Snapping string beans, husking corn, repositioning sprinklers, washing cars, scrubbing dogs, and watering geraniums leisurely fill afternoons assuring that summer’s a fixture as sun-beams dapple lush green lawns. Aromas of newly mown grass blend with exhaust fumes of motorcycles. Flower beds and clay pots offer up every vibrant hue found in rainbows. Outdoorsiness’s charm and promise tempts, teases, and beckons. Not for me…
Indoors, while storm clouds threaten pending thunder and lightning and buckets of rain, several dazzling companions brighten this currently atypical season at my address. Oscar Hammerstein’s grand-son Andy, Susan Alcott Jardine, Karen O’Toole, Lloyd C. Douglas and Bill Schwarz entertain me daily. Not one of them rang the door-bell. Yet, we are acquaintances with much in common.
Andy (The Hammersteins), Susan, and Karen (Orphans of Katrina) collectively author books, produce and appear in documentaries, paint incredible works of art, master the world of photography, and enjoy conversing with regular folks such as I.
My mother would be astounded. She read to me at bedtime, composed a few of my book reports, provided piano instruction, and encouraged me to become a humble English teacher. She whipped up Sunday School lessons clicking away into the night upon her former Pilot Life Insurance typewriter and later in life pounded a cherished script keyboard since she believed her penmanship lacked proper authority. Had she been able to communicate daily with literati and celebs via Facebook, our family might have missed out on her spectacular cornbread, fried okra, and grits.
Neither Mr. Douglas nor Bill, both local icons, ever chatted with me via my Dell monitor, but those two have spent decades together pasted into Reverend Graham Kleespie’s scrapbook collection spanning from the 40s through the 80s. This extensive body of information lies scattered across my enclosed back porch where “Jack Lemmon” and “Zelda Fitzgerald” live. I’ve resumed my profession as a museum curator/archivist of sorts. My canine assistants J. and Z., ever watchful, only require an occasional Milk-bone and potty breaks.
Thus, during our checkered season of mostly rainstorms, I channel giddy librarian/bibliophile Burgess Meredith in that famous Twilight Zone episode where Rod Serling casts the actor, surrounded by mountains of books, as the lone survivor of Earth’s total radioactive/nuclear destruction. Surprise ending? The little egg-head accidentally steps onto his dropped eye-glasses, shattering both lenses. Horror of horrors.
I am alone with most of Columbia City’s citizens, paper-dolls who are frozen in time as young brides, children, farmers, soldiers, businessmen, politicians, scholars, athletes, and club ladies.
That is how the famed writer of Magnificent Obsession, The Robe, The Big Fisherman, White Banners, and Green Light appeared to my startled eyes at the beginning of June, via an impressive and lengthy personal letter to Pastor Kleespie, chronicling the novelist’s entire relationship with our town and with our Lutheran congregation — from beginning to end. Another subsequent letter, signed by Reverend Douglas’ personal secretary “Miss Marion H. Hunt” and written immediately prior to our native son’s death, explains graciously why Lloyd “will NOT be donating additional funds to Grace Lutheran but instead contribute to Ann Arbor’s First Congregational Church…” Our own City Fathers’ proposed bull-dozing demolition of the famous literary figure’s Main Street boyhood home might have soured his philanthropic tendencies? I also marveled at a yellowing newspaper article which accompanied a Post & Mail photograph of the quaint, green-shingled house’s ongoing demise in progress. Call me Sherlock!
Similarly, basketball star Bill Schwarz jumped at me one dark and stormy morning…as I dealt with seemingly zillions of 1951 newspaper articles, mementoes and memorabilia. However, the handsome lad, not yet the exceptional high school hoops star, gazed from the page as a tiny child living in his native country of Romania, prior to World War II rearing its ugly head. Our church sponsored the displaced Schwarz family — who had fled their Transylvanian home to seek eventual refuge in an Austrian camp safe from Allied-Axis cross-fire — bringing all to this country. I rejoiced at the group photo of his parents and siblings — and the official paperwork I discovered. A formal presentation of these materials and documents occurred at the close of Bill’s recent stunning program in the church sanctuary. The stained-glass representation of the once rather forbidding Martin Luther, whose stern visage we’d avoided as fidgeting children, peered approvingly at the proceedings.
I thanked Jack and Zelda, my trusty best friends, for refraining from the digestion of those scrapbooks’ sentimentally valuable, irreplaceable contents which had rested untouched by me — or them — near their kennels for a complete year. A miracle!
I anticipate resumption of researching this community’s high and low points, successes and disasters, birth announcements, accolades, obituaries, and human interest stories. Might be a novel lurking in the wings. My spouse, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor recently, chastised me for tending to “make a big deal out of nothing” during his rather mercurial campaign—a couple of times actually. After brief sulks, I settled down with Susan Jardine’s intriguing anthology, entitled The Channel: Stories from L. A., one dark and stormy evening. The next morning, I rushed to the computer to offer my rave review. Complimenting her on composition of “fiction” and lamenting that I only deal with linear non-fictional narratives, I asked HOW one turns everyday living into fictional tales. Susan, also the sister-in-law of the founder of THE Beach Boys BTW, replied, “It’s easy. One simply needs to create something from nothing.” Well, déjà vu!