Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Art Imitates Life

This is what "ver home"  looked like in the movie.
Last week I watched one of my favorite movies on my IPad – “A Trip to Bountiful.” written by the terrific Horton Foot. I have seen it a number of times and it always gets me. My sister once pointed out that Geraldine Page does this thing with her mouth that is annoying, and she’s right, but it’s such a fine performance that I don’t mind. The thing is, the character reminds me of my mother-in-law, the late Ernestine Wagner Burnell. She grew up in a tiny town in Southern Ohio, on the Ohio River. It was called Letart Falls. (Was it named for a French hooker perhaps? Oh, I guess that would have made it LaTart Falls.)  After she married, she moved to Charleston, West Virginia, but Letart Falls was always home for her.  My husband said that every holiday, they would go “over home,”  as she put it. That’s where her family and her church were.

I wrote once about a Thanksgiving I spent there with her and her sisters, Beulah, Frieda, and Genevieve and their husbands. Genevieve’s husband owned the general store, which contained the Post Office. Frieda’s daughters owned a flower shop in a neighboring village. Beulah married into a coal nine owning family in West Virginia and lived near Charleston. They were not too keen on men, the main reason being that their father, who had been the superintendent of schools, had left their mother to marry his secretary and start a whole new family back in 1914. In that small community, in those days, this was a scandal that marked them all for life. His name was never mentioned, nor was his new family acknowledged by the sisters. Their mother, Lily Wolfe Wagner, became a martyr, living her life out in the village, occasionally moving in with a daughter. She always had a lugubrious expression and died forty years after the main tragedy of her life.

I guess Letart Falls had been a thriving little community when Ernestine was growing up, but when I knew it, Uncle Herb’s store and the church (where the piano sounded as if it had barely survived the 1913 flood) were pretty much all that was around, except for the houses where people still lived. There was a funeral parlor and a community hall for the town government met, and where get togethers could take place. There had been a chicken processing plant right in the village center, but it had recently closed. Dial phones were a recent luxury in the early 50s as were indoor toilet facilities. But, to Ernestine and her sisters it was “over home.” She is buried there along with a host of the Wagners, and her husband, who grew up in nearby Racine. Three of the sisters had sons, all of whom died before the age of 40, a fact that I find unbearably sad, especially since one of them was my husband. They didn’t have much use for men, but they adored their sons.

“A Trip to Bountiful” reminds me of Ernestine because the character looks so much like her. She was a large, but not fat, woman with prematurely white hair which she had “dine” every week. She was the prettiest of the sisters, with an olive complexion and clear gray eyes.. I don’t remember her being very religious, because her church was “over home,” and not in Charleston. She was big in the DAR and the Colonial Dames and the Democratic Party. One highlight was meeting JFK when he came to campaign in West Virginia. She had been a secretary before her marriage and used her office skills during political campaigns. She never quit being a country girl from an Ohio River village, though. Letart Falls was in her spirit, and even after all those years in Charleston, that’s where she wanted to be, in that small cemetery among her family.

Some twenty years ago, I took a trip down to Southern Ohio and Letart Falls was one of my stops. Just as in the movie, it was all but abandoned. Uncle Herb’s store was gone. The community hall had broken windows with tattered curtains blowing in the breeze. There was almost nothing there but a few old houses. I went to the cemetery, which is still well kept, by whom I do not know, and there were even   a few newer graves. The largest monument there bears the Wagner name, a large white stone the family bought for the bereft Lily Wagner. Ernestine is nearby; along with her husband John Burnell, Sr. It is all very quiet and lonely. And Ernestine is home.
Below is the latest Holmes County painting. Still no word from the library about an exhibit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fall and Other Stuff

It’s been a busy time around here, mostly because of the beautiful autumn season we’re having. The colors are brilliant; the weather is sunny with blue skies against which the golds, oranges and reds are vivid. Sunday we drove through back roads to Carroll County for the annual Algonquin Mill festival, a sort of pioneer celebration, with women spinning and weaving and men using steam powered machines to saw and plane tree trunks into boards and shingles. There was a horse walking in circles, attached to a grinder turning sorghum stalks into syrup. Years ago, I went down there and there was a very old man who made stone butterflies, beautiful things he set with gemstones. He used blue and gray agate which he had split into thin pieces for the wings. Butterflies from stone! Of course he wasn’t there this time; he’d be over a hundred by now. I had rather hoped he’d have a son or daughter who’d continued his craft.

