Everyone's a Critic
arborweb's culture blogFriday, November 22, 2013
SEEING KENNEDY, by Eve Silberman
I see him!” someone shouted and we all broke in applause. I jumped up and down, as ten-year-olds will do when they’ve been standing and waiting for half an hour.
A small line of us stood on Woodward Avenue, Detroit’s main artery, across from my dad’s college textbook store. My older brother Alex and a couple of Wayne State students stood next to me. One student held a camera.
It was Saturday, October 6, 1962, and President John Kennedy was in town for some sort of meeting—with the unions? Democratic leaders? I don’t remember. But word had gotten out that afterward, he would be driving down Woodward Avenue. No one knew for certain if this was true, but it was exciting waiting, and the weather was perfect.
A police car came first, then a long convertible with the top down. Up front were the driver, and someone I guess was a Secret Service guy; in the back seat, Michigan Governor John Swainson, and next to him—our president. My first reaction was shock: his hair looked redder than in the pictures! Not orange red, but what you’d call copper.
He looked toward our group, smiled like he’d been waiting for this moment, and waved. I felt disappointed that he didn’t look directly at me but I shouted out “Hi, Kennedy! Hi, Kennedy!” My brother shouted “Hi, John!” Someone else added “God Bless You, Mr. President!” The Wayne State student clicked his camera. The president waved again, the convertible continued down Woodward trailed by a security car, and it was over.
“You’ll be able to tell your grandchildren you saw the President of the United States,” the Wayne student said to me.
Barely a week later, the country was caught in the terror of the Cuban Missile crisis. We kids picked up the fear, too, and talked about our country being bombed by the Reds. I found some comfort in remembering the handsome man who smiled from his car. He would take care of us, wouldn't he?
On November 22, 1963, when the president’s shooting was announced, I felt a terror that made the Cuban Missle crisis scare pale. Frightened, I raced home, eager to be with my mother, for comfort and to tell her the news that somehow I was convinced she didn’t know. But when she opened the door, her first words were, “He’s dead. I know.”
Like everyone, our family hunkered around the TV set the next few days to watch the now-iconic scenes: Jackie in the blood stained pink suit; Jack Ruby killing Lee Harvey Oswald; John John, age three, saluting his father’s casket.
When my elementary class gets together at reunions, we always talk about where we were when it happened, and how our principal dismissed school early and asked us to leave quietly. Although a lot has been written about how Kennedy’s killing impacted the generation of kids growing up, we don’t speculate on what it did to the deep places where we kept our fears and emotions. We stick to the facts. Where were you when you heard? Who told you?
I didn’t have grandchildren to tell about that day. And after Kennedy’s death, I seldom told anyone my story of seeing the president in person. Partly, as an adult, I realized it wasn’t that much of a story; I’d seen President Kennedy for a few seconds; his hair was redder than in the pictures. Also, as the years passed—my dad died, the store demolished—the ride down Woodward Avenue took on a dreamlike aura; it was pastel pink, not the brilliant pink of Mrs. Kennedy’s pillbox hat. I wished I’d gotten the phone number of the Wayne student to see the photos. Almost for proof.
In 1982, at some Michigan Democratic fundraising picnic, I met former Governor Swainson. I asked him if he remembered the ride down Woodward Avenue. Swenson, who has since died, took a bite of cake and told he remembered it very well. It wasn’t every day, he said, that you met a president.
posted by John Hilton at 5:23 p.m. | 1 comment
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
BIRDS OF A FEATHER, by Caroline Sutton
Birds of a feather flock together.
My mother used to always say this to us as we ran across the lawn in the summer, spreading our wings (arms) and flying across the grass… jumping over the sprinkler and carrying on until we came to the small hill in our backyard that was my 'lift off' spot and I'd spring off soaring down with arms outstretched until I landed thunk at the bottom as us human birds are apt to do. Gravity always prevails, even in children's imagination. But oh, how I wished in those days of my youth, that I was a bird.
Birds have always been the most magical of creatures to me. The vast expanse of wing, that folds up so neatly until needed. Those small bodies, so unlike other mammals, with a beak instead of a mouth and feathers instead of hair. They are fascinating. To look in the eye of a bird is to know that it has seen things that you will never see…. felt the breath of clouds on its wings and pierced the rays of sunlight before those rays reached the ground. They trill a whole orchestra of sounds that are distinctive to their type – sometimes musical… sometimes just plain loud! Or aggressive … or squawkingly annoying. But they communicate - and if you've ever had a parrot sit on your shoulder you realize how much they communicate if they choose.
