By Eve W. Engle

The dogs rule in our house. They are fed first, allowed in our bed, have their own bed in the guest room and sneak up onto the sofas when we aren't looking. Maxie, short for Maximus, is a Golden Retriever/Great Pyrenes mix, Sammy is a Black Lab/Border Collie mix. His full name is Samuel L. Jackson after one of my favorite actors. Both were abused and rescued from their former owners. They get cookies every morning.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100: life after conflict

In more ways than one this specific article picks up the theme of life after conflict. My last post was a while ago. It was my intention when I began to write about my dad on the "eve" of his one hundredth birthday that I would try to post at least two articles a week. Then reality intervened. First, my laptop began misbehaving . . . badly. It decided to take on a life of its own. Writing became an exercise in frustration to see if I could get an entire sentence typed before the cursor decided to move to a location of its choice, or to open new windows, close other windows, and dance around the screen like a whirling dervish. Aside from the insanity of the laptop, things changed with my job. A major position opened up that I just couldn't ignore. After several weeks of intense interviewing I faced a room full of interrogators via Skype. Nice interrogators, but I still felt like someone who was facing the Nuremberg trial lawyers. I made it to the semifinals, but then wasn't chosen as a finalist. Still, it was a great experience in professional interviewing, and I learned a lot. Then my middle son left for China, and my job took a turn I couldn't accept. I resigned when it became evident that I needed to make a major change in my life, and that I was truly needed at home. THE family home. Windy Hill. Where there was no computer that worked well enough for me to do my work. So I took off for Best Buy with my mother to purchase a computer for the two of us to use. We bought a new desktop computer, and I delivered my old laptop to the "Geek Squad". After a week of messing around and trying to get things to work, the outcome has been another new computer to replace the first new computer, which was broken, a working (but not great) laptop with a mouse now attached to confuse the track pad into behaving, and no ethernet, so I am still using the public library's WiFi. Thank God for public libraries! But I have plenty of time to write since I have no job. I am not retired, just repositioned. That is my life after conflict.

Which brings me back on track, and to this article. Life after a major conflict can be confusing, a little frightening, and very frustrating. But it can also open the door for new opportunity. After WW2 began my dad had a job with Lockheed, but when the war ended he was left like everyone else, wondering what was to come next? Time to examine his options. Living in Los Angeles provided opportunities he wouldn't have had anywhere else. His degree was in studio art with a concentration in sculpture and ceramics. It was time for Frank to put his talent to more appropriate use. He opened Frank Engle Studios in L.A., and then eventually relocated to Evansville, Indiana to be closer to family. In the meantime though, his designs captured the attention of the prop departments at the major Hollywood studios, magazines such as "House Beautiful", and the marketing departments of major retailers such as Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman.

Frank Engle Studios produced decorative ceramics and was recognized for it's unique glazing as well as its designs. Many of the products were horses or animal pairs, but the factories produced everything from tiles to ashtrays (definitely a sign of those times) to wall sconces and flower vases. By 1949 everything business wise was going well, but then tragedy struck. Frank began to have health issues. He was diagnosed with lead poisoning. Eventually he ended up selling the factory and all his moulds and left Evansville to become a professor of art at the University of Alabama.

But the commissions kept coming. He produced the decorations for the new Shamrock Hotel, which opened in Houston, Texas in 1949. At the time it was the largest hotel in the United States and a major feather in Frank's cap. And there was also Ford Motor Company. The first revision of the Ford emblem after World War 2 was a big deal. Ford wanted something that reflected the new economic boom in America, intrinsically patriotic, and that reflected American strength. Frank created the red, white, and blue crest with chevrons and rampant lions. So life after the war was different, full of success and change, but not without conflict of its own.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100: WAR!

The United States was attacked by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The Americans had entered World War 2! In anticipation of the unavoidable the United States had imposed the first peace time draft on September 16, 1940. Frank Engle's name was on the list. While he was traveling with his friends his draft notice was being prepared. It finally caught up with him.

It must have been a very emotional moment to read that letter at the end of such an incredible year of sightseeing and discovery. But Frank went to the nearest duty station to report and explain his situation. What must he have said? "I've just come from the most important experience of my 23 years sir. Sorry about being late." And the response he must have received? "Really? You think a year traveling around with two other guys looking at art was the most important experience you've ever had? YOU JUST WAIT!"

