Archive for May, 2012

House in U City, Memorial Day 2012

My feet hurt.

Still, I’m happy to have finished the 38th Annual University City Memorial Day 10K, and a sense of completion is pretty much all I have to be proud of. Let’s listen to how Ernesto told it, when he picked me up after the race:

I stopped and asked a guy with a computer if the race had ended. He said it had, and they were waiting for one last runner to make it in. I asked if that last runner could be my wife. He looked up your name, and said, ‘No, she has finished! She came in 21st in her age group.'”

“Out of 21?” I asked.


Last in my age group, and 433rd out of 447. As one little girl put it, when I was chugging along at a blistering 13:33 pace toward the back of the pack:  “Daddy, why do they call this a race?”

(Mind you, that was early on in the run, when there were still people around.)

It was all worth it, because the run benefited several worthy local causes, including the public library, the Green Center, and U City in Bloom.

In honor of Memorial Day, having run with perseverance the 10K race set before me, I would now like to share an excerpt from an article called “Ten Facts About Memorial Day” by David Holzel:

On May 30, 1868, President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery — which, until 1864, was Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s plantation.

Some 5,000 people attended on a spring day which, The New York Times reported, was “somewhat too warm for comfort.” The principal speaker was James A. Garfield, a Civil War general, Republican congressman from Ohio and future president.

“I am oppressed with a sense of the impropriety of uttering words on this occasion,” Garfield began, and then continued to utter them. 

Garfield’s speech went on for an hour and a half, slightly longer than the amount of time it took me to finish the Memorial Day 10K. 

It was somewhat too warm for comfort here, too.

Special greetings to retired Navy Commander Ruth F. in Jacksonville, FL, who is selling poppies this weekend for the VFW. 


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Autographed picture of Roy Rogers from hollywoodmemorabilia.com

On the Trail in  St. Louis

The little boy was loaded for bear. About 4 years old, he wore a blue plaid shirt, and slung across his chest was a dark cord that held a pouch made of nubby, dark red material. It was a simple rectangular bag with a flap that buttoned shut, and it hung close to his right side. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. Something about that boy’s plaid shirt and the jaunty nonchalance with which he wore the bag spoke of cool, dim forests and the patient tracking of big game. The bag might have held ammunition, beef jerky, maybe a wad of chewing tobacco….

The boy took his daddy’s hand and walked down the concrete steps of the public library and into the sticky asphalt parking lot. I hoped he would have many adventures, and that some of them would take him to deep woods or wilderness.

On the Trail Up River

Some time back I was visiting my aunt and uncle in Belvidere, NC. We were sitting around in a roast-beef-and-mashed-potatoes stupor when my cousin Rob stopped by. During the course of the conversation, my uncle said that a neighbor had asked him to send her regards to Rob. He added, “She said ask if you remember the time you made a purse for her.”

What? Rob had always been an interesting kid; he was the youngest of all the cousins, and we found him to be excellent entertainment. Once when we were watching the Miss North Carolina pageant—a sure-fire source of family fun—a contestant paraded across the stage wearing a tight red evening gown that flared out in a mad flurry of ruffles just below the knees. My sisters and I were silent, wracking our brains to come up with the perfect hilariously cutting remark. Rob, approximately 8 at the time, spoke first—and last. He said simply, “She looks like a fishing lure.”

So granted, he had an eye for fashion, but I never imagined that he had pursued it. Obviously I had missed a few things in the 25 years since the pageant. “How did I not know that you designed purses?” I asked. “Will you make me one?”

Rob sighed. “You have to understand,” he said, “I was 5 years old. And I deeply admired Grizzly Adams on television.” He said he yearned for a leather pouch like the one the big man wore slung across his chest. He confided in our grandmother. Grandma didn’t have any leather or skins, but she did have some plain green fabric, so she helped Rob cut out the pieces, and he sewed the seams. He couldn’t wait to take his manly frontier game bag (or ammo pouch) to school for Show and Tell.