When my mother used to comment on how my sister and I 'flocked together' she did it with a smile in her eye. Because growing up as the oldest sister made me the leader. Everything I did, my sister did too. Today, as adults, my sister and I are nothing alike and we live far apart. But we share stories back and forth across the miles and we laugh a lot on the phone. She, in fact, has a pet bird named Chili - a black capped conure - who sits on her shoulder and flaps around her apartment. He is the merriest little friend, always singing and repeating words and stunningly pretty. He chirps into the phone sometimes to say hi to me (yup) and I get the occasional iphone picture of him doing something astounding. My nephew with wings.
My flock is larger than hers and composed of human children, who have grown into bird lovers in their own rite. We've wandered through many a bird related adventure over the years – from hand feeding baby robins before returning them(successfully ) to their parents…. to sitting quietly for an hour so I could capture a picture of a chickadee on my sons hand. When we moved to Ann Arbor 7 years ago, my husband – who knows my passion for feathered creatures- went out and bought me a book about Michigan bird watching and we've studied it frequently to learn the names of birds that visit our yard. Our first winter here, when we didn't quite know what to do with ourselves (we'd just moved from California and we had no mittens, no boots, and a newborn), we sat by the window and spent hours watching the birds come to the feeders we'd set out along our deck and in the trees. It was, in a single word, magic.
Now, having been here a number of years and grown accustomed to the flocks that fly overhead and the ducks that waddle through our backyard, we've sorted our lives according to the seasonal visits of some of our feathered visitors . In June we eagerly await the cedar waxwings, and in October I keep my eyes open for the cardinals that live in our back pine tree all winter. In April a family of Mallard ducks come for a week and splash around in the small puddles of water that collect from melted snow in the back yard. It's as if they are vacationing before they drift off to a larger pond to build their nest and lay their eggs.
Often, on Sunday mornings early and crisp, my flock and I will flap to the trails of Ann Arbor - we particularly like Nichols Arboretum and that long well walked path along the Huron River. The four kids like to run the path until they get to the steps that lead us all up up up to the shade of the pine grove and mini fairy garden and then peony garden which blooms brilliantly in late May / early June. While they are all running along, my husband and I walk slowly and I keep my eyes peeled for songbirds and raptors - we've seen owls and hawks, Herons and Hummingbirds, Warblers and Thrush.
It surprised me, when we moved to Michigan, that I could become so mesmerized by bird sightings. As I sit at the playground while my children play tag, I'm gazing at the Sand Hill crane that has landed in the marsh not 20 feet away from me. As I drive down Washtenaw Avenue I gasp and have to pull over so we can all stare at three turkey vultures sitting on a sign post by the side of the road. The kids and I keep a running tally of types of birds we've spied over the years in unusual places. The hawk perched on our deck railing two years ago was stunning. But the kids are just as entranced by the doves dancing across the railing and cooing their soft lullaby sounds on early May mornings.
Ann Arbor has become so many things to us, but the beauty of nature constantly within our vision is its most powerful allure. Stopping to let a turtle cross the street. Seeing a family of deer feeding in the woods by the road. Listening to coyotes howling on quiet autumn nights. We take none of this for granted.
Meanwhile, my youngest, my four year old – she wants to be a bird – as I did when I was her age. She likes to pretend she has feathers and hoots like an owl. She runs across the yard with arms outstretched, flapping and pretending to lift off. She wants to see birds up close and talk to them. Outside on our deck she'll sing to them all and put out birdseed. On occasional days we go to the Leslie Science and Nature Center and watch them feed the raptors – today we learned what the Barn Owl eats and watched the Peregrine Falcon spread its sharp talons on its perch thinking about what it would be like if those talons slammed into your arm. Ouch! As we turned to leave, the Bald Eagle screeched loudly and spread its wings until its full wing span was splayed out across its enclosure. My daughter screeched back and spread her 'wings' out in response. It was a moment – the two of them looking intently at each other and, seemingly, communicating.
