Doesn’t Chekhov look relaxed with his little friend?
Image courtesy of National Library of Wales
In a small town there may be one (at most two) people who are impressed with you because you’ve written NOVELS. Fair enough. Why should they be impressed? After all you did get the Donkey Basketball fundraiser cancelled when you wrote that thoughtful letter to the school superintendent questioning the idea of people humiliating donkeys who probably would rather not be laughed at and kicked up and down a slippery gym floor. You think it a bit much that the teacher who organized the event called you a bitch to her high school class (she doesn’t even know you and your step-daughter was in the classroom at the time and almost died), but you forgive the teacher–the event in past years made a lot of money and it was her claim to fame.
No one cares if you’re a writer when you are the second wife of a Navy man in a small town because the first wife is a native daughter with a, let’s say, talkative way about her and a talent for spinning sad stories of her own. At the bank they called you “the second wife” in derisive whispers, but they’ve warmed up to you a little since they see how often you make banking mistakes.
And they all know about the time you were in a hurry to attend a parent/teacher meeting, swung into a parking spot and barely touched the car next to yours (a teacher’s car). You panicked, went home to bring a child back to ask this child if he saw any marks on the teacher’s car, went home again to get cleaning fluid, came back to leave a note, took away the note and never even considered just going into the school to tell what happened. A few days later the school called and you gave a tearful apology. Luckily there really was no damage to either car, but still, things like that–and the fact that you drive a white minivan with a CUBS license plate–stick with people.
Your husband counts down the years until his almost grown children will no longer sing in school chorus programs, but you quite enjoy the band and some of the songs (though not the theme songs from Disney movies). The Navy guy always sits way in the back of the auditorium so he doesn’t have to see his ex-wife. On this night you have along with you a lovely though fragile foster kid. She’s excited. She wants to feel grown-up and sits a few seats down. When the auditorium gets crowded and a student on stage asks for quiet you whisper to the girl to move closer. She pretends not to hear you so you whisper louder and more imploringly. This triggers a secret horrible memory of her abusive mother who had a fondness for electrical tape. The girl whispers your name with big eyes and confesses she’s scared. Before you can do a thing and as the first nervous notes of a student soloist hit the air the foster girl screams your name–at least three times as you head for the door.
The show is stopped. The room is silent. Everyone recovers their senses. The show begins again, but you’re outside trying to calm the kid down. She’s having none of it and runs away. The Navy guy says let her run or she’ll keep stealing the show. It gets dark. The concert ends, and we’ve been searching for over an hour–with the police. Each car that leaves the show is stopped to be shown a picture of the little girl. The drivers glance over to see the Navy man answering questions about the girl in the squad car. What must they think? Someone says what they think: I saw that girl being kidnapped from the concert!
You drive towards home but turn around thinking she couldn’t have made it this far. You turn around again because you really have no idea what to do and 8 miles from the school, nearly at your front door you see a small girl running in the distance with a coat over her head for safety. She’s run in flip flops along a highway and made it over a narrow unlit bridge spanning the Hudson. It boggles the mind. The cops are notified and everyone is relieved–or embarrassed. The Navy kids’ phones are blowing up with chatter and sympathy. Some EMS workers are a little disappointed they didn’t get to do a full-scale search through the fields surrounding the town.
You thought junking the minivan and buying a black SUV would allow you some anonymity, but no. Your name though hardly known for a novel you wrote will live in infamy at the school auditorium.
PS~I actually love my small town life and the people I meet, most of whom would give the shirts off their backs to help in times of trouble. I found the entire run away episode really funny–especially since unlike me my husband is a very private soul. Seeing him in the squad car will be a priceless memory for our family, and once the little girl was found we all laughed a lot. BTW, the policemen were wonderfully supportive, too!
“Curtis has been praised as a gifted photographer but also criticized by some contemporary ethnologists for manipulating his images. Although the early twentieth century was a difficult time for most Native communities in America, not all natives were doomed to becoming a “vanishing race.” At a time when natives’ rights were being denied and their treaties were unrecognized by the federal government, many natives were successfully adapting to western society. By reinforcing the native identity as the noble savage and a tragic vanishing race, some believe Curtis detracted attention from the true plight of American natives at the time when he was witnessing their squalid conditions on reservations first-hand and their attempt to find their place in Western culture and adapt to their changing world.” Wikipedia
In many of his images Curtis removed parasols, suspenders, wagons, and other traces of Western material culture from his pictures. In his photogravure In a Piegan Lodge, published in The North American Indian, Curtis retouched the image to remove a clock between the two men seated on the ground.Wikipedia
Once upon a time there lived on a Saratoga hillside surrounded by lakes a tragic little family of wealth and privilege. Spencer and Katrina Trask lost every child they ever produced, but gathered countless friends, many of whom were artists and poets drawn to the couple’s generosity and toughness in the face of Job-like losses, year after sad year.
Henry van Dyke was one such friend who wrote the following inscription for Katrina Trask’s garden sundial dedicated to her four dead children:
“Dr. van Dyke is the kind of a friend to have when one is up against a difficult problem. He will take trouble, days and nights of trouble, if it is for somebody else or for some cause he is interested in.” Helen Keller said of him.
“I’m not an optimist. There’s too much evil in the world and in me. Nor am I a pessimist; there is too much good in the world and in God. So I am just a meliorist, believing that He wills to make the world better, and trying to do my bit to help and wishing that it were more.” Wikipedia
There was once a time in America when it was quite fashionable (even among the intellectual elites) to see something good in America. Does this mean there was nothing bad? Surely not, but van Dyke’s poem always tickles my fancy especially when children recite it in schools that still teach that America is a pretty great place to be:
AMERICA FOR ME
‘Tis fine to see the Old World, and travel up and down
Among the famous palaces and cities of renown,
To admire the crumbly castles and the statues of the kings,—
But now I think I’ve had enough of antiquated things.
So it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
My heart is turning home again, and there I long to be,
In the land of youth and freedom beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars!
Oh, London is a man’s town, there’s power in the air;
And Paris is a woman’s town, with flowers in her hair;
And it’s sweet to dream in Venice, and it’s great to study Rome;
But when it comes to living there is no place like home.
I like the German fir-woods, in green battalions drilled;
I like the gardens of Versailles with flashing fountains filled;
But, oh, to take your hand, my dear, and ramble for a day
In the friendly western woodland where Nature has her way!
I know that Europe’s wonderful, yet something seems to lack:
The Past is too much with her, and the people looking back.
But the glory of the Present is to make the Future free,—
We love our land for what she is and what she is to be.
Oh, it’s home again, and home again, America for me!
I want a ship that’s westward bound to plough the rolling sea,
To the bléssed Land of Room Enough beyond the ocean bars,
Where the air is full of sunlight and the flag is full of stars
Note: Our foster girl is back and off this week of school so my visits here may be sketchy at best, but wanted to take this moment to remember the men and women like Lincoln (and the Founding Fathers who some would like to forget(?!)) who made the United States an inspiration to all lovers of freedom.