Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Obituaries & Epitaphs’ Category

2013 03 24_1551 auto 2

Walking The Bluff, last Midwest Writing Retreat, Lion’s Den Gorge Nature Preserve, Grafton, Wisconsin, March 2013, photo © 2013 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Writing friends are hard to come by. Friends who are good practitioners of writing, even harder. The last time I saw Bob was at the Milwaukee airport in March 2013. He smiled and gave me a hug, then we walked to separate gates after five days of Sit, Walk, Write with Jude and Teri. We met many years ago at a Natalie Goldberg writing retreat in Taos, New Mexico. The Midwest Writing Group we formed has continued to meet every year since to practice writing. To honor silence.

For me, Bob was one of the pillars of our writing group. He held the space, led the slow walking, kept time when we wrote, engaged in lively discussions at the dinners he prepared. He was an excellent cook. I will never forget his laugh. Bob contributed work to red Ravine and continued to post practices with me after others fell away. I could count on him. Today, Sunday, August 4th, 2013 at 3:30pm, a memorial service for Robert Tyler Chrisman will be held at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, 4501 Walnut St., Kansas City, Missouri.

Bob Chrisman, born Robert Tyler Chrisman on May 3, 1952 in St. Joseph, Missouri, passed away peacefully Friday, July 12, 2013, at Kansas City Hospice following a massive stroke. He was surrounded by family and friends who sang to him until his final breath. When I was reading back through Bob’s writing on red Ravine, I realized we had done a Writing Practice together in 2011 on Death & Dying. I find comfort in his words:


__________________________________________________

Why all this focus on death at a time of year when the world screams with life and beauty? Why must death occur during these spring months when the earth bursts forth in new life and beautiful shades of yellow-green, when flowers of all colors open and scent the air, and when we can say, “Winter is gone for at least seven months”? Why?

Maybe all this life and beauty replaces the darkness and depression of the winter and I want no more of it. Give me life in all of its forms and beauty. I suffer enough during the winter and I’m over it, but I’m not, it seems.

I notice the beauty and revel in it because I know the bleakness of winter. Joy returns to my life because I know that the good times may not last forever. The friends I carry in my heart as the treasures of a lifetime will die. I must rejoice in their being while they are with me and not put that off for a change in the season or the approach of death.

How is it that the richness of life requires us to know the poverty of despairing times? Does it work like salt on cantaloup or watermelon? The saltiness makes the sweetness that much sweeter as death makes life more precious.

If I could stop death and dying, would I? No, I would let things happen as they must. I might even bring death to those I love earlier if they desired it, but that’s not my place in life. Sitting next to the bedside of a friend who’s dying makes me aware of the value of the time we had together and what a loss their death will be. If they must die (and they must), I can spend the final days and hours with them and carry them and those times in my heart until I pass from this earth.


-Bob Chrisman, excerpt from a 2011 Writing Practice on the WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING.

___________________________________________________


GATE GATE PARAGATE
PARASAMGATE
BODHI SVAHA

Gone, gone, gone beyond
Gone completely beyond
Praise to awakening


-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 4th, 2013. I miss you, friend. And I carry you in my heart until I pass from this earth. I believe..

Read Full Post »

IMG01796-20100828-1240

Tyrone Guthrie Outside The Guthrie – 64/365, Archive 365, BlackBerry Shots, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2010-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


The Archive 365 practice and collaboration continues with a photograph taken outside the Guthrie Theater in August 2010. With each new image, I feel compelled to look into tidbits about the subject’s history. It’s no secret that Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Midwest architect Ralph Rapson did not see eye-to-eye on the design of the original Guthrie Theater (the play Tyrone & Ralph was written highlighting this piece of history). The two fought over the thrust stage which Guthrie wanted and the asymmetrical design Rapson desired. They also disagreed over the color of the seats. Guthrie ordered Rapson to make sure the seats were all the same bland color; Rapson wanted brightness and vivacity and decidedly disobeyed. By the time the hundreds of multicolored seats arrived, it was too late for Guthrie to do anything about it.

In spite of their disagreements, Rapson’s modern design prevailed and the Guthrie opened on May 7, 1963 with a production of Hamlet directed by Sir Tyrone Guthrie; it became one of the most respected theaters in the country. An idea that began in 1959 during a series of conversations among Guthrie and two colleagues—Oliver Rea and Peter Zeisler—who were disenchanted with Broadway, sprang to life. They realized their dream to create a theater with a resident acting company that would perform the classics in rotating repertory with the highest professional standards.

Sir Tyrone Guthrie was the Artistic Director from 1963 through 1966 and returned to direct each year until 1969. He passed away in 1971. Architect Ralph Rapson died of heart failure in 2008 at the age of 93. The original Guthrie was torn down in 2006; the theater dimmed its lights 43 years to the day that it opened — also with a production of Hamlet. It reopened across town by the Mississippi River in a new, $125 million three-stage complex with the faces of Tyrone Guthrie, August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, Anton Chekhov, Eugene O’Neill and George Bernard Shaw etched into its walls.


Resources:

Guthrie Theater History – The Guthrie

Ralph Rapson, architect of the original Guthrie, has died – MPR News

The Old Guthrie Goes Down – photos at The Masticator

Guthrie Theater brings curtain down on original home – MPR News

Guthrie & Rapson battle again – MPR news


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Read Full Post »

bridge memorial 2012-07-28 22.21.48

I-35 Bridge Memorial – 36/365, Archive 365, Droid Shots, 35W Bridge Remembrance Garden, Minnesota, July 2012, photo © 2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I passed by the 35W Bridge Remembrance Garden three times over the last few weeks. Wednesday, August 1st, 2012 marked five years to the day since the I-35 bridge collapsed. The third time I drove by, I was traveling home from the Guthrie with Liz and her mother who was visiting from Wyoming.

Ironically, on August 1st, 2007, Liz’s mother was in the air on her way to Minneapolis when the bridge collapsed. Liz and I were folding laundry and doing last minute preparations for her visit, when we received a phone call from my mother in Pennsylvania asking if we were okay. Confused, we quickly turned on the TV to see that one of the busiest bridges in the Twin Cities had fallen into the Mississippi and was a twisted mass of concrete and steel.

Thirteen people died that day; 145 were injured. They had been going about their lives in what was until that moment, an ordinary day; it could have been any one of us. The Memorial to the victims and survivors of the 35W bridge collapse sits on the west bank of the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis, next to Gold Medal Park. There was a dedication and opening ceremony for the 35W Memorial, August 1st, 2011. It is a quiet place where water falls over a granite wall inscribed with the names of the 145 survivors, and the words:

Our lives are not only defined by what happens, but by how we act in the face of it, not only by what life brings us, but by what we bring to life. Selfless actions and compassion create enduring community out of tragic events.

Last week, I listened to survivor Lindsay Walz tell her story from the perspective and wisdom of the passing of time (you can read her story at this link). On August 1st, she painted details on the back brace she wore for injuries sustained when the bridge collapsed. In addition to a broken back, she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. She states that everyone’s recovery is as unique as their experience on the bridge that day. Some people are still dealing with ongoing crippling pain and can’t work. They can’t do things they used to take for granted. The survivors stay connected through a Facebook page; they are still there for each other.

The night I passed by Bohemian Flats, under the new I-35 bridge, and around the bend to the Memorial, I saw 13 steel girders lit in neon blue, one for each person who lost their lives. I felt compelled to slow down from all the busyness of summer, and remember their names. (To learn more about their lives, there are biographies at the links.)


________________________________

Sherry Engebretsen
Sherry Engebretsen knew how to take care of details, especially when it came to her daughters.

