Dawn Reader

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Changing Time

In January this year I wrote about the experience of receiving--then promptly losing (twice)--a Timex watch. I was, oh, ten or so. (Link to that previous post.) For some reason, this past Sunday, while Joyce and I were off on a morning walk, we fell to talking about watches.

I remarked that when I was a boy, it was sort of a rite of passage, getting your first wristwatch. I can still (vaguely) remember going down to the Sears in Enid to pick it out. It was a boys' Timex with a gray strap. (By the way, later on, Joyce and I had a crotchety jeweler who insisted on the difference between a watch strap and a watch band, and when we would use the incorrect term, he would disdainfully correct us--like a humorless English teacher with no social skills.) Mine had a leather strap, as I was saying, and I was surpassingly proud of that watch, showing all my friends, who feigned interest fairly well.

Of course, it was a pre-digital, pre-electronic device, so I had to wind it all the time (often forgot). Mine looked a bit like the photo above--but, as I said, with a gray strap.

My friends often had more impressive devices--with Speidel metal watch bands, with the words waterproof and/or shockproof on them. Still, I was so happy with my watch ... but boyhood carelessness lost it for me.

I've had other sorts of watches throughout the years. In the late 70s I even had an old-fashioned pocket watch that I would wear with my three-piece suit (which didn't adorn me very often).

Since about 1990 I've been wearing a Seiko (with a brown leather strap) that I got in Massachusetts the year that our son began college at Tufts. I've had it worked on--several times--both by local jewelers and by the Seiko team. The last time--they told me they couldn't get parts anymore, so when it quits this time, that will be it. That's too bad. It's very accurate, has a moon-phase function, calendar (all very unobtrusive). I bought a new Seiko (larger, unfortunately) when the old one stopped. Then, a few days later, the old one started working again, as if to say I ain't done yet! So I put it back on, and it's been working fine for months.

We have some family watches--and one watch from a friend (former Harmon School colleague Andy Kmetz)--watches that were given by employers for X years of service & retirement--that sort of thing. Andy's had belonged to his father.

The year I retired from Western Reserve Academy (the 2010-2011 academic year), I was meeting my classes in the fall. Near the end of a period late in the day, I told a class about something I'd recently read (I'd already told my other classes that day)--that many young people no longer wear watches; they rely on their smart phones instead. After I told that story near the end of the period to my final class, and after I asked them if any of them wore watches, I noticed they were all staring at me oddly. I asked what was wrong.

"Dr. Dyer," said one brave young man, "you already told us that story at the beginning of the period."

I laughed--told them that if I ever did anything like that again, they should take me out in the woods and lose me. Maybe I'd find my old Timex out there in the woods ... strap and all.

my current watch

Monday, March 30, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 113

When I was doing my reading and research on Mary Shelley, I did veer off the Shelley Turnpike now and then—as these pages well certify—to explore some local by-ways. The story of poor Harriet Westbrook is among the most wrenching of all.
While Bysshe Shelley, 18, was at Oxford University, he met Harriet, 15, who attended a school in Clapham with Shelley’s sister Hellen.[1] The young man dazzled the bright and attractive Harriet, daughter of the owner of a popular coffee shop. Bysshe was handsome, brilliant, wildly articulate, an Oxford student!—and had even published two Gothic novels, Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne (both in 1810). His enthusiasm about life—and the life of the mind—was, well, viral.
And Harriet caught the virus.
In about three months things changed--drastically. Oxford expelled Shelley (and his friend Thomas Jefferson Hogg) for their publication The Necessity of Atheism. Shelley had turned 19 and was sort of hanging out, avoiding his (justifiably) irate father, and visiting his sister at school—and, of course, Harriet, who soon became the cynosure of his attention.
By August, Bysshe had convinced Harriet, now sixteen, to run away with him to be married in Scotland (where marriage laws were less restrictive). She agreed, and on August 29, 1811, off they flew (sort of—by carriage) to Edinburgh, where they married. Her father was not all that disturbed: Bysshe was the son of Sir Timothy; he would eventually be Sir Percy Bysshe Shelley. Not a bad arrangement, class-wise.
But Sir Timothy was not pleased. When he learned the news, he cut off Bysshe’s allowance—£200 a year—and wrote a harsh note to Hogg’s father: God knows what can be the end of all this disobedience. He and his son would remain estranged—an estrangement that outlived Bysshe and transferred most bitterly to Mary Shelley. And ended only with his own death at 90, only seven years before Mary died. He did, however, eventually (and grudgingly) contribute funds both to his son and, later, to Mary.
But Harriet Westbrook Shelley must have realized very, very early in their marriage that she had been pulled into the vortex of a cyclone. She had no idea how dark her life would become—and how short it would be.

