"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Friday, June 26, 2009

Time to Write a Letter


Little House on the Prairie Historic Site
Indpenedence, Kansas

Samuel Gordon Lindsey
My grandfather's brother, in 1913; age 20.

In 1888 my great-grandparents moved from Illinois to settle a homestead in Nebraska. By 1893, they had erected not a one-room but, proudly, a two-room home on the prairie, where my great-grandmother Sally (Sarah Elisabeth Hartman Lindsey) sat one summer day writing a long letter to her niece, enchantingly named Eyrie. What I especially like is that Sally explains how the babies are napping while she writes. So many times when my children were small, my own letters began: “The boys are now asleep, so I have a moment to answer your letter.”

Some things never change! Sally begins:

Dear Eyrie

I am (nearly) alone this afternoon, with my babies Beatrice and Gordon both asleep. Jimmie went 5 miles away to see a sick horse this morning, taking Wayne with him. Mabel and Jim are at Sunday School 3 ½ miles distant since dinner. And I have a quiet time in which to write. You know, Eyrie, few of the homesteaders have another room where they can go and read or write undisturbed.

Sally goes on to describe a summer of severe drought, punctuated by a few severe thunderstorms. During one of these storms, her husband Jimmie was struck by lightning. While he was recuperating, some old friends

who used to live in J’s native town in Ohio, came eight miles to see him. They are well-to-do people spending a few months here for their health. They brought him some oranges, a can of peaches, and Gordon a new dress. After Wayne had eaten of the peaches, his papa was telling him we would move east where fruit grows and then we could have some. I was out, and when I came in, Wayne said, “And Mama don't you think they grow on trees”! It has only been a year since he learned there was such a thing as a tree. He scarcely ever sees one, they usually die in the first year.

In fact, Wayne, who was four at the time, did grow up to see many trees; and indeed, the Lindseys did move east, eventually settling in Kansas in 1895—the year that my grandfather, Paul Jones Lindsey, was born in a covered wagon as the family was traveling in search of their permanent home. It is sad and strange for me to think that my great-grandmother long outlived the two babies who lay napping that day while she wrote to Eyrie. Samuel Gordon Lindsey (after whom my own little Sam is named) died in France, 31 July 1918, at the Battle of the Aisne-Marne. And Edna Beatrice Lindsey Smith died in 1922, aged 31; though so young, she was already the mother of six.

Thinking of them all -- Sally, Eyrie, Beatrice, her children -- brings to mind the following tender-hearted poem that I have loved since girlhood:


Throb of my heart, throb of my heart,
How did you get here, where did you start?

Ages ago in some lowly thing,
Pulsating since with unceasing spring?

Through countless lifetimes, from mother to young,
Heart throb, heart throb, a rhythm has sung.

Once in a queen, twice in a slave,
Wife of prince, wife of a knave.

Mother to daughter, down through the years,
Some heirs to gladness, some heirs to tears.

Defended by vassal, seized by a lord,
Sentenced to death but saved by a word.

Women of virtue, women of shame,
Women of desert, women of slum,

Down to my grandmere, sweet and demure,
Down to my mother, patient and pure.

Why was I forged as a link in this chain?
What of the past shall I break or maintain?

Heart throb, heart throb, wonder past knowing,
Where did you come from, where are you going?

by Edith M. Roberts

Roberts's poem can be found in the well - loved
anthology from my formative years:
The American Album of Poetry
compiled by American radio personality
Ted Malone, 1908 - 1989

Monday, June 15, 2009

Child Beheads Mannequin

Neighborhood Mural, West Philadelphia


"Sometimes a mannequin's blue summer dress
can make the window like a dream . . . "
(iphoto created by Karen Shen)

Yearning for an off-beat summer movie? Watch Francis Ford's Coppola's dreamy, magical, musical One From The Heart. Teri Garr portrays a heroine who works after hours, wistfully dressing the storefront mannequins to the pensive strains of "Old Boyfriends" (below). What is it about those mannequins? So odd, so beckoning.

I was lured by the mannequins long ago, on a shopping trip to the town square in Neosho, Missouri (where our family lived from 1962 - 67). Many of the stores were quaint and old-fashioned, including clothing stores with wooden floors and display windows that were wide open into the store interior and could be reached from inside the store simply by walking up a few wooden steps, kind of like walking up on to a stage.

