Category Archives: Recollections

Memories of my checkered past.

A Large Tortoise

A brilliant photographer named Dusty Gedge had this to say about a photo by Jukka Otsamo posted on Google+:

“Fantastic 🙂 Who needs designers when nature is so much better…”

This is like a third-level passing-along of a photo. So common these days, as links get passed back and forth!

I’m reminded of a conversation I had with a potter who once lived in Bethel, Missouri. He used old French designs in his glazes; he was and probably still is quite skilled at his trade.

I was examining one of his pots, a very pretty one, well-executed indeed.

I think that the potter was taken aback when I said:

“I do like this. But you should realize what your competition is. When I can go outside and see something in the natural world which outshines any human endeavor…”

Larry

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Imagine…

Here’s a memory for my readers:

It was the late spring of 1972. I was on the verge of quitting high school without graduating. I was dozing off in a civics class. The teacher, Joyce, was trying to keep the students interested, not an easy job! She had brought a tape cassette to class, and she played us a song I’d not heard before.

It was Imagine, by John Lennon. Well, that woke me up!

Here’s a nice version from Mark Knopfler and his musical buddy Chet Atkins; it’s the second song in the medley:

Musical affection and interplay galore!

Larry

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Filed under Music, Recollections, Video

The Old Farmer’s Almanac

I happened across this essay at the Canadian National Post site:

The Farmers Almanac

This piece brought back memories. For some reason I was fascinated by the Old Farmer’s Almanac during my adolescence. Why did a suburban youth, an asocial geeky type devoted to literature and astronomy, read such a curmudgeonly compilation of New England folklore, stories, and weather prognostication? Somehow the archaic-looking filigreed cover of the pulpy little booklet exerted a pull on me, and I bought a new copy every year. It was like a glimpse into another world. Little did I know that I would be living in a thoroughly rural environment within a few years — but as we all know, earlier years are much longer than later ones. Ironically enough I never bought the Almanac once I had moved out into the sticks.

Two quotes from the essay linked above:

In the early days Thomas drilled a hole through each copy so that it could be hung on a hook in an outhouse, providing both reading material and toilet paper. By the 1990s, when punching the hole was costing $40,000 a year, the editors decided to eliminate it. After outraged traditionalists demanded it be restored, the editors bowed to history and put it back. It’s still there. So is Robert Thomas. A drawing of him appears on the cover and his signature on the editorial page.

The secret of the Almanac writers is poise. They know their worth and take a quiet pride in their heritage. They believe in their knowledge and believe in spreading it, just like Robert Thomas. The anonymous author of the 2011 Farmer’s Calendar describes his habits and outlook with a sense of authority no one would think of defying.

I really ought to buy a current edition of the Almanac, just to see how the publication has changed during the past forty years!

Larry

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Familial Duty Calls

My 27-year-old daughter Adrian is in Quincy right now and she came over for a visit. It was so good to see her, after about a year! She’s a very beautiful young woman; Adrian works as a nurse in Portland, Oregon. I’m proud of her!

She drove me over to visit with my folks, which was pleasant, but then I had to fulfill a promise reluctantly granted during the course of an earlier phone call.

Adrian and her guy Martin are getting married this summer out in Portland. She had asked me if I would consent to being measured for a suit.

Damn! A suit? I haven’t worn a suit since I was sixteen years old. But it was my daughter asking me for this favor, so after visiting my folks we stopped at a formal wear store on Broadway.

Obviously I was out of my realm.

I asked Adrian, “What — they’ll take my measurements without being paid?”

“Yeah, it’s kind of a courtesy places like that do.”

“So you will take the measurements to some place in Portland?”

“Yeah, I’ve printed out a form for them to fill out.”

Oh, gosh, I didn’t want to do this. We went into the store, which was deserted at that time of day. The clerk took me into the back of the store and submitted me to a ritual of holding my arms outstretched, keeping my feet together, and suchlike while she measured me with a cloth tape.

My daughter and I got back into her borrowed car.

“I hope that wasn’t too stressful for you, Dad!”