[1] Clapham, south of London, just across the Thames, is about 60 miles southeast of Oxford.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 43

1. AOTW: In Aurora (Ohio), the McDonald's has two driveways in front; they are one-way (one an entrance, the other an exit). Right in front of the building is a short, curving part of the driveway system that connects the entrance and exit lanes. It, too, is one way. This past Tuesday evening we were driving the correct way on that little connecting lane, and here came the AOTW driving the other way in an SUV, his body language (and SUV language) communicating that we were somehow at fault. We weren't. We had to go up on the curb to avoid hitting him. (In the photo, the little connector lane is just to the right of the parked car; if you look closely, you can see the one-way arrow painted on the blacktop.)

2. I finished another book this week about Mary Shelley, called (surprise!) Mary Shelley, by Martin Garrett--part of the British Library Writers' Lives series (Oxford UP, 2002). It's a beautiful book to look at, full of pictures of the people and places significant in her life. I didn't really learn much from the accompanying text (it is really a book for people who are beginning their journey through MaryWorld). I was disappointed that it seemed to buy into the idea that Mary got the Frankenstein name from her 1814 journey down the Rhine, a theory that I just think doesn't hold much water (no Rhine pun intended): and there is no documentary evidence to support it. Still ... if you want a good (short) introduction to MaryWorld, this would be a good one to read.

3. I'm nearly finished reading a novel by a former Harmon Middle School student, Cori McCarthy:  Breaking Sky, an exciting YA novel about the not-too-distant future when America's status in the world has diminished. But some young pilots (including our hero, a talented young woman named Chase) are training with some hot new aircraft in the hopes of changing things. I didn't know Cori well (I knew her brothers better). She was in 8th grade the final year of my career (1996-97), and I retired in January that year. I also had a student teacher most of the fall and just did not get to know the 8th graders very well at all. My loss. I'll write more about Breaking Sky next week when I've finished the book.
4. On Saturday night, Joyce and I went to Kent to see the film Still Alice, the story of a 50-year-old academic (a star academic, by the by, played wonderfully by Julianne Moore) who learns she has early-onset familial Alzheimer's. This is a disease that Joyce and I know very well--she far more than I because she dealt with her mother's battle for nearly a decade--and subsequently wrote a terrific book about her mom's struggle, In a Tangled Wood: An Alzheimer's Journey (SMU Press, 1996--here's a link to the book on Amazon). Strong performances, too, by Alec Baldwin (her husband) and Kristen Stewart (one of her daughters). (Link to trailer for the film.) Tears arrived more than once.

5. Today, I'm making (I hope) the last batch of chicken soup of the season--made the stock yesterday from the carcass of a roaster we'd eaten the previous week. CrockPot, here I come!

6. I'm going to be reviewing a new biography of Saul Bellow, and, as I've said here before, I've been reading some of Bellow's novels that I either never read or have forgotten. I've nearly finished his 1953 novel, The Adventures of Augie March, a book I'm fairly sure I read nearly a half-century ago (some names of characters are familiar to me--and, no, not just Augie's!), but I couldn't have told you a lick about it until the past week. It's a long book, a coming-of-age, episodic novel that, in a way, propelled Bellow's subsequent career (which culminated with a Nobel Prize in 1976). I'll write more about the novel when I've finished it, but here are a couple of lines that leapt out at me the other day:
  • "It takes some of us a long time to find out what the price is of being in nature, and what the facts are about your tenure" (Lib of Amer edition, 797).
  • "Everyone tries to create a world he can live in, and what he can't use he often can't see" (816).

7. The other day, I read (or used?) the word hanker, meaning to have a restless or incessant longing (for)--e.g., "I have a hankering for some chocolate." And then I wondered, Where did that word come from? The OED traces this meaning to 1642; an earlier one (1601) means, basically, to hang out.  (Milton used it in an essay!) The OED says the origins are "obscure"--though they note a similar Dutch word with a similar meaning. There's also a related English word--hankerer--which I've never seen (that I can recall). "For chocolate, she is a hankerer!" (Or ... for chicken soup.)

I remember from my years of watching cowboy movies and TV shows that hanker was a common word from the mouths of Westerners--e.g., "I have a hankerin' for some chow."

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Another Danged "Teacher Dream"

Last night ... March 27/28, 2015

I am teaching American history in a public school--something I did only once, by the way, the very first year of my career (1966-67), seventh graders, Aurora (Ohio) Middle School. I didn't really know what I was doing that year, other than surviving (which, barely, I did) and, often, having a very good time, and I was glad that I could teach just English the following year. (I'm sure the Gods of American History were appreciative, as well.)

Anyway ... I do not recognize the school I'm in. It seems to have features of the schools I attended and worked in--from Adams Elementary in Enid, Okla., to the Hiram Local Schools to the Aurora Middle School. 