And why not? Perhaps this is what attracts us, what attracts my daughter to the feathered world. The song and sound and communicating that goes on constantly, naturally. A flock of crows is not so unlike a playground full of 6 year olds… all leaping and shouting and diving and gasping and waving of arms and wings.
I watched them and considered those oft used words of my mother. Birds of a feather may flock together. It's true. But 'birds' of different feathers can flock together too sometimes, especially if you are willing to spread your wings once in awhile and attempt lift off.
posted by John Hilton at 1:55 p.m. | 0 comments
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
LIFE CHAIN, by Iris Hanlin
On October 6, a cool, overcast Sunday afternoon, the intersection of Huron Parkway and Washtenaw Ave. in Ann Arbor was lined with over 250 pro-life activists for National Life Chain Sunday 2013. From 2 to 3:30 p.m., men, women, and children of all walks of life stood on the public sidewalks, holding signs including those which read “Women Do Regret Abortion,” “Adoption: The Loving Option,” “Defend Life,” as well as signs with numbers to various crisis pregnancy help lines.
“I think it’s important to put a smile, and a happiness, and a positive face to the pro life movement,” says Heidi Bratton, mother of 6, ranging from age 5 to 23. “Because life is good.”
Barb Brown, who works with the youth of Gabriel Richard High School in Ann Arbor agrees, and believes the public display of the Life Chain adds an important element in raising awareness of the cause and the issue at hand. “I think it’s important that an issue this big in our nation is kept in the eye of the public, and this is one of the most family friendly ways to do it,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be confrontational. It can be peaceful and prayerful.”
Here in Ann Arbor, pro-lifers are trying especially to reach the students of the University of Michigan. “We are here to stand up for life and for babies,” says Paul Dobrowolski, regional director for the Ann Arbor chapter of 40 Days for Life. “I believe this is the perfect place to be – right in the heart of liberal Midwest. We need to get the word out – there is a lot of laissez-faire feelings in this town, and we are here to get people motivated, and to let people know these are human beings in the womb.”
Half the crowd was young people, who believed their presence was just as important. “The young people are the fire, and I feel like when young people are out here, people can see it’s just not older people,” says Brigid Lennon, 17, of Ann Arbor.
Life Chain is devoted to prayer and peaceful, family-friendly protest. Life Chains occur in other nations on different dates, and all Chains make a point of remaining peaceful. More than 20,000 Chains have been held worldwide this far, and no known pro-lifer has been cited or arrested.
Ann Arbor’s Life Chain was one in over 1550 cities and towns in the U.S. and Canada, who, again this year, proclaimed the irrefutable message of the pro-life movement: Human life is to be valued and protected from the moment of conception. Participants credit the faithful assistance of God, and praise him with grateful hearts.
posted by John Hilton at 4:59 p.m. | 0 comments
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
KARL POHRT REMEMBERED, by Tom Fricke
Shortly after Pohrt's death, Fricke, chair of the U-M Anthropology Department, shared these thoughts with his colleagues. They are reprinted here with his permission:
I wanted to pass on the news, especially for those of you who don't check the Ann Arbor media, that Karl Pohrt, owner of the Shaman Drum Bookstore, died last Tuesday July 10 just before midnight. He was just 65. Karl was diagnosed with a very rare form of thyroid cancer last Fall -- late September or so -- and, after a period in which he participated in experimental trials as an outpatient at NIH, prepared himself for death in a brave and clear-eyed way.
I bring news of Karl's death to you because he was in the most essential way one of us, a lively and engaged member of our department community as surely as each one of us is. Many of you listed your course books with the Shaman Drum; many of you celebrated the publication of your own books at the store; many of you were probably told by one faculty member or another as you prepared your prelim bibliographies, "Go over to the Drum and look at the titles on the shelf. Begin there." But it never stopped at the book part of things for Karl -- he'd often appear at our talks and colloquia, be guaranteed to buttonhole one colleague or another at the store and take him or her for a coffee to talk anthropology, or continually ask those of us who he saw the most about where the discipline was going, what was new.
