tommy Jackson, the Bob Allen Trio at the Christopher Inn – circa 1963 recorded near the circular pool at the circular poolside lounge – and my personal favorite, Taboo Volume 2 (“new exotic sounds of Arthur Lyman” – Kahiki-style music with shrunken heads on the cover). Copious liner notes made for excellent party reading.
Records not only spun on the turntable but adorned the walls. Yellow and orange 45’s (which we surmised played at 78 rpm because we couldn’t quite make them go) emphasized the slant of the stairway – early arrivers Jennifer and Quinn gamely donned brightly patterned aprons and did the honors of arranging. A word about the guests: they tramped in from the frozen tundra in various states of anxiety and then relief, as they had to negotiate finding the place and problematic parking. A plaster head of “David” wearing an apron and sporting an umbrella with PARTY written on it beckoned the wary traveler. A fruit-printed dishtowel was buttoned onto a tree. Tall sticks indicated the side of the road, as snowplowed piles of the white stuff towered everywhere.
Rose, of the poodle skirt and faux cheetah-fur jacket, missed the David and the dishtowel and the flashing porchlight signal as she drove up. She followed a dinner guest right into the place next door. Fortunately, Neil, the occupant, was cued into the Tupperware event. He bounced between his place and the party, wearing the ant-printed apron, winning lots of raffle tickets in the trivia contest, running back to mind his dinner in the oven. Rose found her way into the right house to join other guests Susan, Cindy, and Briana in apron-wearing, munching, and Tupperware lore.
Laura presented her wares in between the wild goings-on, a bit ruffled by the unruly attendees. She looked fabulous in a playing-card-themed apron. (I wore terry-cloth mushrooms.) Amy wore a flowing red apron with her fruit shirt as befits her shared ownership (with Justin) of the Froot Coop, a fruit-themed art car formerly of DooDah and Grandview. Justin wore a beer shirt with “Wick” on the name slot (yes he answered to that for the event).
The modern Tupperware slogan is E3 (“Enlighten, Educate, Empower”). So I’ll do just that: did you know Tupperware adds glamour to a simple snack, sophistication to domesticity, value to women’s work, and raises consumerism to a social event? Tupperware’s on display at the Museum of Modern Art (and was featured in a show at CCAD in the not too distant past.) Depression-era values of “Waste Not, Want Not” came to fruition with Earl Tupper’s invention. The product didn’t sell in his first venue, the hardware store. It took marketing genius Brownie Wise to create the ‘50s furor of home sales, the party setting, conventions, competitions, prizes.
My mother was an early Tupperware saleswoman in the 1950s. I have memories of entering strange (to me) homes and advocating the products myself. I was fond of the popsicle makers and the little tumblers. Unlike Mary Kay, Avon, and Longaberger products, Tupperware does not seem a luxury but a touchstone to purity. No stereotype of the makeup wearing, cigarette-smoking, bridge-playing idlers here – this club means business! The other similar American company, the Fuller Brush company, sold to the individual. But as a group, the Tupperware consumers “circulate beyond the realms of utility, status, and individualized desire.” (A quote from The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America by Alison J. Clark, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999.) Justin quoted The Graduate: “I have one word for you, young man: Plastics.” So our shenanigans were bathed in glory as we ordered our piously useful products.
Nowadays we have the Disney-and-Nickelodeon-licensed Tupperware product. (I ordered the modern popsicle makers with Mickey-head handles and the SpongeBob SquarePants sandwich containers) and the ergonomic devices (I ordered the corkscrew and the simulated Cuisinart with interchangeable paddles and blades.) The widespread use of the microwave oven gave Tupperware a shot in the arm. Laura wowed us with the 8-minute cake made in the microwave in a special Tupperware container: a small pineapple cake mix, a diet Coke with lime, and half a can of icing on the bottom, and then the rest iced on afterward.
Justin, Amy, and I rehashed the party in the knotty-pined Chester Diner (near Chardon) over hash browns and eggs and toast. The Joys of Jell-O and Pyrex Passion cookbooks, won by Amy, will become her prize possessions. We agreed my next trip up would include a visit to the Mayfield Drive-In movie when it opened in May, with snacks brought along in Tupperware, of course. Amy can’t wait to use her new “Forget-Me-Nots,” hanging Tupperware containers for the fridge, expressly for those often-overlooked half-lemons or half-onions. After breakfast, Justin and Amy headed home and I crossed the Chagrin River toward Columbus, my bright yellow Tupperware cheese-cutter door prize glowing from the dashboard.
Hot Times Brings Warm Thoughts
In this season of bare trees and blowing snow, it is fun to think about Hot Times.
The Mendelsonics grace the stage at Hot Times Festival 2007.
Hot Times is a sunny cartoon, a kaleidoscope of colors – a mad dash through a rainbow, a box of geegaws and gimcracks we keep under the art car table, a shower of bright notes falling from horns and drumbeats in rhythm with your heart. Singing and swinging and sashaying around.
In order to describe it, let’s divide and conquer. Columbus’s own Hot Times Festival (always the weekend after Labor Day) has three separate areas. The Main Street Stage with the colorful dance floor is one, the dance floor often filled with dancers, drummers, or children. Included in this section is the friendly (and inexpensive) beer-and-wine bar. Also just outside the tent is a line-up of food vendors, carefully chosen for variety and ethnicity, meaty or vegetarian, sweet and healthy. Café tables and chairs dot the lawn for the use of diners and listeners. Huge trees complete the scene.
The second area is a street fair, its members all chosen for their exotic wares and sense of community with the neighborhood. The neighborhood is the Near East (near Olde Towne East). The location is the shaded lawn and driveway of the Columbus Health Department at Parsons and Main. This historic building was constructed in 1874 as the site of the Ohio State School for the Blind. Jazz notables Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Art Tatum were educated on this site. Although some turrets have been removed, the handsome architecture still towers over the commercial proceedings below. (Ample parking exists on the other side of the building.) The old porch area (“The Porch Swings”) is the site of Saturday afternoon fashion shows, also dance revues, acoustic music, visual arts.
The third area is the lawn itself. From this lawn is a classic view of the city and also the sunset. On this lawn you might find art cars, Sonny Fenwick blowing mighty bubbles with his Bubble Truck, a Starbucks art van serving free pumpkin frappucinos, a big bouncy kid-bouncer, storytelling, an art tent with projects for kids and kids at heart, Jim Arter leading a sculpture project. The Community Stage features everything from Poetry Slams to yoga.
Hot Times is usually just that, a bright, sunny weekend. Last year, for the first time, it rained. But something exciting happened because of the rain. Most people gathered in the Main Street tent. Always before its sides had been rolled up to catch breezes (and to see the Four Mints arrive in their stretch limo.) But, due to extreme pelting rain, the sides were dropped to enclose us all safely. As it happened, Bisengo Musica, of the Congo, was scheduled to appear at this time. As they took the stage, the many band members apologized for not wearing their feather-and-animal-skin wild apparel (we had seen the picture in the program). No one cared – as soon as they started playing, the energy rippled through the tent. It was like being in a Congolese nightclub, without the danger. Coziness and great acoustics defined their steamy set. They played for what seemed like hours.
These well-remembered musical moments are what Hot Times is all about, from reggae to jazz to blues to rock and roll. That and the sense of community. The festival, like Comfest, is run entirely by volunteers, and also has a rich history going back more than 30 years. All the programs include honored artists and remembrances of dearly departed Friends of the Festival. But unlike Comfest, the venue has remained small and user-friendly. And, of course, the entertainment is free, and excellent, thanks to the efforts of Darryl Mendelson and Cliff Hardy.
Arnett Howard kicks things off on the Friday afternoon, sometimes followed by the Mendelsonics. Whether you like Jamaican food or German pastries, you might like brunch with jazz on Sunday. And sandwiched in between on Saturday you might like the stars of Columbus’s musical heritage: Shaun Booker, Willie Phoenix, Dave Workman, to name a few. It’s the kind of stage where anything can happen and surprise musicians are popping up.
Let’s go over some personal highlights – first of all, there was a back massage person there who really knew her stuff. I bought many Christmas presents from Kojo and Pepper’s booth (and presents for myself.) We love to have Candy Watkins (the festival’s organizer) over for a snack at the art car “living room.” At night it is amazing to watch the night hawks flying above, catching insects in the bright lights – they must live in the towers. They fly in time to the music!
And did I mention the parade? “Saturday 11 a.m.” is the call for the Columbus Children’s Parade down Bryden Road ending at Hot Times. It’s the gathering of the clans, with a free lunch for the children at the festival.
Is Said weaves his poetry into both stages, with a performance of his spoken word and also in leading a Poetry Slam. Listen For the Jazz All-Star Band is the live embodiment of the Listen For the Jazz recorded history project. B.Wahru Cleveland brings her talent to the drum circle at 11 a.m. on Sunday. Dan and Jody Thomas got married at the festival a few years back. There was cake for all. They are essential in organizing the street fair and the food vendors and making sure all goes well. Other stellar operations coordinators are Lynn Stan, Bill Shaffer, and Anita Ba.
Give it all away – that’s how I feel about the festival. Give back, don’t hold on too tight, improvise, start over, roll with the punches. By the third day you’ll feel like family. And you’ll be bouncing to the tunes wafting over the grounds.
The crew of the Spritzgarten and friends. Christine Hayes front row center, wearing the hat.
My occupation as a food service worker began as a freshman in college: I prepared desserts for consumption in the dorm cafeteria. That is, I took sheet cakes, large cobblers, puddings, or pies, and transferred pieces onto little plates. I used to love those desserts, and ate at least five at every meal.
During the meals I was the key number-taker at the desk at the entrance. Dormies and others who had bought a “meal ticket” would show me their plastic number as they entered. I would let certain people that I liked pretend they had a number. Some people ate free all year like this, especially an actor who went on to become famous as the Right Guard man in commercials. In gratitude he gave me a ceramic jug which I gave to my aunt, which she treasured all her life.
By graduate school I was the only female employee of the Spritzgarten, a German food-and-beer-and-wine restaurant on campus. All the male employees were members of SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) so we had strange plainclothes police mixed in with students and professors as clientele. I was the cashier in lots of eye make-up and miniskirts. The artist Bruce Nauman was teaching during this time period and he always played the Beatles’ “Number 9,” a long sound collage, on the jukebox.
In my memory both the cafeteria and the Spritzgarten have the tone of a peasant-group scene by Bruegel; riotous talking, constant moving of chairs and tables, love intrigues, pontificating, solving the problems of the world. It was the late ‘60s at the University of California at Irvine.
During summers, between college years in California, I worked at Green Meadows Country Inn near what is now Polaris. A bevy of young people worked there. We had kind and entertaining chefs, Earl and Ervin. We served tons of fried chicken. Between shifts we got to go into a hotel room and watch “To Tell The Truth” on daytime TV. We waitresses (we were not called servers then) wore plain white polyester uniforms and white shoes. There was one older waitress named Marge who barely tolerated our shenanigans and shouted “Behind ya!” when she passed with a tray of food.
For a time, I moved to Honolulu and worked at the Burger Basket in Waikiki. That was the first place I witnessed young boys who hung out there by day, turn into drag queens at night. I quit after eleven days and got a better job in a record store. I tried out for Hawaii 5-0 but did not get a part (everybody was doing the Hawaii 5-0 thing.)
I worked at a restaurant called Millabee Treats in Laguna Beach, Calif. We future employees imbued the hippie architecture and furniture with collage and fun paint touches before it opened. I painted pink roses on the floor of the women’s bathroom and blue on the men’s. We had a grand opening at which everyone in town feasted on organic vegan cuisine. We did a photo shoot as an ad for Millabee’s up in the Laguna Hills (later the scene of a wildfire) in fine hippie dress on Persian rugs and café-style tables and chairs. The wonderful restaurant closed within months but the Hav’astand (its take-out silo) and Hav’achips still remain.
Cut to San Francisco where immediately I started living in a commune that was the company called the Ecstatic Stomach. We made sandwiches and sold them through New Age Natural Foods on Ninth Avenue. My job was cutting sheer slices of Jerusalem artichoke to put on the sandwiches.
I went to Guadalajara with family members to vacation for Christmas. While in a park there, I met a lawyer who owned a restaurant in San Francisco. He gave me a job as a waitress when I got back. It was the trendy vegetarian Shandygaff of the early ‘70s. Many a rock star and new-age guru ate amid the huge graphic-painted walls. We waitresses outdid each other in outlandish attire (though we did not wear see-through like those trampy Trident waitresses in Sausalito.) One of the kitchen staff was a very young Mollie Katzen of Moosewood fame. We were a cohesive and jolly group who fraternized outside of work.
Recently I got an email of a Shandygaff reunion. Maybe I’ll get to see that old restaurant gang of mine. It was a heady time. I had the job of adding decorative touches to the place – I remember the school desks with zebra pillows by the payphone and huge baskets of pussywillows in the spring.
From the Shandygaff I went to the Acme Metal Spinning Works Café on 24th Street. It was a popular neighborhood soup and salad kind of place. I used to serve the famous photographer Imogene Cunningham, she always wore little ethnic hats.
Then I went to the apex of restaurant jobs, the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. I had to belong to the Dining Room Employees Union. I worked in Drake’s Tavern, a red-plush-and-copper confection in the old-style large-booth, dimly lit scheme. I worked my way up to head waitress. We had really mean chefs, Arne (Danish) and Fritz (German). They always called you “Miss” in such a way that it was a demeaning term. We also had Chinese busboys who yelled at us. But we became friends and they took us to the Golden Dragon and ordered the best things. Later, I went to one of their wedding receptions at the Tau Tau. I never saw so much food and drink in my life.
And the legacy went on: My son worked at Easy Street in San Anselmo (Marin County) as a combination busboy and greeter. Easy Street had great food and an even greater child’s playroom. When I left California I added some nice things to the playroom.
It’s all a fantasy of ephemeral creations disappearing from plates. The endless food-service fandango. Any server has my sympathy.
Cornfall . . . and the resurrection
Ramona and Christine celebrate a corny birthday.
The day started innocently enough. A little screech owl warbled a birthday tune from a hidden branch, a sound like no other I’d heard from him or her. The night before Susan and I had watched the chimney swifts do their diving dance into the school chimney. But these events gave no clue of what was to come, though anticipation had been mounting for at least a year, when I spoke to Magdiale in the garden.
I had expected to have at least some of the party in Dragonfly’s garden, little foreseeing ankle-deep water on the bricks. Some people stayed away entirely because their cats had been scared by the hour-long sirens!
Yes, those tornado sirens. One or two people said they looked up to see circular swirling clouds the color of steel wool. The authorities blew those sirens out that day – we’ll not be warned if the evil swarms come around again soon.
But back to the innocent birthday morning. The yellow sun and the blue, blue sky. I was relaxed and happy, waiting for my friend to show up at his shop and do my hair. (I was treating this birthday like a wedding or a prom – ha!)
As the minutes ticked by, the realization started to sink in that maybe all was not going as planned. I went home and did my own hairdo, sticking a crown on top of a sculpted swirl, a few tendrils curling from the humidity. I located my scepter. I did take my high-heeled strapped sandals but never put them on.