 

Artemio Trinidad-Mena
Originally from Mexico, Artemio lived in Minnesota for about 10 years, and worked at New York Plaza Produce in south Minneapolis for almost a year.

 

Julia Blackhawk
Julia Blackhawk had recently taken a new Indian name. The 32-year-old from Savage was given the name Thunder Woman during a pow-wow at Easter. Her uncle, John Blackhawk, is a Winnebago Tribal Council member. He says Julia was a kind person who always showed respect for her elders. And he says she had one attribute that was very special.

 

Patrick Holmes
Patrick Holmes, 36, of Mounds View, was found dead at the scene of the bridge collapse that same night. He was on his way home from work. His wife, Jennifer, heard the news a little after midnight.

 

Peter Hausmann
Peter Hausmann, 47, was a computer security specialist worked at Assurity River Group in St. Paul. The company’s president says Hausmann was a quiet leader and a man of faith.

 

Paul Eickstadt
Paul Eickstadt drove a delivery truck for Sara Lee Bakery for 14 years. He was just beginning his shift, on his way to Iowa, when the 35W bridge collapsed. Eickstadt, 51, lived in Mounds View. He is survived by a brother and two sisters.

 

Greg Jolstad
Greg Jolstad’s friends called him Jolly “because of his name, and because that’s just how he was.” Bill Stahlke remembers ice fishing almost daily, as teenagers, with Jolstad and Jim Hallin on Knife Lake, near the Jolstad family farm. The three haven’t missed a winter on the lake in the nearly 30 years since they graduated together from Mora High School.

 

Scott Sathers
On Aug. 1, Scott Sathers left his job in downtown Minneapolis at Capella University, where he worked as an enrollment director, approximately 40 minutes later than usual. Sathers called his wife Betsy at 5:50 p.m. from Washington Ave. and 35W, where he was about to get on 35W to go north to his home in Blaine.

 

Christina Sacorafas
Christina Sacorafas was running late, and called her friend and fellow dance instructor, Rena Tsengas, to say she would be late. But Sacorafas never made it the Minneapolis church where students in her Greek folk dancing group were waiting for her to begin class.

 

Sadiya and Hanah Sahal
For Ahmed Iidle, the I-35W bridge collapse has brought a double loss. His daughter Sadiya Sahal, 23, and her 2-year-old daughter Hanah were headed to a relative’s house when the bridge crumbled beneath them.

 

Vera Peck and Richard Chit
Vera Peck and her 20-year-old son Richard Chit were traveling in the same car when the bridge collapsed.

 

________________________________
Related to posts: 40 Days, 8 Flags, and 1 Mennonite Choir, Memorial — Day & Night, Bridge To Nowhere — The Great ConnectorFear Of Bridges, Thornton Wilder & Bridges, Minneapolis At Night, The Name Game (What’s In A Name?)

Resources: Hundreds turn out to dedication of 35W Bridge Memorial, New 35W bridge memorial honors those who died — and the community that disaster brought together, Remembering the Dead, Bridge survivor on 5th anniversary: ‘The day I got to live’

-posted on red Ravine, Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Read Full Post »

IMG_1856 auto

Graves, Upper Mill Cemetery, Circa 1806 – 10/365, Archive 365, McIntosh County, Darien, Georgia, July 2008, photo © 2008-2012 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


It was blistering hot and steamy the afternoon we visited the Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien, Georgia. On a search for ancestral archives, Liz, Mom and I took a road trip from Augusta, Georgia to St. Simons Island where we spent a few days and visited with relatives. We then drove north stopping in Fort Frederica and Upper Mill Cemetery in Darien. Our last stop was Savannah, a city I hope to visit again someday. Looking through these photographs, I realize how important it is to document your travels. It’s been four years since I have returned to the South. Each photo conjures the heat, humidity, live oaks, Gold Coast breezes, white packed sand, and the pilgrimage to Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home.

_______________________________

ARCHIVE 365 is a photo collaboration between skywire7 and QuoinMonkey featuring images from our archives. We will alternate posting once a day in our Flickr sets from July 1st 2012 through June 30th 2013. You can view our photographs at skywire7 Archive 365 set on Flickr and QuoinMonkey Archive 365 set on Flickr.

-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Read Full Post »



By Elizabeth Statmore


Fromage died on Saturday, May 12th 2012 at 11:30 p.m. at All Animals Emergency Hospital, surrounded by us and our love. He was dehydrated and disoriented, with a temperature of 105.6. Normal temperature for dogs is 101-ish, with 102 being in the high fever range. So Fromage had a raging fever, probably from a combination of a brain tumor (or nervous system tumor) and end-stage kidney disease.

We knew it was serious when he couldn’t do anything with a Beggin’ Strip — his favorite treat in the universe. And I’d dreamed Wednesday morning that he died. I knew it was a precognitive dream, but I didn’t know how or when the end would happen.

He did his utmost to stay alive for me — to support me and love me through this disorienting chapter of my life. He showed the same heroic courage and love he had shown us all his life. He was an impeccable warrior to the end, but in the end it was time to let him go.

It was the night before Mother’s Day.

It’s the little things that really punch me in the gut — the moments that interrupt my conditioned habits, such as automatically tucking the newspaper bags into the plastic bag collection next to the front door, only to realize that I don’t have a need to save dog poop bags any more.

I put his sterling silver tag on a chain and started wearing it around my neck last night as I went to bed.

He was the only being who has ever called me his mother. On our first Mother’s Day he bought me a pair of dog socks.

He was the dog of my life.

He was the dog of my heart.

I somehow left my favorite fountain pen at school on Friday, but I was too stressed-out and worried yesterday to deal with it. But this morning, all I wanted to do was write, so I drove down to school and back to retrieve it.

When we got to All Animals, Fromage had a fever of 105.6. This was a raging brain fever. He couldn’t even walk down our front stairs. I carried him in my arms down the thirteen front steps — all 60+ pounds of him. David carried him into the car. He was dehydrated and disoriented and scared. He was dying.

I held him in the back seat while David drove. He lay quietly on the back seat, watching where we were going.

He had kept himself alive so he could support me. And now I knew it was my turn to support him by letting him go and by easing his passage into the next world, into his next life.

Fred always said that Fromage was my spirit guide.

Now my heart just aches. David’s too. Fromage loved David so much, even though David felt hurt that Fromage was always so freaked out and demented these last few years. David hugged him and loved him too, even though there was so much dog hair. By last night, no one cared.

I can’t put away his old beds or mats yet. I am still processing the fact that he is gone. There is a giant Fromage-shaped hole in my heart — one with one stand-up ear and one flappy ear. The stand-up ear is his right one. It has a bite taken out of the tip. My lips and fingers know the shape of that missing spot instinctively. Completely. Like a fingerprint.

He’d been staying alive to get me through this tough time. On Wednesday night I got the word that my layoff notice had been rescinded. He went downhill fast from there.

I loved that dog so much.

He loved me more purely and wholeheartedly than I had ever been loved before. It was a healing kind of love. He healed me. He made me whole.

When Crystal and I saw Mary Oliver the first time at the Herbst a few years ago, Mary had recently lost her longtime partner, Molly Malone Cook, and had been writing about it for some time. A woman in the audience asked how she’d gotten through the devastating loss. “Well,” she said, first you go a little crazy. You go nuts for a while.” That thought comforts me now. I am going to have to go a little nuts for a while while I grieve.

The loss feels cavernous.

It’s also tinged with fear and shame that I might not be experiencing appropriate gratitude for the gift of his life. I *do* feel a bottomless gratitude for his life. It’s just that right now, this is the part where I have to take in and let out the hurting — the loss and the groundlessness of impermanence.