Yesterday I went on one of those geezer bus trips, having been invited as a guest by a friend. I was not enthusiastic about going, but it turned out to be just fine. It was a trip down to Holmes County, the site of my recent paintings. The great thing about it was that we went on back roads, my back roads, including what I thought was only my secret way to the Doughty Valley. It was a gorgeous day. We made a number of stops for shopping, which is mot my favorite thing to do, but it was a pleasant group of geezers and some even younger folks.  We had a good lunch in a fake chalet with a visit to a cheese place across the road where everyone except me bought tons of local Swiss. We then stopped at an Amish apple orchard on top of a hill with a wonderful and bucolic view of the countryside. Our last stop was a winery with really bad wine, wine of which we were given a tasting. I only tried two and they were so bad that I didn’t bother to try any more. Most of the travelers were so loaded down with purchases that it was not easy for then to get off the bus unaided by the time we were back to Kent.

Our first stop had been the legendary Lehman’s Hardware store in Kidron. It had been a nice hardware store catering to the non-electric, non-gas-using Amish. When the scare about the millennium, ending the world as we know it, Lehman’s made a killing, selling wood stoves, lanterns, wash tubs, brooms, clotheslines,  and other survival kinds of things to city folk, advertising nation wide.  Now instead of a neat store carrying things the Amish need, it has become this enormous spread of spaces carrying things like Tilley hats, hard by the Amish straw toppers, CDs, jams and jellies, and you name it. It’s a tourist destination kind of place. They still have the old things, but they are hard to find. Now there are $8000 mega stoves (run with wood or gas/electricity), like the gas you see in England. Hardly the sort of thing the average Amish farmer could ever afford. I find it depressing, but it was a popular stop and some of the folks didn’t want to leave it.

No one bought an $8000 stove, though.

Today I introduced yet another citizen of this area to the wonderful West Side Market in Cleveland. I am amazed at how many people who have lived around here for years have not gotten into the West Side Market habit. It’s easy to get to, and has just celebrated its 100th anniversary. My Greek bakery lady told me that they had a big celebration a coupled of weeks ago, involving a parade of the vendors (sounds like something Sousa should have written) and a big party. My friend went crazy, as most people do on their first visit, buying all manner of things just because they were there. I love that place. I hadn’t been there in almost a year and there are new vendors since my last trip. The old guard is mostly gone, with all sorts of new ethnic goodies available. The sauerkraut folks have been replaced by the Asian hot sauce lady’ the German butcher by the middle astern deli person. It’s all beautifully arranged as you walk in, with so much color and variety one becomes a bit overwhelmed. I brought home some pepperoni bread, a baguette, bananas, Hungarian sausage and spiinach, not the baby kind, but the grown up wrinkly kind which is currently bubbling away on the stove for Portuguese soup.

Apropos of nothing, I read recently that kudzu had reached Ohio.  I spent my childhood in kudzu land. I didn’t know what it was called but it took over vacant lots and woods in Georgia. There was a vacant lot in downtown Atlanta which we would beg our father to drive by. The vine had covered a tall tree stump in a way that looked like a dinosaur, the one you saw on the Sinclair gasoline sign – a brontosaurus, big and green. It fascinated and scared me a bit. One of my favorite comic strips was “Alley Oop,” and he rode a brontosaurus, which nay be wherew the creationists got the idea.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