I wondered at this point where Susan was who had flown in from California for this big event. Finally she showed up, triumphant from a trip to Trader Joe’s, with items too numerous to count. She’s a food and drink aficionado, far more sophisticated than I. We examined all the goods and had chiles rellenos (my request) for a late lunch. We were still in relaxed mode even though the mystery of the missing hairdresser hung in the air.
We dressed in our elegant but now sweaty chosen gowns and stepped through the front door frame in order to enter our cars. Let us suspend disbelief for a moment: it was the sunniest of days, but at that exact moment a roar of thunder rattled the house, and the aforementioned sirens started.
Susan was returning a rental car, and I was to meet her at the rental office. Then the two of us were to drive to Dragonfly, for a last-minute check before we went to my studio to bring in artwork. I yelled to her over the sirens, “We need to get to the basement!” She, never having heard tornado sirens, and being the feisty person she is, said, “Oh, those don’t mean anything.” Just then the phone rang. I ran to pick it up. There was a “click” on the line. I played the message: my friend Greg saying, “I arranged these wild-weather alarms just for your birthday.”
I ran back out to the driveway. Susan was gone! I jumped in my car and drove to the rental place. I sat for the longest ten minutes of my life, ears ringing from the sirens. The sky in the west had what looked like the ominous black clouds of death coming toward the little hut.
After an interminable time she arrived. (She had been filling the gas tank.) She fussed for a while with the rental car. (Sigh.) I was having visions of us in the tornado scene from the Wizard of Oz, the witch cackling on the bike and all.
Susan got in with me and we drove down High Street, sirens blasting every ten blocks or so. She had her head out the window looking for the funnel cloud. At Ohio State we had to pull off to the side while the sheets of rain obliterated our ability to see out the windshield. When the storm abated, we continued to Dragonfly. Cristin, co-owner of the restaurant, had brought the children downstairs because the potential tornado was, according to the radio, in the neighborhood!
Instead of picking up my art for the walls, we drank a glass of wine poured by the comforting Patrick of Dragonfly. At least if we were to be lifted away we would do it in style. Finally, the black sky gave way to the sun. Susan and I left for the studio. But – in moving my huge ear of corn sculpture, it split in two. Susan insisted we bring it anyway. I didn’t have the heart to bring anything else.
Back at the restaurant, Susan and Patrick patched up the corn and hung it on the wall. I filled the rest of the space with little stuff I had expected to group on a side wall, a montage of my life. It looked odd, but maybe nobody would notice.
Guests started arriving. No time to contemplate. Time to just be. All was convivial. I sat on my “throne” (an ornate but comfy chair), barefoot in a dress printed with orchids, an encrusted banner across my chest (lots of buttons and badges). I greeted everyone as they arrived. I saw groupings engaged in sparkling conversation. Food and drink were brought to me. Presents piled up.
Suddenly, the ear of corn fell to the hardwood floor and split in two again. I could not run to it, nor clasp it to my bosom. I later noticed it had been draped across a chair, and still later dragged forlornly to a corner (so much for ever showing my art at Dragonfly’s Neo Art space. I think I will concentrate on my photography which should not split in two.)
When caketime arrived, the birthday song was sung once. No cake appeared. Then later it was sung again. This second time Magdiale’s creation, a beautiful and delicious vegan cake decorated with flowers and berries, rose like a vision toward me. I blew out the one candle.
I have two names, Ramona and Christine. The two songs and the two corn parts symbolized this dichotomy. And I’m always torn between being out in the world and being in my own little world.
But this little party tale isn’t over. Oh no. There was the double hit-and-run just outside. Many guests witnessed it but no one got the license number of the offending vehicle. Apparently there was a lot of smoke and noise coming from the vehicle.
The SUV (as reported by witnesses, not me) locked bumpers with my neighbor’s car, which bumped the car in front of it. This front car was Caroline’s rental car. She was freshly back from India, floating among us all in a white sari like an angel from another world. This crashing brought us all back to earth.
The SUV extracted itself and peeled out. Much exclamation was made over the amount of rubber on the road. The two hit vehicles were crumpled in spots but still drivable. Caroline kept saying, “It’s so good I took the insurance!” A little assurance goes a long way. What a dramatic ending to the party!
My friends packed up the corn sculpture. It was amazingly intact at the end – I didn’t think to ask who put it back together. They packed up the presents and we went back home – stunned but satiated.
I’ve been interviewing the persons involved for their feelings about the party – one said, “a traditional framework with stark individuals.” Sometimes the best-laid plans…
One part of me wants to be summoned to the feast of Life. The other part wants to be left alone. It may be a long time before I have another birthday party. Or, I may have one every year. Only the Ear of Corn knows for sure. It’s listening to the tenor of the wind. (To be poetic about the uncertainty of Life, and the feebleness of the Will.)
Thoughts on a birthday
Christine as the Birthday Fairy.
While driving down a rural Ohio road recently, our car surprised six turkey vultures feasting on roadkill. One by one the compact, strong, bronze backs, seemingly headless, literally sprouted wide wings and took flight over us as the car sped by. Later, I thought about them as the six decades of my life leaving me, like spaceships leaving a space station. Leaving only me hovering in the void. Me and the lingering smell of carrion.
I’ve been spending more time with my aunt and uncle, both 92, because of their necessity to be in the hospital and nursing home. Nothing could be less romantic than a nursing home. Approaching a birthday topic with a nursing home angle is not a good start. I’m not trying to be depressing, though. I’m thinking of the ability of instinct to take over when one advances in age. Those vultures flocked together and shared. They took off as one entity. When I’m old, I’ll need my buddies to help hold me up, both mentally and physically. So I’m looking around for buddies.
On the same trip, we saw actual fish in an actual clean stream. The fish would swim toward shallower water – my son pointed out the current ran faster there – in what looked like a game of one-upmanship to see who could get “farther out” – and yet they would all line up perfectly facing the current when the shuffling of fish-bodies was done. They did this over and over. They were moving as a unit (like some human endeavor) but there was always room for expansion. I took this as a sign that in the duration of my seventh decade, I would utilize all the talents I’d gathered in the first six, to provide meaning to what had gone before (sort of like the seventh Harry Potter book.) My endeavors would go further, then line up.
As a child I had an ancient “Aunt Mil” who, every time we came to visit in Lakewood, Ohio, would say to me, “Want to see Whitey go to the store?” Whitey was her equally ancient dog, a nearly blind miniature cocker spaniel. Whitey would sit patiently while Aunt Mil put a scarf on the dog’s head and tie it under the dog’s chin. Aunt Mil put a change-purse between the dog’s teeth. Whitey’s eyes would look a little pained, but she held that purse unflinchingly.
I was fascinated. About the tenth time Aunt Mil and Whitey did this for me in a single day, Auntie Gladys, her sister-in-law, would yell, “No, she doesn’t want to see Whitey go to the store!” (Of course I did.) Aunt Mil’s eyes would look a little pained but she would obediently put the scarf and purse away.
It did not dawn on me until many years later that Aunt Mil was senile. And in those days, senile people were not indulged as they are today.
I am not sure what conclusion to draw from this, except that none of my cats would do this trick at all, unless the cats were very, very senile.
Very near where Whitey used to take his mock-journey, grew up the Berry sisters of Shaker Heights. When the two of them accomplished the significant age I am about to accomplish, they went on significant journeys, one to India, the other to Easter Island. (The India journey also involved a month of silence.) I pondered the journey I might take. I decided it was far enough to go to Dragonfly (the restaurant). I’m heading farther in than farther out this August.
I’ve been to some far out places though. Once I was on the road to Hana on the island of Maui, sitting on a promontory overlooking a little missionary church and the ocean beyond. One of the most peaceful places imaginable. Suddenly, a jeep roared down the slope, and one of its occupants shot a seagull with a gun. As the bird’s body fell with a splash, I thought, “You can’t get away entirely.”
My friend and I found the most picturesque café in Maine, on Deer Island in the town of Stonington. The sun came out from the clouds and we sat on the deck overlooking the fishing boats. We ordered cups of cocoa. Our waitress was ill and coughed into our cocoa. We drank it with trepidation .
I was looking for a friend of a friend in Yelapa, a tiny fishing village south of Puerto Vallarta. The only way to get to Yelapa is by overloaded motorboat. We were warned to wear bathing suits because you get totally soaked from the spray and the water in the bottom of the boat (true). Through use of my Spanish and winding around pathways (no electricity or cars in Yelapa), we found her house. She was talking to someone. I spoke to her and told her who I was. She looked over and said, “Yes. Nice to see you,” then turned her head, dismissing me, and went on talking. I had come this far to be snubbed! Oh well. Where are those buddies again?
And I won’t go into the near-riot I got into in Agadir, Morocco, at the Berliner Zirkus. Or the near-riot in Paris the night DeGaulle was voted out of power. I am sure I have used up nine lives and have guardian angels. Anyway, I have been far out and come back. The path can be rocky and there’s no place like home.
Sucking my sustenance off the sidewalk with a straw
Spalding Gray kept an index-card box with the titles of all the theatrical events he’d been in. He would draw a card and then do a monologue on the randomly chosen one. I haven’t been in as many shows as Spalding Gray, but I do have a few cards to put down on the table.
I did the lead-off for a show of interconnected little dramas in an art gallery in the Mission District of San Francisco. The idea was that the audience would gather in the storefront one door away, step out into the street, and enter the gallery next door, where they stood and turned as each wall became a set for a short play. Meanwhile, the decorated art car, the Turkey Toyota, would be undercover in the street outside, as the first piece of the evening. As the audience stepped onto the sidewalk, the cover would be pulled off the Turkey Toyota and a (seemingly unexpected) drama would unfold around the car. The drama involved me, as a Golden Turkey Egg, talking to my chauffeur. (See photo, depicting the line, “Sucking my sustenance off the sidewalk with a straw.”) I will spare you any more dialogue details.
The first time we tried this little drama in the street, a homeless-type man walked directly between me and the audience, with a bleeding gash in his head. I caught my breath in the middle of one of my monologues, but I had to keep going. I had heard the audience members gasping before I got him in my line of sight. Not only did Mr. Gash-Head recover, he was a regular for my street show almost every night after that.
The show had two “tour guide” actors from the Teatro Campesino. As rehearsed, they simply greeted the audience and led them out into the street. But on the last show of this run, they decided to add a little drama with a mock-domestic struggle involving a gun. My chauffeur-actor and I were hiding in the covered car. We heard the yelling, and thought it was coming from the apartment above the storefront. We were just about to call the police, when the audience descended upon us. We couldn’t believe no one had heard the argument. But then we found out that we had been taken in by the tour guides’ drama.(The audience went on into the gallery and saw five more presentations. It was a daring and edgy thing, that San Francisco theatre of the ‘80s.)
Through a Sausalito maskmaker I got involved with outdoor pageants using huge masks and dancing and music. As I was going on stage at the Sausalito Arts Festival, clad as one of the four elements (Earth? I changed from one to the other as casts varied for these shows), Lucian, my small son, whose teenage babysitter wasn’t paying attention, grabbed the strings of my costume and ripped them as I stepped out. The audience thought it was part of the show!
From the pageantry I went on to the Bolinas Floating Sun Festival. One year the focus was the California condor. I made a condor mask and costume and “flew” (ran, holding out my large wings) around the beach, with “scientists” in white lab coats trying to catch me with a net. Later, I went to UC Santa Cruz where I gave a presentation on the pageant, and wore the costume. I had parked my decorated Turkey Toyota (at the request of the teacher of the class) right outside the door of the hall, in a grassy park. Apparently the university police had not been informed, although I had a parking permit. During my talk, and I use that word lightly, my son was telling me through a side door, unseen by the audience: “They’re towing your car away. People are pushing it up the hill.” When I ended the talk shortly, and “flew” out the door, my car was indeed gone. We found it up in the upper parking lot, and a heated argument ensued. We were not fined, and drama is supposed to arouse emotions, right?
One year the Floating Sun theme was Gaia. We, as a group, decided to build a two-story papier-mâché goddess with an interior under her skirt where all participants could go and be “blessed” and receive a token of the Earth Goddess. I was chosen as the maskmaker artist to start the huge head and torso. I was out on the Bolinas Mesa on a sunny but windy day just having a good time with large amounts of chicken wire, flour, water, and paper. I had a sculptural, wavy woman in mind, and that’s what I created. Along about late afternoon a man came who was on the committee, and decided that my goddess was too wavy. He took a hammer to her and “straightened” her up. I was incredulous. He said it was for stability. He was not the usual kind of person to do this, but I had to go along with it, because he was building the bottom story, if you will, of the goddess. Now, I still look at those pictures of the straight-laced, stiff Gaia and laugh.
In subsequent Sun Festivals, I decided to let others star and direct. I attended rehearsals for a dancing and speaking chorus much like a Greek chorus. The writers of this segment seemed to be serious in their intent. When pageant day came, only two members of the chorus, my friend Cypress and myself, stepped out to do the piece. We felt like fools (a role we often did play, with appropriate costumes, in “downtown” Bolinas) because the piece didn’t work with two actors out of eight. We found the rest of the chorus later, lying on the sand, having taken some kind of mushrooms. That was my last Sun Festival, but it continues, on the fog-wisped beach in Bolinas.
One last note: my favorite Bolinas set-piece was a dragon-head made from an overturned armchair, lots of drapery, flowers, and well-wishers underneath.
The case of the disappearing desserts
Or, the scoop on snow ice cream
Christine Hayes hiking
in Marin County, Calif.
When I was in junior high school, I had to bake a cherry pie in Home Economics. I got a ‘D-’ on my pie. I remember there was a lot of staying after school to finish baking and a lot of spilled pie sauce in the oven. I have never made a cherry pie since. There was a time when I was an “Earth Mother” type; I baked organic pumpkin pies in cast iron skillets. These were more successful. And I’m known to bake a custard pie now. (Well, I buy the crust.)
Also, I am a big fan of tiramisu and crème brûlée. But, I don’t remember these desserts being around when I was a kid. Then, it was spumoni ice cream. And then they invented tortoni ice cream. These were the highlights of my childhood desserts. And you can’t find them nowadays, not of that remembered quality. They came with little papers or cups that you peeled off. The spumoni was what passes for “Neopolitan” nowadays, but richer and with pistachios. Mexicans have a triple-colored cookie called a “Payaso” (clown) that has that spumoni triple- header look. But my quest is for Nesselrode Pie.
I had it in New York City once, and I thought it was a New York thing like cheesecake, but I couldn’t find it anywhere the last time I went to New York. It is a concoction of fruit and chocolate and some filling and crust. It was superb. The recipes on the Internet vary quite a bit, but they all require a (gulp!) double boiler.
I’ll give you my recipe for snow ice cream. First you take a big bowl of clean snow. Then sprinkle sugar on it (I use the health food store fructose granules). Then put some vanilla in it. Stir. Lastly, put a little milk or cream or soy milk in it. Stir again. Yummy. (Cocoa powder – real cocoa powder – is good in it too.)
I have considered opening a snow café with snow smoothies, snow sundaes, snow stir-fry. Ramona’s International Snow-Fry Café. Our specialty would be the Oxymoron Omelette – a little snow, a little salsa.
