Friday, June 29, 2012

Greensburg: a Story of Place Marks

This week I made a pilgrimage to Greensburg, Kansas.  It wasn't religious but it was a personal journey.  It represents one of the many markers in my life where there were arrows on the road, and I picked the one that went West, so Chaucer and Cervantes look out!   

Donn Crites, KD teacher and Halloween Hoot.
Luetta Neelly (Hayes) working in the library.
It was a time to say thank you and to acknowledge with friends what I'd always known. Greensburg marks a time and place in my life where the building blocks for my career as a storyteller, puppetry, author, and dedicated follower of children's authors and illustrators were grounded.

Luckily, for me I had an audience at home.  My daughter, Katy, listened for hours to stories, and who, with a little help from her friends, played out our lives through the antics of simple puppets.  We were well versed in Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss by the time Katy was three.  I read Dr. Spock's book on raising children, but no where did I find the help I needed as a single parent of a lively daring little girl, so we read and played together.  Books became a bridge connecting  us.  They gave us a quiet time where no one intruded, a time and place away from our lives where we could live happily ever after, if only for a little while.  

Sharon Koehn (Sutto) and Delmer Day.
Providence was on my side in the form of my first principal, Delmer Day, who accepted me (who hired me! a single woman with a child in 1975), and allowed me the time and place to learn and grow as an adult.  The library became our second home.  Then overtime our own library grew like a giant beanstalk that took us to places never dreamed.  In 1977 I read that a real live author, Richard Peck,  would be speaking at the Hutchinson Public Library, nearly two hours from Greensburg.  I realized the only way to open doors for our district to host authors was to invite my principal to go with me, and meet this writer. 

I was enthralled with Peck's words and dedication to writing.  He'd once been a librarian himself, and after the girls at the private school where he worked burned the card catalog he decided that writing might be a better profession.  I must say that Delmer's eyes were as focused as mine on this event.  That day I bought my first book Ghosts I Have Been, a novel by Richard Peck.  The inscription reads:  For Letty Rains, an encouraging friend -- From a grateful author, Richard Peck, 1977.  I will keep this book and let those who come after me find a home for it.  For inside those covers was someone I came to identify with, and Delmer even remarked after reading the book, "Letty, it sounds like he based his character, Blossom, on you."  I thought that was a compliment: one, because Delmer took the time to read the book; two, he journeyed with me to meet this author; and three, he knew me well.   

First autographed book.
The flap of the books reads, "Blossom Culp, spunky, devious, a bit of a female chauvinist is the outspoken  outcast of Bluff City....Always resourceful, Blossom manages to foil Letty's (ha, my name in print) plan for revenge, by suddenly developing a spurious gift for second sight...Blossom goes on to put herself and her town on the map."  I asked Richard Peck that day why my namesake, Letty, had to be the mean revengeful character in the book.  His answer was simple, "When I was in school I had a very mean wicked 8th grade teacher who's name was Letty.  For me, it was the perfect name for the character in this book.  I got my revenge."  For three years, I worked tirelessly to put our elementary library on the map, but it took a devastating tornado in 2007 to mark it's place for eternity.

Now the school and the city have brand new libraries, buildings, homes, and tiny trees growing and showing the world the strength and character that real folks are made of.  That day I delivered four boxes of books (many autographed memories), and a bag of puppets to the Kiowa Country Library.  I hope those books and puppets find loving hands whether they are used in the library, or whether they are sold into the hands of children who want to read a good story.  Books need to be read and handed off, not kept on shelves to collect dust.  

Librarian, storyteller, Letty Rains (Watt) begins her journey. (1975-78 Greensburg Elementary School)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bench Walking

I cannot remember a time in my life when walking wasn't a saving grace for me.  There were years when the bicycle was the primary mode of transportation and then along came the cars, but none every reached the freshness and beauty found in a simple walk.  During the last few decades I've spent some down days with knee aliments, back aliments, tumbles and bruises, and now surgery, but like my mother said, "This too will pass."  She was right.  I just wish mom were here to hear those words spoken from her ornery know-it-all oldest daughter, who has learned many  lessons, the hard way.  
A much needed bench for resting and reflecting.

My recent walks have been slightly slower and shorter than our dog, Lucy, would like to take, but I have assured her that the cooler early morning walks and longer walks are coming.  I tell her to be patient and enjoy the short walk around the block, but I'm really telling that to myself.  Two weeks ago I pushed myself walking and reached the edge of our flat land views in Kansas.       (I can do that where I live and still be in the city limits!)   I stood there in awe watching as storm clouds rolled by south of us.  I turned to walk home and thought, "Oh my goodness, I'm tired.  I hurt.  Why didn't I bring my cell phone.  What was I thinking wandering this far from home."  As panic set in thinking the worst, that I could hurt myself and have a set back in the healing stages of this "surgery" journey, I spied a bench hidden in the shadows of the trees.  A much needed cool breeze whispered across the prairie sending me to the comforts of the bench.  There I sat, relaxing, reflecting, and smiling.  Who knew how comforting a wooden bench could feel.