One Saturday morning, I had wandered away from my parents and siblings (not exactly sure who else was along that day, or even what we were shopping for), irresistibly intrigued by the sight of some child-sized mannequins up in that tempting front window. I had never before seen--or at least had never been so close to--a mannequin that was exactly my size! I glanced over my shoulder at my parents, and, on the hunch that they wouldn't miss me for a little while, gingerly mounted those few steps, and in an instant became part of the window display!

I was not what you would call an audacious child, but I just had to investigate those little creatures and could not keep my hands off of them. Destruction was the furthest thing from my mind when I reached out to touch the child mannequin's hair. Imagine my mortification (or the 7 - 8 yr old's equivalent of mortification) when my innocent pat resulted in the head rolling right off the mannequin's shoulders and landing on the floor with a plunk!

I stood there paralyzed, in shock over what I had just done, and pretty certain that my life must be near its end. Now I was REALLY glancing over my shoulder; but, even though luck was with me and my parents were not yet paying attention to what I was doing, I could not fathom how to get out of this fearful situation. My cheeks were burning (mostly in apprehension of what kind of trouble I was going to be in) and I was on the verge of crying--but not yet.

At precisely that miraculous moment, some shoppers happened to stroll past on the sidewalk right outside the window! Now children are notoriously bad at guessing the age of adults, but I remember this kindly elderly couple (a man and a woman) as seeming older than my parents yet younger than my grandparents. What they thought at the sight that met their eyes I can only guess, but they clearly read my distress and with great gentleness motioned to me to kneel down, pick up the head, and place it back atop the mannequin. I've often wondered how that head was fastened on, but I just can't remember. Somehow, though, I managed to balance it in place and high-tail it back down the steps as those sweet, patient strangers waved me off the stage and mutely promised that they would keep my secret.

As guilty as you please and flooded with relief that apparently no one had witnessed my mischief, I skedaddled across the store quick as a wink. I sidled right up to my unsuspecting parents and loitered there just as if I had never wandered off at all. I can't really guess how long my escapade had taken, but it's one of those occasions that seemed like an eternity to me, despite the fact the others apparently hadn't missed me at all. Could it really be true that I was going to get off this easy?

As for my omniscient parents, they had no idea, not until I broke the news to them many years later, sometime when I was in highschool or college and the whole family was sitting around recounting anecdotes from the good old days. I asked if they had been aware of my guest appearance in the window glass. Maybe those people on the sidewalk were friends of theirs who had later told them about the beheading? But no, it was all news to them! Luckily I had waited to make my confession until the statute of limitations for childhood misdemeanors was up!

Sadly, even now none of us have any idea who those Good Samaritans were; but what a lucky girl I was that they walked by when they did! How I'd love to go back in time and stand as an adult on the sidewalk, looking in on that astonished little child who had climbed right into the storefront window to see what life was like among the mannequins.

Here are the song lyrics:

Old Boyfriends
from the soundtrack, One From the Heart
written by Tom Waits, sung by Crystal Gale

Old boyfriends

Lost in the pocket
of your overcoat
Like burned out light bulbs
on a Ferris Wheel

Old boyfriends

You remember the kinds
of cars they drove
Parking in an orange grove
He fell in love, you see
With someone that I used to be

Though I very seldom think of him
sometimes a mannequin's
Blue summer dress
can make the window like a dream

Ah, but now those dreams
belong to someone else
Now they talk in their sleep
In a drawer where I keep all my

Old boyfriends

Remember when you
were burning for them
Why do you keep turning them into

Old boyfriends

They look you up
when they're in town
To see if they can still
burn you down
He fell in love, you see
With someone that I used to be

Though I very seldom think of him
sometimes a mannequin's
Blue summer dress
can make the window like a dream

Ah, but now those dreams
belong to someone else
Now they talk in their sleep
In a drawer where I keep all my

Old boyfriends

Turn up every time it rains
Fall out of the pages
in a magazine

Old boyfriends

Girls fill up the bars
every spring
Dark places
for remembering

Old boyfriends
All my old boyfriends
Old boyfriends