In March and April, it’s often snowing when the calendar says it’s spring. “Snow time ain’t no time to sit outside and spoon.” Spooning and forking are out of the question; it’s time to go jogging. But one cannot jog on snow safely.
I used to jog around a lake called Phoenix, in Marin County, Calif. (I hope my high school gym teacher, Miss Bach, is reading this. She often gave me ‘F’ for the day for sitting around and talking instead of jogging.) Phoenix was one of the Marin Municipal Water District’s six manmade lakes. Five of the lakes were forged from Mt. Tamalpais streams in the teens. Italians came in 1917 when labor was needed to build Alpine Dam. Quaint hunting lodges had to be removed before the water filled the canyons. I like to say the names of the lakes: Lagunitas, Bon Tempe, Alpine, Kent, Nicasio, Phoenix.
The Italians settled in Fairfax, west of San Francisco, below the lakes (for 13 years I lived there). Wonderful Italian restaurants still flourish in Marin. My son’s first job was as a delivery boy for Ghiringhelli’s. (He was fired when he changed the company’s motto on his T-shirt to “Fat my pizza” instead of “Eat my pizza”.) I never got to ask if there was any spumoni.
Yes, good restaurants. And I was addicted to the carob-covered almonds at the health food store. Thus, the need for jogging. The path was dirt around the lake, but fine-crafted rustic stairs surrounded some of the water, for even better exercise.
The Pacific Sun, one of the local newspapers, informed you on how to react if you saw a mountain lion (sometimes sighted at Phoenix Lake). You do not turn your back and run. You stand still. You slowly pull your jacket up around your head and spread it out with your arms. (All Marinites wear jackets for when the fog comes in.) All the while you are staring the cat in the eye. You begin to slowly back up. Fortunately, I never had to try this out.
I always hoped the mountain lion would appear, if it had to, during a certain section of the hour-long skirting of the lake. This section featured the ranger’s house, like a toy-craft movie set, obviously constructed by those same stairmakers (WPA? CCC?), lovingly gingerbread, with antlers.
I thought I might back myself into the house, hopefully with the ranger near, still staring into the cat’s eyes, and then take a look around inside.
From the teens to the ‘30s, daytrippers from San Francisco came into Fairfax on trains for a look around. Hiking, a dance pavilion, and the extensive picnic grounds were the draws – and a break from the fog, for Fairfax can be sunny and dry when all around is overcast. A novelty from 1913 to 1929 was the Fairfax Funicular, 500 feet up the hill on a wooden trestle. Fare on the one-cable car was 5 cents.
One woman came every weekend. Maybe she ate spumoni at the restaurant at the top of the funicular. But she was mainly interested in the bronzed Italian men gardening without their shirts on the high sunny ridges of Fairfax. For those more well-heeled, or less inclined to heights, a pianist played a grand piano from a platform in a redwood tree at Pastori’s, the Italian restaurant which took over Bird’s Nest Glen from Lord Fairfax and his wife.
And then I’ll explain about Lord Fairfax. Charles Snowden Fairfax, the tenth lord in a family of Scottish peers, came to California in 1849. He was a politician, but his reputation was made mostly on his hospitality, gambling, and drinking. His legacy lives on in the “Wild West” feeling of Fairfax (they used to film westerns in the hills above Fairfax). Somewhere, there’s a sign I made for the town that looks like a piece of ribbon candy – toys glued on, including cowboys.
Eventually, the excursion trains stopped. The pavilion was used for basketball practice. Then, in the 1990s, the town of Fairfax and a pioneering puppeteer named Frank Gonzales started an artist-in-residence program. I succeeded Frank as artist-in-residence of Fairfax for two years. The studio is located in the loft of the old white wedding-cake of a dance pavilion.
I made successful desserts and served them to the good people of Fairfax at Valentine and Christmas open houses. But no pies or snow ice cream. I had to move back to Columbus to be able to make fresh snow ice cream.
My Life as a Clown
Christine Hayes after a long day clowning.
It all started with a school auction. For the highest bidder, I donated my services as child’s party entertainment in the character of the child’s choice.
The Birthday Boy chose Princess Leia. So I wore a spangly jumpsuit and my hair in balls upon my head. I don’t remember much about the Star Wars party except there was a long staircase up to the mountainside Mill Valley home, and there were some mighty nice Star Wars paper plates. As I staggered back down those wooden steps after the party, I felt a new career dawning upon the redwood slopes.
I must have entertained those children. In my five-day-a-week job, I was a Montessori teacher. In short time, I had a seven-day workweek to fill the constant demand for a birthday clown.
I soon had an elaborate repertoire of songs, puppets, and shticks with props. I did not run around with a squirting seltzer bottle, a big red nose, or do pratfalls. No, on the contrary, my act was designed to calm the savage sugar-fueled child. I was crowd control.
I didn’t have a kinky name like Zuzu or Koko. In fact, quite often I would arrive as a “normal” person and put my costume, wig, and make-up on in front of the children. This quelled their fear of the evil clown. It also killed time for which I was paid. Face-painting on the children also filled time, after the half-hour to an hour “act.”
The worst parties had children who were older. Their attention-spans did not allow for fingerplays and group movement, so they distracted the younger ones.
My very worst parties came at the beginning of my clown career. There were many wealthy families from Iran in Marin County (near San Francisco) at the time. They had lovely children and homes, but their grasp of American birthday customs were sketchy. They knew they needed a clown and a cake, but had no idea that playing loud Persian music drowned out my act. The grandparents yelled in Farsi from the kitchen. The mother and her friends lounged on the couches. Nothing could happen until the father came home.
At last, he arrived! The parents of the party guests were also arriving to pick up their children. Video cameras caught the frantic action: A cake hurriedly sung over and cut, children asked to stand around makeshift tables. “Eat your cake! Eat your cake!” yelled the young mother while the much-older dad wondered what the shuffling clown was doing. I got my pay and beat it out of there, tripping over unopened presents. Everyone was baffled by the chaotic scene.
By the end of my clown career I had three clown costumes: black with colored hearts, half-orange/ half-yellow, blue with stars and jacks. Ruffs were stringy, puffy, or ribbony; wigs were blue feathers or orange rag-doll. I had a collection of fancy clown gloves and wild boots. Hats were straw with fake fruit, or cute and ruffled. In addition, I had two rabbit costumes, white and lavender, pink overalls adorned with a large moon and stars, a pale-blue Birthday Fairy costume, a rather Bavarian Santa outfit (I used flour for snow on my shoulders), a flowing cloud costume, and a golden turkey egg costume made out of egg cartons.
I was ready for anything.
I was the Christmas Fairy at a stylish house. Things were going fine until the piñata. (Mexicans have elaborate safety precautions when they have a piñata with their children – it’s their ritual.) Other people have little idea of the dangers of (1) a child (2) a baseball bat. I had to get out of Christmas Fairy character to prevent pure havoc and injury. The piñata never broke. A hand had to be inserted and candy given little by little to the tykes who would have bumped heads dashing into the scene. Later, I saw the father outside beating the piñata to death with the bat when he thought no one was looking.
I gave away all my clown costumes when I moved back to Columbus. I do have a jester’s cap that I want to wear on Mardi Gras Day. I kept some of the non-clown costumes, but I don’t wear them much. I think I’ll have a “Hand of Fate” garage sale in which what goes, goes, and what stays, stays. I look at the old photos and think, what ever happened to that outfit? The ebb and flow of clothes is the heartbeat of the thrift-store shopper’s art. My mother was a precise seamstress but my slapdash style cut a wider swath.
I had a little “magic music box” with toys and beads glued all over it that I used to entertain the kids. Once in a fury of clown hurry, I put it on the roof of my art car and drove off. It hasn’t been the same since. In high school, my son used it to carry his egg around. (Do high school kids still do this? It was some kind of awareness thing about learning responsibility that they all had to do.) I was proud that a clown box got such a deal.
All my props and puppets – they migrated somewhere else. Maybe kids don’t like clowns anymore. I don’t see any clowns hanging around my neighborhood. Maybe the clown mystique got too antique. Good only for Circus Day, DooDah Day, or Doomsday. Cremate me in my cloud costume, I’m headed for Clown Heaven, where piñatas are safe and cake is eaten sitting down.
Francis Ford Coppola and the San Francisco Collection
Christine Hayes and Francis Ford Coppola
at the Art Deco Ball, San Francisco, 1972.
I collect books on San Francisco. I lived in “The City” and its environs for 27 years (1970-1997). My son still lives there, in an art gallery in the Mission District. I’m sure he’s living in an art gallery because rents on apartments are sky-high. He keeps his stuff in a warehouse of a skateboard company.
He tells me, “Don’t send me anymore books.” I send art and skateboard books, because he is a skateboarding artist. To him, the streets are fluid, because he approaches them on small wheels. He likes to travel lightly, and books don’t fit in with that lifestyle. Ipods and laptops do, maybe a paperback or a sketchbook.
My books on San Francisco allow me to contain the city in even rows, on call, between covers, whereas the real City is a sprawling, brawling, traffic-choked, construction-yoked miasma. It is picturesque to the tourist, but exactly what makes it picturesque is the cause of many a standstill: water and hills. You can’t get from one place to another except on bridges, ferries, extremely steep streets, or gridlocked flat streets. I want back the time I spent in my car (laid end-to end, I’m sure years of my life). I can’t look at the book Above San Francisco – the sight of the many freeways makes me exhausted. I will always gauge a mile by the length of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Then there’s one more variable: fog. The force that thwarts fluidity. It’s not always there, but quite often, it is. And its partner, wind. Strong wind. One thing I know about is wind. Like a tremulous Arabic ditty, it flows through your head nearly constantly in San Francisco.
In my San Francisco book collection, the one where I can file the city away neatly, I pinpoint the events of my years there: every street corner, building, and city block tells a story. Many corners in San Francisco are on the edge of one district or another. One such building, on the edge of the Financial District and North Beach, is Columbus Tower, at the corner of Columbus (one of the main streets in San Francisco is called Columbus) and Kearny. Called Coppola’s Cupola, because he owns it, it sports an onion dome on top of an eight-story flatiron.
The Art Deco Ball, 1972. The Sheraton-Palace Hotel on Market Street, in the Garden Court. My date was John Diamante, a mayoral candidate in a satin Uncle Sam suit. What I wore: one of those slinky white satin deco gowns. I was standing behind a potted palm when a sweaty, portly, bearded man in a rumpled white suit asked me to dance. (John was dancing with another deco-clad woman.) The white-suited man was holding me way too tight. He challenged me with body language to follow his jerky lead.
I noticed that everyone was staring at us. I thought we were odd, that’s why everyone was staring. Then, flashbulbs started going off. The song was over. That
awkward moment. I realized who he was and became even more awkward. Luckily people started to talk to us and the moment was broken. I rejoined Uncle Sam.
A few days later, a photograph appeared on the piano in my house.
(I never found out how it got there.) Here’s the photograph. You guessed it, Francis Ford Coppola. Francis Coppola is no saint, but for a time he became the unofficial patron of San Francisco. Even his name is Francis! Now I buy his wine. A toast to St. Francis, patron of wine and films. Huzzah!
And my son is now a (skateboard movie) filmmaker in San Francisco. Just give him one thing to hold onto – a camera. (But no books.) From 1973 to 1975 Coppola published City magazine weekly, which contained bold graphics, gossip, pieces by hot new San Francisco writers, and some muckraking in the style of former newspapermen of the city like Ambrose Bierce.
(Another Ohioan who moved to San Francisco.) City set the tone for a new San Francisco society that was rising like a phoenix out of the hippie “ashes.” A band called The Tubes set a rather edgy pace for the “scene.” Could disco be far behind?
I’ve been looking up facts for this article in Literary San Francisco (Ferlinghetti and Peters, City Lights, 1980) and San Francisco Architecture (Woodbridge, Woodbridge, and Byrne, Chronicle Books, 1992.) In the former volume I came across this passage by John Steinbeck: “I fledged in San Francisco, climbed its hills, slept in its parks, worked on its docks, marched and shouted in its revolts. In a way I felt I owned the City as much as it owned me… this gold and white acropolis rising wave on wave against the blue of the Pacific sky was a stunning thing, a painted thing like a picture of a medieval Italian city which can never have existed.”
I need to get those distracted, refracted glasses and look back at San Francisco like Steinbeck – I also fledged there and my son has grown old there. Many city blocks have changed since I left almost 10 years ago, beyond all recognition. Former warehouse areas are now filled with skyscrapers, condos, and office buildings. Coppola’s Cupola and other true landmarks will stay. The rattle and chime of the cablecars will still echo through the hills. But the wind – the wind will not blow through my collection. I can trot out any person or spectacle at will in the relative calm of my home.
Stars in my eyes
Christine Hayes with her father, the columnist Ben Hayes,
and Pat Boone, about 1955.
As a child, I bought into “Pat Boone Fever.” His preppy cardigan sweaters, white teeth, and white bucks sent girls into a frenzy. In an embryonic rapture I met him at a press party in the Deshler Hotel.
Right after this picture was taken, I was out on the balcony with a press agent’s sons, dropping ice out of our “Shirley Temples” on unsuspecting passersby many flights down. And wearing that navy-blue polished-cotton-with-white-lace dress my mother had made! (You can just imagine the white socks and patent leather mary janes I wore on my feet.) It just goes to show that wearing nice clothes and being in the presence of a star does not automatically dictate good behavior.
On my ninth birthday, an article appeared on the front page of the Dispatch about two 9-year-olds who spent the day with Roy Rogers. They got their pictures taken sitting on Trigger the Wonder Horse, and Nelly Belle the jeep. They ate breakfast and lunch with Roy. There they were, with fake guns drawn, on my birthday! I was crestfallen. I, the meeter of stars, was not chosen to do this. My father caught hell from me, I’m sure. It was a clunker of a birthday for me.
I wore my red-and-white cowgirl outfit my mother had made to the Ohio State Fair that day, where Roy was appearing. My father and I spied him in the press room at the Fair. He shook my hand and delighted the little birthday cowgirl. Alas, no photographers were present, nor Trigger or Nelly Belle. But I at least made contact with “my hero.”
Another evening we were in the Jai Lai (now the Buckeye Hall of Fame Café). A piano trio played as diners seated by large aquariums enjoyed their meals. My father and I were whisked from our table by our hosts to meet Adolphe Menjou. His film career started in 1921 with Rudolph Valentino in “The Sheik.” He is known as a suave character actor in such films as “Morocco” (1930) with Marlene Dietrich.
Mr. Menjou’s role in 1960 was with Hayley Mills in Pollyanna. Perhaps he was in Columbus to publicize that. There he sat in a Jai Lai booth with piercing dark eyes. Mr. Menjou played Pollyana’s mentor who turned her on to prisms (really). “Her rapt eyes were still on the dancing flecks of color from the prism pendants swaying in the sunlit window.” – author Eleanor H. Porter.
Another dress my mother made for me had an iridescent prismatic look. I wore it as a “junior hostess” at a German Village House Tour of the 1950s, at my ballet teacher Jorg Fasting’s house. Never have I felt so “walking on air” as that day, in my ice-blue, shiny full-skirted dress. I must have been twelve. My feet were probably in summer-white “flats.” Heels, like lipstick, were elusive to 12-year-olds back then.