It's the day of the final exam--and there seems to be a massive number of students in the school. Populating the dream are some folks I know--kids and adults (from all times of my life)--but right now I can't identify a single one of them.

For some reason we have been transported to a test site (how?) for the final, and I am aware that I am but one of the teachers who have American history classes. Can't say who the others are. The building resembles a nightmare (!) version of the old Hiram School. The lowest floor (where I seem to be headed) reminds me of that old Hiram Schools basement where the shop was--and the classroom of Mr. Brunelle, a high school English teacher who, I much later realized, had a profound effect on my own career.

Something is gnawing at me as I move along into the bowels of the building: I've not prepared an exam to give the kids!

At first, this does not bother me too much ... perhaps it's a standard exam that all the kids are taking? But I can't seem to locate any of the other American history teachers.

In my head I begin composing a couple of essay questions I can read to the kids ... just in case. I can't remember one of them, but the other was was this:

Write about the role of hope in American history.

I'm sure I had more than that ... surely I added more information to help the kids focus their answers? Of course I did ... what kind of teacher would I be if ...

I'm a little concerned when I see what the kids are carrying and not carrying. What if they have no notebook paper? I can't supply any! I ask one young man carrying only a pencil, "Do you have any paper?" 

He ignores me.

And then we are in the basement--which is looking Carlsbad Caverns-ish--and I swing open a heavy door so sizable it's Tolkien-ian. Inside ... a high school band is warming up. I ask someone where the middle school band is ... no answer.

I step back into the hall.

And then Joyce is rising, getting ready to head out to the health club, and I am awake (sort of) and so glad I don't have to monitor an exam today--especially one I have not yet even written.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 112

Bysshe Shelley was an excitable, brilliant young man—inventive and imaginative and susceptible to tales of the supernatural. Throughout his life, boyhood to manhood, there are stories about him getting so excited about a late-night sound or suggestion or scene or story that he—in modern terminology—freaked out.
Let’s look at just one of them. Not long before he died, he and Mary and little Percy and some friends were living in a seaside house, Casa Magni, in Lerici, Italy. (The house still stands (see below)—though a seawall now keeps it dry.) Edward Williams (one of their friends) recorded the following incident in his journal on Monday, May 6, 1822:
After tea while walking with Shelley on the terrace and observing the effect of moonshine on the waters, he complained of being unusually nervous, and stopping short he grasped me violently by the arm and stared steadfastly on the white surf that broke upon the beach under our feet. Observing him sensibly affected I demanded of him if he was in pain—but he only answered, saying “There it is again!—there!”—He recovered after some time and declared that he saw, as plainly as then he saw me a naked child rise from the sea, clap its hands as if in joy and smiling at him. This was a trance that it required some reasoning and philosophy entirely to awaken him from ….[1]
Almost exactly two months later (July 8) Williams would drown in the boating accident that also took the lives of Charles Vivian (a young deck hand) and Bysshe Shelley himself.

Bysshe’s excitability and impulsiveness manifested itself in a variety of ways. As a boy (as we’ve seen) he liked to scare his siblings with frightening tales; he performed electrical experiments that literally shocked some observers; more than once in his later life he decided he was going to adopt someone else’s child. And, of course, there were those sixteen-year-old girls he ran away with.

Casa Magni (then)

Casa Magni, April 23, 1999

[1] Frederick L. Jones, ed. Maria Gisborne & Edward E. Williams, Shelley’s Friends: Their Journals and Letters (Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1951), 147.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

My 2nd Grade Self

Avondale School
Amarillo, Tex.
(2nd grade)

I stare at my second-grade self today and notice that he is staring back. I'm surprised I don't see more confusion in his eyes. For I have become something that lad could not have imagined in 1951.