Rapid on the heels of Karl's dying, his family arranged the memorial for yesterday, in part as a gesture toward keeping down the crowds. In spite of this, about 300 people showed up to see Karl off. The sheer variety of those who came -- his family, of course, but also at least one dean, a good number of faculty, the largest single gathering of former Shaman Drum employees since the closing of the store, working people friends from Flint, artists, poets, leftie political types, spiritual seekers,members of his church, people who flew in on the shortest of notice from outside, people who fought and argued with Karl in life, people who regarded him as a teacher -- tells much about Karl all by itself.
The service included verses from Isaiah, from the Gospel of John, from Buddhist sutras, and enough song to rock the joint. All organized by Karl. Joe Summers and Geoff Eley spoke about Karl and his life. Keith Taylor read a poem by Gary Snyder. I read the Heart Sutra (wearing Don Lopez's tie with the sutra twined into its weave -- in Chinese). One daughter and a son-in-law brought it down to the family. It was Karl through and through.
Geoff's comments, in particular, came from over 30 years of friendship of the deepest sort, a friendship that dates from the birth of the store itself, when Geoff walked in and chatted with Karl, ending up going out for coffee. Through coffee, movies, and nearly daily conversations at times, Geoff grew to see in Karl a version in nearly pure form of the kind of big-hearted, giving, always generous community intellectual that could keep the academy moored to its best engagements with everyday life. Geoff recognized not only his friendship with Karl, but also his role as an exemplar, when he named his distinguished university professorship after his friend: The Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History.
I go on at length so we don't forget. Karl and the Drum were vital parts of the life of this University, representing a vision of the tapestry, community and academy, into which we need to be woven. It is a threatened, perhaps irreproducible, reality approached so closely by this simple bookstore. The Drum in its heyday had a national, even international, presence (The Los Angeles Times headlined its story about Karl's passing as "Karl Pohrt, Legendary Owner of the Shaman Drum Bookshop, Dies at 65"). The sheer density of artists, poets, writers, scholars, and just plain folks you'd find in that tiny store on State Street is without compare. One day, you might be startled to find Patti Smith browsing the shelves next to you. Another day it would be Allen Ginsberg, or maybe Gary Snyder, or Jim Harrison, ducking into Karl's office. Visiting speakers at our department asked to find free time to browse the Shaman Drum. We used the Drum as a feature of our recruitment for new faculty and graduate students. It was a known and cherished place. Romances and steamy affairs, the planning of conferences, the parsing of theory, the debates of scholars, the free roaming of children, and maybe a glass of wine at a reading all jostled together among the books.
And Karl presided over it all with delight. This was what he wanted. This is what he would never compromise. The refusal to compromise his vision of the store is likely one of the things that led to its demise, since what others saw as terrible business decisions were linked to Karl's commitment to his vision of a bookstore as a community space. That business decisions based on such a vision can kill a bookstore is a challenge and a puzzle in need of solving.
And now Karl, too, has gone. I want to mark his importance to us, to hope somebody figures out a way to make his vision work, and to acknowledge the passing of this Zelig-like character who seemed to know everybody and to have been present at so much: an early member of Students for a Democratic Society, a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War, a lecturer called out of his classroom by FBI for questioning, a scrappy guy from Flint unafraid to throw somebody messing with his staff or books out of the store, a welcoming presence to others, a pacifist and a meditator, a lover of truly terrible movies...
Gary Snyder, after a visit in April, wrote in a note, "I'm grateful that at least I got a chance to visit again with him, and that it was a good day for him. He was remarkably present -- and warm, expansive, calm, and beautiful." Geoff and Joe Summers said much like this, and more, at the memorial.
And so, Karl is gone and those of us who knew him will miss him. I'd like others, who maybe didn't know him or didn't know the many parts of him, to wish they did.
posted by John Hilton at 1:28 p.m. | 0 comments
Thursday, June 27, 2013
TROUBLED FAMILY, TROUBLED CITY by Eve Silberman
'I reached down the pants cuff with the eraser end of my pencil and poked it. Frozen solid. But definitely human." And so Charlie LeDuff begins Detroit: An American Autopsy, non-fiction that often reads like a noir thriller.
LeDuff, then a Detroit News reporter, was called to the abandoned building to witness a gruesome sight: a corpse at the bottom of an elevator shaft, encased in ice —"his legs sticking out like Popsicle sticks." The story becomes a media sensation but in this dysfunctional city, a day passes before anything is done with the corpse--in life, a likeable panhandler known as "Johnnie Dollar." For LeDuff, his fate is a macabre metaphor for the ruin of his hometown.