Back at the Deshler, on Easter Sunday they invited Columbus celebs and their kids to the “Sky Room,” a glass-walled restaurant near the top. We kids chased after eggs while our parents had brunch. Nita Hutch, in a tropical dress and upswept hairdo, always broadcast a radio show from the Sky Room.
One year I won a very large, very ugly stuffed Humpty Dumpty. My innocent warblings upon receiving it were probably sent out over the airwaves. The best part, however, was the elevator interior covered in Astroturf (called “fake grass” back then) and a bunny-costume-clad elevator operator who made you anticipate the Sky Room fun.
I was on Fern Sharp’s show on Halloween wearing a cowboy outfit (preceded the cowgirl outfit, as when I was very young I wanted to be a boy). Fern Sharp always had her full name pronounced and she always wore a hat. The television lights were too bright, so I hung back because I was the littlest kid there anyway.
At the end of the show, popcorn balls covered in red, green, blue, and yellow plastic were thrown to us. It was an early live television free-for-all. I was probably stepped on in the melee, and was sweating in my plaid flannel shirt, jeans, boots and cowboy hat.
Honey-coated though these memories may be, the feel of the fabric has a lot to do with the remembrance.
An Architectural Memory
Christine Hayes dreams of a Frank Lloyd Wright house while her parents are otherwise occupied.
A happy remembrance is the Frank Lloyd Wright-style home I played in as a child. The house belonged to friends of my parents. It was near our farmhouse. My mother sewed for the woman of the house, which was filled with the activities of their four children.
The children of the house and I often played Hide and Seek. The house was long and low, lying along the top of a ravine. Spectacular views beckoned from ample windows. Most of the walls were of rough stone. It was like being outside when you were inside. All the furniture was built-in. Many child-hiding cubbyholes existed behind hanging curtains. Textured earth-tone fabrics and beautifully stained wood surfaces were everywhere.
I admired the unexpected crevice, built into the stone wall, with a crystal or sculpture contained in it. A window with two pieces of glass that fused into a point fascinated me the most.
Another feature that fascinated my child’s mind was a bed on top of a dais of large red tile. This was the master bedroom. Later, a room was added onto the end of the house which became the master bedroom and bathroom. Thus, I got to sleep on the dais bed during an adult party. I felt like a princess, because the whole situation was quite different from our little rented farmhouse.
A small corridor running off that bedroom was scary; a huge sculpture of a man’s head presided over built-in closets and a bathroom. I didn’t like to find hiders in there. Also, there was a stairway in that area that led who knows where. Into the depths of the earth?
Wright (and his disciples) designed small bedrooms; he felt all activity should take place in a family or living room. Kitchens are small, too – obviously the man didn’t cook!
True to form, there was a large family room that connected the living room to the children’s small bedrooms. We would race from one end of that room to the other, using the stone walls as “base” during bouts of tag. Also, the person who was “It” during Hide and Seek would do the counting in this centralized location.
Of course, the outdoors was just as much fun. I remember unsupervised childhood activity in the rocky ravine and swift-running stream. Lots of rocks were thrown and crawdads caught.
Around the house were a circular garden with stone walls, a circular swimming pool and a tower with a balcony overlooking the ravine. We weren’t allowed in the tower. The father worked there, “teaching people how to write clearly.” I could not imagine what he did in that tower. My father typed on his Underwood in our attic, a place where I was allowed to play, and I read in the attic on my beloved windowseat.
I recently read a book by Kevin Canty, a man who writes clearly about the uncertainty of human emotions. The setting of Into the Great Wide Open is a Frank Lloyd Wright-style house. Here’s a passage starting with a passageway: “He walked away down a dark corridor that ran along the spine of the house. Kenny was alone in the flagstone hallway … the living room ahead was sunk down a couple of steps and dominated by a wall of gray fieldstone, a fireplace cut into a square in the middle of it. Everywhere were long windows framed in dark wood, and through them a series of views of the garden. Even through the bare branches of late fall, there were no other houses to be seen, no cars, no swing sets. The house seemed to exist to bring the natural world inside, to welcome it, everything long and low and graceful. Like walking inside a piece of classical music, Kenny thought. Beautiful. He wasn’t sure if he liked it or not but he owed this house the word: beautiful. Lovely in its bones.”
The bones of The House of Hide and Seek held me in a gracefulness that I have not forgotten. Someday I hope to unclutter my life, like lifting spiderwebs, and make my way back to the freedom of unfettered appreciation of natural elements.
Memories of the Middle
Christine Hayes in the middle of things.
A man I know removed everything from the inside of a Lincoln Continental. He filled in the space of the former seats and dashboard with a level floor. The floor and the sides he covered with gold carpet; also there was a gold chair and a gold lamp. Sitting in this mock gilt living room on wheels gave one a comforting feeling. It didn’t matter what was around (a car show), you felt safe and enveloped.
Now I’ll take you to a time in my childhood when I didn’t feel safe. I was riding in the back seat of a car, with my parents in the front seat, through the town of Belle Valley, Ohio. We were not in a Lincoln Continental. We were in one of the first compact cars, a Chevy II, and we were headed for some rushing water in a dip in the road. My mother, who always drove, did what they say not to do: she tried to gun right through the flood, for that’s what it was. The motor died when we were in the deepest part. I remember being pulled from the car by men with heavy boots on. The water came into the back seat when my door was pulled open. The current was strong; the water was muddy. I think my mother and father got into a truck and I was carried to safety. The truck towed the car to higher ground.
We sat glumly in the car in the rain. Later, the car started up again. We continued on without further incident to my Grandma and Grandpa Hayes’s house in Dexter City, Ohio (Noble County), but under ominous skies.
We had dinner in the wonderfully old-fashioned dining room, and then I was put to bed. I slept in a brass bed painted white under a ceiling of silver-leafed wallpaper. I saw those leaves moving around as I lay on that bed. Vintage relatives stared out from oval-glassed photographs around the room. Large windows looked out on the railroad tracks and the middle fork of Duck Creek.
I was awakened by my father in the middle of the night. I could hear my mother saying, “No, don’t wake her.” She said this, always, when I was awakened in the middle of the night. (I’ll explain the two other times later.)
I was carried down the long staircase by my father, and out the heavy, dark-wood front door. The front porch was built a story off the ground, and now I knew why. Surrounding my grandparents’ house was water as far as the eye could see. I looked out the carved-wood porch rails in my summer pajamas.
My father, my grandfather, and his brother, whom we called “Uncle Harve,” were measuring the depth of the water and marking how it was climbing up the stone porch steps. I was marveling at the swirl and murmur of the water. I wasn’t scared. In fact, I felt secure, the house like a sturdy ship. Just like being in that gold Lincoln-Continental environment. It was heady stuff to be in the middle of a flood and feel safe.
Of course, I didn’t know then that Henry Barnhart, a nonagenarian who lived across the street in a little cabin, had to be got out by Uncle Harve, hoping Henry didn’t have a heart attack. And I didn’t foresee the dirty oil skim that would lie over everything when the waters receded. Just then it was Duck Creek showing me its silver might in the moonlight. I don’t know how long I got to watch the flood. No doubt my mother put me back to bed.
I promised the other two times I was awakened. One involved my Uncle Mark Cowdrey who liked to party. He got me up from my little bed in our farmhouse in Blacklick, Ohio, to dance around (he and my Aunt June were visiting from California). The adults were into their cups (or highballs as they were known in the ‘50s) and I was delighted to have everyone acting like fun people for a change.
The second time was by my father out of the same white brass bed at my grandparents’ – only this time there was no flood. We went out through the farm kitchen onto the back porch. Huffing, puffing on the railroad track nearby was a big black steam engine. I have no idea why it was stopped there but it seemed like a resting dragon to my young eyes.
The next part of this story takes place at the Aquamarine Cabana Club, an enormous swimming pool which existed at 6030 E. Main St. in Columbus. I do mean enormous. It was a private club, and the members had little cabanas to change in, located around the edges of the pool. My parents were not members but their friends were. I would go out in the middle of this sparkly body of water and pretend I was a synchronized swimmer in my ‘50s flowery bathing cap, all by myself. I recall this as being one of the most pleasurable sensations of warmth and security I have ever experienced.
The Aquamarine Cabana Club is no more. Nor does my grandparents’ house still exist, or our farmhouse. But I have my memories of being in these remarkable middles. They string together like odd beads of a necklace, the golden stuff stories are made of.
How Chris Costume Became Ramona Rabbit
Christine Hayes as Ramona Rabbit
on rakishly inclined Clayton St. in San Francisco, 1973.
This is the story of a place shift, a time shift, and eventually a name shift. Here’s the way it unfolds:
In November of 1970 I moved to San Francisco, fresh from theatre grad school at the University of California at Irvine. I followed some friends who were actors and techies. I ambled around San Francisco for a month and a half like I was Alice and San Francisco was Wonderland.
For Christmas, members of my family were going to Manzanillo, Mexico, so I joined them. At that time I thought San Francisco was going to be a short stay in my rambles.
We flew to Guadalajara. We had to catch a bus over the mountains from Guadalajara to Manzanillo. The first bus had room only for my aunt and two uncles and two cousins. So my mother and I stayed several hours in Guadalajara having lunch and sitting in a park by the bus station until the next bus left. Presently we noticed a silver-haired man sitting across from us. We talked to him and learned he was from San Francisco, a lawyer named Ruben Glickman who owned a restaurant. He offered me a job when I got back to San Francisco. At that time I thought this was too good to be true.
We bid good-bye to Ruben and boarded the bus to Manzanillo. All I remember was that the bus ride was six hours of hell with bottles rolling around all over the floor of the bus. We lived through it and arrived in Paradise, beautiful beaches and views from our rented apartment. I remember I read the Ring Trilogy while sitting in the surf over those ten days.
We made it back to the states without further incident. I did get a job as a server at Ruben’s restaurant, the Shandygaff. It was all very trendy; I met the cast of characters of San Francisco’s motley elite. Little did I know that many of them would become my lifetime best friends, and partners in many theatrical escapades.
One of those escapades was an original musical called Mamma I’m Comin’ Home produced at Lone Mountain College by my friend Jack Davis who was technical director there. I was the costumer. I was working for costumes, which I could use for other things and to sell to the many second-hand stores. One of the costumes was a white rabbit costume. I gravitated to it because I had played Alice in Wonderland in a Worthington High School production many years before. (Also I got a dress which was printed with “BEWARE DYNAMITE” all over it ala Miss Frizzle).
In the company of Mamma (which was about a bunch of cowboys who get involved with gays in SF! – a musical before its time) there were five different people named “Chris” including myself. I became “Chris Costume” to point me out from the others.
In grad school, I had produced a radio show from S. Clay Wilson’s cartoon “The Checkered Demon and the Hog-Ridin’ Fools.” I played Beverly who punches out a character named Ramona (Wilson names all his female characters Beverly, Stella, or Ramona). My co-actors in this endeavor all liked the way I had delivered the line, “Take this, Ramona honey.” (Sound of simulated fist fight followed.) These same actors were the ones I had followed up to San Francisco. They nicknamed me “Ramona” as a result of this show. And Ramona was designated my new name backstage at Mamma. (They had tired of Chris Costume.) Then when I began wearing the rabbit costume around Golden Gate Park and other venues, they called me “Ramona Rabbit.”
But the naming didn’t stop there. Soon after this, I moved for a short time to Glenellen, site of Jack London’s Wolf House in the Valley of the Moon. The house is in a park and is a ruin because it burnt down before he could ever live there. But the shell of the house is a visitor attraction with its reflecting pool and some beams still intact. For reasons of adventure, I and a friend decided to visit the house at midnight on a full moon. We ran into guard geese and a barbed-wire fence. I cut my palm open on the barbed-wire fence and had to go to the emergency room and get a tetanus shot. From that experience I acquired a second lifeline which palmists have remarked upon. I also acquired another name, “Ramona Moon.” So my parallel lives coalesced in the Valley of the Moon.
I have encountered the name three times outside of my own use. First, Ramona Moon is a character in a book by Allison Lurie called Nowhere City. (A friend of mine discovered this recently.) Second, it appears in the credits for a porn movie called The Resurrection of Eve starring Marilyn Chambers. I certainly did not appear in the movie. Third, Ramona Moon was the name of a mail-order business of kitchen implements that was based in Marin County outside of San Francisco. I have a suspicion this one was stolen from my name! But then, it’s not my property. I’m just borrowing it for a time.
I still have the white rabbit costume. And I still use both my names. And I stayed in San Francisco for 27 years.
A Dollop of Coffee
The house at Second and Hope. Betty Hayes, Ben Hayes, David Ball (1943).
Looking out the forward and aft windows of Acorn Bookshop in Grandview, I can see Starbucks (corporate coffee) and the French Loaf (home-brewed and baked, yummy). Many booklovers swear by Stauf’s down Grandview Avenue. The Short North and the North Market are also good sources for various coffees. But I bring up Grandview because that is where my parents lived when I was born, at the corner of Second and Hope. I was the second child to my mother and the Great Hope to my father.
The house is still there but no longer on the corner, as a small house has been built on the then-vacant lot where my father grew a profusion of flowers. My house, the red brick has been painted white and a dressed-up goose sits demurely on the porch. But I look at the solid place and imagine the baby I was, watching my father at the breakfast table drinking his morning coffee.
A newspaper photographer was there, setting up a publicity shot that was later to have the caption, “Take a look at this handsome mug! And read ‘Around Columbus’ in the Daily Citizen.” They had written in big letters on the mug, “JAVA.” And of course in those days “mug” also meant face. We still have the “mug shot” in the scrapbook. But my dad’s column “Around Columbus,” well, Mike Harden and Joe Blundo give us some continuity from those Ben Hayes days with their pundit’s wit about Columbus.
The lines between what is Columbus and what is Grandview are blurry now. Not in the school district, mailbox kind of way, but in the memories of old Grandview and the exciting neighborhood it was. I was babysat a lot in Grandview (we had moved away to the country, but Grandview continued to be my “neighborhood.”) In my present place of work (above-mentioned Acorn), which was Culter’s Drugs at the time, I was taken by my babysitter, Susie Greenidge, where she purchased Persian Melon lipstick and matching nail polish. I was thrilled by the whole idea of it all.
Soon thereafter I got another thrill by watching (and I believe I was allowed to help) Susie and her Grandview High School compadres paint Halloween scenes on the storefront windows. I could not believe that we were allowed to do such a thing. We went trick-or-treating in Grandview, as gypsies. In those days you were either a gypsy or a hobo. The teenagers were a little embarrassed to drag around a miniscule gypsy (me) with them. I think the Persian Melon lipstick figured into this too. I had no idea what a gypsy was, much less a Persian melon. I do remember being yelled at by an old woman who was obviously not a believer in gypsies and hobos coming to her door.
In those days coffee was a plain something you got at a coffee shop, in a plain white cup with a stripe around it, poured by gum-chewing waitresses wearing hair nets. I spent so much time in coffee shops and restaurants, with my parents and also my babysitters, that I named my dolls after the waitresses. I probably dragged my dolls to the Grandview Pool.
