Dawn Reader

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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Daylilies and Coincidence

I've loved daylilies for a long time.  The old house we bought in Hiram, Ohio, in 1958 had large clusters of them under an apple tree in our front yard, and when they bloomed early in the summer, the whole north side of the house looked ready for a Wordsworth to arrive and do for them what he'd done for the "host of golden daffodils" he'd once seen.

I probably first fell in love with them in boyhood because I associated them with summer--with the time I was not in school.  But, later, I also associated them with that home in Hiram, where I lived through my turbulent high school and college years, a place I loved.  (The current owners love it, too: We sold it to them in 1966; they are still there.)  Our lilies, by the way, were the old-fashioned orange, alongside-the-road variety--the kind that grows everywhere in northeastern Ohio.

The first few houses we lived in after we married had no daylilies.  Still ... I saw them each summer alongside the road, and I guess I always felt they were sort of welcoming me into summer vacation.  I had become a teacher, and although I loved my job, I loved the summers as well--the chance to go back to school myself, to read the stacks of books that had been accumulating, to travel to places I'd been reading about.  So daylilies were sort of Nature's welcome to me: We're back again, they said.  It's summer!

When we bought an old house in Hudson, Ohio, in 1980, there were no daylilies on the property.  A major deficiency.  But ... there are lots of country roads in the area ... lots of wild daylilies.  So one day, we took a drive.  In the trunk: a shovel.

They didn't bloom the first year (were they unsure they trusted us? were they resentful about being yanked from their birthplace?), but after that--they multiplied with leporine eagerness.  By the time we sold that place ten years later, the orange lilies had made it their yard, thank you.

Now ... here's where a chain of coincidences commences.  Attend:

Saegertown bottle, with daylily.
1. In that Hudson house we had a water problem--low pressure.  Some tests revealed a bad, leaking line in from the street.  The excavators arrived.  In the process of digging up the yard, they uncovered this bottle, unbroken, where it had lain for I don't know how long.  The picture does not show it well, but on the bottle is a word: SAEGERTOWN.  We didn't know what that meant (other than its being the name of a town in Pennsylvania), and in the days before Google, there were no easy answers.

2. A long-time resident of Hudson was Dr. Charles F. McKinley (1913-2004), a Hiram College professor, a man whose English courses I'd taken.  I had him for English 101 (freshman English) in the summer of 1962, right after I graduated from high school: My parents thought it would give me a head start on college.  I still have the two books we used--an anthology (Interpreting Literature) and a usage manual (The Concise English Handbook).  (I got a B, if you want to know.)  Dr. McKinley and I had stayed in touch over the years.  He had written letters of recommendation for me.  He had attended public lectures I'd given, had bought books I'd published.  We had dinner now and then.  Gone to a movie.  I loved him. He was born the same year as my father.

Well ... one time I saw Dr. McKinley and mentioned the Saegertown bottle, and he said immediately, "Root beer."  He'd known the brand in his own youth.  And, later, when we showed him the bottle, he confirmed his first guess-that-wasn't-a-guess.  He recognized it.

3. In the late 1990s, this same Dr. McKinley, now in his 80s, was cleaning out some things from his house.  He told me he had a Jack London thing he wanted to give me--a calendar.  (I'd published some books about London and The Call of the Wild.)  I said I'd stop by one of these days.  Eventually, I did.  And he gave me the amazing calendar you see in the not-so-amazing photograph; it's a calendar based on The Call of the Wild.  And it commences in the summer of 1962.  The very summer I was in Dr. McKinley's English 101 class at Hiram College some thirty years earlier.  Joyce and I framed the calendar, hung it on a wall.

4. July 2012.  Forty years after I took Dr. McKinley's class.  Joyce and I are looking for some old-fashioned alongside-the-road orange daylilies for the next old house in Hudson we bought in 1997.  Older now, we are more timorous about raiding a culvert on a country road.  So we try a rural florist, who sniffs and says that orange daylilies are "weeds."  So I go to Facebook, post a note that I will trade some homemade bread for a cluster of orange daylilies.  I get a single response.

5. That response is from David Anderson, a classmate back at Hiram College and, subsequently, a long-time adornment of their English faculty.  He also took classes with Dr. McKinley, was later a colleague of Dr. McKinley, loved Dr. McKinley.  His note says that he has some orange lilies he will let us have.  David acquired them from the Hudson garden of ... Dr. McKinley.

6. Joyce drove to Hiram, traded bread for the lilies, but when she got home, I was off somewhere for a few hours.  She looked for something to put a couple of blossoms in.  Found the bottle.  Transplanted the others alongside the driveway.  When I got home and saw the arrangement inside, I told her what a great thing she'd done--putting Dr. McKinley's lilies in the bottle he'd identified for us twenty years earlier.  And she said she'd completely forgotten that--she'd just picked something that looked "right."

Dr. Charles F. McKinley
Hiram College yearbook, 1966
We're hoping the lilies will bloom next year--we're hoping we're here to see them!  We're hoping they take over the whole west side of the driveway.  The whole yard.  Street.  Town ...  And may I never look at those glorious "weeds" without thinking of Dr. Charles F. McKinley, whose gifts, it seems, are never ending.

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