Friday, April 29, 2011

Greensburg: Times Past

While looking for spring decorations a few weeks ago in our basement the sunrise fell into our ground level window flooding the cement gray walls with faded oranges and golds. Had the one ground window in this storage room been clean the colors might have danced and glowed, even below ground. Standing there absorbing the rays, my mind flashed back to a little basement apartment in Greensburg, Kansas, where Katy and I lived for a year of our lives. We had only one East window that poured daylight into the bedroom which I had painted lemon lime green. Guess I was hoping to bloom while I lived there.

Little Katy in the handmade tub in our basement apt. on Nebraska st.
The two South windows also gave us nurturing sunshine in the winter with one window in the kitchen and the other in the living room. Our one West window gave us a warm glow much like a pretend fireplace in the winter. Out of the three North windows we noticed green grasses or brown tumbleweeds that had reached a dead end. Sometimes we looked out of the North window of Katy's room and imagined our dog, Snow King Kodiak, who had to be fenced in this yard. Our little basement home on Nebraska street was unique. In the beginning, the basement was built as home covered only with a roof. The farmer/father who dug out and constructed the basement home had four little girls to raise, or so the story went. To accommodate his wife's needs or that of the little girls he constructed a hand made tile tub big enough for four children. The tile was a terra cotta pink with a torquoise trim. It was a rather rugged tub, but one that Katy and I enjoyed sharing. As the family made more money, he was finally able to build a home on top. I don't know who he was or where they may have moved to, but I was charmed by his construction savvy. He installed wall to wall closets and drawers in the one long bedroom that must have held four little beds. We had storage under the stairwell, and a wall length closet in the main bedroom. The kitchen was small but functional. I guessed his wife might not have enjoyed cooking either.

For a small town we moved around alot. Year one we lived in a trailer on Iowa street where our cat, Frisky, survived twenty minutes in the dryer. Year two we had the opportunity to move into Kathryn Waters' home on Nebraska street, same longitude just one street south. Our third year we moved to the basement of Larkin's home, which sat right in between the two previous homes. Ironically, we loved our basement home best of all because it was naturally warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The sun was just enough to let us know there was light for all, and besides we were rarely there during the day.

Luckily for us, we never moved far from Cecil Scrones' garden. So every summer we had fresh tomatoes, squash, peppers, and onions. I learned a lot about fresh garden cooking from Cecil and Arlene. Now our Kansas soil grows delicious tomatoes, but I don't begin to till a garden plot like Cecil. Hats off to you Cecil, and to all of those other wonderful folks who helped to raise Katy and me while we lived in Greensburg, Kansas.

That summer after the devasting tornado my husband and I drove around Greensburg. Like so many other stories I struggled to find my three homes and school where I taught. My landmarks were gone. When we finally found our two streets my little basement was covered over with dirt, no homes, no garden, but a few trees remained. I've often wonder if the backyard daisies in Kathryn's home grew back. What must that look like to see those spring iris, peonies, lilac bushes, and daisies grow where no homes stand? I miss those days when a bicycle ride around town was just that, where a hand dug well brought tourists to town, where a giant swimming pool brought families together for hot summer days, where a drugstore still administered ice cream sundies, cherry lime squeezes, cherry chocolate Dr. Pepper, and smiling faces.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Miami Memories: Bushy Haired Helen

This year I have made every sincere attempt to let my hair grow out, not to find out my true color, whatever that may be, but to create a new look. It was fine during the winter when I kept it at bay on windy days with hats and snow caps. The other day I put on my golf visor and headed out for a game of golf. I nearly had a conniption fit as my hair kept splashing me in the face, I could lick it off my lips, and tiny strands at a time caught my eyes. After the windy game I stepped into the locker room to wash up and quietly gasped at myself in the mirror. My hair stood on end in every direction, my face was a ruddy red from the wind, and at that moment I looked like my mother, Helen.

Now in all due respect, that's a compliment, because my mother was a beautiful natural blond woman. She had a healthy head of thick coarse hair which was frequently difficult to manage. Thank heavens for her they invented hair spray. When I was young I loved to play beauty shop with my mother's hair. Occasionally, I successfully built a nicely stacked bee-hive or later a lovely french twist. I liked her hairdo best when the french twist was made popular by Princess Grace Kelly.

I, too, had thick heavy hair as a youngster but it was not pretty. It was dreadfully hot in the summer and my ponytails never stayed in. One summer day when I was a teen or pre-teen I wanted to go to a Saturday afternoon movie with friends, but mother put her foot down and said, "Not with hair like that! You may stay home and let me fix it, go to the beauty shop and have Olean Simpson cut your hair, or you may stay home. Period!" That Saturday I trudged to Simpson's beauty shop on G. st and had my long heavy brunette hair cut off. I have no memory of what it looked like, but I think I remember it felt good. Of course, I didn't let my mother know I liked it.

Helen Stapp.
This winter I spent many weeks sorting every picture I inherited or had developed for our family. It was quite an ordeal that I honestly enjoyed immensely. It was on one of those days that I spotted mother's picture with wild bushy blond hair. Thanks to Lady Clairol it never grayed. There stood my mother smiling and waving as she stood by the driver's door to our turquoise and white 1959 Ford Fairlain parked in the driveway next to the old gas light. She was probably waving at me to get in the car, but I was busy taking pictures. As I studied the picture (nearly 50 years later) I thought momentarily it was a picture of me, but I never remembered dressing like that! I turned the faded colored picture over and read my mother's hand writing "Bushy Haired Helen!" I laughed and cried and missed my mother.