Rob shook his head. I could see the memory still pained him. “Let me give you some advice,” he said. “Don’t ever try to take a Grizzly Adams game pouch to kindergarten and expect anybody to understand your explanations about its purpose.”

On the Trail in Asheville

When Grady first saw him, two wheels of Lew’s wheelchair had edged off the sidewalk. Lew was struggling—in a drizzling rain—to get back on track. Grady pulled his car over and stopped to give the poor guy a hand. Together, they maneuvered the wheelchair back onto the concrete, and Lew thanked Grady for the help.

“No problem,” Grady said. “Where you headed? Can I give you a ride, get you out of this rain?”

Lew was on his way to the polls to vote. “A guy was going to pick me up and give me a ride, but he never showed and I want to vote early.” Grady helped Lew into the front seat and put the chair in the back, then drove Lew the rest of the way to the polling place. He wheeled Lew into the elementary school gymnasium and asked if someone could help him vote. A poll worker told him, “You can.”

Lew explained that he wished to vote against Elizabeth Dole and Charlie Taylor, but said for all the rest he’d vote Republican. Then he changed his mind. “Hey, if you want to vote for anybody in particular, you just go right ahead.”

Grady voted on Lew’s behalf against Liddy Dole and Charlie Taylor, but for the rest he mixed things up and sprinkled some Democrats in among the Republicans. Then he took Lew home, wheeled him up the ramp onto the front porch, and helped him through the door into his living room.

As Grady prepared to go, Lew reached up to shake his hand. “Son,” he said, “you have been a real neighbor to me today, and I never saw you before in my life. Thank you.” Then he stopped, still holding onto Grady’s hand. “Hey, who’s your favorite cowboy?” he asked.

“Roy Rogers.” 

“King of the Cowboys!” Lew said. “Follow me.” He wheeled down his hallway and into a bedroom. One wall was lined with two-drawer file cabinets. After a quick rummage through the drawers, Lew turned to present an autographed picture of Roy Rogers. “This is to thank you for all you’ve done for me today,” he said.

When Grady got home that evening, he found that his signed photo of Roy Rogers had a picture of Gene Autry stuck to the back.


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She put my hair in pin curls. She volunteered in the library at my elementary school, where she made friends with the meanest boy in my class, a foul-tempered redhead named Danny. (Danny tickled her.) She taught my Sunday School class off and on over the years.  

I’m pretty sure she was involved with my Brownie troop.

She made me taste everything on my plate at dinner and once chased me down the hall with a spoonful of tomato pudding. I fled to my bedroom closet, where I jumped into the large cardboard box of costumes—all of which Mama had made. There was the dress that served my sister one year when she had to be a pilgrim, and then Mama dyed it so I could play the title role in a fourth-grade production of Miss Louisa and the Outlaws. She even made me a pink tutu that served me well as a wishful ballerina who never could dance.

When I was in high school she made me two prom dresses and a suit I wore to homecoming my senior year. She worked in the concession stand at all the home football games.

We lost power during an ice storm one winter and went without heat or lights for nearly a week. Mama’s response was to make a candy called Fudge Melt-Aways over the fireplace, then set the pan of candy out on the back porch to chill. It was delicious.

She taught me that cooking sometimes turns out badly, and when it does the best way to handle it is to laugh.

She catered my wedding reception (except for the cake). She could have done the cake, too, if she’d felt like it. She made pound cakes, brownie trifle, and baked the best Christmas cookies ever.

She taught me to pay attention to my dreams by getting up in the morning and telling us about hers. She took food to an elderly neighbor on a regular basis, which taught me to stay connected to my neighbors, too.

She fished, grew African violets, tried out my pogo stick, and helped my father inoculate piglets on the back porch. Of course she dropped the hypodermic needle, which stuck into the top of her bare foot. She has never been fond of wearing shoes.

She read my library books, and we both despised Clyde in An American Tragedy. She pulled my attempts at poetry out of the trash can, smoothed out the wrinkles, and saved them.

She’s the reason I write.