My 1951 self, as I recall, had the following interests:
- cap guns & cowboys
- baseball (I played on my first team that summer--the Amarillo Ticks: Our green T-shirts featured a large white tick on the front).
- TV--but there was a problem: In 1951-52, Amarillo had no access to television; all stations were too far away; no roof antenna could coax in a signal from Dallas, which lies 360 miles to the southeast. So ... even though we had a TV set, it sat there, inactive, for the two years we were in Amarillo; we listened to radio programs instead.
Paramount in Amarillo
- Pancakes
- our dog, Sooner, a fantastic terrier mix that our grandparents from Enid, Okla., had brought along with them on one of their visits (presumably with Mom and Dad's permission); during our nap time (our room was in the back of the house), my little brother and I would sometimes sneak Sooner in through the window--much better than napping!
- cap guns and cowboys
- avoiding big kids (sixth graders were terrifying)
- going to cowboy movies (Amarillo had movie theaters!)
- my bicycle--it was in Amarillo that I first learned to ride; my first (rough) lesson: It's easier to start than to stop a bike.
- cap guns and cowboys
- family car trips to see my dad's family in Oregon
- playing on the monkey bars at school; we had a game: two lines would form; you would hand-over-hand your way to the center where your opponent waited; you would try to get him/her around the waist with your legs and pull the loser down! (I won a few of those battles: small size was an advantage.) I can't believe the teachers stood there and watched ... times have changed.
- cap guns and cowboys (why not? we were only a few miles away from Palo Duro ("hardwood") Canyon, hangout of the Comanche)
- reading (not really ... though I did like Ferdinand and some Dr. Seuss books; I also read some little biographies of cowboys
- girls ... no way!
So ... as I look back at the boy from 1951, that freckled boy looking back at me mildly amused, that boy wearing a shirt made by his grandmother, that boy who by some cruel twist is now seventy years old, I guess I could try to explain to him my current interests--reading, writing, going to movies (not too many these days about cowboys, I fear), hanging out with the most wonderful human being I've ever known (Joyce Dyer), playing with my grandsons (almost 6 and 10), watching The Rockford Files over and over and over again, making bread and other baked goods, eating Wheat Thins, seeing Shakespeare plays ... let's not go on. We never will get to the cap guns. And I think that lad has has enough shocks for one day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Deathwords Soon Available!

Sometime soon--later today or tomorrow--I will be uploading this latest collection of doggerel to Kindle Direct. You don't need a Kindle to read it--just a Kindle app on your smart phone or tablet.

Here's the Foreword to the collection ...


Deathwords is not a word of course.
Or is it?
I just checked  the Oxford English Dictionary and discovered I am right. Deathward and deathwards appear (in 1398 and 1727, respectively), the former used by Malory and Swinburne and Robert Browning, the latter by Keats and Macaulay. Shakespeare—I just checked my concordance—used death-worthy in his long poem The Rape of Lucrece in 1594 but never stooped so low as to use deathward—and certainly not deathword(s), which I am now claiming as my own invention, putting me in the same category with, well, Shakespeare and with whoever thought of citizening and eyeballing and selfie—all recently added to the OED.
So … deathwords: synonyms for events or places related to dying and death, synonyms that may be euphemistic (“passed on”), dysphemistic (“feeding the worms”), humorous (“termination station”), or realistic (“graveyard”).
So … what’s going on in these verses I've collected here? In mid-December 2014 I got the idea for a silly poem about a frog that croaked—in both senses. And the next thing you know, each day I was posting on Facebook another quatrain (or so) that employed a slang term or phrase that we use for death--deathwords. On and on they flowed, and I must admit that, running out of ideas, I was helped by various websites whose masters/mistresses have nothing better to do than to accumulate and list such expressions. I thought of a lot—but there are scores of them out there, many of which I’d never heard before. Eventually, I decided to stop at one hundred. (There are many more, but I was getting depressed. And, I would guess, the interest of my Facebook audience was … dying.)
I’ve also included here a group of poems I’m calling “Deathless Doggerel” for two reasons: (1) they are not about death; (2) they are, well, doggerel. These are lines I wrote now and then and posted on Facebook for my friends to ignore—or to which they could feel superior.
Also, I like another meaning of the word deathless, number three in the OED’s list: deserves to be remembered forever; never to be forgotten.
This definition has lived since 1630. Perhaps these verses will kill it.

Mea culpa: While I was copy editing this text, I discovered several instances of my sending out into the world some deathwords I’d already used in a previous quatrain. Rather than delete one or the other, I decided to leave them both here (with a confessional endnote). Maybe there’s a fateful or metaphysical reason this happened? Nah ..., probably just dotage.

Daniel Dyer

March 25, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

It's That Time Again ...

Seidman Cancer Center
Beachwood, Ohio
Last Wednesday I had my quarterly PSA test--Prostate Specific Antigen. Such tests, for me, should return "undetectable" because my prostate was removed nearly ten years ago (June 2005) when I commenced this ongoing struggle with prostate cancer. But some balky cancer cells survived the surgery and began to multiply, so a few years later (2009) I underwent thirty daily radiation treatments down at the Cleveland Clinic. The growth slowed. Then rebooted. An increasing PSA number--for me (and men in my situation)--means that the cancer cells are growing, feeding on their favorite snack, testosterone.

I switched to University Hospitals a couple of years ago (give someone else a chance, eh?) where I began Lupron therapy (quarterly injections). Lupron switches off testosterone (with side effects you can imagine: Hmmm, what would a man without testosterone be like?). Lupron is not a cure. It's a therapy. And, for me anyway, it continues to work. And it's been working beyond the time frame he thought it would. Because my cancer scored a 9 on the Gleason scale (rankings range from 2-10, so a 9 is very severe), he had originally thought that Lupron would work perhaps only a year.