LeDuff came back to Detroit after a stint at the New York Times; he claims he quit because his bosses there complained that he was only interested in "losers." A cover blurb says he returned to "discover what destroyed his city." But while LeDuff ticks off the usual list of economic and historic forces—the shortsighted auto bosses, the riots of '67 and the subsequent flight of the (mostly white) middle class, the cronyism and corrupt politics—he is essentially a storyteller. And because his family's troubles are hard to separate from the city's, his stories mix reportage with memoir.
For years, his mother valiantly tried to keep her downtown flower shop open, through armed robberies, arson, and vandalism, before finally moving her business to affluent Grosse Pointe. His sister became a streetwalker, a familiar sight in certain Detroit bars, then died in a car crash. A niece died from drugs; his brother lost his job in the (sub-prime) mortgage business and ended up in a low-paid job cleaning screws manufactured in China. And LeDuff isn't detached from the pain. A domestic brawl with his wife landed him in a jail cell: "I felt bad, hollow," he writes. "A middle-aged fuckup crumbling under the bulk of a dying city."
LeDuff is a strong writer, in a Hemingway, tough-guy mode. But wondering if Detroit really did his family in, or if they would have struggled anyway, I found the personal stories less absorbing than his gutsy investigative reporting.
LeDuff follows a paper trail to see why $20 million to fix up a police precinct and firehouse never found its way there. "The floors … were cracked, the heat didn't work and water pipes to fill the fire engines were forgotten." Things get scary when he reports the killing of a murder witness—but his work pays off when, to everyone's surprise, the judge doesn't dismiss the case. "Your article put a lot of pressure on everybody," she tells him. Three people actually do time.
When seven-year-old Aiyama is accidentally killed by a cop in a police raid, the physician doing the autopsy tells LeDuff that the girl died from the "psychopathology of growing up in Detroit. Some people are doomed from birth because their environment is so toxic." Tragic as they are, the stories of Aiyama and so many other lost Detroiters deserve to be told. Few recently have told them better than LeDuff.
posted by John Hilton at 7:10 p.m. | 0 comments
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
HILL AUDITORIUM: A SOUND EXPERIENCE! by Jacob Jabkiewicz
I attended Measure for Measure, a men's choral society performance, at the University of Michigan's Hill Auditorium on Saturday, May 18. Having never even been inside the Hill, I had quite a memorable evening. First of all, a stranger gave me a free ticket as soon as I entered the lobby. Also, I must say, the maintenance and visual aesthetics of the interior far exceeded my expectations. What I found most incredible about the experience, though, was the sound in the auditorium in relation to the acoustics, which resonated with unsung (no pun intended!) clarity throughout the audience. I sat in multiple locations during the performance, and I could easily decipher every word as never anywhere else.
Back in 1894, members of the University of Michigan Musical Society agreed that the campus lacked an adequate venue for performances. About a decade later, Arthur Hill, a regent of the University, bequeathed $200,000 toward the development of such a venue. Hill Auditorium was designed by Albert Kahn and his associate, Ernest Wilby, and construction was completed in 1913 at a cost of approximately $347,000. The largest auditorium on campus, it is lauded worldwide for its impeccable sound, which is the result of Kahn's collaboration with acoustical engineer Hugh Tallant. The parabolic shape and double sound-proof walls permit even a whisper from the stage to be heard anywhere in the audience.
For more information on Hill Auditorium and other architectural landmarks in downtown Ann Arbor, I encourage you to join my tour (The Ann Arbor Architectural Tour) this summer. The next tours are scheduled for Saturday, July 6 and Sunday, July 7. $12 (kids age 5 & under, free). Reservations requested. (517) 392-5113.
posted by John Hilton at 4:45 p.m. | 0 comments
Friday, April 5, 2013
THE MOVE, by Susan Crawley
My Mother and I drove through a summer thunderstorm in the mountains of West Virginia. The torrential downpour had forced us to pull off the highway under a bridge. We watched as semis roared past, oblivious of the elements. I was worried about my brother and my husband who had been in front of us, driving the U-haul. I squinted into the distance trying to make out shapes. Several other vehicles had pulled over to wait out the storm. I couldn't tell if one was the U-haul. But it was companionable sitting in the car next to my mother, listening to the sounds of rain drumming on concrete and metal car roof. We decided to have ourselves a snack. I reached into the back seat and found, by feel, the shape of the Wise potato chip bag. I pulled it forth.