In legal terms, I rescued him, but the emotional truth is that he is the one who rescued me.

He was a magical dog, a magical creature. In mythical terms, he was my magical helper-being.

“A dog lives fifteen years, if you’re lucky,” Mary Oliver writes in one of her dog poems. In so many, many ways I’ve been very, very lucky. Fromage was in good health and good spirits until this very last week. He enjoyed long walks and Trash Night and giving David five and ten and eating Beggin’ Strips until the very last day of his life. He watched for my return through the glass in the front door every single day of our life together.

As we left the hospital room after it was over, I kissed him behind his flappy ear — where, even in death, he still smelled like a puppy — and I whispered to him, “Okay, Puppity, guard the house.”

Then we left the treatment room and closed the door behind us.

I did not look back.


Fromage at the Dog Garden, Dog Garden, San Francisco, California, April 2004, photo © 2004 by Carlos Hillson. All rights reserved.


_________________________



About Elizabeth: Elizabeth Statmore is a San Francisco-based writer and teacher of writing and mathematics. She is a long-time practitioner and teacher of Writing Practice, which she learned from Natalie Goldberg. A frequent contributor to KQED-FM, Elizabeth’s last posts for red Ravine include Seed Starting, a piece about writers as gardeners, and Writing The “Remembering Grace Paley” Piece — a step-by-step tutorial on how she turned a raw piece of writing into a finished radio commentary. Elizabeth was also one of our first guest writers, contributing the post Abandoned Is… Fromage was her dog and spirit guide of almost fourteen years.

Long is Part I in a series of three Writing Practices about the love and loss of Fromage.

Read Full Post »

DEC SHADE4

Say Goodbye To Tungsten Light, Golden Valley, Minnesota, December 2011, photo © 2011-2012. All rights reserved.


I burn the Christmas lights long after the day has passed. The soft warm glow of tungsten soothes me. I grew up on film photography, old school, and loathed florescent and LED. Say goodbye to tungsten; the last 100 watt bulb rolled off the DEC 2011-12-18 19.40.22assembly line in December 2011. We lost poet Ruth Stone in 2011 and singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow. They leave behind a rich legacy–their poetry. We lost Hope, the world’s most famous black bear, to the long arms of a Minnesota hunting season. Did they choose their lives, or did their lives choose them?

Goodbye December, January awaits. I look forward to the New Year. In setting goals for 2012, I can’t help but think of the things I will leave to 2011. I never heard back from my father, yet I feel glad I wrote the letter. It is one less thing I have to wonder about. Mr. Stripey Pants had surgery on Monday, December 12th. Bone rubbed on bone in his lower jaw when he chewed his food. We tried to be upbeat that morning, saying he was on his way to breakfast at Tiffany’s (the name of his surgeon). A few weeks later he is almost back to normal. The scar tissue that had formed around a puncture wound near a back tooth has been removed; it was not cancerous. I am grateful for good vet care and the resources to pay for it.

Minnesota leaves behind the 86 inches of snow from last Winter, an unfair trade for the tawny grasses and 50 degree days in the Twin Cities last week. I don’t miss the shoveling, but wonder how the Art Shanty Project will take place on Medicine Lake in January. Where is the frozen Minnesota tundra of 2011? I leave behind a broiling sweaty Summer where I did little gardening. The cedars look limp and brown. Fall 2011 was 1323477165415one of the driest on record. Rain, rain, come and play, don’t wait another day. I have grown to miss the rain.

I leave behind a year of no travel, unusual for me. My large extended family lives in Pennsylvania and Georgia, so I often plan vacations around flying back East. I missed visiting with them. In 2011, I attended no out of state writing workshops. I did not take a vacation outside of Minnesota. There was one trip to North Dakota, but not for pleasure (though it had its moments). I leave behind all the angst and sorrow created by the greed and selfishness of others. You sometimes learn the most about people when things go awry. It’s not over yet. The law requires patience, and the resources to carry through over the long haul.

Dear December, there were days you left me nostalgic and somber. But I vow to enter 2012 with optimism and gratitude. Long line for A Christmas Story at Riverview!I will long carry the joy of my brother’s visit to Minnesota the week before Thanksgiving. I carry two healthy cats, Kiev and Mr. Stripey Pants. I carry the love of a caring partner, close friends, and family. I carry excitement at the prospect of celebrating Liz’s birthday in January, and a trip to Wisconsin for a self-propelled writing retreat in February, what used to be the dead of Winter. I leave behind anger, resentment, regret; I release what is no longer helping me be the best person I can be. What people, places or things do you leave behind?

The pantry is stocked. The black-eyed peas soak in the pot, ready to bless the place I call home with good luck and cheer. I am grateful for those who stick with me in times of uncertainty. I am grateful for those who come to the aid of all HOLIDAYsentient beings in this world, not just humans. I am grateful that we do not inhabit this planet alone, that there are ancient burr oaks, Southern live oaks, slithering snakes, hairy spiders, playful black bears and white winter squirrels. I am grateful that the decisions that matter most are not left in the hands of humans.

December, I say goodbye to you tonight with gratitude and anticipation. I am thankful for your rituals. It’s the night before the New Year. What will my yearly practices be? It will be around the last fire of 2011 that I choose goals for 2012. Thank you, December, for having the courage to let go.


-posted on red Ravine, New Year’s Eve, December 31st, 2011

Read Full Post »

2011-07-17 18.56.13 yes

World’s Largest Sandhill Crane – 29/52, BlackBerry 52 — Week 29 Jump-Off, Steele, North Dakota, July 17th 2011, photo © 2011 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.



On a July trip to North Dakota, we exited off I-94 to fill up with gas in Steele, North Dakota. Across the street, next to the Lone Steer Cafe (formerly a bustling Greyhound bus station), a 40-foot sandhill crane stood grazing in the grass. Sandy, the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane, was built in 1999 by Arena, North Dakota resident James Miller. The sculpture weighs 4.5 tons and is constructed of rolled sheet metal welded onto a steel inner frame. It was built in three separate sections — the body in one section, the neck and head in another, and pipes fitted to make the legs.

Residents of Steele, North Dakota erected the giant sandhill to call attention to the fact that Kidder County is one of the best birding destinations in North America. The Coteau Rangeland of North Dakota, commonly known as the Prairie Pothole Region, is an area of glacial potholes located in the direct path of the migration flyway making this area a favorite spot for migratory nesting birds, including the Sandhill Crane. To the west, Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge, established as one of the country’s first wildlife refuges in 1908 by executive order of President Theodore Roosevelt, is the largest American White Pelican rookery in North America, where thousands of pelicans nest each spring.

North Dakota artist James Miller, creator of the World’s Largest Sandhill Crane, died October 17, 2002. According to his obituary in the Bismarck Tribune, Jim and his wife farmed north of Arena from 1955 until retiring in 1991. He created metal work sculptures in his shop and invented his own version of “Miller Bilt” hydraulic presses, along with everything from two wheeled trailers and wheelchair ramps to yard ornaments, docks, crystal radios, and even a steam engine. His art live on in 26 states throughout the country.


-posted on red Ravine, Monday, August 22nd, 2011

Lotus and I will continue to respond to each other’s BlackBerry Jump-Off photos with text, photography, poetry (however we are inspired) for the 52 weeks of 2011. You can read more at BlackBerry 52 Collaboration. If you are inspired to join us, send us a link to your images, poetry, or prose and we’ll add them to our posts.