A few weeks later our book club was discussing "American Thighs" by Jill Conner Browne. I had asked everyone to bring a picture of their childhood, and to bring memories of growing up. I brought several old "Seventeen" magazines from the 1960's. We laughed and shared our stories and then passed around our photos. How was it that some of us looked so much alike? Hairdos, glasses, drab dresses, or was it the black and white effect? No matter, it was good laughter for the soul. When I passed my photos around I actually passed the picture of my mother. Everyone agreed it looked just like me until someone read on the back. I had to confess, "Yes, the bushy hair belongs to my mother, and to me."

Now it feels blessed to say I look like my mother. I haven't cut my hair yet. Instead I bought a handful of clippies that hopefully will hold my thin fly away curly hair back from eyes. This summer will once again be a test of endurance or of "hair" products. No matter what, the next time I see my mother in the mirror, I'll smile back and say, "Thanks Mom, I love you. What do you think of my hairdo?"

Friday, April 15, 2011

Land Escapes

Today the weather has blown like the bullet train through our trees, bushes, and tiny blooming flowers.  I'd promised Lucy a walk, but when attempting to stand tall in the piercing wind became a struggle, I turned around for home, and Lucy followed forlorn at my heels. Wanting to pretend I lived elsewhere for the afternoon, I pulled out some of my old children's books, and read them aloud. No one heard my words, but Lucy occasionally fluttered her tail. She would have liked the stories of Byrd Baylor and the great desert of the southwest. I've told her about my visits to the great desert from California to Arizona.

It was difficult to focus on the warmth and spaciousness of the desert when all around me trees were swirling, a tin building awning was whipping and banging against a metal siding, birds were nose diving instead of gliding, and for a few moments white flakes fluttered by. I'd like to think it was the blooms off my trees rather than snow on April 15! But alas, I want to reflect on my desert visits and the earthy brown tones that surrounded us, since I promised my friends I'd continue my "Landscapes" from last week. I just changed the title in my attempt to flee this winter/spring weather pattern.

So let's escape to a warm dusty climate. Author, Byrd Baylor, writes of a celebration for "dust devils" in her book I'm In Charge of Celebrations. I, too, have had an encounter with a dust devil. On Sunday, April 3, we were playing golf at The Gallery north of Tucson in Marana, Arizona where the temperature was in the 80's and a breeze was beginning to blow from the south. Between two golf holes there was hacienda type
building that housed the bathrooms. As always, in a hurry to keep up the pace of play, I stepped into the bathroom, shut the door, but did not lock it. For heavens sake, it was the middle of the desert and there was no body around. While sitting there the wind began to whip, the door began to bang, and I began to wiggle wishing I could stop and stand. Suddenly, the door whipped open full blast banging against the wall and sending in a spiraling shower of dust and dirt. I dared not scream for fear of filling my mouth with dust. The venting fan rattled as it was forced to turn one way then another in the wind. I hurriedly gathered myself together and listened as my friend, Kathy, was yelping with the wind blasts, in the bathroom next door. As suddenly as the wind erupted, it stopped.

We stepped out and made our way up the path to the next tee box. Kathy's husband, Jimmy, was smiling and pointing, "Did you girls see that dust devil?" We followed his pointed hand to the south. Simultaneously, we cried, "No we didn't see it, we felt it and heard it? What happened?" In a casual chuckle Jimmy responded, "Kathy, what you see is a dust devil that seem to have started just north of the bathroom, building dust, and then it roared right over (or into) the building." Memory giggles filled my lungs as I thought of the embarrassment of being greeted by the dust devil.

By the time we were ready to hit our tee shots the dust devil was headed down the valley. Off and on the rest of the afternoon my eyes wondered down the valley, watching a multitude of dust devils play chase across the warm desert floor. I would have liked to say my golf game remained focused that day, but like my writing my focus wonders. That's a good thing, because I can always find a story to tell and reasons to celebrate. I wonder what Lucy would have done if she'd been greeted by a dust devil?

Be at peace my friends and enjoy the day ahead.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Sometimes landscapes are so inspiring they cause people to write poems, music, stories, to dance, to sing, or as in the case of Lucy, to freeze in place, and stare. In our daily walk the other morning Lucy and I turned the corner around the deep dusty green row of cedars lining the dirt road and headed west down our favorite dirt road of adventures. Within a few steps Lucy's body moved in front of mine, where upon she sat down blocking my path and without flinching an inch stared straight ahead at the changed landscape. Merely two hundred yards, or a tee shot away, stood a brown mountain of dirt in a normally winter wheat green field. Lucy sniffed the air for clues as to what monster was threatening us. Slowly, she began to inch forward stalking and sniffing the new threat (perhaps she thought it was a giant cow!). Charging forward still slinking sometimes nearly crawling on her belly, my protective dog vowed to keep me safe from the dirt mountain. At last we spied the yellow grader pushing the dirt. Then suddenly we felt the ground rattle and shake. I quickly put the lease on Lucy, and we stepped aside to duck from the blowing dust and rocks. We watched from the bar ditch as a giant yellow truck hauling dirt from the ditch digging project a mile to the east of us chugged by. From a distance the brown mountain grew and seemed to spew blue diesel smoke.

As we stood off to the side of the road for safety and to watch the mountain building process, I thought of an SRA reading kit story that I must have read in 5th grade, about a farmer in old Mexico who was tilling his land one day when the land moved, rattled furiously and a volcano was born. Now was that true or was a major highway being built and a mound of dirt just appeared, I don't know, but I prefer to think the poor farmer watched a volcano being born.

Standing, starring, pondering, imagining are all great activities for my soul. My mind crept back to the
Marana, Az desert views.
previous week when I had the opportunity to explore the desert around Tucson, Arizona. I began to wonder how Lucy would have responded to hike through the Suguaro National Forest, or other areas of the grand southwest desert. As I stood in awe of the grand grey green looming Suguaro's what would Lucy have seen? (to be continued)