Monday, May 31, 2010

Decoration Day

So, off we'll go, Mimi & I, in the next little while, up to the cemetery to place some of the last peonies hereabouts on a trio of graves. Thirty years it's been since my little brother was planted in one of them. Paul Wesley Harness, of the glorious brown eyes, enviable eyelashes. A 21-year-old soldier he was, posted in Germany, when he was killed. Passed out I reckon he was, riding in a car driven by a buddy who'd been drinking, who took an icy corner too quickly. Now his bones rest beside those of our folks, Elaine Wolfe Harness (1928-1992) and Raymond Robert Harness (1922-2008), veteran of WWII. He was a Coast Guard radio operator in the South Pacific.
Far away from here, away off in Scotland, is another graveyard, St. Mun's Churchyard. According to, there lie the bones of Elizabeth Blackwell, who passed from this earth 100 years ago today (on the 91st anniversary of the birth of Walt Whitman). 'Twas in the year 1849, the gents that ran Geneva Medical College, in Geneva, NY, awarded Miss Blackwell a diploma, making her this nation's 1st female M.D.
"It is not easy to be a pioneer," wrote Dr. Blackwell, " -- but oh, it is fascinating! I would not trade one moment, even the worst moment, for all the riches in the world."
If you happen to be in Kilmun, Scotland, today, do festoon Dr. Blackwell's grave with posies. Decorate her memory with gratitude, your acknowledgment of her determination & intellect.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Coming Across Mr. Percy

So it was that a writer whose writing I've not yet read, a condition soon to be remedied, was born on another 28th of May, in 1916, a scant six years before my old man was born. Walker Percy. How have I missed him? How'd I get to be this blasted old without having read any of this man's books? According to, Mr. Percy once said or wrote that a person could get "all A's and still flunk life." Man oh man oh man, here's a fellow I don't want to miss. Here's another: "You live in a deranged age, more deranged that usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing." I'm going to hi myself to the library as soon as I get done typing here and see if they've a copy of Mr. Percy's Love in the Ruins. Why? Because the good robots at Amazon were so good as to reveal the book's opening page which begins thus: "Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and of the Christ-forgetting, Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?"
Isn't it extraordinary how we stumble upon writers? I was about to say 'discovered,' but that'd be like the numberless accounts of some European discovering something the locals had always known. It'd been there all the time. A chance conversation. A check to see who got born today. In any case, Mr. Percy got his ticket punched maybe 20 years ago and met his deadline. I've still got a few this side of the Big River so I must get after them. Let me direct your attention, whoever you are, to this article:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Put On Your Big Girl Panties!

"Put on your big girl panties and deal with it." I don't know who said it first - Dept. of Ed. Sec'y Margaret Spellings or country singer Emily Ward (quoting her mother), but whoever it was, good on her. Happy I am to type the words here, recognizing one who risked all manner of meanness and ridicule when she got up one morning, determined not to to drag around a load of gathered skirts and petticoats on her person. Instead,author/editor/reformer Amelia Jenks Bloomer, born this day in 1818, pulled on a pair of pantaloons, bless her heart and courage. Those baggy, big girl pants, ever to be known as "Bloomers,"that might've freed up many a busy woman, never caught on in Amelia's day. Honor her, think of her, when you pull on your jeans, your capri pants, your whatever that allows you to walk freely and deal with whatever life throws at you. And, by the way, on the very day that Amelia Jenks turned one year old,another independent, steely-minded girl child was born: Julia Ward Howe. Speaking of whom, visit this site and read Ms. Julia's Mother's Day Proclamation (1870):
"Arise then, women of this day." Put 'em on and deal.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Duke

Rough, tough/Didn't take no stuff. A hard man [is good to find? No thanks, Sophie Tucker. No nasty business here.] he was in so many of his multitude of movies. Stern without, gentle within: So seemed John Wayne and I don't know so much about him as to differ with that assessment. Of course I was knocked out by his young glory - that face of his as "Ringo," filling the screen when he first appears in Stagecoach, 1939. Then again in The Shootist, 1976, three years before his death. No John Wayne fan ever was I, but oh baybee. I was touched by his bone-weariness, set against my memory of all those earlier notions, those earlier pictures of him in my mind, when he was a young man. I'm thinking that as I get older, not having been a film star, I'll take to wearing a picture of my younger self in my lapel so folks will know that was not always as I appear.
So, I bring up the Duke, as he was known, because it's his birthday. May 26, 1907/Winterset, Iowa. AND get a load of this swell quotation attributed to him: "Life is hard; it's harder if you're stupid." Man oh man oh man - carve those words in stone. Write them in fire across the sky. John Wayne shares a birthday with Al Jolson, (1886) a whole 'nother story that guy was and so much for astrology, I say.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ralph Waldo E.

"Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet." Ralph Waldo Emerson.
He [She?] did just that two hundred & seven years ago this very day: May 25, 1803, in Boston, Massachusetts. Rev. William [known as Bill to his buddies? ever?] Emerson and his good wife Ruth [Was she good? Probably it is witless assigning virtue to a long gone stranger just for the sake of rhythm. Ah well, why not? Good there was in her. That is an iron-clad conclusion. Let's hope she was content in her life as preacher's wife, widow...] welcomed there new son into the world. ["The world we live in," this child would grow up to say,"is but thickened light."] They named him Ralph [after an uncle] Waldo [the surname of a great-grandmother] Emerson and thin would be all of our Bartlett's and whatsoever other books of quotations without him. Well I know that there was more to R.W. E. than witticisms, nuggets, and well-conceived thought-provokers, but much there is to do apart from today's posting. Still, I'm going to make time to read some more about him, some of him, and tip my mental hat to him. I'll be the better for having done so.
For more info, do check out
To dip into his writings, do visit
For a bit of quotation appreciation:

"Our chief want in life is somebody who shall make us do what we can."

"Solitude, the safeguard of mediocrity, is to genius the stern friend."
"Keep cool: it will all be one a hundred years hence."

Amen and onward.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Pair of Adventurous Souls

So, an adventurous soul : That would be Margaret Fuller, born this day 200 years ago. I know this because I clicked into Rob Velella's splendid American Literary Blog. Pay it a visit and you'll be well-rewarded, if only by learning more about today's Birthday Woman.
I would not consider myself to be an adventurous soul, but I've written about a few. One of them, Geo. Washington Carver began his adventuring in an ill-favored fashion [to enslaved parents living in a time of war] not so far from today's destination: Joplin, MO. Before I head down the road I'm going to dip into my encyclopedia and see what is written there about Miss Fuller. I'll visit this swellegant site, too: I intend to ponder Miss. F. & Mr. GWC as I aim my hoopie down the highway. Good people to think about, good people waiting for me at the end of today's road. I call that a fine adventure.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


If ignorance is bliss how come there are so many miserable people running around? That's how the joke goes anyway. Still, I was somewhat more blissful earlier today than I am now, having listened to the news, hearing more about some of our species having poisoned the ocean down 'round the great Gulf of M. And I found a swell little book languishing on the remainder table at the local book barn: Great Stories from HISTORY for EVERY DAY of the Year, compiled by W.B. Marsh & Bruce Carrick. I adore books such as these. Most beloved and tattered: my copy of Bernard Grun's TIMETABLES of HISTORY, a Horizontal Linkage of People & Events. In any event, in opening up the former, I read that today, May 22 marks the anniversary of the births of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859) and Richard Wagner (1813). I love these little bits. Little bits do not equal history; I love them nonetheless. Mary Cassatt was born this day, in Pennsylvania, in 1844. Thinking about the world of that time, that place: now that's history. Harvey Milk of San Francisco would be 80 I guess, had he not been murdered. Again, in any event, in that H. for Every Day, I read that today's the anniversary of this day, a Sunday, in the year 337 that 63-year-old Constantine "the Great" got his ticket punched. Celebrated he was for making Christianity the "favoured religion of Western civilization." Woe was it to the pagan hoi polloi or anyone ol' Connie deemed to be his opposition. Reading on, I found he had a thing about moral conduct. Rapists? Burned alive. Adulterers - even his own son, (later proved innocent) – executed. Servants who helped a young lady elope? Suffice it to say, not wishing to creep you out, that their deaths involved molten lead. Had one of his wives killed, too: horribly. Yikes.
So I'll tip my mental hat to the past, to Mary for her paintings, Arthur for his writings, particularly his invention of Sherlock Holmes; Richard for his music, Harvey for his courage and get on with pondering the present. Outrage is only part of the human story. There's also bliss.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Minnesota, Hail to Thee

