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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

"Haunt 2"

When I was just old enough to start bicycling my way out of my river valley, one of my first accomplishments was visiting the graveyard next to the Grange Hall.  A Grange Hall is a place where farmers get together and talk about stuff, probably price fixing or manure sharing or something.  I’m not really sure what the farmers talked about because even though the Grange is still used and maintained, there aren’t that many farmers around these days. 

It used to be on the other side of the street, but there isn’t an other side of the street any more.  It’s just air next to the giant cliff that shadows my valley.  It’s a spectacular spot which gives a view of trees and river that stretches for miles.  See that blue down there amongst the trees?  That’s where I grew up.  The street was moved over since the cliff kept collapsing, and in the bare beginnings of my memory, the cliff was reinforced with a steel retaining wall.  I don’t know if they had to move the cemetery or not, but it is currently right next to the Grange Hall, almost invisible in a pretty grove of trees.  You can barely see it in the top photo, to the left of the building, just past that big yellow, orange maple tree. 

There aren’t that many headstones, and whoever decided where to put the graves lacked organization, with graves scattered around in various clumps.  The graves are old.  Okay, maybe not European or Egyptian old, but old for Ohio, with dates from the early 1800’s.  The Indians in the area didn’t put up headstones, though a school friend told me they had an old Indian buried on his property.  I always meant to go and visit the Indian, but never did.  It’s too late now since that area is covered with McMansions.  I bet that old Indian isn’t too happy about it.

Ella’s grave was the one that really captured my young attention.  She got one face of a 4-sided obelisk, one of the later graves, and easily the largest hidden in the trees.  She was only 17 when she died, and was married to a very old man.  Or at least that’s the way I’ve always remembered it.  I went to the cemetery last week to take pictures of the fall leaves and pay my respects to Ella, but I couldn’t read her stone any more since the weather has been wearing down her memory over the decades since I first rode my bike to visit her.  I went back today, despite my lingering cold, and despite the overflow of hurricane Sandy impossibly smacking Ohio.  It was cold, wet, and windy, but I did a rubbing of Ella’s grave so she won’t be forgotten yet.

Anybody can do rubbings of headstones.  Just put a thinnish piece of paper over the inscription and rub a crayon, charcoal, or something over the paper.  The inscription appears like magic.  I used one of the oil pastels I got from cleaning Polly’s house last week.  It seemed appropriate to use a recently passed woman’s pastel to remember another woman, or at least that’s the way I was thinking at the time -- counting me, it was a 3-woman job.  I tried doing a rubbing of an older grave, but some stones are too far gone to be recaptured.

When I was young, I was outraged Ella was married off to the old guy and she was listed like his possession.  What good is it to marry an old guy just because he has enough money for a fancy headstone?  What was her maiden name?  Is her family planted around her in the same tiny rock garden?  I felt bad she died so young.  Going back to visit her, I don’t feel so bad or mad about any of it any more.  This is a peaceful grave yard.  R.I.P. Ella.

After a little research...

I thought Elizabeth made an excellent suggestion to do some research on Ella, and I found out that Ella died of "consumption".  According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, that means "a progressive wasting away of the body especially from pulmonary tuberculosis".  Poor Ella.

On a brighter note, check out Elizabeth's blog here.

Friday, October 26, 2012


It was a 3 ½ gun day.  I’ll bet you think I’m kidding, but I’m not.  I helped my friend John clean his mother’s house today.  She died a while back, and it’s been a big job for him to work full-time and sort through her belongings in his spare time.  I was mostly bagging up clothes for the thrift store and cleaning closets when I found the first gun and ½.  What’s a half a gun?  In this case, it was a rifle stock.  The other rifle looked complete, and John took some pleasure in showing me how the bayonet worked.  That gun was from WWI.

I went through a closet in another room and found another rifle.  John was pleased and joked about me finding more in the house.  Well, that just becomes a challenge.  I found a BB gun revolver in a drawer, so that equaled 3 ½ guns for the day.  I was starting to like Polly.  You’ve got to have a sense of humor to have a gun hidden next to a baby bootie.  I also got to keep Polly’s art supplies.  John gave me some other things too, the only condition being to say a prayer for Polly.  Easy, and glad to do it.

