Defamation of Character? Not my idea of a fun summer! I descended from a long line of “characters” who could circle the globe 85 times and then extend all the way to heaven and back 16 more times. We know whom we are. We like whom we are. We are whom we are.
Flood-gates burst open!
Keith Kleespies’s darling “baby” daughter brought 60 scrapbooks to my porch one sultry August afternoon. I, perspiring profusely, struggled with where to store them. As I did so, I interrupted the bucket brigade type activity, taking over my body, to flip open nearly half of them.
Dating from 1934 until the eighties, a history of our community danced before my non-sweat-banded eyes. Wiped my moist face with my t-shirt, swatted at mosquitoes, pit-stopped for gulps from a jug of rapidly dwindling iced tea and BLEW MY OWN MIND as these treasure troves fell open–on the way toward my enclosed back porch–to newspaper articles, photographs, playbills, red-white-blue ribbons, dried flowers, certificates announcing everything from meritorious service to club memberships, report cards, typed prayers and sermons, etc. etc. and so forth.
Why me? Am I the most recent town historian? Oh, my, let’s hope not for all of our sakes. I don’t dwell on the past. I am informed by the past. And I realized, upon studying these precious scrapbooks, blessed by the past.
Reverend Graham Kleespie’s booming voice and masterful presence impressed the teen-aged version of myself as reminiscent of actor Rex Harrison’s star turns in period pieces. More realistically, this pastor headed up a special family–Cornelia, his family-oriented and sparkling wife, and sons Graham, Jr. and Keith–two of the handsomest dudes ever to grace this planet. Cornelia stunned my mother by declining to accompany her to Marlon Brando’s 1957 film SAYONARA. “Corny” sorely missed “young Graham” and his family who were stationed in Japan and feared crying through the entire two-hour movie. Keith qualified as our local James Dean, gorgeous, sensitive and (“once upon a time”) a quietly rebellious soul who transformed into presently the dearest gentleman ever.
For some reason, Keith (While playing our piano as a 13-year-old, he was bitten by our demented Toy Manchester but did forgive us!) requested that I should be the recipient of his dad’s scrapbooks. So, when the newspaper announcement of my birth (scotch-taped onto the May day entries of a date in the forties) met my glance, his choosing me as an archivist seemed appropriate This intriguing collection may have landed happily into the right hands. “Duncans greet arrival of third daughter.” Wow? Photographs of my parents co-chairing, with Garland and Georgia Stickler, the Grace Lutheran Church building restoration filled the 1961 edition. My sis’s wedding appeared in the 1960 leather-bound issue. Familiar faces one right after the other, though caught in a surreal type of freeze-frame, smiled at me and stirred wonderful memories.
Rev. Kleespie consistently seemed to have “posted” items of interest every single day for scores of years. I revisited Velma Moeller, the Langohr family, Ed and Nerva Binder, Clarence “Booney” Feist, the Schraders, the Pumphreys, the Bowies, the Ramseys, the Eberhards, the Stellhorns, Sunday school classes, hundreds of brides and grooms. I pored over obituaries, birth announcements of class-mates, accounts of tragic automobile accidents, countless happy celebrations, community accolades, newsworthy historic global incidents. Such a day by day diary I have never–no, never–observed. Each book starts with a declaration of precisely what year he recorded life’s events, via words and numbers laboriously scissored from construction paper and glued upon the initial page of every journal, often enhanced with fascinating frontispieces.
How admirable of him! Perhaps this detailed accumulation of information had facilitated necessary alerts typed into each Sunday’s bulletin or, spoken in a thundering voice, his weekly announcements from the pulpit. Nobody ever visited the sick and the elderly as often and religiously as Graham Kleespie, so this assembling of community events may have been his road trip atlas directing him to waiting hearts and various locales each 24-hour time-frame spanning 40 plus years. Phenomenal.
As far as strength of character, this man–who played a crucial role during my growing-up years–displayed a quality which I admire tremendously. He had clipped out and pasted–upon a page filled with the bustling hour to hour activities in which we all engage daily–a cryptic, unkind, critical poetic effort from a member of his “flock”. This poison-pen dart snuggles among greeting cards, accounts of wedding receptions, obits–a representative inclusion of the human condition from some lost soul striking out to demand attention. “Now, turn the page, and life goes on,” Keith’s dad messaged to me at that moment. Compassion. Understanding. Acceptance. Tolerance. Forgiveness.
Such possibilities these sweet and thoroughly organized scrapbooks hold forth. Toying for several weeks with a story idea, I had no clue as to the first names of folks I wished to discuss who brought magic itself to Columbia City for a number of years in the fifties. Oddly, serendipity moved front and center stage as I neared the conclusion of an afternoon spent alternately lugging and browsing. An obituary, yellowed and brittle from age, pertaining to the possible subject of my next OLD TYPE WRITER installment actually wafted to the living room floor. I reached down to retrieve it and read the names of this larger-than-life fellow, his wife, and their two children–a lovely Jewish family.
What a beautiful Wednesday afternoon which I was happily foisted into and which blended the past with the present, reminding me that intelligence, interest in the bigger picture, respect for all people everywhere, and sympathy for the human condition were successfully conveyed to my youthful mind years ago by Reverend Graham Kleespie. Thanks, Keith and Karman, for honoring me with this special collection of community memories. I eagerly anticipate sharing what I learn, scrapbook by scrapbook. I’ll close with your dad’s and grand-dad’s parting words, as he spread his arms as wide apart as humanly possible, the upturned palms of his hands seeming to beckon to us and gather us all up in a huge embrace each Sunday morning: “May that love which passeth all human understanding be ours forever and ever. Peace be with you. A-men.”