So, it was 23 years ago this weekend that I visited Minnesota for the very first of many times and all a'buzz was I. Why? Because I'd grown up with Laura & Mary and Betsy & Tacy. Who? If you're reading this – or even if you're not – you know Laura & Mary Ingalls. Betsy Ray & Tacy Kelly are the heroines of a downright delightful set of books written by Maud Hart Lovelace (1892-1980). About what? Her happy childhood and high school years in Mankato., known to us B-T initiates as Deep Valley, Minnesota, in 1897-1917, the horse-drawn, lamplit years before the U.S. entered WWI. Oh baybee, if you haven't read these books, lucky you: You still get to discover them. Do head yourself to the library and please do visit You'll find pictures there of Maud, her childhood home, and that of her best friend, Frances Kenney (Tacy Kelly), right across the street. As of yesterday, May 20, "Betsy's" and "Tacy's" homes are a National Literary Landmark. Just for you to know.
For all of that, Mrs. Lovelace and her books were not my reason for traveling to the North Star State. No, that would be because I won a much-sought-after ticket to see and hear one of the last times Garrison Keillor and a stage full of other performers would do their live radio show out of St. It was in February 1987 that G. K. announced he was shutting his radio show down - "not to leave you, but to rejoin you listeners out there..." He'd gotten prettydamned publicly besotted with a lady. You'd better know I cried genuine tears. I was still working for Current then, designing greeting cards, wrapping paper - all kinds of paper hoohah and trying to break into children's books. Many a painting I'd done while listening to the radio, particularly on Saturday evenings when Prairie Home Companion was on.
Mr. Keillor probably wishes he knew then how badly he was going to get his heart busted and end up bringing back his radio show, but then it was the big fat end of a chapter. Me, I was healing up from a huge bust-up myself. It cheered me up considerable when I won or a ticket for one of the last shows. It would be Saturday evening, of course, May 23, 1987, which happened to be within a couple of days of the 60th anniversary of the time when Charles Lindbergh, the Lone Eagle of Minnesota navigated the Spirit of St. Louis clear across the Atlantic Ocean in 33 and 1/2 hours. 83 years it's been now. My younger, thinner self, the 1987 version, walked past a swell statue of the "Lone Eagle" in front of the State Capitol and admired both it and the building, there in St. Paul. A happy time.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Five Days

So, it's been five days since I've posted anything here. Did the world miss my pointing out that May 16th marked 240 years since Maria Antonia of Austria, a well-intentioned, poorly educated, overly dressed teenager, was sent off from her homeland to marry the shy, ill-suited heir to the throne of France? I doubt it. Exactly 34 years later, on May 16th, 1804,, when Antoinette's headless corpse & that of her hubby were crumbling away in their graves, up out of the blood & ashes of the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte became France's emperor.
May 17th? I didn't even know until just a second ago that the 17th of May was the 500th anniversary of the death of one of my favorite painters EVER: Sandro Botticelli. Well I remember nearly getting bitten by an impatient, weary, Florentine horse out in the square by the Uffizi, the day I first saw Botticelli's exquisite tendrils and leafy gowns up close, w/ my own personal eyes. What had I been doing that I wasn't paying attention? Pen and ink drawings for a coloring book. Taking Mimi for a walk. Trying and repeatedly failing to get my new lawn mower to start. So I read a bit more about him... And the 18th of May - when was that? Tuesday, I reckon. Frank Capra's birthday. Jeannette Rankin's deathday (what a heroic dame she was!) I applied for the privilege of making a speech to a bunch of strangers. Promptly rejected. Not entirely a bad thing as I'd rather stay home and draw. The 19th? The sun reappeared hereabouts, shone his shiny face down on a rather soggy sector full of bowed-down peonies and water-logged irises, all unaware and uncaring - why should they care? flowers and people come and go - that Nellie Melba was born in 1861, on another 19th of May. Sounds kind of thin from a distance, but I understand Dame Nellie was a stunner in her day, so much so that she inspired what sounds like a swellegant bit o' dessert. Here's a recipe for it, by way of

4 ripe peaches
2 c. sugar
1 c. water
1 tsp. vanilla
Vanilla ice cream
1 pkg. frozen raspberries

Place peaches in boiling water for a few seconds to remove skins. Cut in half to remove pits. Combine sugar and water in small saucepan and allow to boil for 5 minutes until a syrup is formed. Add vanilla and peach halves. Cook for about 10 minutes over medium heat. Remove peaches and chill. Puree berries in food processor. Chill. Place peach half in dessert bowl. Add scoop of ice cream and top with raspberry sauce.