“The only thing that made it tolerable was that she was such a good-looking young woman. Did you notice how she would drape the measuring tape over the back of her neck between measurements?”

“And did you notice she was barefoot?”

“No! But no customers — I suppose she just wanted to be comfortable on a hot day… ”

Larry

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NPR In Quincy

Back in the mid-seventies when my ex-wife and I moved to a rural and remote place in Knox County, MO, there weren’t many media choices. Quincy IL pop FM stations were the only options. We didn’t have a TV and didn’t want one. These were prehistoric days, long before the advent of the internet.

FM radio advertisements, heavy-handed hard-sells for products I had no interest in, were getting on my nerves. One day, during a break from building our first house, I switched our little portable radio to the AM band and scanned across it, looking for something different.

I ended up at WOI, an AM station from Ames, IA which broadcasted a lot of farm price reports — but they also broadcasted National Public Radio shows like All Things Considered and A Prairie Home Companion. I was sucked right in; the reporters, such as Susan Stamberg and Noah Adams, had some sort of hard-to-define cultivated quality in their voices. I felt like I had found “my people”, like Eastern European Jews recently emigrated to America a hundred years ago who found other Jews in tenement districts in New York City.

I’ve been an NPR fan ever since those days. Since moving to Quincy my main station is WQUB, a station broadcasting from Quincy University. The station manager is a youngish woman named Maryfaith. She hosts two shows: “Romance On The River”, an hour every night of love songs, many of which peg my personal sentimentality meter, and “Books And More”, a book review show which features interviews with authors.

The last show is really well-done; Maryfaith has obviously read the books featured and is thus able to talk intelligently with the featured author. Maryfaith recorded some commercials for the “Books and More” show, and last winter one of those commercials was getting on my nerves, just seriously annoying me. She said in the commercial:

“I’ll help you keep up with the latest littachur!”

I couldn’t take it. I went to the WQUB web-site and left a message there:

“Will somebody please tell Maryfaith that the word literature has four syllables?”

Two days later the commercials had been re-recorded with the correct pronunciation, and I received a nice e-mail message from Maryfaith thanking me for my input.

I felt like a curmudgeon when I left that message at the station web-site, I must admit, so kudos go to Maryfaith for accepting it gracefully.

Larry

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Nocturnal Ninjas

For the past couple of years my sleep pattern has been changing –now I rarely sleep for eight hours in a row. Generally I’ll sleep for three or four hours at a time. I’ll get up and take a walk, perhaps to a local convenience store to chat with the clerks, or I’ll play music, or read. Then I’ll sink back down into the depths of somnolence for a couple more hours.

That’s why I was up at 3:30 this morning. I stepped out onto my porch aerie to smoke a cigarette. There was some sort of commotion going on directly below. I looked down and saw several young men involved in some sort of ritualistic activity — perhaps a game of some sort? I recognized Tom, my young downstairs neighbor. I called down to him:

“Hey, Tom, what’re you guys doin’?”

He looked up at me and said sheepishly, “Oh, we’re just playin’ this game called Ninja.”

I watched for a while; the game involves starting out in a huddle, then every player draws back and assumes odd postures seemingly derived from Kung Fu movies, Bruce Lee stuff. The game seems to be a variant of that hoary classic game Tag.

I took a few photos, propping my camera on the porch railing:

I was curious about this game and looked it up on Wikipedia. One of the virtues of Wikipedia is that if there are several meanings of a word a Disambiguation page opens up so that you can choose the meaning in which you are interested. Evidently Ninja is a common playground game:

Ninja

Ninja reminds me of a game my kids used to play with the children of some friends; it was called Midnight. I never quite understood the rules, but that game involved running around wildly while shrieking. Meanwhile the parents sat inside and talked, insulated by walls from the chaos outside.

Larry

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Meb and Jay

The other day I happened to think about a couple of craftsmen who had an influence upon me many years ago. Both of them were retired men who spent their days in their shops, doing some paying work and a certain amount of just plain tinkering. These guys just didn’t want to sit at home during their declining years — perhaps their wives preferred it that way. In a small town a shop is also a social gathering place, almost exclusively for men. A comparison could be made with the role of the barbershop as a male social venue in small-town America during the past couple of centuries.