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Pansies at the Missouri Botanical Garden

One of the principle devotional methods they employed in Iceland, Iceland’s specialty in devotion, so to speak, was embroidery: stitching flowers and leaves into cloth. Imagine! Building an entire civilization around embroidering plants just the way they embroider the earth! Harold Renisch


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Missouri Botanical Garden

Roger Deakin’s book, Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees—which I have mentioned before—includes an interesting bit about early 19th-century naturalist, Charles Waterton. Waterton owned a wooded estate in England where he took care to see that the birds were treated with proper respect. 

Waterton did most of his bird watching from inside trees… [His estate] was full of thousands of ancient trees, which Waterton nurtured and protected, even retaining dead, hollow or rotten ones for the sake of the owls, jackdaws and woodpeckers. … He went barefoot about the park and climbed the trees barefoot, reclining for hours in the boughs of the old oaks, reading books or watching owls or foxes. Waterton stood six feet tall, all but half an inch, wore his silver hair in a brush cut, slept on a bare elm floor with a hollowed oak block for a pillow all his life and was double-jointed until his death.

I wouldn’t have thought that double-jointedness was a talent that you lost with age—or even with death, for that matter. It seems to me that your joints would still be jointed exactly the same, which makes me wonder if Charles Waterton could have been folded like a letter and buried in a shoebox. A true preservationist would not wish to take up too much land.  

I was once a bit of a land preservationist, myself. When I worked for the City of Fernandina Beach as a grant writer, I wrote detailed requests for state funds to purchase land for conservation and light recreation. I had to trek through the oak hammock that ran down the middle of the island along Egans Creek, where I took pictures of animal trails, endangered green orchids, gopher tortoise burrows, and areas of degradation. I studied the soil composition, took pictures of magnolia and elm trees, sabal palms, and live oaks and the understory of saw palmetto, ferns, and holly. I never got inside a tree to observe the birds, but I did research the painted bunting, which used Amelia Island as a way station during migration. It was hot, nasty, spidery work, and I loved it.

(One prime section of the hammock that the city wished to preserve was owned by a gentleman called Smiley Lee. Lee owned a lucrative scrap metal business and had served a legendary and, yes, scrappy stint on the city commission before my employment began. Lee’s property unfortunately provided habitat for rather a lot of junked machinery, making its acquisition problematic. I’m not sure what happened to Smiley’s land; perhaps he owns it still. I do know that Mrs. Smiley Lee passed on a few years later, and her obituary included this wonderful tribute to her skill as a cook: “Her specialities, fried shrimp, banana pudding with meringue, and cornbread dressing were served on holiday tables in three states.”)

I wonder if Charles Waterton, who traveled all over the world to observe birds and nature, ever visited Amelia Island. The cover of Julia Blackburn’s biography of Waterton features a painting in which he’s riding an alligator, so I like to think that he did. Anyway, I’m sure he would have approved of the idea of saving the oak hammock for the egrets, painted buntings, owls, ospreys, and mockingbirds that lived in and around it.  Not that he was always wise:  He once went so far as to climb up to a crow’s nest while the crow was away and place two rooks’ eggs in it. The crow tended to the eggs very lovingly and raised the young rooks as her own. Waterton then (meanly, in my opinion) stole the two rooks back to tame them and keep them as pets. This did not go well. They were so tame, Deakin writes, that “they met untimely ends, including one that was drowned by an aggressive chicken.”

But birds survive contact with humans because they are amazingly adaptable. We visited a Lowe’s Garden Center two weeks ago, and the birds have taken it over as a sort of urban forest. The roofed section of the Garden Center is open at the front, where the plants and flowers are able to get sun and rain. Under the roof, the tall rows of metal shelving that hold peat moss, composters, planters, and hoses have become roosts for birds. I saw high nests tucked between boxes, and the birds fly in and out without regard for the people shopping below. The birdsong is constant and cheerful. They have learned to live with us and in spite of us. But surely they would prefer to journey through trees, like I do.

[Updated 5/2/12 at 12:24 p.m. to format Deakins block quote.]

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