Susie brought me to the Grandview Pool. I sat on a terry cloth towel on the concrete and watched the shenanigans of teenage angst and love. The girls knitted argyle socks for their boyfriends. The boys snapped their towels. I got to eat drumsticks, the ice cream kind. We sat on top of the picnic tables. The girls took turns taking me to the baby end of the pool.
We walked everywhere. In Grandview, I remember wooded paths and secret passageways between homes. We walked in a clump of girls, always. Those girls ended up being bridesmaids at Susie’s wedding. Me, too. I was 16 and they were much older. We wore pillbox hats as bridesmaids! Susie cried before the wedding. This impressed me. I have never been married. I think this is why: I can still hear her anguish. But I think everything went well after that. I don’t know. Sometimes I can stare into a cup of coffee and think about what might have been.
I’m so glad I work in Grandview, and that it has stayed somewhat the same. Oh, the restaurants are fancier, and certain things have been torn down to be replaced with large-box edifices, but the neighborhood feel is still there. High school kids come into the shop to buy book-list books and then explore into retro or futuristic fiction. Poetry sells well. We have an old Culter’s bag that a customer brought in. He is still wearing the shirts it came in, he said. Culter’s expanded from drugs and nail polish to clothes, gifts, and jewelry. People shopped for clothes right in their own neighborhood. What a concept.
I did have a crushing blow in Grandview. It was the Soapbox Derby down the Grandview Avenue hill. My half-brother and Susie’s brother were competitors, David Ball and Charlie Greenidge. Imagine my surprise when they said, “No girls allowed!” I was told to “Get out of the way!” I cried. But I get my revenge by driving art cars around Grandview.
Art flourishes in Grandview. The old industrial buildings make good art galleries. I have a little one in Backroom Studios behind Reed Arts. It’s just a little room but maybe it will be open to the public someday. I’ll serve coffee and nostalgia.
Not an Orphan
Ben Hayes babysitting Christine.
Ben and Betty Hayes in May of 1948 embarked upon a rather innovative idea for the time: switching roles for a day. My mother became the newspaper columnist; my father was my babysitter. We lived in a farmhouse near Blacklick out at Joe’s Corners (corner of Broad St. and Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road).
Ben Hayes wrote: “There I lolled, in pajamas and bathrobe, by the kitchen window, watching the missus hike down the road to catch the bus into town. She was going to work in my place at the Citizen while I took her day of ease at home.”
It was all very tongue-in-cheek, of course. Here’s a sample of my father’s day: “First thing I did was to get Christine some decent toys. Pink and blue rattlers are mighty babyish toys for an 8-month-old child. I got her a claw hammer, David’s B-B pistol and a small saw. She liked them.”
I remember my mother said she was terrified of leaving me with my father. Especially the part about the fishing. Not that she was unfamiliar with fishing. She often returned to her girlhood memory of fishing on Duck Creek with my father’s sister Pearl.
Blacklick Creek in those days was a rushing, deep stream containing lots of fish. (We ate the ones we caught.) You also had to watch out for leeches and snapping turtles when you waded the shallows of Blacklick Creek. Apparently my father suited me up in a fleecy thing and took me out for photographs, hanging over the creek with one hand on the pole and the other hand on me. Apparently I survived.
Of course I don’t remember any of this public role-switching, I was too young. But I do remember when my mother tried to be one of the first Tupperware saleswomen in Columbus. My father had to stay with me when she went out selling, and she later told me he would have none of that. So her selling career was short-lived. Recently, just before she died, she did get to go to the CCAD Tupperware retrospective as the oldest living Columbus Tupperware touter and was thrilled to be greeted by Denny Griffith.
But before I was born they went on a fishing trip to Lake White. Ben Hayes wrote: “I stayed for two weeks in the lakeside cottage of Floyd Dixon, Piketon rural mail carrier. With me was my wife, Betty. The deep bass of the bullfrogs put us to sleep, the humming of a million bees in Mr. Dixon’s sweet clover field awakened us. Betty is a druther-fish-than-eat fisherman. “I don’t want any fancy tackle,” she said. “I just want a plain pawpaw pole with line, sinker, and hook – and a can of worms.”
The story goes on to show her prowess in catching bass.
Some trouble came when we moved away from the fishing creek when I was nine. Now that they had planned a house together and had it built, some invisible line had blurred. Before, in the Grandview house and the Blacklick house, my father took care of the outside and my mother took care of the inside. Now he was telling her how to run the house and she was telling him how to run the garden and trees.
My mother said the buckeye, the redbud, and the dogwood were planted too close together. My father said the new furniture wouldn’t do. This kind of thing kept on until they went their separate ways after I was off to college.
My father had been an excellent gardener. Now that I am steward of the land, things don’t get growing as spectacularly as in the Ben days. But of course the trees he planted are bigger and there is more shade. Also, I like things to look natural. (Garrison Keillor says, “Those kind of people let the weeds grow and call it a native-plant environment.”)
It’s been sixteen years since my dad’s been gone. My mother died this year on the same day he fell on the back porch and never regained consciousness. Mike Harden wrote, “Ben suffered a stroke while out on his patio, the patio looking out on the ravine that abuts his north Columbus home. The medics who took him to the hospital speculated he might have lain on the patio two days before he was found. The death certificate will cite his death as Friday, but his life likely ended a few days before with some final glimpse into the tree line at something the rest of us would have missed for the forest.”
Since my parents were separated so long in time and place, I thought of them separately. Now that they both went on the same day 16 years apart, and in the same hospital, I had to stop thinking of them separately and think of them together.
I just knew there would be something odd about my mother’s death, but there wasn’t. However, a few days after I made an altar to her in the cleared-off place we call the Japanese garden, two large trees fell right in front of her altar. These two ?trees were already dead and topped, and they had ceramic birdhouses attached to them with metal spikes (my father’s doing). The birdhouses were unbroken. The altar (which had her pink hat, photos of her, and her ladybug collection) was untouched. The trees narrowly missed the buckeye tree, the redbud, the dogwood. They fell on the pawpaws in the exact spot my mother had asked me to prune about two weeks earlier. A honeysuckle tree was the only thing crushed and it now makes an excellent sculpture.
I’ve heard many people say once both parents are gone, “Now I’m an orphan.” To me, nothing could be further from the truth. If the coincidence of the falling trees isn’t enough, I’m convinced I can hear them in my mind offering advice, guiding my eye, showing me where lost stuff is. Fortunately, I feel nothing was left unsaid, except to tell me what it’s like on the other side. (Maybe they’re fishing.)
A Fortune in Fabric
I’m sitting in the fabric department of Lazarus basement downtown. I’m in love with a deep blue cotton print with white and black stars that look like flung jacks. I’m actually under the table with the bolt of fabric. Here, it’s quiet and cool on the tile floor, many lower shelves of dazzling fabric at my eye level. These shelves and the tabletops display bargain yardage. The department is large, well-lit, with a bank of elevators to one side and an escalator on the other side. I spend a lot of my childhood time here, as my mother sews beautifully, she loves fabric, and she loves a bargain.
My mother is trying to convince me that a clown costume is made of a harlequin pattern predominantly red. I stick to my guns about the starred blue. I win.
I wore that costume with its voluminous folds, shirred collar, and matching pointy hat on the following Halloween when I was in the fifth grade. I subsequently kept the costume so long that when I decided to become a clown at children’s birthday parties for extra money beyond my teacher’s salary, in my middle 30’s, I wore the very same blue clown suit. The elastic was still taut at the arms and legs, but the hat looks a little small in the existing photo. Thereafter I acquired many more clown suits, fairy princess outfits, personas of all character.
I loved the names of the fabrics: twill, seersucker, serge, hopsacking. I loved to accompany my mother to the Lazarus upstairs fabric department, more expensive and extensive, where we would pore over and purchase eyelet, lace, seam binding, thread, patterns. There also dwelt pattern books – thick as a brick – filled with enticing pictures of fashions, costumes, doll clothes, novelties that my mother could make, seemingly effortlessly, and with enthusiasm.
A month has elapsed, as I write this, since my mother has gone farther upstairs to the great fabric department in the sky. I dreamt that she moved into a new, squeaky clean apartment. The fabrics in the couches were a glowing turquoise and gold. She liked her new place a lot, and remarked about the beautiful material of the couches.
A month, and how to sort through a lifetime of memories? I let the final years with the scenes of doctors, hospitals, therapists, pills, slip by – the mind sifts and shifts, the image that remains, comes forward, persists, without conscious direction – my mother in the fabric departments.
The dresses, playclothes, curtains, bedspreads she made fan out in my memory as though caught in an infinity of mirrored reflections in a Lazarus fitting room. The choices of style, pattern, and color were inspired; the work always perfect. I learned the kaleidoscopic eye, but not the patience of the craft.
Right out of high school I was hired as the costume mistress of Playhouse-on-the-Green (a summer stock tent theatre on north 23) based on my mother’s merits. To use a theatre metaphor, I got by on the “Skin of my Teeth” and her expertise.
I went off to college with an impressive wardrobe – and then the late ‘60s happened. I wore old ladies’ chiffon dresses out of thrift stores, much to my mother’s chagrin. She had made me colorful muu-muus to wear to bed or the beach. I wore them to class with funky army jackets over them. I sewed up bell-bottoms with the wildest combos of paisley, flowers, and ball fringe I could find.
She kept a cartoon of an old lady with lots of fabric behind her. “The one who dies with the most fabric wins,” is the caption. Well, I’ve got the fabric now. Large hunks of faux fur. Intricate quilted pieces in Hawaiian colors. A turquoise, white, and gold sundress ready to be stitched.
And I still have all the doll clothes. They’re in a chest in the living room where the sun shines through in the mornings and casts rainbows through the prisms. I’ll pull them out and put them on a clothesline as a memorial on her birthday.
And as for Lazarus – well, it’s fitting that she and downtown Lazarus slipped away from us within the same time period. I frequent fabric stores, but it’s just not the same. But I’ll keep hunting for bargains in the honor of Betty.
Star-crossed critters inspire further fables
Christine Hayes reading her fable at the Thurber Literary Picnic.
Recently, I entered a writing contest at the Thurber House. Much to my surprise, I won. The idea was to write a fable in the style of James Thurber.
Since the fables were short, there were actually four fable-writing winners. The prize for each of us was dinner and admission for two to the Thurber Treat Literary Picnic, our own public reading, entertainment by the Thurber Players and the Young Docents, and a nifty certificate.
Nannette Maciejunes, executive director of the Columbus Museum of Art, was our evening’s invited host. She read Thurber fables, told a fable she recollected from childhood, and generally made us all feel welcome and relaxed.
I was first to read my original fable. It was called “A Groundhog’s Life.” It went like this: A groundhog had a fine home in the ground. But then one day it began to rain. And it rained. And rained. It rained so much, the water in the nearby streams joined to become one roaring gush of water, and wiped out the groundhog’s home.
The groundhog sought shelter under a tree on higher ground.
When the water receded, the groundhog went back to his home. He learned to live with the sogginess of it all, because he liked the location.
But he caught a disease called rodent corrosion from the wet earth, and he couldn’t shake it off. So he went back to that tree on higher ground, and studied the possibilities of establishing a home in the tree.
Although it was difficult, he managed to squeeze himself into a hole up in the crotch of the tree.
But then a huge windstorm hit, and the tree was knocked over, leaving the groundhog sitting on a stump. The groundhog was not daunted, because he figured he was still off the ground, the stump probably wouldn’t blow over, and there was no rodent corrosion in the wood. Just as he was beginning to feel secure, a small meteor came down and wiped him out.
Moral: Catastrophes are always with us, they just keep changing shape.
The Thurber prize-winning certificate gave me “every wish for continued successes, including the not inconsequential wish that, one day, long after this award has faded either in significance or from its being hung on the refrigerator and bleached by direct sunlight, there might be something more practical or promissory upon this citation’s recipient…”
This fable-writing experience made me think of a fable that enveloped me one summer. I’d say the year was 1986 and the month was August. It was called “In Conjunction with the Jays.” It went like this: I spent one summer month in the backyard gluing small stuff onto my car. I had spent the prior eight years adding to it little by little. I was embarrassed at the times it fell into artistic decay. Now, at last, I was focused on making it look its best.
For part of the month, the car was lodged between sticker bushes on a path leading to my toy shed. I would carry my portable radio down there and glue onto the driver’s side – I called that section “Happy Birthday” because I started it on my birthday – and onto the trunk. One day I was gluing onto the trunk and I had a revelation of the meaning of life (I remember it involved the words “levity” and “amenities”) but then I forgot it.
To my right was a tall fence. From over the fence came two aged voices. A female would say, “The onions need watering.” A crabby male voice replied, “What?!” This would be repeated over and over until the male voice grunted instead of saying, “What?!”
I got to thinking these were the voices of Death bickering. So I would turn my radio up so I couldn’t hear them. The songs on the radio were banal that summer. I had no favorites.
It pleased me to see the car trunk so encrusted. I called it “urban camouflage.”
Also, that summer in the backyard enabled me to watch the jays. The scrub jays terrorize the other birds. They make a louder noise than anything around (even Death and the radio). The brown towhees and the rufous-sided towhees scratched loudly in the leaves under the bushes. Sometimes I could hear a towhee sitting breathlessly inside the bush while some jays screamed their way into her.
I imagined the backyard, the car, the summer’s day, the radio, the jays, the towhees, the voices, my son in the house, all part of my perfect little treasure box in heaven.
My car could be shouting its way into offensiveness like the scrub jays coming in to the brown towhee. Art, like nature, could be on the offensive. Art – that’s an abstract concept for my little treasure box set in mental concrete as thick as the sunlight, as thick as the screaming of the jays.
A hummingbird cut in and out, wings with a noise like a snapped wire. He also made pipping noises. He was my stamp of approval.
I didn’t get a certificate for that one. But rereading it made me remember that month. Thanks to Thurber House for being my fable enabler, for reminding me to go through files, watch the critters, and make stops along the rushing creek of life.
Great-Aunt Gladys and the Muskingum River
Great-Aunt Gladys attaches Christine Hayes' shoe, summer 1949.
I sat on the floating dock and fished with my Great-Aunt Gladys. We watched boats going by and looked out upon the opposite bank, which resembled a painting by Grant Wood. The grey-green water rolled under us when larger boats went by.
Great-Aunt Gladys lived in Marietta, in the house of her parents, Mary and Quin Tilton. She had been a milliner in Cleveland when she met my Great-Uncle Henry Van Rooy, a coffee importer. But when I was a child they were all retired and living on the river. The front of the house looked out on the Muskingum. The back of the house looked out on an alley. Down a ladder from the front yard was the method of descending the cliff face and getting onto the floating dock.
In the Mills cafeteria in downtown Columbus, I used to stand in front of the panoramic mural of Ohio history. The mural was located on a grand second level reached by two staircases. Depicted were pioneers, statesmen, and native Americans on a riverbank. As a child, I confused this painted view with the real one in Marietta. I believed I melted in with the figures in the mural, as I had lots of time to kill while I was waiting for my parents to finish talking. And I could smell the fishy river, even in Mills.
Back to the wonderful house in Marietta: it still stands and is inhabited by a young couple. They don’t climb down to the river, and the steps run a different way up to the kitchen. In this spacious kitchen Auntie cooked hearty meals, often using luscious produce from the garden. To me, everything in the house had a magic air.