Maybe I’ve got a screw loose, but I enjoy the archeological dig of an old lady’s house, especially a lady with character.  I can’t imagine Polly would waste time haunting anybody.  She probably laughed at me wearing her very cool hats.

I suppose this week is always devoted to people who have passed as we approach Halloween.  I went to an old cemetery earlier in the week and took a couple pictures.  Old fashioned pictures that use film.  Are you old enough to remember film?  Well, let me clue you in, film is hard to get developed these days.  The boys in the drugstore looked at me like I had 3 heads with horns when I brought it in.  Guess I shouldn’t keep that camera around anymore, except I’ll bet I will.  Someday somebody is going to have to clean out my house and will laugh at the stuff I’ve got packed away everywhere.

So, in my future bequests, there are the cameras that take film, the bags of bags, gift boxes I might want to use someday, appliances I’ll never use, or user manuals for things I don't have any more… I’m torn between laughing and feeling concerned that there really isn’t that much difference between Polly and me and our packed closets.  Maybe I should get some guns to store with baby booties?

My doodle just popped into my head this week, and it existed so clearly in my mind, I had to put it on paper.  Then I decided to give my mummy scarecrow a girlfriend.  I don’t know why these drawings needed to exist, but it’s always good to go with our inspirations.
I really meant to write something about the old cemetery this week, but I’ve been sick as a dog – literally, since my dog also got sick.  My apologies for the delay in responding to your comments!  If the weather cooperates with my ideas, I’ll add an extra post this week about the cemetery.

Friday, October 19, 2012


The sky in Ohio is full of colorful leaves right now.  When I was a kid it was still legal to burn them, and the smell of burning leaves mingled with the aroma of pumpkin pie in the oven and the anticipation of Halloween around the corner made fall a happy season.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

That’s by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I just love him.  He had something good to say about everything and wrote in exclamation marks.  I thought of his poem “The Swing” first when I saw Illustration Friday’s word of the week is “Sky”…

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

I repeat that poem in my head every time I see a swing.  If you have a child in your life, get A Child’s Garden of Verses.  It will get them through every season, happy experience, and inspire their creativity.  Or, to heck with the kids.  Get that book for yourself or read it online here.  I realize poetry isn’t that fashionable any more, but sometimes it says things that can’t be said any other way.  RLS’s poems have meant a great deal to me, but sometimes I write things of my own…

A cyclone of words swirl over me
Their colors spun into a circling web
Words unspoken, unwritten, unexpressed
The energy of their feelings, of my feelings
Spin in an endlessly spiraling vortex.

I keep a file of poetry beginnings, and the above is something I wrote so long ago that I don’t remember what inspired it.  I’m much better at poetry beginnings than writing finished poems to tell the truth, but maybe it doesn’t matter?  It doesn't even matter if it's good.  It’s the art of expression, in whatever medium we choose to express ourselves.  Today I’m thinking of autumn, and this poem seems to be a verbal illustration of falling leaves in the sky.

Friday, October 12, 2012


“Foamies” are brightly colored foam sheets with sticky backs.  They’re made by a local company who did not hire me after a completely competent interview.  “Jason” and “Tiffany” seemed more concerned that I live on the other side of Cleveland than they were about what was in my portfolio.  “Are you sure you can get to work on time with such a long drive?”  “Yes!”  In fact, I said “yes” to that 3 or 4 times, but apparently there’s a black hole in between the east and west sides which cannot be bridged by waking up earlier.  Fine.  I hate waking up early and admit a long drive is a drag, but sometimes you’ve just got to have a job-- even a job making stupid kiddie patterns with Foamies.  Oh.  Maybe my general disdain and/or desperation might’ve leaked through my perfectly poised competence in the interview?  Oops.

I bought Foamies before the interview in order to be familiar with their product and to impress them with my initiative.  Pfft.  I shoved the Foamies in my supply closet to be forgotten until I discovered them in a recent archeological dig in there for a goal I can’t remember.  Since I had recently been in the upstairs storage unearthing frames which are now scattered all over the living room, it seemed like a great time to lay on the couch and cut out colorful shapes.  It might’ve been the first time I’ve related to Henri Matisse’s cut paper period.