However, if you were late reporting for draft duty (with a legitimate excuse) then your orders had to be reissued. So Frank was told to go back to his hotel and wait for new orders. He promptly went looking for a job and landed one with the Burbank California facility for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. Since he had an extensive background in art Frank was put to work in a hanger where they drew aircraft to scale from engineering designs. Lofting (drawing) the plans to scale on the floor of the hanger was standard procedure back in those days. Frank loftted bomber designs to scale and then the pattern department would step in and cut out the parts to begin construction. When his second draft notice arrived Frank's job was essential to the war effort and he was "frozen" in his position. The War Department couldn't touch him. He belonged to Lockheed. By the end of the war he was in charge of their Experimental Pattern Department.

By the time he was drafted a third time toward the end of the war he was pushing 30 and considered too old anyway. In the meantime Frank must have found the work during the war years at Lockheed exciting and stimulating.

The Lockheed Corporation's Burbank facility was believed to be in grave danger of possible attack by the Japanese.  A secret plan called "Operation Camouflage" was set in motion. Huge canvases were stretched across the roofs of all the buildings. Fake rubber cars and buildings were installed. Workers would leave on their breaks and go "home" to pull laundry off of lines and to do other chores which made it look like they were actually in a suburb to any aircraft flying overhead.

In 1943 the development of a new jet fighter began at the Burbank facility. The Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star was completed and became the first jet fighter to score a kill for the United States. You have to wonder if Frank lofted these plans.

One aspect of living in the Los Angeles/Burbank California area was an almost daily encounter with celebrities. Seeing movie stars and entertainers, directors and producers, writers and artists was common. Frank encountered many while he was there. His opinion of Burt Lancaster was in direct contrast to his opinion of Andy Divine (he thought Lancaster was one of the finest examples of a male physique he had ever encountered, while he found Devine repulsive, smelly, and obese). It was a thrilling time in his life.

He remained in California for a while after the war ended. After leaving Lockheed he opened his own ceramics studio and produced decorative ceramics. Many were bought for movie props. He married. He took commissions. But the war was over, and it was time to go home to Indiana.

Zebras, Frank Engle Studios

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100: The Art Student

The John Herron Art Institute was established in 1902. Eventually renamed the Herron School of Art, by 1967 it was absorbed into Indiana University. But in 1935 Frank Engle was a poor boy with no source of tuition funding. A supporting teacher from Anderson High School understood how talented her student was, and encouraged him to apply to art school. She helped him put together a portfolio to show the faculty at Herron. They were impressed and he was accepted into the sculpture program.

Frank worked hard, really hard. But just because he was able to get into college didn't mean he had the money to survive. He nearly starved to death. Walking the trolley lines in Indianapolis where Herron was located, he would search for lost coins in hopes of finding enough for at least a  cup of coffee. He managed to get through this tough period. Under the tutelage of renowned sculptor David Kresz Rubins, he produced some of his best work while he was a student there. He did so well he won the prestigious Mary Milliken Award his senior year.

The Milliken Award was established in 1928 by William Milliken in honor of his wife. It is still being awarded to outstanding students in any medium. When Frank won the award in 1940 he hoped to use it to tour the best art museums and to study in Europe. But the Nazi's had other plans. Already in Poland, they invaded France in May of 1940 which made it impossible for him to tour Europe. That June, along with other two other award recipients, Loren Fisher and Floyd Hopper, Frank begin a trek of 18,000 miles. The three men toured the art centers along the East Coast, Canada, and Pacific Coast to California, and then down into Mexico instead. The men built a small caravan camper from scraps which they pulled behind Fisher's brand new car and traveled together studying ceramics, sculpture, painting, and other mediums by artists in North America. But all good things must come to an end. And did it ever when Japanese "zeros" attacked the American bases in Hawaii. Frank was no longer a student under the protection of a college. He was a man, and there was a war on.

Below: Frank as a student at Herron School of Art, c. 1939

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100 - Brotherly Love and the Black Sheep of the Family

My dad had three brothers, two older and one younger, Norman, Lee, and Morris. Norman, the eldest, was born on April 13, 1912 in Illinois. He completed the 8th grade and went on to a career in sales, marriage and raising a family (two sons and two daughters) in Alexandria, Indiana. He reached about 5' 9", which made his the second tallest of the boys. He passed away May of 1987 at age 75. Walter Lee Jr. was born June 12, 1914 in Indiana. Like his namesake, he was tall (6') and lanky. He was only 18 when he died of "Lockjaw" (Tetanus) in 1932 after a cut he had became infected. There is no record of his last year of formal schooling, but he didn't finish high school. Morris E. was born April 10, 1918 in Indiana. He made it through his first year of high school (9th grade), married and had two sons and a daughter. The shortest at about 5' 6", Morris passed away in 2010, at age 92. My dad was number three, between Lee and Morris. At his tallest he was about 5'7". Since their mom only reached 4'11" at her tallest it was no wonder Norman, Morris, and my dad never shopped in the "big and tall" stores.

