Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Family Business



These folks are a lilies over one-third of the Harper tribe. They are the children of my late brother Bill and his wife Eileen. They range in age from 52 to 65. Two of them live in Ohio, three of them live in Montana, and one of them lives in Alaska and Montana. Between the six of them they have fifteen children, most of whom I have met at least once. Three of them have grandchildren, none  of whom I have met.
One is a former writer and editor who recently retired as the assistant to the president of a state university. One is a nurse-practioner specializing in oncology. One is a surgeon still in private practice. One is an accountant for an insurance company, while also rearing three grandchildren. One is a TV producer whose hobby is climbing very tall trees. One started out as a theater arts professional who worked with Stephen Sondheim on the  original production of "Into the Woods" on Broadway, taught scenic design at a small college for a while, and, deciding to get a real job, went back to school and is now a nurse.
I do not see them often in person. I keep up with those who are on Facebook, enjoying photos of their families. They have all the best qualities of their parents, good looks, intelligence, generosity of spirit, and wit. They also are very close to each other, friends for life, which is the way families should be, but often are not. I am very glad to be one of their aunts.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Stuck in July


This will be a short post. We are into the third week of dog breath weather, the kind that saps my energy and causes me to lose the will to go on. I am not a field hand, or a road worker, so I feel a bit guilty for complaining. I have air conditioning. That's one of the problems, actually. They are window units, which make me feel closed in. I long for cool, fresh, real air.
I know it can't last much longer. We have had much worse summers. I remember eating the evening meal in the playroom in the basement. I remember days of over 90 degrees.  It feels right now as the the humidity is one hundred percent. I think all of this is because I am old and less tolerant.
I've distracted myself with old movies and the political conventions, but that was not a very pleasant distraction those political celebrations of themselves, and the results in one case are disturbing.
August is on the way and that means cooler weather, so I shall survive.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Luke



This is a portrait of my nephew, Luke Walker. I first saw it in the Arnot Art Museum in Elmira, to which my sister took me to see it. It is by Thomas Beuchner, a New York state painter. I bought a museum catalog so I could keep a copy of this very fine portrait. I didn't see Luke at this age, and the last time I had seen him, he had been a little blond boy of seven. Our families lived 300 miles apart, and in those days when my sister and I were raising kids (her 8 in western New York and my 4 in northeastern Ohio) we didn't do much visiting.
Barely two weeks ago, Luke died as a result of an accident in his workshop in Rhode Island. An expert craftsman, a machinist, an artist, a carpenter, a restorer of antique motorcycles and airplanes, a biker, a pilot, a multi talented  man.
He had met his wife Bess at Rochester Institute of Technology some 30 years ago. They had settled in Rhode Island, in the Newport area, Bess as a seamstress and decorator, Luke as an all around genius at all of the above. They were a very important part of the community and their work was and is very much in demand. Twenty two years ago their daughter Jackie was born, now a beautiful and gifted horsewoman.
That little blond boy I knew all those years ago had impressed our family even then. It's become a family story that foretold what he would become. While we were visiting, one of the children found a dea bird  in the back yard. Luke disappeared into the basement. An hour or so later he returned with a little wooden box he had built as a coffin for that bird. If you don't know woodworking, a box is one  of the hardest things to make, requiring precise measurements and the ability to cut and join the pieces correctly. As I said, he was seven.
One of his older brothers told me that he and the others in the family called Luke whenever they had a problem with a project, for advice and he was always right on it, and knew exactly what needed to be done.
Three years ago, Luke was in a terrible accident. A woman turned left in front of him as he was on his motorcycle. He was very badly injured, and suffered the partial loss of one of his legs and a traumatic brain injury. He fought very hard to recover, with the help and love of Bess and family. It was an epic struggle, and he was strong. He took up painting and ceramics and developed his artistic side.
The last time I talked with him was last year, when he called me on my birthday. He always kept track of birthdays.
Part of a large, close family, Luke's death leaves a huge gap that there's no way to fill, but everyone treasures the impact he had on each life he touched. The world needs people like Luke, makers and restorers of beautiful things, now lasting objects of his life's work. And that's a good thing.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Old Hands