"There are some grapes back there too", my mother said from the passenger side. I felt around again and found them. The potato chip bag had not been opened yet, showing my mother's marvelous self-control. I ripped it open, starting with my teeth. The two things together made a delicious combination. The salty crunch followed by an explosion of green grape. We munched for a while, while the rain began to let up some.
We had left Pittsburgh at noon that day. My husband and my brother had packed the U-haul with all of mother's possessions. Things accumulated for over seventy-four years. Neighbors had helped and we had all said our last, last, goodbyes, exchanged hugs and hopes for the future. My mother had lived in the city for most of her life. She had raised four children by herself after a divorce. She had owned and operated a small business, a dress shop, to support us. During this time she had been successful and capable and had a network of lifelong friends. She traveled. All over the US and Europe. She gave dinner parties, went to plays and concerts.
But in recent years, hints of an unraveling process had begun to reveal itself. First she broke her femur bone. That's how she put it. Not her hip bone. She recuperated at home and it wasn't that long before she resumed her aerobic classes. I didn't live in Pittsburgh anymore. My second husband and I lived in Michigan. But we visited. Everyone else lived away too, but a neighbor man had become quite interested in her. He was in his nineties, a tiny Italian who just kept on going. They went to the movies together. It was kind of cute. She never would have married him but he was devoted to her. There was a supermarket within walking distance and mother shopped there using one of those small carts she kept next to her front steps. One day, on her way home, a guy swiped her purse right off her shoulder and ran off. She wasn't hurt. She even laughed about it on the phone, later.
On one of my visits without my husband we drove downtown to this piano bar. My mother knew the singer. So we stayed and had a few drinks. We had her car so she drove. Pittsburgh is transected by many, many bridges. Three rivers meet, so almost anywhere you want to go you have to cross a bridge. We left the bar, mother driving, turned and got onto a bridge. Cars started honking. Headlights flashed and I realized that we were going right into on-coming traffic because we were going the wrong way. Cars were behind us and I suddenly wondered. Had this happened before? Was mother a capable driver? We finally got off the bridge and went another way home. Mother didn't seem to be real concerned about it. So I wasn't. But I was.
The townhouse she lived in faced an elegant courtyard. Everyone knew everyone else and the outside details of their lives. They looked after each other. If anyone got sick, soup was brought over. Old Mr. Whistler was in a wheel chair. Someone always volunteered to run errands for him now. But that was just it, all the neighbors were getting old, although a few young couples had moved in. The property itself was very much in demand. Four rows of townhouses facing each other with small yards but old trees forming arches to walk through. In spring, daffodils, dogwood trees, tulips, a hallelujah chorus of pastels. The buildings themselves made of brick buffed by time, casement windows of wavering glass, hardwood floors, fire places that worked. A small oasis in the city. Half were privately owned, the other rentals. My mother had rented for years, the price never changing. But one day a letter arrived announcing new management. Improvements were offered, but the rent was going to go up accordingly. As it was, mother was just making it. Supplementing her mutual funds with other endeavors. Even though she had only one spare bedroom, she occasionally rented it out to college students going to the nearby university.
For a while she ran ads in the newspaper offering to narrow gentleman's ties. I was surprised that this could work, but the style of neckties had changed and apparently enough people had old wide ties, so instead of buying new ones, dropped them off. Mother took them apart and hand-stitched them back together, more narrow and right in style.
She walked to Fourth Presbyterian church every Sunday and this must have been where she heard about this retirement center located in southeastern Ohio. She made several trips, coming back, feeling more and more positive about it. Mother never told us anything until after the fact, so we were informed by phone that she was going to be moving there. She gave a brief description of the retirement village. It was possible to own your own home. There was a very attractive "activity center". Offering weaving classes, quilting, woodworking, a drama group, art classes, exercise rooms, a swimming pool. Lots to get involved in and the people were her type of people.
It was barely affordable but my mother had always managed.