The dining room had lamps with crystal prisms. I played with my Great-Aunt’s figurines in the copper-colored fringe of the couch, creating mini-entrances and exits. I would be called in to dinner, where we might sup on soup and fish, then I would go back to my playing. I thought this idyllic life would never end.
But one by one, Mary, Quin, and Henry (“Uncle Van,” who always called me “Peaches”) died. Great-Aunt Gladys had to go to a nursing home. The wonderful prisms came to me. It is wise to draw sustenance from the remembrance of the peaceful moments, for the world can tilt and crack like an old soup tureen. The steady floor can roll like a river beneath your feet.
My father’s relatives lived across the road, in a more elevated area of the “Rathbone” section of Marietta. In a story called “Marietta Memory” he remembered an epiphany he had there as a small child:
“The first night I slept in a city I was tucked in by Mother and an aunt at child’s bedtime on the second floor rear. The bed was big, and its sheets felt both firm and clean. I thought I could feel their boiled whiteness in the dark. The year was 1917.
That night away from home was long and pleasant; I languished. The sun then was rising late, setting early – still, the weather was warm, surprisingly warm. The time could have been the portion of November in which weather is often freakish.
The bed stood beside a window, and I opened the window. I sensed that there was warm still air out there above a backyard, and I leaned out into it. I was looking toward a barn beside an alley but seeing nothing at all in the darkness.
I was in a river city, and I thought the air I was looking into had moved from the river to the residential area in which my aunt lived. The barn – my father’s auto must be parked in it, yet, he could have driven away, maybe across the river bridge to another state – those were among my thoughts when it happened.
A milk wagon, with a horse, came along the alley. Inside the wagon was a light – a lantern? A glow came from the wagon and touched the bricks of the alley beside it, a magical apparition. I saw the milk wagon in its nocturnal beauty as a wainwright’s fantasy, a small and glowing steamboat on a dark river.
…I never actually saw the milkman. He spoke, perhaps twice, before clucking the horse into going. He walked (I think) behind the vehicle of luminosity. The horse knew the way of the milk route.
All the days of my life I have cherished my memory of beauty that rolled through the warm night as I watched.”
Daisies, please, with a side of corn
Christine and her father, Ben Hayes, in 1952.
At Joe's Corners we ate lots of sweet corn and grew lots of Shasta daisies. Joe's Corners was the intersection of Reynoldsburg-New Albany Road and Broad Street, in the Blacklick area. Our rented farmhouse, the old Milburn place they called it, stood on the northwest side of that once-country crossroads. Today the farmhouse land is paved over and part of Eastpointe Shopping Center.
But in those days, it was farmland. My father, Ben Hayes, farmed part of the acre surrounding the house. He did this in addition to writing six columns a week for the Columbus Citizen. The Saturday column was called “Around Home” and included such tidbits as, “Christine, our tad child, fell backwards into a huge kettle of grape pulp and peach peelings. She was tinted all the way to her underpants.”
As a tad child, I once ran away and hid in the cornfields surrounding the house. I can remember the heady feeling of freedom in the August heat. It was shady amid those towering stalks. Then I heard my mother's hysterical cries. I didn't answer for a long time. Finally, she found me.
This reminds me of a D.H. Lawrence quote, from “Love Was Once A Little Boy.”: And when I find her, away down the timber, when she is a ghost, and lost to the world, like a spider dangling in the void of chaos, then she is relieved….
But, he was talking about a cow.
The cornfield had its other perils. There was a black substance we called “smut” that grew on the corn ears. Smut was often eye-level for a small child. No doubt I touched it or ate it, and therefore it frightened me. It has probably been eradicated by modern chemistry.
An electrical transformer was attached to a telephone pole above the front cornfield. During thunderstorms, this transformer attracted lightning. It was “zapped” several times in my memory, with a loud cracking noise and loss of power for the farmhouse. This colors my remembrance of that “lost” cornfield.
The barn that stood in the field (many outbuildings surrounded the house) has a particular memory. While our family was breakfasting, I saw an odd creature out the window. It did not move; it was rather large with a squared-off head. My father went out to investigate and brought back a cat with a tin can stuck on its head. He cut the can off carefully with tin-snips. Thus “Ugly Charlie” came to live with us.
Blacklick got its name from H.G. Black, who owned the first farm south of what eventually became the little town. As early as 1806 the nearby stream was referred to as “Black's Lick Creek,” as Mr. Black kept a salt lick on his farm.
Joe's Corners got its name from Joe Grubs, who was a retailer there, selling everything from rolling pins to newborn pups. I knew it as a restaurant owned by Lucy Ramey. Later, a gas station occupied the small building on the corner.
I remember the sound of a car accident at the intersection. My father went down to help the victims. Later, he retrieved some belongings that had been thrown from the cars. They hung in our car barn, and I shivered when I saw them, remembering that sound.
The other thing that made me shiver, scream, and run was the bumblebees. They took up residence in the walls of the “Ranch House,” an outbuilding of two rooms that was my playhouse. My playthings were an erector set, Lincoln Logs (invented by Frank Lloyd Wright's son, by the way), and a “Li'l Abner” drumset that I received, inexplicably, one Christmas. I had Dad's funny hat collection on the wall, a chalkboard, lots of dolls and cats.
My father had cut a cat-door in the side of the Ranch House for the outdoor cats to get in and sleep in the winter. This open wall-slice also gave access to the bees. The constant hum would drive me wild, not to mention the biggest bumblebees you've ever seen. I would tear out toward the grapevine when they came at me. That grapevine had the sweetest, suckable grapes, the same grapes that filled the tub I fell into. They were trying to make wine in that tub.
My father grew, and my mother served, canned, and cooked, sweet corn, asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes, beans and peas. Gourds were also a big crop. The profusion of flowers, not just daisies, was vivid.
I would sit in my sandbox down by the pear tree and create little farm-worlds from pebbles, plants, and sand. I was a solitary child with imaginary playmates and a dramatic inner monologue. I loved my hollyhock-blossom dolls, flower-petal potions, and a forest of tickly asparagus ferns in the fall.
But the corn! Here's a quote from Ben Hayes: June 10, 1952: “Just a few months ago these very fields were wastelands of stripped cornstalks – forlorn vistas, the earth frozen hard, tattered here and there with ragged patches of snow as the whistling, biting wind of winter rattled the debris which harvest leaves behind. Now, on every side, as I sit in the deep green shadow of the tree, are fields that have been plowed and harrowed and cultipacked into excellent seedbeds. From this pulverized earth, rain-moistened and warmed hour after hour by the sun, is springing the tender green corn. This crop will climb skyward – you can see it grow in the shimmer of summer which already has begun. What a phenomenon!”
Now if only we could unpave that field, have back the giant catalpa tree with the swing, and go back to the simple life at Joe's Corner's.
How the art cars came to Ohio
Christine Hayes (Ramona Moon) elated at the
Turkey Toyota’s arrival in Columbus
When I moved to Ohio from California, I left the art cars behind. Then I went back and forth, Ohio, California, Ohio, California, looking out for them and trying to ship them.
One, the Turkey Toyota, was in the petite garage-turned-garden shed of my friend Marilyn. This garage sits perched at the end of a steeply graded driveway on a precipitous canyonside in Mill Valley. The house and garden of this garage are lush, tended with care. The little Toyota (a 1967 Corona) fit like a foot in a snug shoe in the folds of the garden tools, pots, trellises, all around it. Marilyn was proud to have it there, fellow Ohioan that she is.
I left the Motley Malibu (a 1976 Chevy) on a Sebastopol ranch, an hour north of San Francisco, and right across the fence from some emu. Once I was going through some toys, the glued embellishment of the two cars, listening to music.
I was talking to myself as usual. When I turned from my concentrated work, all the emu were in a clump with their big eyes on me, their noble necks raised, their feathers smooth and unruffled, their long legs still.
Later, I moved the Toyota up to join the Malibu. My friends, Elizabeth and Hoyt, the loyal and stalwart caretakers, were also honored to have the cars there. Their daughter Sierra glued some toys on, with my permission of course. During a big storm they had to run out and re-tarp the two. Flapping tarps can do damage to carskin decor. It wasn’t their fault. Eventually they had a dispute with neighbors and had to sell the property. So the cars had to go.
I drove the Turkey and the Motley up to Ace Storage in Rohnert Park. The managers, a couple, acted as though they saw art cars every day. They had two funky sheds empty. I left my beloved vehicles in these tight little tin-roofed spaces. Every month for a year, I sent checks to their little jails. I pined for them. People didn’t believe in them. I was bereft.
All the while I was trying to find a company to ship them. No one would do it because of the liability of the decor. Two years after moving to Ohio, I was back in Mill Valley calling car-shipping companies. I was staying with a friend’s teenager while his parents were away. I was spending much time on the phone.
I had the move lined up, but the company backed out at the last minute. I got suggestions of other companies from a friend who sells Jaguars. Time was running out. I was getting desperate. Finally one person said to me, “You need to talk to Buddy.”
Unlike other companies, Buddy’s was based in San Francisco. He had shipped other art cars. He said, “Of course we’ll do it.” He did not ask for more money, for more insurance, for more time. He had the most beautiful voice.
One fine sunny day soon thereafter I went up to their little tin sheds with their little locked doors with my trusted mechanic, Ross, and got them new batteries and some tuning-up. Then I went up in a rent-a-car and met a giant flatbed truck. The driver was cheerful. I drove the cars out to the dusty road and he loaded them onto the flatbed. I had to wave good-bye as they rattled out of sight. (How did I do it? But I was elated that they were finally on their way.)
The next time I saw them, they were unloaded at a large parking lot near my house on a Sunday morning. The driver, another cheerful man, had called me from the auto carrier. I didn’t get to see them still on the carrier. He said they’d had some looks from people along the way. But the driver was not talkative or sentimental. He just got back in the driver’s seat and drove away. (Buddy already had my money.) I was left with two grimy, decorations-falling-off cars.
I removed all decor not fastened tight and drove the Turkey Toyota to my house. I walked back to the parking lot. I got the Motley Malibu almost to my house. It stalled at the corner a scant two blocks from the house! The epic journey: so close and yet not done! I left a note on the Motley. I walked to my house to call AAA. By the time I walked back to the Motley, a policeman was there.
The policeman said a neighbor had called him. Perhaps they thought a crazy person had abandoned it. They were not yet used to the bejeweled behemoth in their neighborhood. The AAA got it started and into my driveway. A breath of relief, but...
The pair did look pretty bad, with large patches of their sweet crust fallen away, and oodles of dirt. Only a mother could love them. It took me a long time to get them clean and re-glued. But the Turkey Toyota appeared in the DooDah Parade the following July 4. Greg Phelps helped me get the patches covered over with toys and other fine objects.
The Turkey caused a sensation! Eric Albrecht followed the Turkey throughout the parade, clicking off photos as though enamored! Eric kept yelling instructions on where to place my hands and head. He was very bossy, but that’s okay: one photo made it into the Columbus Dispatch. The paper ran the photo again years later as a file photo for the DooDah.
Hopefully it will appear again and again as I continue on my checkered career, as a little bobber that floats on the surface of the diva fame.
Both cars have many totems and tokens to help them on their way now, St. Christophers, Buddhas, angels, crystals, a piece of wood from a temple in Japan, mermaids, a Mary with a car on her robe. Charles Hunt, a friend from Van Nuys, California, offered a Znid which is a small ceramic creature with a little mouth and a pointy snout. Charles and also his car are called “The Grape” because he has become one with his outrageous, tripped-out, cut-up, adorned, spiky 1964 Comet. It is true that car artists become one with their cars. I had not really arrived in Ohio until my cars arrived. And now we are here. To stay.
Thank you, Buddy, wherever you are.
Romancing the open road
Christine Hayes on petrified wood
in front of the “Painted Desert.”
Some hot stuff for a cold December: my father's diary of a family car trip to Los Angeles from Columbus, dated June 16, 1952, “fourth day out,” 52 years ago. Our chariot was a black '49 Dodge sedan, a sleek design.
“Sweat all night with air conditioner on. Woke up at 1:40 a.m., cool breezes from south, quickly we left Dalhart at 2 a.m. for New Mexico. Chrissie went right into car in her pajamas.
“She talked all the way to Tucumcari. The Texas stars, she said, were all colors – while those in Ohio were only white.
I showed her the sickle moon to the rear. 'It needs a handle,' she said. She told of a dream she had – about a big cake with striped icing and on top were letters of ice which spelled 'TOILET.' We sang deep in the heart of Texas, switching the words to Calif. where the stars get lit every night. Hit a jackrabbit.
“At 3 a.m. Mountain Time we ate breakfast at Flag Ranch Café in Tucumcari. $2, a quarter for postcards. We really rolled westward, and at dawn bought $2.95 in gas at Santa Rosa. We were lunching in Albuquerque at 8 a.m. $2.60 and 50 cents for postcards. On way out we bought Indian headdress for 79 cents and ice for 25 cents. We got $2.15 more of gas. Was really getting hot.
“Chris wore headdress and chose name of Star Princess. I dubbed her, and she went into Indian makebelieve. We talked of odd rocks and mountains. Chris said her chief had ridden his horse through all the mountains and had named them. She showed us Old Bumphead. An actress?”
Yes, I did become an actress (for a time). And I still like long car trips. Just got back from one, drove the length of Pennsylvania which is like California on its side. Saw a black bear running across the road down by the Delaware Water Gap. I didn't sing except for along with a Jimmy Cliff tape. (How's that for four prepositions in a row?)
That excerpt from my father's travel diary shows that poorly paid newspapermen kept track of their money flow. Also their time increments. Also that in 1952 a 5-year-old child knew what a “sickle” was. (Nowadays we think of it as the object carried by the Grim Reaper.)
On that trip I remember concrete-tipi trading posts, advertising signs for same beginning a hundred miles away. When you finally arrived, you had to stop and buy something.
Imagine! Route 66, no interstates, nothing but desert, cactus, jackrabbits, and a long, empty road. Little homemade signs by the side of the road really “stuck out.” I was a good reader at 5, so I'm sure I called them all out.
The painted desert also had a little homemade sign. Petrified wood was on the ground for the taking. (“See! The Petrified Forest!”) Such were the advantages of touring the country before hordes made sightseeing less fun.
But, of course, the unbeaten path can still be found. I find it all the time on Ohio's backroads (And Pa. or any state). The key is to allow the time to stop and examine the nuances of nature, and man's cleverness. And spend money on the old trading posts and diners that still exist. Keep a journal. Work the details of your trip-journal into your writing. Imagine plots! Being an actress is almost as much fun as being a writer. But with writing you're in control.
Sometimes. Your characters can wrest the journey away from your pen (or computer.) While quietly eating a piece of Amish oatmeal pie in the Steel Trolley Diner in Lisbon, Ohio, a couple in the corner can catch your attention and run away with the plot. (They're meeting clandestinely, they're running away across the country, they're harboring a fugitive in the van.)
There's another diner in town. But, it's closed. You peek in through the grimy windows. The stools have their red naugahyde intact, the 50's-print curtains are still on the windows. Why is the other surviving and this one is not? You can imagine moving to Lisbon, opening the rival diner. Saving your pennies and your words.