-related to posts: WRITING TOPIC — ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS,   dragonfly revisted — end of summerfirst dragonfly, Flying Solo — Dragonfly In Yellow Rain, Shadow Of A Dragonfly, Dragonfly Wings — It Is Written In The Wind, Dragon Fight — June Mandalas, sticks for legs and arms

Read Full Post »

I had thought by the time I did this Writing Practice, we would be well into the green of Spring and Winter would have died a slow death. It’s green. But on the second day of May it dropped to 30 degrees. Ice crystals fell from the sky and pinged the windshield. I am still bundled in fleece, pulling a high collar up around the scruff of my neck to keep warm. Nature is unpredictable. So is the nature of one’s death. It happens that on the week we are writing about death and dying on red Ravine, Osama bin Laden would meet his demise. I feel no joy in his death. It is a strange mix of emotions, more like confusion and relief.

I remember the writing workshop with Natalie in Taos, New Mexico right after September 11th. She thought about canceling it but decided it was important to go ahead. It was a large group, over 50 writers, a talking workshop. The first night we went around the room, introduced ourselves, and spoke briefly about what it was like for each of us on September 11th. Some lived in New York, some had lost loved ones. I was more removed from the immediate impact. But it changed our country forever. Oddly, I don’t want to write about it. Not now. I will leave it for those whose voices ring with more certainty about what it all means. I can’t put labels on it. The whole ten years and two wars mostly makes me sad.

The older I get and the closer to death, the more I think about it. I can’t predict its time, but I can dedicate my life to living while I am on God’s green Earth. I listened to an interview with Janis Ian before seeing her in concert at the Fitzgerald last week. She had gotten very sick, and thought she may die in middle age. She said her thoughts on death before her illness were that she would take the time she had left to write songs, to write the perfect poem set to music. But when the time actually came, when she thought her life would be cut short, all she wanted to do was sit on the porch with her partner and watch the birds. To be close to her loved ones. That’s all that mattered.

It reminds me that I’m not going to be on my deathbed thinking about how hard I worked at all the jobs I have had over the years. It’s not likely I’ll be thinking of co-workers, the people with whom I’ve spent a majority of my daylight hours. I am more likely to want to spend time with Liz, stay close to home, hang out with the cats. I am more likely to want to go visit my mother and close family, to spend the time with friends I know I can trust. Friends with which I can share my deepest fears about dying and death.

There are moments when death doesn’t scare me. Late nights, when I wake up at 3am and can’t sleep, I do feel the fear. I try to befriend my idea of Death. It changes like the seasons. I do believe that life goes on after death. I find some comfort in that. I don’t have to get it right the first time. There can be second chances. But life will never be like the one I have right now, in this one moment. This is my life. I want to make the most of it while I am here.


-related to Topic post: WRITING TOPIC — DEATH & DYING

Read Full Post »

by Teri Blair



Home of Emily Dickinson, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.



On October 30th, 2010, I stood in a room I had wanted to be in for years. It had a bed, a desk, a dresser, a lantern, a basket, and huge windows. From this second story perch Emily Dickinson composed her wonderful, strange, profound poetry.

IMG_0656 window

Emily was born in the same house where she died. And with the exception of a few trips and a little schooling, she never ventured from her hometown. Ever. She lived for 55 years, becoming increasingly reclusive the older she got. She published seven poems under pseudonyms while she was alive, poetry that went practically unnoticed. It wasn’t until she died that the big discovery was made. Emily’s sister was cleaning out her bedroom dresser and found nearly 1800 poems in the bottom drawer. They were written in handmade booklets and on scraps of paper.

Four years after her death, Emily’s first volume of poetry came out and she was famous. Now, 124 years later, she is considered one of the most influential American poets; her work has never been out of print.


IMG_0658 ANNA

I drove to Amherst, Massachusetts with my niece, Anna. We pulled up to Emily’s house on Main Street, an impressive yellow brick surrounded on two sides by massive gardens. The moment we stepped onto this National Historic Site, I was looking for clues of how Emily did it. Was she simply brilliant, or was there some evidence of influence? Our tour guide told us that as soon as Emily’s first book came out, speculation about her largely private life began, speculation that has never stopped.

They honor Emily by sticking with the facts, only the things that are authenticated. I am compelled to do the same, simply observing some habits that made up part of her writing life.





A Period of Woolgathering


When Emily was 10, her family moved temporarily to a different house in Amherst. Her bedroom faced the town graveyard, and during those next impressionable years, she watched hundreds of horse-drawn funeral processions.

When she was 19, her father gave her a puppy she named Carlo. For the sixteen years of her dog’s life, they explored the woods and fields of Amherst together. Emily made extensive collections from what she found outside on these long hikes.

Contemplating death and observations of nature run heavily through Emily’s poetry.


IMG_0651 porch


Writing Practices


Emily was a voracious reader. Her family received daily newspapers and several magazines, all of which Emily read cover-to-cover. She read poets; Keats and Browning were two of her favorites.

She wrote at night by lamplight. Moonlight walkers consistently saw a light burning in Emily’s window. They didn’t know what she was doing. Though there were virtually no external rewards for her work, she kept writing. An internal force propelled her.


Simplicity


Emily’s life was very simple; there were few distractions.

She had only a handful of family and friends, and kept in touch with most of them through letter writing.

She baked. She read. She wandered through her gardens. She lowered baskets of gingerbread to her nephews and niece from her window. And at night…she wrote in her bedroom by lamplight.


♦     ♦     ♦


After the 90-minute tour, we were allowed to wander through the house alone at our own pace. Anna and I both gravitated back to Emily’s room. We sat on the floor, stood by the windows; we looked at each other across the room.

Can you believe we’re standing here, I asked Anna. She smiled and shook her head no. We kept looking at each other, smiling and shaking our heads because we knew. There was nothing more to say; and we could both feel the pulse of what had happened within those four walls.


IMG_0654 From The Garden Large

View of Emily’s From The Garden, Amherst, Massachusetts, October 2010, all photos © 2010-2011 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.


When Emily died, the funeral was held in the library of her house. At her request, six Irish immigrants carried her casket from the house to her grave. She asked her sister to burn the thousands of letters she had amassed.

But she didn’t say a word about the poems in the bottom drawer.

Emily’s brother and his family lived in the house on the far edge of her garden. One time Emily’s niece, Martha, came into her room with her, and Emily pretended to lock the door so no one could get in.  She looked around the room—at the writing desk, lamp, and paper. “Martha,” she said, “this is freedom.”



“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet, never, in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of Me.


-Emily Dickinson c. 1861 from The Pocket Emily Dickinson,
Edited by Brenda Hillman, Shambhala Publications, 2009.



IMG_0670 in memoriam



About Teri: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey has fondly and frequently written. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the last post on the group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

 

Teri’s first red Ravine guest post, Continue Under All Circumstances, was written on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas. She journeyed back to Holcomb in 2010 and wrote a sequel, Back To Holcomb, One Last Time. Her last piece for red Ravine, Discovering The Big Read, is about the largest reading program in American history. Its mission is simple: to restore reading to the center of American culture.

Teri will be spending the month of February at the Vermont Studio Center, writing, walking, and finding inspiration by the Gihon River in the heart of the Green Mountains.

Read Full Post »

Mr. Calavera

Mr. Calavera (calavera is the Spanish word for skeleton), pen and marker on graph paper, doodle © 2010 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.




The Missus will be happy. I finally finished the drawing of her husband. He’s not an easy man—a hard-drinking, hard-living type who would have driven any good woman to die of love. But he’s also an old-fashioned guy, opens doors for women (probably too many doors and Lord knows where they lead) and his kids crawl all over him when he comes home late smelling of whiskey. He can ride a horse and slaughter a cow, grow a garden, hold his liquor. A man’s man. And a decent poker player, to boot.