But my latest test ... undetectable.

That's nearly two years, as I said, and today my oncologist had some options for me. When he came in the examination room, by the way, he was wearing a face mask. A cold, he explained. I told him I was just relieved he wasn't wielding a machete. (That lightened the mood.)

He told me my other data were good, too--metabolic function, BP, and the two scans I'd had last time--bone density and another bone scan to see what's been happening to the area in my ribs where the cancer had set up shop after moving into my bones. Earlier (pre-Lupron) scans had showed one of my ribs lit up like a Star Wars light saber. No more. (And the dull pain there is gone, too.)

He reminded me that Lupron is a temporary fix, but he's so pleased with my response to the drug that if my PSA remains undetectable next time (late June), he's going to recommend that I go on hiatus from it. The benefits of testosterone will slowly return (energy, weight control, libido, etc.), and when (not if) the PSA rises beyond the threshold, I'll go back on Lupron until it no longer is effective. Then it will be time to start yet another drug.

So ... we're happy about these most recent results--but we're also aware that these past two years have been a gift, a gift of time (among the most priceless gifts of all). The ticking of the clock has been fainter the past two years. Today, it's a bit louder.

Addendum: The nurse who administered my injection today is the mother of Ashley Quintin, a student I taught in eighth grade at Harmon Middle School many, many moons ago. Ashley's mom has been great to me. Whenever I'm at Seidman, she makes sure she finds me to say hello and to update me on her wonderful daughter, who now teaches at Ohio Wesleyan University.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 111

I was so exhilarated by seeing Field Place that the subsequent sites I saw in Horsham and Warhnam—with the indispensable help of Brian, my taxi driver—seemed anti-climactic. Which is a term, by the way, that adequately describes the post-Shelley history of Field Place itself. In April 1844, when Sir Timothy Shelley (Bysshe’s father) died at age 90 (almost an impossible age in that century), the immediate heir was Mary’s son, Percy Florence Shelley. By English law, Sir Timothy could not disinherit Percy—and he actually liked the young man (who was about twenty-five when his grandfather died)—but he had never forgiven Mary (had never even met Mary—he refused to do so) or her radical father for what he viewed as the corruption of his son. So, the terms of the will were rough—but legal.
But it didn’t much matter: Percy and his mother did not care for Field Place (remote, for one thing—away from London’s allures), so Percy began renting it out, and the estate was eventually cut considerably in size, sold and resold. It’s currently in the hands of a Shelley-o-phile, however, who has, says the ever-reliable Web, restored it to look much as it did in the eighteenth century. (LINK to more information about the estate.)
And the money that was left after all bills were paid and terms of the will satisfied was like a fortune to Mary and her son, who had been living austerely on the tiny allowance from Sir Timothy—and on Mary’s writing of novels and other freelance projects (more about them later), efforts that never brought her much money. Now, with her son the heir, Mary was able to live comfortably. But she had only seven years remaining in her life.

After Field Place, Brian took me to a Shelley memorial in downtown Horsham--to a mall formed by closing off streets. Called Rising Universe (and executed by Angela Conner), it’s a large metal ball surrounded by a fountain. I got splashed a little as I took some pictures, and Brian thought that was quite amusing. Actually, he thought the sculpture itself was a bit amusing. My journal says this: Brian laughed and made a comment about modern art, about what it’s supposed to represent, etc.
Well … that’s not a very helpful entry, is it? I, of course, cannot recall what he said at all, so Brian’s thoughts about modern art are lost forever in the fountain’s mists.
I see on the Web that Rising Universe had been there only two years when I visited in 1999.

(You'll need to click on the plaque and enlarge it to read it, I fear.)

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday Sundries, 42

1. AOTW--On my daily walk to the coffee shop I cross Ohio 91 in the middle of  Hudson. Adjacent to the crosswalk is an angle parking spot that features this sign. The reason is safety: If the car parking there is too large, pedestrians must go out into 91 too far in order to see the oncoming traffic. On Tuesday this week, there was an SUV parked there the entire morning--earning the driver the AOTW.