And today, the 20th of May, is not merely Thursday, another rainy day in Missouri. No, to my mind, it is grander, enriched, with the knowledge that on a day, perhaps like this day, minus such keyboards as I be typing on, or the sound of an ice cream truck, jingling along outdoors by way of an internal combustion engine, back upstream in 1768, a cheerful, black-haired Dolley Todd was born in North Carolina, without the least idea in her little baby head that one day she'd marry that puny, but charming & brilliant Jemmy Madison. By golly, I'm going to get out that Dolley Madison manuscript of mine and submit it again, in honor of that remarkable lady. And it's Jimmy Stewart's birthday, bless him forever. I think I'll put Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on the video hearth; let it flicker while I finish my coloring book. This calls for some Peach Melba.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Death Days

So, I don't know what it is about birthdays that compel my attention. Well, yes I do. Rather satisfying is the notion of a discrete chunk of data, a tidy time/space intersection representing the beginning of an individual earthly incarnation. The gun going off at the starting gate. Out of the realm of spirit, the animal, amniotic darkness and into the noisy light, an adventure embarked upon. January 17, 1706/Boston, Mass. (Benj. Franklin) February 7, 1867/Pepin, Wisconsin. (Laura Ingalls W.) According to today marks the beginnings of the lives of brooch-wearing, savvy diplomat Madeleine Albright (Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1937), author L. Frank Baum (Chittenango, NY, 1856), and debonair actor, Joseph Cotten (Petersburg, VA, 1905). To name a few. And think of the legions, the multitudes of long-gone lives that began on countless other Middles of May. And according to Wikipedia, today marks the foundings of the National Woman's Suffrage Assoc. (by way of their godmothers S. B. Anthony & E. C. Stanton, 1869) and the city of Las Vegas, NV. And Mickey Mouse appeared in his 1st cartoon, by way of his godfather, Walter Disney.
At the end of one's shelf of days is that other bookend, doncha know. It's been seven years now since June Carter Cash crossed over the River and waited there a while until John came along so they could enter heaven's gates, hand in hand. That's how the song went anyway. Today's Emily Dickinson's deathday. You can find - and I hope you will - a splendid essay, a reverie written about her at Death kindly stopped for the white-clad poet in her 55th year. She & her failed kidneys were waiting for him [her? Dang! WHY is there no androgynous pronoun, for crying out loud?] at the intersection of 15 May, 1884/Amherst, Mass. And, oh my goodness, this guy – what a story! The adventurous, tormented, and remarkable life of Edmund Kean, said to have been one of the most remarkable of actors, came to an end on this day in 1833. Okay. I have to go to the library now and learn more about this guy. Go thou & do likewise.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Attitude Adjustment

“Our attitudes control our lives," said Irving Berilin. Israel Baline his name was when he was born in eastern Russia on this day in 1888, a difficult time and a deadly difficult place for baby Israel's parents and all other Jewish people living in the land of the Tsar, the Cossacks, and the pogroms. In time, the Balines and thousands more fled Russia for the United States. In more time, spent hawking newspapers in the unimaginably tough, teeming slums of New York City, the child grew up to be the most successful songwriter ever and I'm thinking that he was living proof of this notion, of the power of one's take on the world. "Attitudes," he went on to write, "are a secret power working twenty-four hours a day, for good or bad. It is of paramount importance that we know how to harness and control this great force.”
Were it not for the fact that I totally need to set this blogification aside and get down to proper, official work, I'd link Mr. Berlin's thinking on personal attitude with a pondering on the extent to which one can truly change one's customary [inherited? learned?] attitude or is one forever stuck. And speaking of forever stuck, it was also on this day in history, in 1811, that conjoined twins Chang and Eng were born in Siam (present-day Thailand) and if ever there were a pair of fellows who had to master their attitudes! I reckon that the "Siamese Twins" did, for good or bad. God, I hope so. For that matter, my own attitude could use some harnessing. Off I go to do so.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spike of Gold