i used to have rather nice hands. I had rather nice feet, too, not that I paid much attention to my appendages other than keeping them relatively clean, considering the sorts of things they were up to. I spent a lot of my childhood barefoot. I delighted in my prehensile toed feet, with which I could, until the past few years, pick up almost anything. I treated my feet to nice shoes, owning more than I actually needed, a trait that has been inherited by a couple of my daughters.) I can still pick up a few things, but my toes on one foot are crooked, and I have shoes I can't get into now.
But back to the hands.They are showing the favages of the years I have accumulated. They  are gnarled. The joints are swollen. They are claw-like. It would be nice if contemporary old ladiies wore those lacy mitts one sees in movies made from Jane Austin novels. I can do without the bonnets and caps of that era, but those little y mitts would cover a multitude of bumpy knuckles.
Not only are my hands misshapen, but they won't do things I need to do in an average day. Doorknobs are hard to turn. Pull tabs are impossible to pull. Ubiquitous plastic lids are resistant. For jar lids I have a gadget that helps, but as my hands weaken, even that gizmo has become harder to use. Buttoning a shirt takes a while, so I tend to pre-button them to save time and slip them over my head.
These things have a tendency to sneak up on you. What was easy last year is not so easy this year. So you keep on anyway, and adjust , and hand jars and yogurt containers to someone else if they're handy. If no one is available, you can just eat an apple.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Happy Fourth and Then Some


In my family the Fourth of July was not just the day to celebrate the Declaration of Independence and the beginning of  the United States of America. It was also the birthday of my sister, Mary Lucille, or Merry Old Seal as one of our great nieces called her.  For the last seventy some years she has been known as Mary Lu, the shortened version which her siblings don't use.
This year, she will celebrate her 90 th birthday, an age she neither looks nor sounds like. She has always been quite a beautiful woman and still is. She will deny this but the description fits.
After giving birth to eight children all now extraordinary adults, she learned to play the guitar at about the same time as churches began to use the folk music genre. She  decided that there were no suitable songs of that type for children.  She had always been musical, but without any formal training, but she started writing songs about the kinds of things that were important for children to learn about, things like friendship, kindness, peace, sharing, all those positive  aspects of human behavior that enhance life. They were not preachy, the tunes were simple and easy to learn, and could fit into church or school or home. Word spread about this music and soon she was maKing recordings, traveling around to conferences and presenting workshops on how to use song with children.
One of her most popular recordings grew from her life as the mother of a large family. It's called "Middle Age, Middle Class Mama Songs." I've always thought of it as an Erma Bombeck song book. It's funny, moving, and very true. She wrote further humorous songs, and songs about nature, the environment, and frustrations of the computer age. She's written songs about peanut butter, fire flies and dandelions. She's written songs for all of her grandchildren, specific to each one. She has brought a lot of joy and laughter with her music.
So this weekend, her children and their children are gathering in Corning to celebrate a life well lived and  their remarkable mother. And it's great to have her as a sister whom I dearly love.