Now my house has messes in every room when I’m pretty sure the original goal was to clean house.  This is especially timely since I had company yesterday and plan on more tomorrow, and I’m not sure anyone I’m thinking of giving these treasures to will be as pleased about receiving them as I was about their creation.  It’s also ironic that I’ve been cutting all these colorful things when my original goal was to do a black and white Halloween series.  Ah well.  My next quest could be for my 3-D paint, which I think I may have used up, but I found stained glass paint when I was looking for the 3-D paint…

… After an undetermined time of staring at orange flowers and wondering if I could pass them off as water lilies, or maybe making a Foamie frog, then lunch, and back to pondering orange flowers, it occurred to me that what I’m actually supposed to be doing is cleaning house.  I then had grouchy thoughts about how many times housekeeping has interfered with my potential masterpieces and feeling quite self-righteous, shout “I won’t fall into that trap today!”  Besides, I think a turtle might be better than a frog, and I can never have enough turtles…

This kind of free flowing thought is exactly the sort of thing grownups try to stamp out of us when they uphold discipline and social order and enforce potty training, but precisely the stream of thought necessary for creativity.  We should all paddle in that canoe and forget what the grownups want.  The relative cleanliness of my house isn’t as important as a Foamie turtle.

Friday, October 5, 2012


When I was little, I thought about Narcissus and tried to look at my reflection in the river.  For those of you who might wonder why a little kid is thinking about Narcissus, you can see last week’s post about “book” which only touched on the edges of my parents’ eclectic library.  Dad liked Greek myths for the action.  Admittedly, Narcissus had very little action since he just looked at himself in a pool of water until he died, but the story interested me because I doubted the premise.  I didn’t think a pool of water would reflect like a mirror, and the endlessly rippling water of my river proved me right.  I tried looking in a pond, but that didn’t work any better.  I made a pool of water by diverting some river water and waiting for the mud to settle.  A water bug crawled across my murky, distorted reflection.

Okay, I was a very bored child, but I had endless sources of activities in the woods, and nobody was watching me looking at my reflection.  Besides, river, pond, and puddle making only took a couple hours.  I had the rest of the day to scour the woods for something else to reflect my image.  Here’s the thing – there isn’t a natural mirror except other people’s eyes, and that’s a tiny reflection.  Narcissism isn’t possible without chemistry and a furnace, and my interest in Narcissus just wasn’t strong enough for me to learn how to melt glass, mine silver, or whatever else it would take to make a mirror.

Besides, even if I could’ve made a mirror, a mirror doesn’t really show us as we appear to others.  Our view of ourselves is necessarily skewed by what we focus on in the mirror or by how we see ourselves reflected in the faces of other people.  I have been hit on when I looked my absolute worst.  I haven’t been hit on when I’ve looked my absolute best.  Okay, I’m getting too old to be hit on much at all anymore, but I remember such things, and the whole dynamic is terribly confusing, made more confusing by other people’s comments and a gigantic cosmetic/fashion industry designed to make us all feel insecure.

When I was in college, a friend remarked that I have big ears.  Huh?  Since we were studying anatomy, I had reference to know how big ears are supposed to be, and mine were exactly average in proportion to my head.  My friend is a significantly smaller person, with smaller ears to go with her smaller head – but that has very little bearing on why she’d remark on my ears in the first place.  Maybe she felt insecure about her own ears?  Maybe she had earlobe envy?  Maybe she thought I needed knocked down a peg to lift herself up?  Whatever her reasons, my ears had nothing to do with her issues, and if I didn’t have proof that my ears were normal I might’ve developed insecurities about them.  Pick a body part and multiply by a million tactless comments or stray looks or defective mirrors.

Remember, there isn’t a natural mirror.  I don’t think we’re supposed to spend our lives looking at ourselves and picking apart our flaws or falling in love with our faces like Narcissus.  The wicked queen in Sleeping Beauty wasn’t beautiful inside and made herself miserable waiting for her beauty to be usurped by someone younger.  Let’s face it.  We all get old and die.  There’s always someone younger and more beautiful.  The best we can do is make sure we put laugh lines on our faces instead of frowns.