October Favorites

The skies are so beautiful this time of year. Since I’m not the one driving, I can feast my eyes on them instead of watching the road. I find it interesting being a passenger anyway, because I am seeing things I never noticed before: houses, gardens, fields, landscapes I’ve passed probably thousands of times and never really saw. It’s a new perspective from a different side of the seat.
A friend called the other day to tell me she had booked a trip to Amish country on a tour bus and invited me to be her guest. The problem is that we will not be exploring the back roads I love, but will have to stick to the main ones. I will enjoy it, because she is a good friend, and good company, of course, but it won’t be the same. However, John has promised a ramble, too, and we will hit the offbeat areas.
Next week, there is the Apple Butter Festival up in Burton, to which I took the kids when they were young, where one can watch the Amish stir giant copper kettles of apples into apple butter. It’s held in the Pioneer Village, up on a hill from which you can see miles of autumn colors. It smells good, too. That same day, though, is also the first of the Met Opera HD broadcasts, so I will not be smelling boiling apples. The village consists of historic homes and buildings which have been moved from around the county and restored. We always loved to go into the one room school house, especially to see one of the desks on which a child named Emily had carved her name ---or maybe a little boy who liked her carved it. There’s a general store, which used to sell penny candy, a milliner’s shop ands a number of wonderful Western Reserve houses. We quit going when it got too popular and overcrowded, but we all have fond memories of those days. They also used to have a steam machine festival, with sawmills, tractors, and steam rollers. The Amish continued to use steam powered machines and maybe still do. Since the village is on a hill, you could see it from miles away from the black smoke rising into the sky. I think they quit doing it because of the pollution. It was fun to hitch a ride on a steam tractor with a whistle you could barely hear above the clanking of the mechanical parts of the old iron contraptions.
We drove through the golden tunnel yesterday but it’s not quite golden yet. I think this week it should peak. It’s the highlight of the fall for me. Here’s an IPad drawing of it, more or less.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Back to the Drawing Board

Finally decided to try a bigger landscape, rather than a close-up kind of thing I’ve been doing. The photo I have of this place was taken in the early spring and I thought I would try to make a snow scene of it, since I had done a smaller version of it in snow for a tentative book my sister and I were going to do based on one of her songs. (Which I think we should still do, by the way.) Problem is, it looks like a damn Christmas card. But at least I tore myself away from the IPad and got back to reality for a while. I had fun with it, while listening to the BBC. One of today’s programs on was a series of David Sedaris monologues. He is one of the funniest people writing theses days. I love his family pieces.

Did not watch the so-called debate the other night. I was watching an old TV programs station – one of those sub-channels called ME TV, and enjoyed a Mary Tyler Moore show. During the commercials I flipped to the debate and heard Mitt nattering away, and the next time I flipped back, he was nattering away at the exact same thing. Two or three times the same thing happened. What few glimpses of the president I caught, he was looking rather bemused, and seemed to be watching Mitt’s mouth moving and mentally shrugging. Since I have a firm distrust of people who voted G.W. Bush in for a second term, I find it a bit frightening to think that these same people could be gulled into voting for the invisible man Romney. Who is he, anyway?

And we have another damn month of this to go.

Sally just brought over a couple of good books, so I shall bury myself in them and ignore all the political hullabaloo I’m voting for President Obama and that’s all there is to it.

Oh, I am going to have a piece in a New York gallery. Along with 60 or so other people who participated in a very clever coloring book exercise, our work will be at the ABC No Rio gallery on Nov. 2, in a preview of what the creator of the project hopes will be a longer exhibit later. All sorts of professional and non professional artists chose a masterpiece picture form a coloring book and made it their own in very interesting and colorful ways. If you're going to be in New York around that time, check it out. As you can see, it is not exactly the Met, but much more fun.


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

IPad Addiction

I now have KNOWLEDGE right in my hands. No need to trudge across the room to access my Desk top to find the name of the actor who just waked across the screen. I reach down for the IPad, click into IMDB and there is the name my ancient brain hasan't been able to extract from the huge data base of trivia which used to lodge there. Who won the Oscar for best actress in 1963? Google knows, and so do I, in the wink of an eyelash. Handy for those nasty Friday and Saturday cross word puzzles, especially when it comes to sports (although John is handy for that) or rap or rock music titles and names. Is that cheating: Don't know, don't care.
I am also neglecting the real painting for the virtual stuff. It's like finger paining and there are all sorts of clever variations one can do with a little click here and a little click there. I am not by any means skilled at this and may never be, but it is fun. I still have a couple of Amish scenes to do with real paint, but I seem to have found it easier to just fool around with the digital, virtual junk painting at this point.
"The Master still looms large as a topic of discussion. John discovered a blogger with an interpretation that makes a lot sense. His analogy of the relationship between the two main characters equates it to that between a dog and his master, with Phoenix's character the dog, of course, and Hoffman's as - ta ta - the master. It certainly works well on many levels. If it weren't such a difficult film to watch, I would see it again and find infinite parallels. As much as I did not like it, I have certainly done a lot of thinking about it. It's that kind of film.
Here's a digital image made while watching "Dancing With the Stars,' a guilty pleasure. How 'bout that Apollo One dude?