I’ll write first about Meb, a rather surly and crotchety old guy who once had a shop in Bethel, MO. I first met him during the late 1970s when I was a young and inexperienced carpenter and woodworker. At the time I was working with Kent, a neighbor who had moved to rural Missouri, as I had, during one of the periodic revivals of primitivist “back to the land” thinking.

One day Kent said to me as we drove into Bethel, “Larry, you gotta meet Meb. His shop is really cool and he can make about anything out of wood or metal.”

We parked in front of a shabby-looking old building which had wooden garage doors. There was no sign to indicate what went on within.

Kent warned me as we approached the door: “Now, Meb doesn’t act very friendly and he can be insulting, but he don’t mean anything by it. Don’t take it personally, okay?”

The shop was dimly lit and the corners and shelves were piled with all sorts of intriguing things, such as half-built pieces of furniture, old tools, and parts of machinery. A thickly-built man in overalls glanced at us as we gingerly stepped around odd artifacts and assemblages.

So this was Meb. He snarled “So what are you two young idjits doin’ here?”

Meb never smiled; he aways seemed to have a frown on his face. Kent said “Oh, we just wanted to see what you’ve been up to. This is Larry; we work together off and on.”

Meb dismissively said “Hmph.”

In an undertone Kent said to me, “He really doesn’t want us to leave — I know he likes to have company.” I was dubious.

It was fascinating looking around that shop. The centerpiece was an ancient metal lathe which must have dated from the teens or twenties, or even earlier. It had originally been a treadle lathe, powered by the operator’s feet, but it had been outfitted with a greasy old electric motor, probably when electric power first came to Bethel back in the forties. The lathe’s legs were cast iron from an age when machine castings were given ornamental swoops and curlicues. Some nameless patternmaker had evidently indulged his fancy when designing those legs.

Meb was using that lathe when we walked in. It was the first time I had ever seen a metal lathe in action. Meb was turning down a steel rod which looked like a shaft for some machine. The curls of iron cascaded greasily from the small cutting tool, which was rigidly held in a holder which traveled back and forth along a threaded rod. Heaps of shining shavings were piled in drifts beneath the machine.

Kent and I visited Meb’s shops several times during the next couple of years, though I never really got to know the man. He wasn’t a talkative or confiding sort of man, but occasionally I would think I saw the faintest glimmer of a smile, just a slight lifting of the corners of his mouth.

Meb died a few years after I met him. Then I met a retired Navy machinist named Jay, an altogether more friendly character. He had a shop in Shelbyville, the next town south of Bethel. Somehow Jay had ended up with Meb’s old metal lathe; perhaps he bought it at Meb’s estate auction.

Jay was a rather short, wiry, and energetic man, and when a project interested him he’d go after it like a beagle at a rabbit-hole. The converse of this was that if he couldn’t get interested in, say, a mundane repair job, he’d put it off. He really didn’t need the money, so local farmers and hot-rodders would be extra-friendly and hang around the shop, hoping their project would rise to the top of the list. If Jay needed a piece of steel or a tool from Quincy there was no shortage of volunteers:

“Yeah, Jay, I’m goin’ to town the day after tomorrow — I’ll pick it up for you!”

Unlike Meb, Jay was exclusively a metal-worker. Aside from the lathe, he had an assortment of old milling machines, surface grinders, and other metal-shaping tools, most of which had lived out their early years in factories. Jay was a wizard with a stick-welder and acetylene torch. I appreciated that he didn’t mind loitering and curious visitors looking over his shoulder.

Much of his work involved farm machinery, and local farmers often stopped by his shop:

“Howdy, Jay, didja get my baler bearing pressed in?”

“Aw, gol-durnit, that one slipped my mind! Where’d I put that thing? Here, come help me look for it under this bench…”

I’d always learn something during casual visits to either Meb or Jay’s shop. Jay has also passed away, and we’ll never see their like again.

Larry

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