And you know what? He’s just as devilish in the afterworld as he was in this one. But that’s OK, because over there life is easy. For the both of them. No guilt or sin or any of the baggage that keeps us running in circles in this world.

The Missus (aka Dying Love)Day of the Dead was celebrated last week on November 2nd. I hope my lovely couple—fashioned after my grandmother and grandfather, although if he really were Grandpa, he’d be wearing jeans and a cowboy hat, and a bolo tie if he had to dress up; everything else is the same, though—had a great time.

In this world they had a combustible marriage. Too many poker games, plus that damned redhead on Coco Street, and gambling away dinner for the next two weeks, which brought about a swing of the broom, or worse, when he came home late at night with his paycheck gone. But they were bigger-than-life-sized characters. I wouldn’t have wanted them to be any less explosive or colorful or real. I’m thinking of them this early November. Realizing how with each passing year I inch a little closer to taking their place in my family chain.

Happy Day of the Dead, all you living (for now) folk!



-Related to post Ghost Hunting — Tips & Tools Of The Trade

Read Full Post »

Sweet Boy Chaco, February 22nd, 1996 — June 25th, 2009, Minneapolis, Minnesota, BlackBerry Shots, December 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Sometimes you mark the passage of time by the death of a beloved pet. It’s been a year since we made the tough decision to let Chaco go after a brave battle with kidney disease. He was born February 22nd, 1996; Liz adopted him from the Golden Valley Animal Humane Society in April. If you had to choose breeds, Chaco looked like a cross between a Bombay and a Havana Brown. He loved vanilla yogurt, batted at his water dish until it was bone dry, purred like a 1969 Chevy Camaro, and talked incessantly (but not quite as much as a Siamese).

The eve of June 25th, 2009 was a sleepless night. Chaco spread out over the couch on a white blanket next to a wrapped bouquet of tickseed, spiderwort, and Queen Anne’s lace Liz picked from the garden. We took turns sitting with him. When Liz went to bed, I got up and nestled beside him, stroking his back and chin, silently crying. It’s a gut-wrenching decision to choose to put a pet to sleep. It all comes down to quality of life.

On the afternoon of June 25th, Chaco stared up through the ash tree on our deck, his emerald eyes wide and curious when Liz carried him to the Saturn for his last drive to the vet. In August, we donated bags of saline to the Golden Valley Humane Society in his name. By December 2009, we spread his ashes around the circle to the drumbeat of Winter Solstice.

If you’ve never lost a pet, it’s hard to describe the mourning. Or the space that opens up after the time spent caring for a chronically ill cat is finally over. But I can tell you that Kiev and Mr. Stripeypants mourned; they moped around the house for weeks. And Liz and I cried 1000 tears. Chaco’s death left a hole in our lives.

I can also say that life goes on. Hearts heal. And words of grief and loss are sometimes best left to the poets. When Liz read Charles Simic’s poem Little Unwritten Book at our Poetry & Meditation Group last week, I cried another tear — 1001.



LITTLE UNWRITTEN BOOK

by Charles Simic


Rocky was a regular guy, a loyal friend.
The trouble was he was only a cat.
Let’s practice, he’d say, and he’d pounce
On his shadow on the wall.
I have to admit, I didn’t learn a thing.
I often sat watching him sleep.
If the birds tried to have a bit of fun in the yard
He opened one eye.
I even commended him for good behavior.

He was black except for the white gloves he wore.
He played the piano in the parlor
By walking over its keys back and forth.
With exquisite tact he chewed my ear
If I wouldn’t get up from my chair.
Then one day he vanished. I called.
I poked in the bushes.
I walked far into the woods.

The mornings were the hardest. I’d put out
A saucer of milk at the back door.
Peekaboo, a bird called out. She knew.
At one time we had ten farmhands working for us.
I’d make a megaphone with my hands and call.
I still do, though it’s been years.
Rocky, I cry!
And now the bird is silent too.


-from WALKING THE BLACK CAT, published by Harcourt Brace and Company (1996)


Chaco Dust, Minneapolis, Minnesota, December 2009, photo © 2009-2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, June 29th, 2009

-related to posts: Chaco’s Creature Comforts (10 Cat Care Tips), From The Earth, Back To The Earth , Winter Solstice — The Quiet Strength Of Bear, Life Of An American Green Tree Frog, Children Helping Children (And Animals)

Read Full Post »

By Bob Chrisman



Allen Cemetery on the outskirts of Gower, Missouri serves as the final resting place for my mother’s parents and some of her aunts, uncles, and cousins. Names like Patton, Divelbiss, Pogue, and Williams mark the plots of family members. Every Memorial Day we decorated those graves. As time passed and more relatives took up residence among the tombstones, we didn’t attend to as many of the graves. After my father’s stroke in 1969, which left him bedridden, and my sister’s departure to teach a distance away, we decorated fewer graves because my mother didn’t like to leave my father alone for long.

After my father died in 1984, Aunt Vera, my mother’s younger sister, and her husband, Uncle Howard, joined us for the annual, grave-decorating trip. Neither one of them drove anymore so they gladly came along for the outing and the lunch that followed. I would swing by their house, just up the street a few blocks from where my mother lived, and pick them up.

Uncle Howard had a great sense of humor despite the hardships of his life. He managed to find something funny about most everything. Going to the cemetery provided him with an opportunity and a captive audience. Much to my mother and aunt’s chagrin, my uncle always told me the same story on the way there.

“Bob, did I ever tell you about buying those cemetery plots?”

Although I had heard the story many times in the past, I would say, “No, Uncle Howard. What happened?” With that question he launched into the story.

“Your mom and dad and Vera and I made an appointment with Eldon Lee. You know Eldon Lee, don’t you? He was the funeral director and caretaker of the cemetery. We drove out to Gower one evening. We picked four spaces right in a row. The girls decided that we would be buried boy-girl-boy-girl.

“Eldon Lee put your father’s name down first, then your mom’s, and then he started to write my name. I said, ‘Eldon Lee, hold on. I’m not happy with this arrangement.’ They all looked at me like I’d lost a marble or two, but Eldon Lee put down his pen to hear me out.

“I said, ‘When you die, you lay down for your eternal rest to get some peace, don’t you?’ Eldon Lee nodded his head. ‘Well, how much rest and peace do you think I’d get planted between Lucile and Vera? Not much. I can tell you that right now. You better put the girls together between Len and I so all that chatter between the girls won’t disturb us in our graves.’

“That’s why your mom and Vera have places next to each other.”

He laughed in that mischievous way of his. My mother and Aunt Vera sighed. Aunt Vera said, “Oh, Howard.” No matter how many times I heard the story, I laughed. I could imagine my mother and her sister gossiping in the grave while my father snored on one side and Uncle Howard tossed and turned on the other end.

Uncle Howard had another routine that he started when we pulled up the gravel road into the cemetery. He never failed me in doing this one, which irritated my mother and aunt beyond words. That made it all the funnier because they should have known it was coming, but it always appeared to take them by surprise.

My mother and her sister decided which set of graves we would visit and in what order. My Uncle Howard pointed at new graves we passed.

“Look, Bob, see that one? Hey, you girls, would you pipe down? All your talking drives the ground squirrels away. I’m trying to see how fat they are. Looks like we’ve added lots of new dishes to the graveyard buffet lately.” He laughed.

That stopped the women’s conversation. Aunt Vera usually said, “Howard, that’s no way to talk about the dead.”

“I guess you’re right.” He paused for effect. “But, they’re dead and they don’t care about my little joke.”

Mom said, “Howard, someday you’ll be lying here in the ground and you won’t want someone talking about you like that?”