The rain was abating, so we swung back into traffic, heading west. We crossed a bridge and now we were in Ohio. Fields of corn and soybeans spread out to the horizon. We skirted the belly of southern Ohio, where small towns proclaimed their existences. Small green signs with names like Gnat Run and Green Up, Kentucky. Following the Ohio river. I could not imagine my mother living out here. She was used to culture and the quickness of the city.
I spotted the back of the U-haul ahead. "Life is loss." I said out loud.
"No, life is change" my mother confirmed.
We passed a sign for Chillicothe. I didn't know how to pronounce it. Blue hills began to rise in the distance and I felt more hopeful as I always do when I see hills off in the distance. Finally, a sign proclaimed our destination. Waverly Ohio. It didn't take us long to find the village. It was the first left past Kmart, the town's only department store. We pulled up to the "welcome house" and waited for the U-haul which had somehow gotten behind us. All the houses looked alike, little one story tract houses.
"I think I'll go in and get the key," Mother announced.
As I waited in the car, a memory came back to me. I felt the way I had felt when my mother had taken me to summer camp as a child. Except that now the roles were reversed.
My mother returned with the key and we slowly drove down the tree lined street to her "house". Just like all the others. I wondered how she would find it again, although as I looked around me I could see small personal, distinguishing lawn decorations or other artifacts that marked each house.
The U-haul pulled up behind us and the rest of the afternoon was taken up with transferring the contents of the truck into the house. We soon had a mound of possessions piled up in the middle of the living room floor. Mother stood there as if she didn't know where she was and looked around. The men did most of the lifting and setting down but they had to be directed.
"The couch would look good against that wall" I announced. "and that table next to it, the chair over there, is that the dining room? It's only a space. The kitchen is nice and big. Oh! look our here! A sun porch! You could get some wicker furniture. It would look quite nice. You have two bedrooms. One could be made into the TV room. A desk right there, get one of those futons for when you have guests."
As I listened to myself I realized that I was just repeating the same dialogue that my mother had said in so many houses that we had moved into.
I put all the dishes, pots and pans into the cupboard. I put towels in the bathroom closet, sheets on the bed, hung some paintings, mirrors and made a fairly good if only tentative arrangement with the furniture. Details would come later. Any changes mother could make. By sundown it was a livable house but not a home yet. Mother still looked like she didn't know where she was. She just has to get used to it, I thought.
"Let's try to find a good restaurant and have some dinner," my husband suggested.
We drove back into town. Most of the buildings looked pre-civil war. Old worn brick testifying that there had been some kind of purpose that had been lost. We drove past an old hotel. "Is that a restaurant?" Yes. We parked and walked in. It was elegance concealed. The tables had while linen tablecloths. Candles burned at each table. We took the one next to the window and ordered wine. Surprisingly good red wine. A seed factory was across the street. The light, which was just right, if captured in this moment would make a good watercolor painting. Mother pronounced it "seedy." After a very good dinner we walked around the old hotel part and looked at the photographs on the walls. "It used to be a canal town," my brother observed. Sepia images of working men in overalls stared back at us. People never smiled back then, I thought. After the pictures there wasn't a whole lot else to do, so we drove back to the village, which was called Bristol Village. The retirement area was bigger than the town, Waverly.
As we drove down her street, we noticed a small group of people grouped around something we couldn't see. We pulled over to the curb and walked over to investigate.
"Look! There goes one now!" Someone said excitedly. I looked, and, as if pushed by an invisible button, a golden yellow blossom opened up. Then another. And then another. One by one, like speeded up photography, blossoms opened up in the deepening twilight. "What is it?'' I asked.
"Evening primrose," came the reply from an elderly gentleman.
''Every night at exactly nine o'clock, we come out here and watch the show." "They grow wild around here."
When the performance was over, we all applauded. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw an older man glide by on roller skates. The same kind I remembered as as kid.
"Maybe this place won't be so bad" I mused out loud.
Before going back to our motel room for the night, we all four decided to take a walk around the perimeter of the village. We came to where a street ended and a field of wheat began. The twilight was deep blue. Fireflies danced above the heads of russet wheat. I had a feeling that once every painting had been hung in the right spot, all the books arranged in the right order and the curtains hung, mother would feel at peace here. Then I remembered the roller skater.
posted by John Hilton at 3:01 p.m. | 0 comments