Yes, I know I can be nostalgic because in those days, the vintage motels and diners were new. They didn't have that smell of a half-century of cigarettes and vice. And we always stopped at a motel with a pool – early in the afternoon. (You did note that we were on the road at 2 a.m.!)
I remember the Sun Court in Wickenburg, Arizona. After an afternoon swim in the perfectly rectangular unadorned pool in the center of the horseshoe-shaped motel colony, I learned to dive. I was flushed with achievement. Even though I could have dived forever, the mountains behind the motel were beckoning. Flat desert had given way to mesas and bumps.
We picked up chunks of turquoise-colored rock called “chrysocolla.” We saw ochre and russet rocks, chalk rocks, coal-like rocks, quartz crystals. We joked about carrying our loot home in a wheelbarrow. I can still remember the crunch of our tennis shoes on the mineral-laden dry ground.
Soon thereafter we crossed into California. We had date shakes in Indio. The road wound through the desert until we came to the outskirts of L.A. We fanned ice fumes onto ourselves, from its tub in the back seat. That's what you did when you crossed the desert in those days. Also you said, “California or Bust.”
I always lost my new turquoise ring from the concrete-tipi trading post when I swam in the ocean. The waves would whip it off my little finger. I would get another one on the way back. Deep in the heart of America, I would fall asleep to the sound of the wheels on the newly minted pavement of Route 66.
This Column Dedicated to the Low in Heart
Ben Hayes, my father, and Emerson Burkhart, eminent Columbus artist and philosopher, were good friends. Thus, I spent time with Burkhart, mostly in my childhood. Many girls go through a “horse obsession.” I admired one of his horse paintings, which he gave to me on the spot. I still look at those palominos grazing in the blue-green brush-stroked meadow. And at several other paintings my parents owned, gifts of the often-generous Burkhart.
I would weary of the adult talk (I enjoyed talking to dolls and imaginary horses), but often I marveled at the loquacious, poetry-spewing, colorful, peppery Burkhart. My mother always cooked his birthday dinner. Afterward, he sat by our fireplace and talked, talked, talked. Other times, we would take Burkhart to Bun’s – he liked to reminisce, as he had attended Ohio Wesleyan.
When I was older, Burkhart gave me a book of Albert Pinkham Ryder’s paintings. Fortunately, he dated the gift: “For Chris, from E. Burkhart, Jan. 30, 1968.” The book is custom dust-jacketed in brown paper on which Burkhart painted embellishments: yellow, black, orange, gold. The book was published by Frederic Price, Dedicated to the Low in Heart 1932. In his introduction, Price describes the filthy studio in which Ryder (1847-1917) worked, and the dreamy, all-for-art attitude in which the free-spirited artist dwelt. Price quotes Ryder: “The artist needs but a roof – a crust of bread and his easel – and all the rest God gives him in abundance.” Also, Price comments: “Ryder would suffer colossal physical discomfort rather than ask for help. Only in the near seventies did he draw from one friend a small stipend for mere existence, a pot of baked beans that lasted for days.”(!)
Burkhart greatly admired Ryder. He considered him a “master” to emulate. Some of Ryder’s works such as Death Rides the Wind remind one of Burkhart’s early period of stark realism when he painted abandoned cars, old buildings, Poe-ish themes. One of Ryder’s acquaintances described him thus: “He went out one morning bright and sunshiny and came back with a moonlight.” Price says, “His monument, if need be – are little squares of canvas so amazingly beautiful the world must wonder. No reason for sunshine if a brighter dream haunts you.” Ryder drew his allegorical subject matter from Blake, Chaucer, Lord Byron, Tennyson, and Shakespeare. The pastoral scenes are fraught with expectation and destiny; the solitary boats sail in a cobalt emptiness with a radiant moon.
A year after the book gift, Burkhart wrote me a letter on March 27, 1969. It was addressed, and received by me, at the American Express office in Agadir, Morocco. (Avenue Hassan II). I was a hippie traveling the road. Burkhart begins, “Your father Ben visited me yesterday – we were looking at a map of Africa…Speak about the generation gap – no one can avoid change. I was born in 1905 – the horse and buggy age, no cars, no aeroplanes, no radio or TV…” To paraphrase the letter, Burkhart goes on to say men and women haven’t really changed much “since 7000 B.C.” And that the main change in modern times is “lacking respect for tradition – or the old apprenticeship method of learning a craft. Art schools of most college art departments are a joke – a $12,000 a year joke – not a craftsman but a talker, a spieler, like a priest or a preacher talking about how to organize nothing on a grand scale.” He writes on about young people he has met on his travels, his painting, publicity for same, ending with questions about books I’m reading, how I would spend a million dollars, who my heroes are. “What do you want? Darwin said he who wastes one minute of time doesn’t know what life is made up of.”
Burkhart died later that year, in 1969. A scant six years later, I was living in an old barn-like building north of San Francisco, in Stinson Beach. I was supremely happy there – it was the perfect studio/living space. And – I’d figured out what I wanted. A baby. And, with that decision, choice toward the life-giving forces: art, music, drama, creativity in all its forms, education, literature…my son was almost born in that building, but ended up in a “birthing room” in my doctor’s office…but that’s another story.
The barn-like space – which had upstairs and downstairs living spaces – included an airplane hangar (this was no ordinary airplane) being used as a rock band rehearsal hall. Also there was a Tibetan Buddhist meditation room. Peter Rowan (with his wife, the upstairs tenants) chanted and meditated, the Rowan Brothers rock band used the hangar. Lucian (the great baby) and I lived downstairs.
The house was known as the Sellmer place. It was a hundred steps to the ocean. Jacob Sellmer, one of the house’s former occupants, invented an “air flivver with folding wings.” He tried to fly it from the Stinson Beach sandspit. But no Wright Brothers’ luck flew his way. With no backers, his dream, like the wings, folded.
The flying device still hung on the wall in the barn/hangar. (It may still.) My dreams, the baby (who is now 28 and an artist), the inspiration of Burkhart, the choice to be true to oneself and live life to its fullest, to improve life, lives on. And the Ryder book is still one of my treasures.
Price says Ryder would spend years on a small painting. “Though he lived in a dwelling that was like the burnt gown of a roasted ear of corn, black with ashes, under whose clothes you find rich flavor, a forgotten shell, neglected, called his studio. Here came his friends and all who met him loved him. He lived the spirit of artist incarnate, in his soul one ability…” The Ryder book’s cover with the Burkhart gold glints in the moonlight. And Burkhart’s hopes and questions still ring true.
Into The Woods
Sun skitting between clouds in springtime draws me out of my chair into the sometime mud of the woods floor. My childhood memories of this Rush Creek ravine run from gathering wildflowers for May Day baskets to playing "Indian Village" in the hollows of grapevine tangles.
Now, the fresh leaves of spring ephemerals rivet my eyes to the ground. Here are some tales of these colorful but brief bloomers:
If the marsh marigold fails to unfurl by seven o'clock in the morning, then rain can be expected. Its heads follow the course of the sun. (They also go to bed early.) The name came from "Mary's gold." Following a wives' tale, wrap a piece of marigold root in purple cloth for a love-spell.
The tulip enjoyed adoration in Turkey before it reached the Netherlands in 1593. In fact, its name comes from a reference to the Turk's red turban. Bloodroot was used as a medicine for sick mules. Native Americans used its juice as war paint and dye for cloth and baskets.
In the Middle Ages, the first violet to bloom was tied to a stick and a spring dance was held around it. Dogtooth violet is not a true violet. It is called "trout lily" because the jutting leaves are mottled like a trout's skin. "Dutchman's breeches" describes the shape of the spurs on the flower heads, which look like upside-down white pantaloons. Feathery leaves complement the pantaloons' delicacy.
Little blue flowers peep out: the forget-me-not's leaves were boiled in wine for an effective antidote for the bite of an adder. (Cleopatra, take note.) The dogtooth violet is also called "adder's tongue."
Spring beauties look so tender. Yet, five species of them grow in the Arctic. These little pink-and-white slips are pollinated by 71 species of insects.
Toothwort's foliage has a hemp-leaf look. Trillium's love potion history: boil the root and drop it in the food of the desired man or woman. If you pick it, superstition says you will cause rain.
Mayapples will soon blanket the area where the above-mentioned bloom. I look for their tiny umbrellas leaves, which will mushroom into shiny two-hand-sized parasols. I also go mushroom hunting.
Morels are found near tree roots. They especially like areas where a forest fire has occurred. Their brown-to-black cone-shaped tops are spongy, pocked. One year I found as many as 32; last year I found 12. Poachers, both human and animal, may have got them. They are good plain, with butter, or in omelettes.
Make sure you know which are morels. As they say, "There are old mushroom hunters, there are bold mushroom hunters, but no old bold mushroom hunters."
The ravine is forested with oak, buckeye, shagbark hickory, honey locust, ash, dogwood, redbud, and one giant hackberry. My father planted lots of white pine. He considered himself a druid, and claimed he consulted with a spirit named Cathbad on the rocks of the stream at midnight. When he died, I sat on these rocks with the rain pelting down, ala King Lear.
More recently, my neighbor, a cub-scout leader, staged "Haunted Forest" near Halloween. I wore my skeleton costume and scared the populace (who viewed consecutive scenes throughout the long, narrow ravine) back up to the playground of the next-door school. The full moon shone behind my black-caped shoulder. My heart beat with anticipation as each group scrambled through the jack-o-lanterned underbrush.
Titmice, juncos, mourning doves like to gobble my birdseed. Cardinals, jays, chickadees, robins and sparrows are constant conversationalists and consumers too. Woodpeckers make known their staccato presence. A large red-tailed hawk appears now and then to check out the rabbit population.
The little screech owls appear regularly. Once a pair of them cavorted around my head, flying from branch to branch on a warm evening. The cats were sitting on the rocks in the stream &endash; that may have been their interest. One night this winter they were making love on a branch near the back door (at least, one was sitting on top of the other, his wings flapping. She shrugged him off, but continued to look at me.) I love to hear them calling at sunset, or in the middle of the night. One of their larger brethren also calls in the wee hours, but instead of the shrill downward glissando, he booms out, "HOO – HOO – HOO!"
A Midwinter Reverie: to Morocco from my chair
. . . all night long the square was used by storytellers, snake charmers, beggars, dancers, musicians, and their encircling audiences
My chair overlooking the woods and the school is blue, green, and purple. My mother artfully patched a couple of holes in the cover. The chair's big green parts are a textured olive twill, an odd combo with the flowered blue, green, and purple.
In fact, my mother made the whole cover over the original fabric which is still underneath, a fifties "moderne" print in oranges, brown, and olive. Then, it was a living-room showoff. Now, it's a bedroom comfy.
I put on my summer-sky blue fuzzy slippers and listen to the children playing on the playground. The snowplow has just skimmed it clean for them. Their neon-colored jackets flash against the white and the gray.
My chair has two blue pillows on it - one royal corduroy, one navy and cerulean arabesque pattern. And thus, the dreams begin. On a snowy February day, I try to imagine the furthest chair I've sat on in my travels.
In the '60s was a song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash called the "Marrakesh Express." I imagined myself on it, and so went to the country of Morocco in northwest Africa in 1969. I didn't find a train, but I found Marrakesh. I found people who were living more or less like their ancestors lived centuries before. Cars zoomed along roads connecting the major cities and villages, but also mules and camels carried people and cargo to market.
The market in Marrakesh had an open-air square where beverages and food were sold by day; but by evening and all night long the square was used by storytellers, snake charmers, beggars, dancers, musicians, and their encircling audiences.
Djemaa-el-Fna, as the square was called, was but the entryway into the medina, the labyrinthine covered-path market, where each turn brought you into a section of shops selling one thing: the street of bellows; the street of metalwork; the street of leather - their leatherwork is so fine that the word Morocco is synonymous with beautiful leather.
So, a culture with few modern conveniences, but the finest of crafts. Also, no representation of human or animal is allowed in Islamic art. Thus, the abstract design and artistic lettering is pulled to its fullest extent. Patterns of script, glory, and glamour are repeated in color. Stalactites of carved ceiling panels scoop and whorl. Arched ceilings and doorways draw one into a mental dance.
To find the essence of a culture, with its own god and its customs peculiar to the area, based on circumstance of history but also the desert environment - heat, purple shadows, red earth, bare mountains, and undulating plains. One also finds mosques, minarets, ablution and reflecting pools, fountains, palms, mosaics, and the occasional stork's nest.
Huge, ancient wooden doors in the adobe walls are the entrances to houses. Interiors are a guarded secret world. They consist of small perimeter rooms, balconies, and stairways to a 3rd, 4th, or 5th floor. Most family life takes place in the open courtyard (cooking, fountain burbling) or the roof (animals kept).
And imagine a culture where floor and ground sitting is more prevalent than the use of chairs. We were led by a small child through back alleyways to the door of the restaurant Dar-es-Salaam. For tourists, benches with patterned brocade cushions lined the walls. Round design-worked brass tables stood at intervals. Our young server did her homework in Arabic script in between the calls from the kitchen.
Each spiced stew, or tajine, was served in a conical-lidded earthenware bowl. Mint tea, the national beverage in a land where alcohol is forbidden by religion, accompanied the meal. We ate our couscous, chicken, lamb, and vegetables with our hands, bread for scoops. Heated towels, fragrant with lemon juice, were provided both before and after. Birds flew in tall arched windows high above our heads. And we knew we would never forget that meal, leaning sideways to look up from our patterned perch on the restaurant bench.
The white sky over the treetops is starting to show some patches of blue. The children have gone inside and I'm sure are poring over their lessons with rosy cheeks. I think of the vast, ancient round vats of red dye that turn the Marrakesh fibre into the stuff for red rugs, the yarn (of all colors) hanging over the rooftops to dry.
I'm trying to rein myself back to reality. To my blue-whorled pillow by my right shoulder, snap it all back into the folds of that pattern. To be able to retrieve it another day is my goal. The smells of the spices, the lamb frying in the square, the kif being smoked, the camels braying when they're commanded to kneel down, the gold of the embroidered cloth - so many things to remember from my old chair.
Road Trip to Vermilion, and - Back to Jumpin' J & G Diner
This is the time of year for a quick getaway to the Big Water, when the lake in Goodale Park is just not big enough – off to Lake Erie, hoping the weather will be good for swimming and sunning and birding, in the spirit of John Switzer.
Took 23 to Delaware, 42 to Mt. Gilead, 61 up to the lake, Bob Dylan's voice shouting in my mind, "Goin' on Haway Sixty-one!" Drove through the small towns of Leonardsburg, Ashley, Cardington. Stopped at the Taco Bell in Galion for a pitstop, iced tea, and 50 cent "power bracelets" in plastic pods from a vending machine.
Cornfields, goldenrod, black-eyed Susans, and yellowy soybean plants glowed in the sun. We zoomed over the railroad tracks in Crestline; we spotted the "Dawn Powell birthplace" sign in Shelby. Another Ohio author: near the Plymouth Auto Salvage, a former drive-in theatre, we spotted the "Petroleum V. Nasby birthplace" sign. On through Bethlehem with its Sacred Heart Church pushing its spire to heaven in the middle of fields and fences.