Sitting on the edge of the prairie.
I was greatly relieved to find that I recovered while sitting on the bench.  At last I attempted the walk home and along the way I stopped at another then another bench to rest.  So now I've learned to bench walk.  Yes, I walk from block to block and sometimes bench to bench, depending on the distance, the wind, or my mood.  Today I took a new step in bench walking.   I actually "bench pressed".  I put my foot on the bench, stretched, and pressed.  Then I put both arms on the back of the bench and pressed like a push up.  Ha, my body laughed at me, "You're healthier than you think."  I wanted to tell someone how light my worries became when I discovered that I could turn my bench walking into bench pressing.  What relief to feel healthier.  So to my Yoga friends at Genesis, to Abby at Core Connections,  to my golfing friends out playing golf today, I miss you all, but I'll be back this summer energized and healthy.

Now if I could just convince Lucy that bench walking and bench pressing are fun.

Friday, June 15, 2012


On my third week celebration since hernia surgery, I spent my first waking minutes in our hot tub.  Oh, what luxury lightly bubbled around me, and lifted my stiff and humbled body.  The moisture from the warm water soaked through my senses and helped to invigorate my soul.  Within minutes the birds that had fluttered away when I opened the lid, returned to their nests and feeders,chirping and squeaking at the intruder, as I secretly smiled at their flutter and concerns.  From my vantage point in the hot tub I watched the orioles line up for the "orange marmalade" that we had so generously plopped down on our wind break fence.  Before turning up the bubbling water I simply sat quietly listening to the newness of the day; to the baby birds squawking for food; to the squirrels chattering at Lucy as she slowly paced the fence line protecting her land and owner from dangerous predators; and I said, "Thank you Lord."  Thank you Lord for all that you have provided and for my good health.

Then like a child in the pool for the her first summer outing I turned up the "jets" and bounded from corner to corner, rolling like a fish in a pond and laughing at my own playfulness.  Water has always comforted me, and given my body a feeling of lightness and freedom.  No longer were my legs stiff and back sore; I was agile and youthful in the bubbling springs.  Lucy often jumps up to check on me, wondering if I'm safe?  I laugh and tell her to get a ball or her many chews and to play, play, play.

From one corner of the hot tub I could see a lonely cushioned chair out in the tree line.  I have three places in my yard where I have spent many hours the last three weeks, sitting, reflecting, reading, and sometimes napping.  I saw myself slowly shuffling on my husband's arm just to reach a nearby chair, the I saw myself walking around enjoying my yard, and now here I am feeling healthy.  But something inside of me clicks, "Warning, Warning, Warning--Take it Easy, Don't Overdo, One Good Day can cause Two Down Days."  At last I crawl out of the hot tub, dry off, and saunter in to shower and ponder another day at home.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Golf Gypsy Goes Down

Time is a strange bird that flies by in its own special pattern.  Many times in my life I've chased the clock, counting and running at light speed, like only working moms can do.  Some habits don't quickly change, and so events and journeys enter our lives to show us new avenues to wonder down.  A few days out of surgery I walked around the back yard, heal and toe pattern and holding my husband's hand, which is a dramatic improvement over the previous shuffle while holding my husband's arm.
Recovery view of our yard.

Surgery, although minor can be dramatic.  Better than so many options, I had time to prepare myself, my home, my yard, and my garden for the hernia surgery, which the doctor explained would keep me down for two weeks and then I'd follow a slow, but healthy road to recovery.

Time raced like the roadrunner before my very eyes.  For nine days I acted with total committed energy to every weed, every limb, every flower than needed attention; to every piece of laundry and ironing; to every room that needed cleaning and didn't need cleaning; to every calendar commitment and golf tournament than had to be cancelled; and to all my friends I might not see for awhile.  And then I cried.  I cried because I was scared and tired.  Then I felt better.

Feast your eyes on Green and Heal.
Time heals oh, so very slowly indeed.  One day I felt good enough to walk a mile, and the next day I was down and out.  One day I was bored and frustrated and began cleaning off book shelves and thinking garage sale! and the next day I was down and out. 

 Sit, Letty, Sit instead of Go, Stretch, Run, Pull, Swing.  I'm now two weeks out from surgery and a check up this afternoon.  Hope the doctor says, "go," but I'm not betting on it.