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)


  1. Loved this look at the evolution of a young storyteller... thank you for sharing with us.

  2. Loved learning more about your beginnings as a storyteller... thank you for sharing this with us!

  3. Sorry i missed your story telling here in Greensburg. I remember what a wonderful stry teller you were. I learned so much from you that I have useed over the last years in working with troubled kids. Would like a oppertunity to visit with you.

    Marilyn Yohn

    1. Hi Marilyn, how great to read your comment. Thank you for your kind words and memories. Donna, Sharon, and Luetta all have my phone number if you'd like to call. I'm reluctant to put my email or phone out on my blog, even though, like most everyone else, I can be found.