So, up at the Courthouse Square, here in Independence, there's a statue of Andy Jackson. He and his horse stare off westward, unaware, I reckon of the changing scene around them. Just as well they took no notice of the streets blocked off all around them, streets full of chilly people roaming & ambling & goofing around, visiting vendors, ever-hopeful, on the occasion of Harry Truman's birthday. Lots of big doin's hereabouts, none of which I bothered with. Much more interesting it was doing yet another drawing for my Betsy-Tacy Coloring Book. If you're not aware, do make the acquaintance of Maud Hart Lovelace's mostly-autobiographical books about her happy girlhood in Mankato, Minnesota, 1897-1917. Comforting too, messing about with pen & ink, drawing pretty pictures. It's what I've always done when the world's too much, ever since my own girlhood, here in Independence.
And, too, just for you to know, 'twas on this day in 1869, when Laura Ingalls was 2 years old, a big gaggle of top-hatted gents, working men, and 2 steel monsters all met to celebrate the completion of our nation's transcontinental railroad by way of a Golden Spike. A truly big deal it was.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Coop

So, where've I been anyway, not having blogged here the past couple of days? Off gallivanting all over the place, down to Warrensburg, roundabout where my ancestors used to live, and to Jefferson City, where young couples in prom finery were having their pictures taken by Karl Bitter's handsome sculpture of the Louisiana Purchase. [I'd never seen this before
Off to Lexington to do a presentation at River Reader, a completely wonderful little book store Mimi (my black & white pooch) and I walked about the field there, where once soldiers fought.
But now, praise all that's holy, I'm home and today would have been my mom's birthday. Thank heavens Alberta Elaine Wolfe Harness passed away when she did, because she was really puny at the time and would have been a pitiful, 82-year-old shipwreck now. Proud and happy she always was, by the way, that she shared a birthday with the total dreamboat of all time: Gary Cooper, born this day in 1901. I sure hope that they have made one another's acquaintance off in the Blue Beyond.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

72 Days

"It is only after one is in trouble that one realizes how little sympathy and kindness there are in the world." Elizabeth Cochran, 'Nellie Bly'

Less than it took Mr. Fogg: That was the goal. Intrepid journalist. Elizabeth Cochran, a.k.a. Nellie Bly was determined to travel 'round the world in less time than it took Phileas Fogg, hero of Jules Verne's bestselling adventure story, Around the World in Eighty Days. She'd already faked mental illness so she could do an expose of the nightmare world within the walls of women's lunatic asylum. I could wax on about this completely courageous woman, veteran of a hard-luck girlhood, & world traveler, but I must go take my niece to school. I'll confine myself to saying that "Nellie" made the trip in 72 days and today's her birthday and I honor her. What a dame!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


So, I was a freshman at CMSU, at Warrensburg, Missouri, in the spring of 1970. What I remember of the time was another art student's image of Mr. Filo's famous photograph of the girl - 14-year-old Mary Ann Vecchio, I found out later, screaming beside the body of a young man, an Ohio college student. His name was Jeffrey Miller. Did I know that then? In May, 1970? I don't remember; nor do I remember knowing that the names of the other students shot and killed that day were Allison Krause, Sandra Scheuer, and William Knox Schroeder. Did their friends know them as Jeff, Ally, Sandy, and Bill? I don't know. I'm pretty sure that they were excited high school students once upon a time, opening business envelopes (I still remember the scent of fine paper.), containing the news that they'd been accepted at Kent State. Has my memory gotten so puny? Or, more likely, was I paying no attention to the outside world? To the fact that soldiers of our government shot unarmed college students?
In any case, I'm paying attention now, rueful, grateful, for the 40 years of life I've had since then, four decades denied four young people, forever young.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Flowers on the Doorstep

So, that was once the custom, was it?  A May basket of posies at one's front door?  I've heard of it and have been charmed by the notion, old ex-greeting card artist that I am...  Soon and very soon downstairs I go in this big hotel to speak with a gathering of Daughters of the American Revolution.  Very nice ladies.  I may even join up. It's been my intention to do that...Public speaking is so exhilarating. Public speaking is so exhilarating.... mayday mayday.