Monday, June 27, 2016

June Is Bustin' Out All Over



Well, actually it's just about all over. It has been a busy month in the world, not so much here on Edgewood Drive. It's not that it's been excessively hot, except for yesterday and today. It's more that there's so much going on in the world,  the election, the NBA  win by the Cav's, the Brexit. One's mind becomes dazed by it all.
Last week this area celebrated Cleveland's first big sports win in 52  years, led by a local kid from Akron. I watched the snail-like parade, but the big payoff was watching the local hero making  his speech on live TV, peppering his oration with a couple of f-bombs and other words made famous by George Carlin's monologue on the seven words you can't say on TV. But  Lebron used about half of them and nobody  really gave a s-**t. A rather crestfallen group of Channel 5 reporters, trying not to laugh, did later offer an apology for the "offensive language.
There were a little more than one million people at that parade in Cleveland, which it's now preparing itself for the gloom and doom of the Republican National Convention. The city had pledged to raise 5 million bucks for the RNC, but for some strange reason, the presumptive donors are sitting on their Swiss bank accounts, revealing a reluctance to support one of their fellow billionaires who is running for the major office, alas. The city has spent already a ton of money sprucing up the place, building hotels, widening roads, etc. Even  Akron is getting into the act, with several new hotels available, since it's only about 30 minutes from downtown Cleveland. Our friend David from the Cleveland NPR station works about 3 blocks from the convention venue, but I don't think he'll be covering it, since his beat is the arts. Maybe though; isn't there a book called "The Art of the Deal" by one of the candidates?
Brexit has stirred up the proverbial hornets' nest. My granddaughter, Katina, is a student at a British university, and although she was born in Germany and has lived there all her life, she is not, and cannot be a German citizen. She has to pay the full out- of-country fees. She recently acquired a Cypriot passport, which gives her status as an EU citizen ( her grandfather was from Cyprus)' but now that won't count. In the large scheme of things, that's not that serious. I gather from my British friends that it  is the high number of immigrants who have come  to England, causing a burden on the National Health, jobs, housing and schools. Sounds a lot like Trumptalk to me. England is not in Europe anyway, they say, so my third grade geography teacher was so wrong. As a matter of fac when I was in the third grade, the world globe in the classroom had about a gazillion pink countries all over it, all part of the great British Empire. Alas, those days of glory are long gone, even though
some of the damage lingers on.
So June has zipped by while I ponder these large issues. I think I'll go have some fruit.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Hare



A couple of weeks ago on BBC Radio4 the book f the week was "The Running Hare," by John Lewis Stempel, an English farmer and author. Like most British writers about nature, his use of language and imagery takes you right there. This book is about his wish to develop a field where hares would settle. He leased a little over two acres of land a few miles from his own farm. His plan was to sow a wheat field interspersed with a wide variety of native species of wildflowers of many colors. (Along the way he tells us how the cornflower got its name. It seems that centuries ago the seeds got mixed in with corn seeds and bloomed along with the growing corn.)
He starts his field in the very early spring, and  describes  the process of the plowing and sowing and waiting for the hares to show up, the first being a female, which he calls a Jill. Before long, there are several pairs, and then the leverettes, the babies. He takes the reader through the seasons of the year, with the colors, the feel of the sun and the air and the scents, it is just a very fine and lovely experience to share.When asked how one becomes proficient as a nature writer. his advice is to go outside and sit in it.
Hares are related to rabbits, but have much longer and larger ears and very strong hindquarters. The first time I saw hares close up was a rather macabre experience. I was in the large central market in Florence. It was around Christmas  time and the place was a sensory feast. Strolling along enjoying the sights and sounds, I found myself suddenly confronting a counter lined with giant hares, skinned except for their furry heads. Their dead eyes were the size and color of purple plums. I could not unsee this sight. European butcher shops do not put things in little plastic packages. They know what they are eating, Inguess.
I have had rabbit before. When I was a senior in college a couple of my friends had gotten married and invited me for dinner frequently. One was of German descent. Her father would trap rabbits in his yard in Cleveland Heights and my friend Nancy would make hasenpfeffer, crumbling ginger snaps into the gravy. When she got the rabbits,  her father had already cut them up like chicken, so I never had to see a rabbit looking like the Italian hares in the Italian market with their furry little heads on.
My other married friend was from Vienna, and I learned never to ask her what the meat was. She had told me that where she was from they used every part of the animal possible. We never had rabbit there, though.
The next time I saw hares was from a distance, and was a much more pleasant experience. Emily and I were returning on the train to Erding after a day in Munich. It was late afternoon and I noticed what looked like a couple of dogs running through a field. Then I realized they were leaping, and had very long ears sticking up, and they were hares, alive and well  and enjoying a frolic. I was amazed at the size of them.
They may have eventually ended up in ginger snap infused gravy, but for that late afternoon life was good. The hares running in Stempel's two acre flower filled wheat field no doubt looked the same.