“You’re right, Lucile, but I’ll be dead and I won’t care. I’m so little and skinny the ground squirrels will be very disappointed when they lift the lid on my coffin. They’ll probably look at one another and say, ‘Ain’t much meat here. Let’s move on.’” Then he’d laugh and I’d join him.


Uncle Howard and Aunt Vera's headstone, photo © 2010 by Bob Chrisman. All rights reserved.




Uncle Howard hit the buffet line in April, 1990. Aunt Vera followed in December, 1993. In February 2008, my mother joined them. My family won’t add any more people because we have scattered all over the country.

On January 1, 2009, I drove up to the cemetery to pay my respects and to remember the stories of my childhood. When I entered the cemetery I found myself looking for the new graves and the ground squirrels. I stood at the graves of my parents and my aunt and uncle. I listened as the cold wind blew through the place. I didn’t hear Mom and Aunt Vera talking. Maybe Uncle Howard’s plan worked. I hope he enjoys his eternal rest in peace.



About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his family. For Memorial Day 2010, we published Desecration Day, Bob’s humorous yet moving piece about a grave decoration day that got a bit out of hand.

You can see these other pieces of Bob’s in which he writes with humor and compassion about his family members: Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters and The Law Of Threes. He also published these pieces about the life and death of his mother: Hands and In Memoriam. And he produced a trilogy about his father: My Father’s Witness, Bearing Witness, and My Life With Dad.

Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Growing Older, Goat Ranch, and Stephenie Bit Me, Too.

Read Full Post »

By Erin Robertson


I wish I could say I was closer to my grandfather, but as the years went on and his Alzheimer’s progressed, it began to get harder just to see him. We watched him suffer so his death was something of a relief. In a time of mourning, I wrote this piece:


Fourteen dozen roses,
cut clipped, and arranged,
spread throughout the pews.
paid precision and prayer
fake sympathy and stares
bore through to the soul
it’s the friends and family
that keep you sane
so dry your tears
try to smile
the coffin is closed
the sermon was said
in the line we file
morbid flags that warn our purpose
march along the silence grows,
sobs muffled out of shame.
gather under the green tent
sit upon velvet thrones of mourning
as a group,
we bow our heads
blessing for the one departed
amens in sync
good wills, remembrance, praise
i whisper goodbye
drop his favorite flower
to decorate my grandfather’s tomb.


_________________________


This next poem was written roughly about the same time. Death, and its morbidity, was frequently on my mind. I wrestled with the idea of an afterlife or the concept that something so pure can be torn into sinful shreds.


death,
it comes on tar-dipped wings
dragging down the weightless soul
perfect when?
no longer flawless
as it flies
with heavy wings
down to hell,
to meet
judgement day has long since passed
fail or pass
the side you wish

death it comes on tar-dipped wings
dragging down the weightless soul
perfect then,
no longer flawless
anguish may have plagued you then,
but now,
you can be free.
whispers of unspoken trial
jury, angels, demons
judge of neutral boundaries
find you guilty,
innocent child
whichever way
you tend to walk,
you will be happy now
life, you may have suffered
dying, you might have been in pain,
but death, Sweet, death
it always comes,
exactly when it’s supposed to come.


_________________________


At a time of peak adolescent anguish, my friend –and thereby, I got tangled up with people who were not as they seemed to be. Often, my poems are free verse; however, I tried my hand at some resemblance of “Traditional Poetry.”


Enemy in someone you like:
Everyone wants to know
what’s behind the face you show
we all see your pride
you modestly try to hide

the smile that plays across your face
has seemed to find its place
but your moods change like a clock
the swings impossible to mock

a bipolar symptom waits to strike
find an enemy in someone you like
more outbreaks, in succession,
betray the mild marks of depression

your friendship is a weight to bear
it seems that no one wants to care…
your ‘quirks,’ they draw the curious
they come to mimic the delirious

they make a mockery of your ills
stunned by the bouquet of pills
a bipolar symptom waits to strike
find an enemy in someone you like.


_________________________


I don’t remember why I wrote it, but the first couple lines were running through my head for quite a few days, and I decided to elaborate on it in my 9th grade English class. My friend and I had been discussing the change in society and how people are satisfied being mediocre and achieving nothing. I guess I had big dreams back then, too.


my modern art wonder
of the twenty-first century
is torn straight from the pages
of a young man’s book
the whispers spoken
of wild ventures
swallowed by some
corporate gain
the mind-blowing drugs
destroy the naive
open portals onto new levels
swimming hallucinations of
teenage ideals
and the real world
collide with a splay of
colors only the
high can see
disappointments inspire
push onward or settle for less
business world stays on
the fast track for life
stuck in a job with no career
working up to work out
it’s got no end
it’s the truth that will slap
a truth we all know
the world as the jungle it is



Leaf Of A Ginkgo – Erin’s Tattoo, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 2010, photo © 2010 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


I have yet to visit my grandfather’s grave site, years after his burial. I wanted to commemorate his passing in my own way. As a horticulturist, he loved all plants, but most specifically the ginkgo for its unchanged history. Rather than ink myself with a cliché R.I.P/tombstone tattoo, I came up with the idea of a falling ginkgo leaf. Its importance would be known to very few, preserving my grandfather’s memory.




About Erin: My name is Erin Robertson and I am a graduating senior from Susquehanna Township High School. Later this year I will be attending Temple’s Honors College to pursue a Doctorate in Psychology (because I am rather ambitious). My life has been full of adventure and I have met many unusual people and experienced quite a lot for someone my age. My life, the environments I find myself in, and the people I know, have all served as inspirations for the creative outlets in my life. I focus on poetry as a big way for me to express myself and my emotions.

Read Full Post »

By Bob Chrisman



After my father died in 1984, my mother made semi-annual trips to Southern California to stay with her step-sister-in-law, Aunt Gladys. Uncle Roy had died a couple of years before my dad did. I would fly out to spend some time with them and then accompany my mother home.

During my first visit, Mom and Aunt Gladys announced their desire to decorate Uncle Roy’s grave at the VA cemetery in Westminster, California, near the Pacific Coast. At 90 my aunt had stopped going. “I’m not as quick on the highway anymore. I’ll leave that to you.”

We loaded the car with grass trimmers, scissors, throw rugs, plastic buckets, dishwashing liquid, sponges, old rags, and rolls of paper towels. My aunt directed my driving.

“Take that exit. Now be careful, Bob. A lot of these people aren’t paying attention. Lucile, look. Honey, did you see those mums in front of that grocery store? Weren’t they beautiful? Roy loved mums.”

I moved into the right lane to head back to the store. Aunt Gladys wanted mums. And my mother would want to make Aunt Gladys happy. One right turn, three left turns, and 15 minutes later we pulled up to the store. They climbed out while I parked.

When I caught up with them in the store, they had removed all the pots of deep red mums from the rack and lined them up for inspection. My mother and my aunt handed me the mums they eliminated as possible choices.

“Here, put this back where it belongs.” While I redecorated the mum display, they narrowed the choice down to three.

“Bob, you pick the one you think is the best one.”

I chose, but my choice wasn’t the best one so they bought the one they had already agreed on.

That done, we headed toward the cemetery.


A sign greeted us at the entrance:

The level of the cemetery has been raised by several inches. If you have trouble finding the gravesite of a veteran, please contact the manager located on the property.


We drove to the spot closest to Uncle Roy’s grave. My aunt and my mother tottered across the grass. I, the beast of burden, unloaded the trunk and followed.

“Now, he’s here somewhere. Lucile, you don’t think they’ve moved him, do you? That sign said something…”

“No, Gladys, they only put more dirt on top of him.”