Considering the lack of means and the family educational history, it is amazing to think that my dad not only finished high school but was able to find a way into college and eventually make a career as a university professor, even being honored for his distinguished career. No one else had a talent quite like his. His mom, Nina, was a seamstress. His dad had a varied career from sharecropper to machinist. But Frank was able to put his talent and intellect to good use, and the artist was born.

Before that though, there was a family of four tough boys keeping in trouble as the mood hit them. When one messed up they were all punished by their "Pop" who spared the rod and used the palm of his hand to set them all straight if  any one of them went down the wrong path or smarted off. He would line them up and whack them all in one fell swoop. He was a hard father, but he loved his boys. One Christmas during the depression he spent time whittling a ball and bat for them. That Christmas Day he took all four boys down to the yard of the local two room school in Marion, Indiana, so they could take a swing at their new ball. Pop stood in as pitcher and sent the three smaller boys to man the field letting Lee take the first "crack" at the wooden ball. Knowing the length of Lee's extended arm, Pop instructed the three other boys to be ready for a long ball. Lee got the feel of the bat in his hands and finally indicated he was ready. Pop sent one ball flying toward Lee who promptly whacked it so hard it made the sound of a "banger"on the 4th of July! The ball arced up, up, up and flew over the school house yard and began it's descent just as it reached the outside comfort privy. At the moment it was perfectly centered over the privy the ball dropped through the roof, and disappeared down the hole!

One time the boys were sharing the back of an old nag in a pasture. Morris had to wait his turn, being the "baby" and the smallest (his nickname was "Speck"). Finally he mounted the old horse and readied himself for a trot. What he got was a full out run, straight toward the only standing tree in the entire field. He hung on for dear life as the maniacal horse sped forward. The horse stopped just short of whacking himself senseless, but that didn't stop Morris' momentum. He flew over the top of the suddenly stationary horse and whacked the trunk of the tree with his own head. The truth was, the horse had been docile and good tempered until Morris got on his back. That was when he felt the unexpected and uncomfortable encounter with the palm of one of the brother's hands on his nether region.

Another time the boys attempted to assist their pop with a bull. The bull needed help (I have no idea why) getting properly situated to do his "business". One of the boys was selected to hold the cow steady while the others helped at the other end. Unfortunately there was a miscalculation and the brother at the front end got a face full of, shall we say, "goo". There was no calf conceived that day.

My dad adored Lee. He was amazed at how Lee was at one with nature. For some divine reason Lee could settle among the creatures of the wild and they were not afraid of him. Squirrels, birds, and other animals would approach him. When he died my dad was only 15. They must have known it was imminent. Tetanus is a nasty disease when untreated. Back in 1932 there wasn't much they could do to ease his suffering. Someone came to Anderson High School and pulled my dad from his class that fateful day. He ran the many blocks home but it was too late by the time he arrived. Lee was gone. My dad believed Lee was special. That he wasn't meant to be a mere mortal. He once told me he had no idea what would have happened to Lee if he had lived since he probably would have ended up in a factory, or working the fields. As it was, his death left a hole in the family, and in my dad's heart. And probably was the main catalyst for his finishing high school and continuing his education at a university.

Shortly before my dad passed away my cousins brought their dad, my Uncle Morris, to visit. It was bittersweet for both. It was the last time the two old men would ever see one another. They both knew it. We all knew it. But there they sat, side by side, sharing a few words, but mostly just sitting and sharing the moment, reflecting on their long and separate lives. Four brothers, down to two, who had started their lives at the beginning of a century and were ending them at the beginning of the next. They had seen hardship, death, and war. But they had also witnessed the introduction of radio, talking movies, television, microwaves, passenger airplanes, moon landings, and computers. And they had shared experiences that they didn't need to talk about, and that we will never know about.

