Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Dawn Journey

Dawn Powell, 1896-1965
Yesterday--the Fourth--I finished my coffee-shop reading early and was sitting back at the house feeling restless.  It's a holiday, I was thinking.  Why am I sitting here thinking about the work I should do?

Funny things, holidays.  They seem to confer on us a sense of entitlement that we don't feel most of the rest of the time--the sense that we owe it to ourselves not to work.  We've earned this.  Somehow.  Of course, those are ludicrous notions.  Life owes us nothing but a death--and isn't that a happy thought for Independence Day (Plus One)?

But, yesterday, I was perfectly happy to be persuaded by the Self -Satisfied Sloth that lives in the cave of my soul, perfectly happy to think of doing nothing, all day long.

But that's not possible, not for me.  My parents had the Puritan work ethic tattooed on every atom in their bodies (my mother, I think, would have been happy living in the Massachusetts Bay Colony--would have loved to have bitch-slapped Hester Prynne a few times).  So ... the thought of doing nothing, though it may elbow its way to the front of my crowded thoughts, rarely remains there long.  The image of my mother appears, her hand raised for a slap ... and so I invariably (and I mean invariably) rise from my slothful thoughts and think of something useful to do.

(Image from last weekend: I show up at my mother's place in the afternoon--she doesn't know I'm on the way.  I peek in through her glass sliding door and see her in her chair, reading a novel.  She will be 93 this September.  And she never wastes a second ...)

I've been posting a little bit about writer Dawn Powell on FB the last week or so--the New York Times has run stories about her diaries, which her biographer is auctioning.  Starting price $500,000.  (Link: Diary Auction)  And I knew that she was born in Ohio--in Mount Gilead.  I looked on MapQuest--not that far, not quite 100 miles.  Road Trip!

I went upstairs to find Joyce, who was writing at her computer.  She reached a period (or a semicolon or something) and glanced over.  And she must have noticed the ramblin' look in my eyes.  (She has one herself--and I saw its birth, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood as I was standing there.)

Within minutes--and I mean minutes, fewer than ten, probably no more than five--we were in the car with the camera, GPS fired up, back-up maps in hand, and we were zooming west, toward I-271, then down I-71 to the Ohio 95 exit, a few miles west ... Mount Gilead!

It's the county seat (Morrow County), an archetypal small American rural town.  I'd read online that there were some Fourth festivities in the works--but when we got there, around noon, all was quiet.  We drove right to the site of the house--53 West North Street--and saw and photographed the small, plain place.  We saw no historical markers at all--and were very surprised.  We took some other photographs--the old courthouse, a nearby Presbyterian Church, and so on, then went in search for a small-town family restaurant, certain we would not find one--certainly not one that was open on Independence Day.

We found one.  The Cornerstone on the Square Cafe and Grill.  (The town-center picture above I took standing right outside the Cornerstone.)  There were quite a few local folks there, feeding and friendly.  I had the Char-Grilled Chicken Sandwich (did not spend $.99 extra for bacon, or $.25 for cheese--had only lettuce, pickle, mustard), and Joyce went for the cold turkey on rye and some smoky tomato soup).  It was good--it was better than good.  Outside, satiated in just about every way (use your imagination), I posed for a smug shot ...

Then drove smugly home (via the cemetery, where quick looks found no Powells--but we're planning to go back), thinking smug, self-satisfied thoughts the while.  I did not waste my holiday!  I LEARNED some things ... I improved my MIND!  Oh, I can be an obnoxious man in my mind (never in Life, of course).

This morning, working on this blog, I did some checking on the web re: Dawn Powell and Mount Gilead.  And on the Times site I found a long-ish biographical essay about her by Tim Page, her biographer, the editor of Powell's two volumes in the Library of America--and the man who's auctioning her diaries.

Where I read this about the house we'd photographed at 53 West North Street: "The older girls [Dawn was one] were born at 53 West North Street (now demolished and replaced), in the center of Mount Gilead; in early 1899, the family moved a few hundred feet away, to a tiny house that still stands at 115 Cherry Street ...."


The house I'd photographed was not her house.  And the house they moved to (on Cherry) we'd not seen for a simple reason: I didn't know the damn thing was even there!

Here's what my mother would say: Danny, what have we learned from this experience.  (We, of course, from a mother, always means you.)

And here's what I would have said in reply: What time do we eat?

And here's what I said to myself about an hour ago: WTF!

In a moment, I will go upstairs and tell Joyce, who will look at me and have confirmed, once again, the knowledge that she has married a dork.

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