I found the spot. “Here it is.” I dropped all of the grave decorating equipment and took the bucket to get water.

As they spread out the throw rugs, Aunt Gladys said, “Lucile, I don’t remember the grave being this far from the road.”

“Gladys, it’s always been here.” Mom yelled at me. “Don’t fill the bucket too full. We don’t need that much water.”

They had donned their gardening gloves and hats and set to work. They trimmed the grass around the stone. They scrubbed the marker with old rags and dried it with the paper towels.

“Roy and I bought an in-ground vase. I can’t remember exactly where it is, but I’ll find it.”

She pulled out a knife with a long slender blade and stabbed the ground like Anthony Perkins slashed at Janet Leigh in “Psycho.” Stab, stab, stab.

“Aunt Gladys, please stop.” Mom didn’t say a word. Stab, stab, stab.

“I need to find that vase. It’s buried here. They better not have removed it. We paid good money for it.” Stab, stab, stab.

“Wait. Put the knife down. I’ll go to the office and find out where the vase is.” Stab, stab, stab.

My aunt worked up quite a sweat. “Okay. I’m tired. Why don’t you go to the office. We’ll keep ourselves busy while you’re gone.”

I ran to the car. I knew they wouldn’t wait long to do whatever they wanted to.

I drove to the office. As I entered the building, the air-conditioning hit me in the face like a block of ice. The hot and humid outside air vanished in a room where you could have hung meat without it spoiling.

A cheery young woman asked, “Hello. May I help you find your loved one?”

I smiled. “My aunt is stabbing her husband’s grave with a knife to find the in-ground vase. To avoid injury to her, can you tell me where the buried vase is located?”

The woman’s mouth dropped open.

“Let me speak to the manager.”

She disappeared only to return with a rotund man dressed in a robin’s-egg blue polyester, double-knit suit. The exertion of walking from his office to the desk had turned his face beet red and he mopped his brow with a white handkerchief.

“I’ll show you where it is.”

I asked, “Do you want me to drive?” I wasn’t sure he would fit in the rental car.

“No, I’ll take my car. Suits me better.”

He climbed in a huge car, exactly the same color as his suit and rolled down his window.

“Lead the way.”


When we arrived at the gravesite, I pointed to my aunt and mother busily working.

“That’s them.”

He nodded and waddled off, wiping his head and neck as he went.

When I arrived at the throw rugs, grass trimmings and dirt covered both women. The manager stared at the ground, his jaw agape.

Aunt Gladys said. “Honey, we don’t need him. When we couldn’t find the vase I paid for…” she looked up at the manager. “…we simply dug a little hole and planted the mums on top of Roy.” She looked very happy. They both did, but the manager didn’t.

“You…you can’t do that.”

“Can’t do what, young man?”

“Can’t go around digging holes in the cemetery. It’s…well, it’s grave desecration.” His color had grown much redder. Sweat poured off his face. His handkerchief looked sopping wet. “It’s against the law to dig holes here.”

“If we had been able to find the vase, which, I will remind you again, we paid for, my sister-in-law and I wouldn’t have dug this hole.”

He took out a pocket knife. My aunt grabbed her knife, prepared to fight.

He stepped next to the stone. He jabbed in the ground and dug out some grass.

“Here. Right here.” He stood up with a smug smile on his face.

My aunt ignored him. “Lucile, look. It was right there all the time…under a foot of grass and dirt.”

“Next time, ladies, please don’t dig a hole.” He snapped his knife shut and waddled back to his car.

“I think I’ll report him. Grave desecration? What a bad attitude these young people have.” She extended her hand to me. “Help me up.”

With both of them on their feet, I brushed off their clothes. I gathered everything, wrapped the knife in an old rag and dropped it in the bucket. I packed the stuff in the trunk.

When I went back to help them to the car, I heard my aunt ask, “I think we did a lovely job, don’t you? Roy would be pleased.” My mother agreed.



About Bob: Bob Chrisman is a Kansas City, Missouri writer who frequently writes memoir about his mother, her three sisters, and their influence on his life. Desecration Day is about his Aunt Gladys and his mother. Other pieces about his aunts include Aunt Annie’s Scalloped Oysters and The Law Of Threes. He published two pieces about the life and death of his mother — Hands and In Memoriam.

He also wrote a trilogy about his father: My Father’s Witness, Bearing Witness, and My Life With Dad. Bob’s other red Ravine posts include Growing Older, Goat Ranch, and Stephenie Bit Me, Too.

Read Full Post »

By Teri Blair



Clutter Memorial Monument, photo © 2010 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





The town of Holcomb has been on my front burner for years. It began when I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman in Capote, built momentum when I read In Cold Blood, and culminated with a road trip to Kansas to see the spot on the map that writer Truman Capote made famous. I was pulled into the 1959 story with everyone else—the lonely farmhouse, the two ex-cons who drove through the night to a place they’d never been, the murdered family. Truman’s stellar writing made me want to see it all—the Clutter Farm, the courthouse where the death sentence was pronounced, and the hotel where Truman stayed while he wrote.

The first time I drove the 850 miles I was a just a sightseer, a tourist. It was a one-time thing. I couldn’t have predicted the story would keep going, that months later I would find some long-lost relatives in Holcomb who had known the Clutters, that I would interview some of the same people Capote had, that I would make the long trip through the relentless wind several times.



Windmills of Kansas, grain elevator towering over Garden City
(seven miles from Holcomb and the site of the trial), Chinese elms
leading to the Clutter farmhouse, and the Clutter farmhouse.
Photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





Fifty years ago Perry Smith and Richard Hickock drove across Kansas on a false tip that there was a rich farmer who had thousands of dollars hidden in a safe. Their botched robbery turned into carnage. The two were captured six weeks later, tried, convicted, and hung at a federal penitentiary. The crime was horrific, but everyone agrees, the story would have faded in time—if not for Capote. Though life would have been forever altered in Finney County, it would have returned to normal.

But it didn’t work that way. Truman wrote his book, it became a best seller, and he was catapulted to the top of the literary world. Then Hollywood got on board with a string of successful movies based on the book. Because of one author, there has been a constant, unending stream of people like me in Holcomb. Curious. Prying. Asking. Looking. Bringing it up. Over and over and over. When I interviewed Duane West a few years ago (the local lawyer who got the murderers convicted), he asked why people like me don’t think of something else to do. He’s been pestered for so many interviews since 1959 that he won’t talk to anyone unless they make a donation to the Boy Scouts of Finney County.




         

                             

Finney County Courthouse and stairs Capote climbed during the trial to
the courtroom. Photos © 2010 by Teri Blair, all rights reserved.





In September, Holcomb dedicated a monument to the Clutters. It’s intent is to honor the four people who died: Herb, Bonnie, Nancy, and Kenyon. They were upstanding, involved members of their community. That’s what the monument focuses on, not what garnished the attention: their brutal deaths described in the book In Cold Blood. It was a solid community step to take the Clutters back from Truman and Hollywood and bring them home to their people.

The last time I was in Kansas, I went to the annual Ground Hog Supper held at the Methodist Church. It was the Clutters’ church, the one where the four-family funeral was held in 1959. I sat in the same Fellowship Hall where the mourners would have eaten their post-burial lunch. The room was packed. Just like in 1959. And the people were the same as then—farmers, insurance salesmen, clerks. I liked them. They reminded me of people I grew up around. And I didn’t want them to be bothered with gawkers like me any longer.



Park sign leading to Clutter Memorial Monument,
photo © 2010 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.