Four brothers, down to three, then two, then one. And now they live on in our memories and imaginations.
Top photo left to right: Lee, two unknown cousins, Frank, another unknown cousin, Morris, and Norman. Bottom photo left to right: Lee, Mom, Frank, Pop, Morris, and Norman.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100 - The Carny Next Door

Once upon a time in America carnivals traveled dusty backroads, criss-crossing the rural countryside in order to bring cheap, often crude, and sometimes thrilling amusement to those who were craving a distraction from the drudgery of their lives. They became known as "carnys" and their employees were called the same. Many of these carnivals employed people of "less fortunate" circumstances. Some were talented physically, some were mechanical geniuses or were creative designers, but many were learning or physically disabled, and some were criminals, constantly skirting the law. The worst were predators. Because of their nomadic lives, their physical appearances (either biological or through adornment), their often crude demeanors, and the perception that they were socially unacceptable, many upstanding citizens in the towns through which they traveled mistrusted and were repulsed by them. Parents refused to allow their children to attend the shows and warned that an encounter with a carnival employee would be like crossing the path of a roach or a devouring wild animal. Even the tag "carny" denoted something distasteful by the way it was pronounced, with a hard "k" sound and a sneer.

In the fall of 1925 four boys were warned by their father to stay away from the son of a neighbor. The son was home visiting his mother. The father told the boys the man was a "carny", and not to be trusted. He may even have told his sons the man might steal them away. The father's intention was to strike terror in his son's hearts so they wouldn't be tempted to go down that dark path that lead to a life of wandering debauchery. Instead, he incited an insatiable curiosity. Once out of their father's sight and hearing they plotted a way to visit the neighbor to see this carny up close.

A few hours later they couldn't hide the truth. It was literally etched with ink into their skins. Bravely (and probably defiantly by the two elder brothers) the four boys made their way back home. They knew they would eventually have to face the wrath of their father. After all, they had disobeyed a direct  order. But what was done, was done. The carny was in fact a tattoo artist. After the boys made their presence known he had tattooed each of the boys. The youngest, a tender aged seven, sported a heart.  The third boy, aged nine, was braver. He sported a dagger! The "hilt" of the blade began just below the crook of his inner arm and covered his upper forearm, the "point" protruding beyond a "break" in the design meant to look like it had pierced his prepubescent skin. The other boys, aged 11 and 13, also had tattoos, though where and what they were is now lost to history.

That nine year old boy was my father. When I was a child I was fascinated by his tattoo. As he aged it had stretched, the ink turning a deep green color, dark hair sprouting from the arm making the outline less defined. I used to dream about having one just like it. I know it was a source of embarrassment for him. Few college professors of his era had such branding of a certain social class of that time. And who knows what dreadful punishment he and his brothers must have suffered at the hands of both parents when the truth of that neighborly visit was revealed. But for a few moments those boys must have felt like swashbucklers, or soldiers, or maybe even about the love of their mother as they suffered through the repeating needle stabs delivering the permanent ink into their previously unmarred skin.

I never heard what Norman or Lee chose for their tattoos. Lee, being the most reckless, surely had something even more shocking than that dagger. Morris, the youngest, had the heart. There is something sweet and tender about that to me. Of all the things he could have requested, why a heart? Especially if his brothers had daggers or worse? But maybe he didn't choose it. Maybe the carny himself had a pang of remorse and decided to draw that line with a mere seven year old. We'll never know.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100 - A Trip to Granny's House and the Death Bell

When my father was four years old his family was living close to relatives, including one of his grandmothers. Nina, his mother, needed to send someone to "granny's house", and for some unknown reason decided little Frank would be given the responsibility. She called to him and said for him to put on his coat and head to his grandmother's house. So Frankie did exactly as his mama had told him to do. He put on his coat and headed out.

Now, I have no idea how far this grandmother lived from the Engle's, or whether she was an Engle or a Temple. If she was Nina's mother then the family must have been living somewhere in southeastern Indiana since Nina was from Vevay on the Ohio River. If she was an Engle then she would have been further north, closer to Anderson Indiana. The name of the granny, the distance, and the purpose were never clear. Only that my father was only four years old, and that he had put on his coat as his mother had instructed. Since the coat is part of the story, and we are talking about Indiana, it must have been chilly, maybe even cold with snow on the ground.

Imagine his granny's surprise when little Frank arrived and she told him to take off his coat only to reveal that he was STARK NAKED underneath!

Another story about the Engle boys involved two old ladies and a bell. One year, as the boys were growing up, their parents moved with them into a rambling farmhouse. "Next door" there lived two old women, a mother and daughter. One day they heard the neighbor's bell pealing loudly and unceasingly.   Grandpa Engle sent his boys to investigate. But the boys had different ideas. For one thing, they were not from the area, so they didn't know the two old women very well. They were also afraid of the old ladies of the house. The oldest was in her 90s, wrinkled and toothless and appeared to the Engle boys to be an old crone. The daughter, in her 70s, wasn't much better. They procrastinated as long as they could until their mother had had enough. Nina gathered her purse and headed with the boys in tow to find out what was the matter. When they arrived they discovered the ancient woman was pulling the bell rope. Her daughter was dead.