On through New Haven, exotica like Peru and Ceylon (also little towns), past the fine homes of Norwalk. We stopped for a picnic lunch at Boose's Farm Produce with heaps of pumpkins and bright squash and gourds out front.
To the lake! The Grey Expanse, Ruggles, Mitiwanga, Vermilion. Turn at the pink house, on to Huron Street and the old boat-captain's house, now a B & B, the Gilchrist House. There's a pumpkin-and-white cat next to the world's largest pumpkin vine in the front yard. An expansive porch and a playhouse gazebo.
There's a storm coming in. Instead of swimming, there's a wintry beach with a flock of gulls on storm-watch. But there's the Great Lakes Maritime Museum to be explored, the gift stores of town full of every nautical gee-gaw known to man, the thrift store, the soda fountain, the candy store, the boat docks. While the train blares through the heart of town every 15 minutes, the freshly painted water tower ("Vermilion Sailors") looms whitely over the white-capped waterway village.
Waves sweep into the petite beach. We retire to our room to watch dark clouds pass to the east. Only a light rain falls. There's a stereopticon and pretty books in the sitting room as an alternative to TV.
The dining room has an inviting table worthy of the Mad Hatter. We eat a little dinner and drink a little wine.
I write postcards to everyone I owe a letter to. Purchased in town, the cards have a picture of a powerboat on the lake, with the words "Lake Erie" rising mysteriously behind the boat. I finish one of the many books I'm in the middle of.
At 7 a.m., I walk again all around the town, picking up horse chestnuts (larger than buckeyes) and black walnuts as ballast for my pockets. It's windy. The clouds are parting, however, to reveal a pinky line above the water. Arriving back at the Gilchrist House at 8 a.m., I spy a sparkling breakfast laid out on the Mad Hatter's table. We munch leisurely, then pack up for the trip home. The sun comes out just before we leave.
Winding the roads up that we unraveled the day before, we call out the now-familiar sights. We get more bracelets at the Taco Bell. lunch is yummy breakfast leftovers in the car.
The next day, country capers give way to urban escapades. I go for the diner experience at J & G, 733 N. High Street. Elvis croons "Let me wear your ring around my neck" as I sit at my Formica table in a sparkly silver-grey plastic booth. My iced tea (the waiter says it's called "Paradise") has a bright fruity zing to it. The decor is high-heel (actual shoes sitting around) and femme fatale (in paintings). The ceiling is skewed-checkerboard and polka-dot with strips of turquoise and fuchsia neon. The bathroom is a mirrored wonder (don't go in there unless you really like yourself).
My mashed potatoes were a heavenly cloud. My vegetables; cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, yellow squash, and mushroom &endash; were crisp and fresh. All around me were cheerful-looking people as comforted as I was by comfort food.
I left feeling as happy as the bright yellow stippled walls in J & G. I saw a bumper sticker on a car that read, "Suburbia: Where They Cut Down The Trees And Name The Streets After Them."
My house has its trees intact. Back home in Worthington it's the time of year for those smooth little mahogany buckeyes to fall from the trees. I gather them by the basketful, peel them out of their knobby shells &endash; they're slippery, like a quarterback running out of the grasp of big toughs.
JOE SPOOK SAYS: He who walks the woods in autumn with a buckeye in his pocket will have good luck all the day.
These are a Few of My Favorite Things
Each year I try to scrape one level lower (and one mental level higher) in my archaeological dig of good ol' Columbus town, and find the things that best define the quality of life that keeps me here. I'm not talking about big things like Ohio State University or the Ohio State Fair; I mean the little things that make life worthwhile. I pretend I'm a Tibetan lama, and I need to disguise myself for a lifetime or two until I come back as a supreme being. I'm lying low in the lap of the land. Here are the Zen best for '99:
1. Running along the river in the fall. Running along the river in the spring. Walking along the river in the summer (it's hot). Walking along the river in the winter (it's frosty). Often there's a riot of flowers. Chipmunks and squirrels, geese and herons can be glimpsed. The olive jade of the river accompanies your steps. It's good to align the sections of the landscape to your pace. Memorization by foot.
2. Drive-by Country: I can often commute to my destination through a segment of rurality. A bit of farmhouse here, a truck garden there, a reflective pond. I can almost stand the L.A.-ization of Columbus if ribbons of country are left standing between the concrete. Ameliorate the malls. Love those stone walls.
3. Roadside Attractions: I recently took a bus tour under the auspices of the Ohio Historic Preservation Office, during which I was shown the wealth of vintage roadsigns, motels, Lustron homes, and kitsch alongside central Ohio roads. I recently saw a breathtaking roadside "tree" made out of ten "gazing balls," and of course we have the famous Michael's Goody Boy Drive-In right here in the Short North.
4. Romantic Call of the Rail: All people who live right next to railroad tracks, stop reading. But those who live within a soothing distance, read on. I love to hear those trains, any hour of the day or night. It is true, however, that Columbus still has many major thoroughfares which come to a standstill when the train (read long train) goes by. (See last year's #6, patience of strangers, and hope it still holds.). I myself am losing patience waiting for passenger rail. I guess that's why I love the sound so much, the memory of great train rides.
5. Fun Business People: They're out there if you're open to them. I recently encountered Gina Cronley of Orbit Design, 20 W. Poplar (the turquoise building behind Functional Furnishings, 601 N. High). Amid her paint-by-numbers wall, glued-shell objects, rhinestone fruit, and rotating aluminum tree, she greeted me most warmly. Also greeting warmly was Dave Phillips of Victorian Village Carry-Out, 938 Dennison, the only grocery store I know which is also an insurance office and has oil paintings on the walls. The paintings were done by Dave's father, L.M. Phillips, who also happened to attend the Zanerian School of Penmanship at 612 N. Park Street, now the Conrad Phillips and Vutech Advertising Agency. I'm fascinated by the School of Penmanship and will write more about it. One more note about the Victorian Village Carry-Out: It's fronted with Lustron plates (porcelain enamel). Check them out.
6. Historical Buildings: I've written two walking tours of the Short North this year, and that's just a tidbit of the old glacier-slaked terrain. Columbus could be known for its eclectic mix of styles. Art in public places bringing a bridge be-tween new and old. The kitsch and the rich. Save what we have and make it all clean and usable.
7. The Fort Hayes Factotum Force: I recently attended a Columbus Historical Society (an organization I recommend) meeting in which we viewed the restoration of Emerson Burkhart's huge mural from Central High School (now COSI). With the backing of the city of Columbus, the students and many others are painstakingly restoring it at Ft. Hayes. Also, Ft. Hayes is the site of WCBE, our National Public Radio sta-tion, and the Blues Jam on Sunday 6-9 pm at 90.5 hosted by Peter Simon. Ft. Hayes is a hotbed of activity (as anything named Hayes should be.)
8. New Age Stuff: The other result of the '60s (rather than just rock and roll blaring out from every ad and movie) is that New Age thinking is permeating the premises. From the influence of "estrogen-American" (I borrow this term from Garrison Keillor) to gays to vegans to psychics to healthful massage and other therapies, the fabric of life has a looser weave. The tongue is taken out of the cheek when referring to these venues and pierced with the acupuncture needle of truth.
9. New Age Vehicles: You knew I'd get around to this. I can't stay away from transportation for long. I'm seeing more and more creative vehicles. The degree of blatant or subtle doesn't matter as long as the intention is there. (We can't all be Gino Centofani - who, by the way, should be given a large piece of land to create the Watts Towers of Columbus). I'm going to pick a parking lot and issue a call to car artists (and bicycle artists, buggy artists, etc.) of all persuasions. I'm waiting for spring, which always arrives around April Fool's Day.
10. The number "15": Now that Columbus is the 15th largest city in the US (according to a recent count), we can reflect on this: 15 is the middle age of adolescence, an end to puberty, a coming of age. Trade in the cow for the bulldozer; have "Fifteens" as a sports name (first, we need to invent the sport).
I welcome all suggestions to Columbus's ten best attributes. For the record, last year's ten best were: alleys, mulch, leaves, no-pay-first gas stations, easy-to-get volunteers, patience of strang-ers, fast getaways, libraries, vegetable trays, and excellent light displays. Fortunately, these all still hold.
Best wishes for the New Year.
Folded Copy Paper
The sound of his Underwood: keys punched, bell, carriage return. The smell of rubber cement as articles and pictures were affixed to his scrapbook pages. The riot of Al Getchell drawings, odd photos, and New Yorker cartoons above his desk. His off-beat humor and creative energy spilling over into my child's world: the "Ranch House," an outbuilding at the Blacklick farmhouse, that he outfitted with newspaper negatives for wallpaper, a collection of kooky hats (his trademark at the time), a child-size drum set, and a big picture of a red fruit-encased woman that said, "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries."
He rigged up a swing on the catalpa tree, painted it turquoise and then hot pink (it matched the front porch both times). In fall he made me a house of cornstalks. He grew incredible sweet corn, asparagus, strawberries, gourds, beans. We had a lot of company in the summertime to help us eat it. He grew a splash of flowers - hollyhocks were my favorite, as I made them into dollskirts. We both loved Queen Anne's lace.
He taught me names of flowers, both wild and domestic, birds, trees, and fish. We went fishing on Blacklick Creek. We hiked to the woods to visit the dwarf's house in a hollow tree. I really believed. He read me books in various voices with dramatic intonations.
He was just at home downtown. I spent endless hours in restaurants (I befriended bartenders, waiters, and waitresses - naming my dolls after the latter), theaters, openings, and press parties. We had free passes to everything. I accompanied him to museums, art galleries, graveyards, historic sites, visiting old-timers and celebrities. I spent a lot of time on local early TV. The lights were bright and I had to squint as I was instructed to "look at the red light and wave." My biggest thrill was meeting Roy Rogers.
Columbus was a fairyland to me - full of parks, flowers, fountains, the State Fair, funrides, old mansions, a re-blooming German Village, hearty dinners, fancy buffets, beautiful people, characters of all ages. They wanted to talk to my father and he listened to them, folded copy paper and ballpoint pen in hand. He rarely got to eat his dinner in a restaurant without interruption. He never made it down a city block without being recognized and given a news tidbit or two.
After I went to college, and for 24 years thereafter, he wrote me a letter a week, filling me in on a Columbus that was changing rapidly. On my trips home we had an exchange: I fixed his favorite foods like cornbread and potato salad, and he told me stories from Noble County and Columbus. We had our favorite topics: Chautauqua, revival meetings, medicine shows, riverboat theater, characters from his hometown, Columbus characters, art, dreams (we both dreamed in color with many scenes per night).
He would yell out words when there was a lull, often the punchline of a recent story, or "Habi-ba!" (the name of a former belly-dancer at Benny Klein's), "Excelsior!" (from the Longfellow poem of the same name), or "Are you all right, Roy?" (once Dale Evans had said this while hitting her cowboy husband with her Stetson).
Now I have stacks of crumbling scrapbook pages and many precious letters. It has taken me two years to read through his files and handwritten notebooks. Every word has been a joy.
Reprinted from The Ben Hayes Scrapbook, compiled by Jay Hoster and Christine Hayes. For information on obtaining copies, call 614-885-7830.
The ginkgo lost all its yellow-fan leaves in one night. The ginkgo is planted right smack where I can see it out my girlhood ravine-oriented window. I mean it's outside the room I lived in from age 9 to 17, in a house on the edge of a finger of forest stretching a mile along a ravine streambed. It's probably all that's left of a much larger forest that was cut down to make way for houses in the 50s.
I stare out into the afternoon mist at the tracery of the twigs. Nuthatches swirl upside-down on their toes around the ginkgo trunk. Cardinals "chip" to each other, twitting from stick to bending stick. I catch the sight of a spiderweb blowing in the breeze.
I've come back to this house after 32 years. My parents built it in 1956. It's the best move I've ever made. Wintry gray skies cannot dampen my delight in it.
The measured clip of the trains up next to Indianola is funneled to my ear by the ravine. I jokingly call my trees a train forest instead of a rain forest. I call the house Druid Hill as my father claimed that Cathbad, the chief Druid, met with his cohorts on the large rocks in the stream at midnight.
In the house, cats laze around on the beds and couch, posing like sphinxes when someone chances by. I'm almost guilty to have this house and the time to think, to sort, to create. The short days pull me to the stream at twilight, to slog the gravity of my corpus at a paranormal rate, to the tune of a heartbeat. I pass by others there who say hello.
My father planted many of these trees, including the ginkgo, augmentation to the woods already here. His ashes I planted, here, too. I turn left at the white pine and sit on my haunches at the spot.
A dog barks, the cough of the neighborhood. The neighbor kids buried a bird nearby, with a stick cross and a circle of stones. My father's suet-holder for the birds still adorns a nearby walnut tree. It will have to serve as marker.
These trees and this house, and my mother's enjoyment of them when she comes to visit, are a marker of my father's life and times.
I'm the caretaker of a clement retreat. I give a small prayer of thanks as I watch the sunset, like a small jeweled pin, slip out from under a gray cloud. The time's here to look at a brown leaf. Yes, a brown leaf. It suddenly glows red like someone's set a cigarette through the other side, the last glow-promise of real autumn. Then the sun's behind the tree line and down.
1998: A good year to walk a lot, make sculptures out of sticks, and seek the noteworthy. As newsman Scoop Nisker says, "If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own."
Seen at the Canzani Center, Columbus College of Art and Design: Richard Mayer's installation "From the Ohio Pen," made of pieces of metal, stone, tile, and wood from the Old Pen. These pieces, and things like them, could be part of an Old Pen Museum display and Columbus Historical Museum. This piece ought to be seen by more people. So evocative. How about a museum in the Short North?
I admired, last month, the "wild" trees at the Festival of Trees at the Columbus Convention Center.
Birds, nests, tendrils, wisps, pine cones, acorns -- you get the drift. After viewing so many trees, my cousin and I retired to Rigsby's, where we rejuvenated with onion and garlic soup with brie crouton, warm bread, and a good glass of house wine.
I recommend the chipotle pepper butter at Tapatio Bread Co. in the North Market, also the Jose Madrid raspberry salsa (made in Zanesville), also in North Market. They both give free samples on excellent chips and bread.
I observed Lyon Studios filming a commercial for North Market, with golden-earringed Anne-Marie of North Market Poultry and Game, having to smile and smile beyond all human endurance, all the while holding a large tray of naked and meaty chickens.
Noteworthy this month is M. J. Jennings of M. J. Originals, 745 N. High St.. She has a show of abstract media on rag paper, seven large pieces, at Bagels and Deli, 66 E. Broad, Dec. 12 through February. See some also in her art gallery and framing shop in the Short North.
M.J. effuses enthusiasm. One reason: She's just brought forth into the world (in November) Leda Marie Hickey, her daughter, who's "growing daily like a wildflower."
One of my favorite Short North creations was the High-Buttles Bijou, an invention of James Thurber. I can't go by the corner without thinking of it. Let's bring it back, I say. Some venue should bear that name.
That's all for today's stroll and musings. See you next time.
©2007 - 2018 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.
RETURN TO HOMEPAGE www.shortnorth.com