2. I finished two books this week.
  • As I wrote last week, I've been reading some of the early novels (and others) by Saul Bellow because I'm preparing to review a massive new biography of him. The Victim (1947) was his second novel and deals with Asa Leventhal, a character who is being (in current terms) stalked by a man (Kirby Allbee) who believes Leventhal has wronged him. Leventhal does begin to feel a bit responsible--and at one point Allbee is even staying in (and somewhat trashing) the apartment of Leventhal (whose wife is away for the nonce). I liked the novel better than his first one (The Victim)--and marked this near the end: "When you turn against yourself, nobody else means anything to you either" (379, Library of America edition).
  • As many of you no doubt know, I've spent some years reading and studying about Mary Shelley and her circle. Many were famous (mother: Mary Wollstonecraft; father: William Godwin; husband: Percy Bysshe Shelley; friends: Byron, Leigh Hunt, etc.), but Mary grew up with a half-sister, Fanny Imlay Godwin (born 1794--she was three years older than Mary), who was the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft and her American lover, Gilbert Imlay, who took off once he became a father. (Can you imagine a man doing that?!!?)
    • When Godwin married Mary Wollstonecraft, he became the father--the beloved father--of little Fanny, who grew up almost idolizing her father.
    • Fanny grew up in a household that eventually included five children--no two of whom had the same parents.
    • When Bysshe Shelley eloped with Mary (16), they took with them Claire Clairmont (another of the children, also 16). Fanny stayed behind. And endured a lot. Later, when the group returned from their six weeks on the Continent, Fanny served as kind of an unofficial go-between for Mary and her father, who would not speak with her.
    • Fanny--depressive and dour (as her mother sometimes was)--left home in October 1816 and traveled to Swansea in Wales, where she took her own life.
    • Fanny's story is often barely more than a footnote in the Mary and Percy Shelley story, but the wonderful scholar Janet Todd has fleshed out her life in Death & the Maidens: Fanny Wollstonecraft and the Shelley Circle (2007), which I finally read this past week. It's a terrific book--sad, of course, and somewhat limited because the documentary evidence about Fanny is not nearly as bountiful as it is for most of the others. Todd does a great job of bringing her to life, though--and is hard on the men in Fanny's life, a fair assessment in my view.
3. On Netflix this week we streamed a wonderful (short) documentary film, Trash Dance (2012), directed by Andrew Garrison, whom Joyce knows fairly well. It's the story of a choreographer (Allison Orr) who decides she wants to mount a large outdoor production featuring trash men and their trucks in Austin, Texas (website with trailer). Both Joyce and I found the entire experience very moving (tears appeared). Very much worth the hour and seven minutes.

4. Finally--one of the words-of-the-day this week from the Oxford English Dictionary was prestidigitator (a person who practices sleight of hand or legerdemain; a conjuror; a juggler). This word propelled me back to my Oklahoma boyhood when there was a kids' show on TV called 3-D Danny, who had a time machine (which he called his Synchro Retroverter). It was, of course, not a time machine, but it was the way that 3-D Danny showed cowboy movies with his robot, Bazark. He also had a machine called the prestidigitator oscillator. I see--surprise!--that there's a surviving episode of the show on YouTube--here's a link.

Danny Williams died in 2013. Link to his death story.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

My Surprising Mother

On our grandparents' back steps. Very early 1950s.
1609 E. Broadway; Enid, Okla.
Mom and her 3 boys--left to right--Dickie, Davi, Danny
This was supposed to go up here yesterday--didn't quite get around to it ...

My mother has surprised me a lot over the years. For my fifth birthday, for example, I'd apparently expressed a wish (at the last minute) for a football uniform. Mom (talented at the sewing machine) stayed up late to make one for me, one that featured an old red sweatshirt with a new bright white number 5 on the back, uniform pants crafted from a pair of dad's old khaki Army pants (one leg!), and Dad (for his part) had bought me a new football and a red cardboardy helmet. Somewhere, there's a photo of me in that outfit in my grandparents' back yard in Enid, Okla., 1949. I'd never been happier.

In the mid-1950s, in Enid, Okla., Mom decided she wanted to paint our front door pink. And so she did. Need I say it was the only one on the block? (In all of Garfield County?)

Another surprise: When I was in junior high (late 1950s), Mom decided she was going to get a Ph.D. (Why? thought my self-absorbed teen-self; she's just a mom!) It took me a long, long time to outgrow some very fundamental stupid. Anyway, she did it, graduating in the mid-1960s from the University of Pittsburgh. She went on to teach (and retire) with my dad at Drake University.

But one of the great surprises in my boyhood occurred in the early 1950s when we were living in Amarillo, Texas, a temporary residence. Dad had been called back to active duty in the Korean War and was serving as chaplain at the Amarillo Air Force Base. We had very little money then (meals featured tomato soup, grilled cheese, hot dogs), but I remember that one summer we went on a little camping trip over in New Mexico, the Red River region. (I just checked Google Maps--it's only about 280 miles from Amarillo to Red River, NM.)

We camped in a National Forest, right next to the river, where Dad would catch trout for our meals.Our site (we were the only ones there) looked something like this picture I found on Google Images.

I don't' remember a lot about what we three boys did. We were--approximately--9, 6, 2. I remember some fishing. Older brother Richard was already reading a lot. I probably had a library book with me, too--and lots of comic books.