Was Truman right or wrong to tell their story? I loved the book and what it did for American writing. But was it worth the price Holcomb had to pay? Though I won’t pass judgment, one thing is clear: a good writer’s work leaves results. When Capote left New York to set up shop in Kansas, he pulled us in. The pull has lasted five decades. His book kept a wound open. And Truman suffered, too. Researching and publishing In Cold Blood punctuated his dramatic descent into alcoholism.

So for me, for this one writer, I’ve decided to set it down. If I go back to Holcomb someday to visit my cousins, I’ll enjoy the Arkansas River that flows through the town, and I’ll buy a Cherry Limeade because I can’t get them where I live. But that’s it. No more questions.

I’ll just let the people be. It’s time.



Wheatlands Hotel, where Truman Capote stayed,
photo © 2010 by Teri Blair. All rights reserved.






About Teri Blair: Teri Blair is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis and founder of the Poetry & Meditation Group of which QuoinMonkey fondly and frequently writes. (See Letter From Poet Elizabeth Alexander for the latest post on that group and Teri’s piece titled Desire And A Library Card — The Only Tools Necessary To Start A Poetry Group for a step-by-step on how to start your own.)

Teri has written many posts on red Ravine, but this current piece is a follow-up and closure of sorts to her first guest post here, Continue Under All Circumstances, which she wrote on the road during a 2007 trip to Holcomb, Kansas.

Read Full Post »

The Turkey Who Lived, the story of Azul as told by the girl who loved her most,
© 2004-2009 by Dee. All rights reserved.




She was a blue so light she was almost gray. Jim got her at Miller Feed Shop in Albuquerque’s north valley after first buying and then losing a white baby turkey to a hawk. That turkey, we were later told, would have eventually grown so big that its weight would have broken its legs.

But Azul was a lean heritage turkey. She was made to roam fields. And roam she did. She had an easy relationship with our dogs, who seemed to know that she was as much a part of the family as they were. And she was docile with the girls, which put me at ease. A man I once worked with told me that you should never have turkeys around small children, as the turkeys would see the kids’ shiny eyes and peck them out.

Azul became famous ’round these parts. We lived within walking distance to the elementary school, and my daughters’ teachers regularly took their classes on field trips to our house. Twenty or so excited kids would stand at the fence around the bird pen to see Azul and the other turkeys, along with our chickens and Roosevelt the duck. We even had two bunnies, Diamond-in-the-Rough and Snowball, which if we could catch (they burrowed tunnels from the pen out to the yard) we’d let the students pet.

But Azul’s fame derived mostly because she survived an attack so severe that her innards were exposed. She had flown into the neighbors’ yard, not knowing that their dogs were unfriendly. Immediately a Bassett Hound and German Shepherd cornered and jumped her. The daughter was inside alone but had the wherewithal to call the police. She then went outside and chased the dogs away from Azul until Animal Control arrived and took the wounded turkey to the village offices.

Normally, with injuries that grave, Azul would have been put to sleep. But when the mayor of the village saw our daughter, who with Jim had pulled in seconds behind Animal Control, crying her eyes out when she saw how gory Azul looked, the mayor ordered Frosty, the head dog catcher, to rush the turkey to a local veterinarian. This mayor, who was also a sometimes-actor in Western films, then told Jim that the village would pick up the cost.

Lo and behold, Azul pulled through. She went on to live a relatively long life, giving birth to and raising three or four poults, a combined 20 to 30 turkeys.

Just a couple of weeks ago, however, Azul went missing. We looked high and low for her. She was always the leader of her flock, until this past year. We were down to four turkeys, one being Azul. The two males had plucked out large patches of her feathers. We let her stay outside the pen, being as how she roosted high in the trees to sleep.

One night we heard a commotion and chased off whatever it was that had come around. The next day Azul was gone. There were no feathers, no sign that she’d been taken or hurt. We searched for her for several days, thinking she might have laid eggs underneath brush and was hidden, safe and sound.

We still like to think she just flew high up into the trees where we can’t see her. But she was old for a turkey, and in our hearts we know that she’s gone for good.

Here is the story that Dee wrote about Azul back in 2004, just a few weeks after Azul was attacked by the dogs. Dee was 8 years old, and Azul was just over a year. I’ve corrected typos for ease of reading.



The Turkey Who Lived



One fall day, my dad, M., and me were shopping at K-Mart. We got a lot of stuff. Finally we were headed for home. When we turned on Mockingbird Lane, we saw the Animal Control leaving the road. My dad had a feeling something was wrong!

When we pulled up at our green gate, my dad saw a note left from the Animal Control which read “Your turkey has been attacked by some dogs next door. Sincerely, Frosty.”

My dad told us and I cried, but then I said, “I’ll kill those dogs!”

We met up with them [Animal Control] just in time. Before my dad got out of the car, he said Azul might be dead or dying. While my dad talked I could not tell if Azul was dead or alive, so I got out of the van and went to my turkey and cried when I saw her.

“We will put her to sleep,” the man said. “No!” the mayor said, “you will take her to the vet.”

So they did. The vet stitched her up. We had to put red medicine on her for a week. Now she is better, as if it never happened.





In Memoriam



azul azul and baby in fall

fall humps goodbye azul





Azul and her flock on red Ravine







Postscript: Even though she’s no longer with our flock, we are grateful this Thanksgiving holiday for having had Azul in our lives. She taught us that turkeys were not just some dumb bird you eat once a year. They’re regal and sociable. They’re funny, and most of all, they’re tough.

We’re also thankful today for our family (including the furry, feathered, and scaly), friends, our readers, for nature, writing, art, and all that inspires us.

Happy Thanksgiving, QM and Liz, and both your families!

Read Full Post »

Georgia Pine Over My Grandmother’s Grave, BlackBerry Shots, Augusta, Georgia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.






visiting Estelle
gravestones outlast the living
markers for the dead


all that’s left behind
a letter, a horseshoe ring
lasting love and luck


face of a pine tree
warm thoughts of the Grandmothers
hover over me







It’s the time of year when I think often of family and loved ones, living and dead. One of the highlights of my October trip to Georgia was visiting my Grandmother Estelle’s grave for the first time. I did not know her well, had not seen her since I was 2 years old. I knew none of my blood father’s family. It was synchronicity when in 2007 my paternal aunts ended up in the insurance office of my maternal uncle and asked the question, “Are you related to….?”

It happened to be two weeks before Mom and I were scheduled to travel to Georgia. After 50 years apart, the question’s answer led them to me.

It turns out, my paternal grandparents are buried down the hill from my maternal grandparents in the same cemetery. I’ve been visiting the cemetery with my mother for years and never knew. These photographs are of the pine tree that grows high over their graves. My Aunt Annette told me that my grandfather loved pine trees. So do I. When I was a child, I would spend hours sweeping pine needles, the scaly bough of a branch curving to make just the right shape, a prairie-style home.

The thing about cemetery trees is that they are many times old growth trees, never to be cut. I like to think this pine is a guardian for my grandparents, its long roots extending deep underground, branches tall and proud (reminds me of another pine in New Mexico that I’m quite fond of, the Lawrence Tree).

There is more to the story — a letter, an obituary, a ring. Perhaps another post. This week I give thanks for all who live, and those who have come before.


Skin Of A Pine Tree, Pine Trunk In The Graveyard, My Grandmother’s Grave, Cemetery Pine, BlackBerry Shots, Augusta, Georgia, October 2009, all photos © 2009 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


Post Script: the day Mom and I met my aunt at the cemetery, we also visited the Gertrude Herbert Memorial Institute of Art in Augusta. That’s where my Canon G6 battery died; I had forgotten to charge the backup battery. These photos are all taken with the BlackBerry cell phone camera.


-posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

-related to post: haiku 2 (one-a-day)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,581 other followers