Anyway, one evening, by our campfire, Mom--for a reason I can't recall--launched into a performance of a fairly racy song (racy in more ways than one), "The King of the Cannibal Islands." I have no idea where she'd learned that song (girlhood camp?), but I do remember being shocked--not at the lyrics (which remain shocking now for more than one reason) but at the fact that my mother was singing and dancing!
About all I remembered of that song--until I did a little research--was a nonsensical chorus that made me laugh. Anyway, I looked up the lyrics (not hard to find in today's cyber-searching) and was reminded yet again how times have changed. Remember: This was pre-Civil Rights, racially segregated Oklahoma and Texas where we were living in my boyhood. I attended all-white schools. And both Amarillo and Enid featured those alarming signs of segregation on drinking fountains and restrooms and movie theaters.

To today's ears (well, to most of them, I hope) the lyrics are offensive in all sorts of ways.

But I'm confident that Mom did not sing any of the naughtier versions of the lyrics I found online. She was a very straight-laced preacher's kid--and, in ways, she still is at 95. My guess is that it was a sanitized version of something she'd learned at school or at summer camp. I'm going to ask her the next time I talk with her, but it's not certain what she'll remember--or tell me.

After that Red River trip my brothers and I tried on other occasions to get Mom to sing the song again. But she never would. And I'm fairly certain that this was due to her evolving social attitudes. She had grown up in Richmond, Va., had lived in the Southwest. But she was a bright, bright woman--one with a social conscience--and I'm guessing that she'd realized that what she was singing was not exactly the sort of fare that her little boys ought to hear. Nor was it consistent with what she and Dad were teaching us about the world--and about human beings. Brotherhood was a word we heard a lot in the Disciples of Christ churches of our youth. And I'm relieved to remember that during the 1960s our Disciples churches were supporting the Civil Rights Movement from the pulpits and in the streets.

Anyway, I had forgotten that saucy and, yes, racist song until just the other day when I was reading The Adventures of Augie March, which contains, early in the story, some silly lyrics that reminded me of "King."  And thus began a very uncomfortable return journey to the Cannibal Islands.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 110

When we arrived—after viewing the grave of Annie Pavelka (who died in 1955)—we found the place looking abandoned but with some signs of restoration efforts going on. The site was very remote, very rural. We turned into the driveway, got out of the car, took some pictures of the house, outbuildings, terrain.
Then I wondered aloud: Do you think we can get inside? We walked over to the rear entrance and saw it was not locked but was secured only by a piece of building block. Easy to move out of the way … should I?
Of course I should!
And so we moved aside the piece of building block, tugged lightly on the door. And it opened. We stepped inside the former home of Annie Pavelka—of Cather’s Ántonia—and saw immediately that we’d been right: Restoration work was in progress. We walked around the (few) rooms, took photographs, and tried to keep out of our minds the fear that “someone” might come by to ask us what-the-hell we thought we were doing inside that house.
But no one came.
Greatly relieved, we emerged, took some more shots outside, and then crawled back inside the car and followed the country roads to some other Cather sites on the brochure, one of which was the tiny town of Bladen, Nebraska, a town whose cemetery holds some Pavelkas and Cathers, but a tiny prairie town that boasts, as well, an “opera house,” a building (still standing at the time) that once served as the venue for public presentations by traveling players but also for community meetings and other events.
Many small towns used to have opera houses. There was one is Garrettsville, Ohio, only three miles from where I spent my later boyhood in northeastern Ohio. Unfortunately, many of them--like Garrettsville's--have fallen to wrecking balls—succumbing the blunt-force trauma of “Progress.”

Opera House
Bladen, Neb.
Annie Pavelka

Annie Pavelka--LIFE magazine, 1951

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On My Journey of Years Have I Arrived at Irrelevance?

I retired from public school teaching in mid-January 1997. And I just recently realized that this event occurred eighteen years ago--the same span of years between my birth and the fall of my freshman year in college (when I turned eighteen).

Jeepers Creepers.

The last eighth graders I worked with (only part of the year--and I had a student teacher for much of the time) at Harmon Middle School in Aurora, Ohio, are now in their early thirties. This, in ways, is as alarming as this (which I mentioned in a previous post): The seventh grade students whom I taught my very first year (1966-1967) are turning sixty this year.

Jeepers Creepers 2. (A 2003 movie, by the way, that featured actor Ray Wise, my wife Joyce's high-school classmate and friend and fellow thespian at Akron's Garfield High School--link to trailer for the film.)

I was talking about this eighteen-year-amazement the other day with good friend and former Harmon School colleague Jerry Brodsky, and we were both a little stunned--not into silence, of course: Both Jerry and I are quick with a quip, though I can't really remember what either of us came up with at that moment. (Obviously, not something memorable.)

I've thought about those eighteen years a lot in the ensuing days--and not only for that most annoying of reasons--that It Make Me Feel Old. I already feel old, thank you, and if I ever forget, my body and my mirrors are quick to remind me (though I endeavor heartily to avoid the latter whenever possible; my body's failures are not so easy to ignore).

When I began this DawnReader blog a few years ago, for example, I fully intended to write about education issues--a lot. But I really haven't. And part of the reason, I now realize, is that I no longer really know what I'm talking about. I've not been in charge of a public school classroom since early 1997. Bill Clinton was finishing his first term as President--Monica was still in his future. My dad was alive--and had nearly three more years to live. Our son was single (he would not marry until August 1999). Our grandchildren were unimaginable. Joyce was still teaching full-time at Hiram College. Scholastic Press had recently published my Jack London: A Biography. I didn't know that in just a few years I would be battling prostate cancer.

In 2001, I did return to the classroom--teaching high school juniors at Western Reserve Academy until June 2011. But teaching there--a college prep boarding school--was not the same at all as teaching in a public middle school. They were different kinds of wonderful--as different (and wonderful) as chocolate and pizza. (And the current seniors at WRA were not yet alive when I retired from Aurora.)

A quick example of my irrelevance. By the time I left the public school classroom, the Ohio Proficiency Tests had been around for a few years--but today's current test-mania was just in its infancy. Not yet even a toddler. Now, of course, it exerts full sway over most of the curriculum, and I cannot imagine what it's like to teach in a test-driven classroom. For most of my career I had considerable academic freedom (remember that?), and a major factor in my decision to retire asap was the increasing role tests were playing in the curriculum--and in assessments of teachers. Measuring a teacher's ability with kids' standardized test scores makes about as much sense as, oh, judging a baseball manager by his team's batting average.

Anyway, I did write some posts now and then about education--about tests, about teachers, and so on. But as the weeks and months have gone by, I've found myself less and less willing (and able) to do so--credibly, anyhow. My comments seem to be on the same page with those not-so-enjoyable ones we hear from older folks in our youth, the ones that begin with the adverb clause When I was your age ....

So now I find myself sticking to things I know more about--books I'm reading, places I'm traveling, aging, films I'm seeing--or not seeing. Or have not yet seen.

Like Jeepers Creepers 3, which apparently has been in production since 2007. Not sure why the delay. Maybe the filmmakers are feeling ... irrelevant?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 109

July 21, 2005.

Joyce’s birthday was just the day before, and we celebrated by driving some 500 miles from St. Paul, Minnesota (where we’d visited quite a few sites related to F. Scott Fitzgerald), to Hastings, Nebraska, about forty miles north of Red Cloud, the girlhood home of Willa Cather. My journal reminds me that after supper that evening we went to see a film in Hastings—Wedding Crashers. In my journal I wrote: much funnier than I thought it was going to be, though juvenile, of course. Well, I have a weakness for the juvenile in films, a weakness Joyce tolerates (usually) and has not yet learned to celebrate.
In Red Cloud the next morning, we went on a tour of some sites in town (Cather’s home, the homes of friends, and the like), then drove around Webster County looking for (and finding!) the many markers that the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial and Education Foundation had placed around to commemorate/mark sites that were significant in her life and fiction. Many of the roads are dirt and traverse cornfields that come right to the edge of the roads. There were times we could see nothing but tall corn to our right and left, a rough dirt road in front and behind. We rarely saw another vehicle of any sort and felt, in a way, as if we were scrolling through some dream about the nineteenth century.
Once, we lost our way, but I knew that the roads were laid out like a piece of graph paper, so I merely checked the sun (oh, you former Boy Scout, you!) and headed east, where the nearest highway was—US 281. Found it quickly. (I should note that this was in the days before we had GPS.)
One of the sites I most dearly wanted to see was the old Pavelka farm, where “Ántonia” had lived. We acquired a brochure in town (Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial—$1), which is driver’s guide to the area, and off we headed in search of the sites. The “Pavelka farmstead” (as it’s now called) belongs to the Willa Cather State Historic Site.
When we arrived—after viewing the grave of Annie Pavelka (who died in 1955)—we found the place looking abandoned but with some signs of restoration efforts going on. The site was very remote, very rural. We turned into the driveway, got out of the car, took some pictures of the house, outbuildings, terrain.
Then I wondered aloud: Do you think we can get inside? We walked over to the rear entrance and saw it was not locked but was secured only by a piece of building block. Easy to move out of the way … should I?

Red Cloud, Neb.
Cemetery. Bladen, Neb., where Annie Pavelka lies.
Pavelka farmstead.
Note the building block near my feet.