Now in those days you washed and dressed the body yourself. There weren't funeral homes and directors in every town. You would get the deceased presentable and leave them on the bed until the undertaker, or someone else, brought a casket and hauled the box with the body in it off to a church (or directly into the ground if there wasn't a church available. Usually someone would sit up all night long with the corpse until the next day so that there was time to prepare for a funeral. This was called a "wake". When Nina arrived with the boys she helped as much as she could, but someone had to stay to take care of the old woman overnight until the undertaker could get his wagon and pick up the body the next day, and she had other things to take care of. The boys were left to take care of the old woman.

The Engle boys were no wimps. Though they were skinny and small (except Lee, who was always at the top of the growth chart) they were strong and tough. They were used to farm work and fighting one another. But old dead people scared the dickens out of them. They spent the entire night awake, terrified of the ghost of the woman, or maybe even the devil himself coming to get them. Even after 45 years my dad could remember just how terrified they all were. For whom did that bell really toll? It tolled for them!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100 - The Indian

My dad once said he had no idea if any of his brothers actually graduated from high school. His mom was a high school graduate, but his pop had only made it to the third grade. Now granted, that was around 1896 or so, which means he probably knew more about American history and civics than kids today know in 12th grade. But a little more education might have made his life, and the lives of his wife and sons, easier. My dad was respected by everyone in his family as being the "smart" one. My guess is they also thought he was a tad odd. They recognized his talent, but never really understood it.

As my three sons have grown to be men I have had a tendency all along to compare them to my dad. Do they resemble him in their features? Do they have similar talents or interests? Do they have the same sense of humor? And so on. Sometimes it's a gesture, or a "look" that one of them gives me, and I can see my dad. At one point my eldest looked very much like him. Especially his senior year of high school. All you had to do was place his senior portrait next to his grandfather's and it was obvious they were related. Like his grandfather, my eldest has an interest in intellectual pursuits, especially in reading and studying history, literature, and writing. My middle son is a wonderful teacher and is pursuing a career teaching in colleges and universities. My youngest is a very talented draftsman and loves to putter around in his grandfather's studio with all the old tools and equipment.

I don't spend a lot of time looking at myself in a mirror and wondering if I look like my father. My mother has always insisted that I look just like him. Maybe when I was younger that was true, but today most people think I look more like her. I have never thought I had the same kind of talent or capacity for intellectual pursuits he had either. Being a girl, and a Southerner, I have interests more like my mom's. I have, however, discovered something recently that ties me directly to my dad. His high school interests!

Frank Engle graduated from Anderson High School in Indiana in 1935. The school yearbook was called "The Indian". My father's senior portrait portrays a solemn young man with wavy dark hair and a penetrating gaze. Recently I looked for his yearbook on one of those online high school classmate sites. When I found it the list of accomplishments under his name caught my eye. I was a bit stunned the first time I read his list. It was like reading my list in my own senior yearbook!

Frank L. Engle (Class of 1935)                                
Academic Honorary Society                                    
History Club                                                              
Art Association                                                          
Chairman Prom Committee (Jr. year)                        
Annual Staff

Eve W. Engle (Class of 1976)
Beta Club
History Club
Art Club
Chairman Prom Decoration Committee (Jr. year)
Spanish Club
Blue White Staff (newspaper)

Apparently we were very much alike when we were teens. Four decades after he graduated from Anderson High School his daughter (me) graduated with almost the same accomplishments! I also sang in my high school's choirs and marched with the band (flag corps). I know he served as the towel boy for the Indian basketball team. He couldn't play on the team since he was too short, and I couldn't march with the actual band since I didn't play an instrument. I have no idea what else he did, but he must have been very active.

In 1985, shortly after my first son was born, my parents came to Fort Bragg, NC, where we were living at the time, and gathered me up with my baby. We all headed to Indiana for my dad's 50th high school reunion. It was a bittersweet time for him. He was amazed at the people he saw who were still able to put on a cheerleading costume (yes they really could) and a basketball uniform to do dribbling "sorties" (yep, those old men could do that too) but sadly he realized that no one really remembered him. He was the odd one who had left and not really ever come back. He hadn't remained in Indiana supporting the local basketball team, or retired from General Motors. He hadn't corresponded with anyone over those 50 years and there was no Facebook back then (not that he would have ever done that in a million years!!!!). But still, the evening I went with him (my mother and I took turns accompanying him) he enjoyed reminiscing and seeing how some of his old classmates had fared. He was proud of having been an "Indian", but mostly he was happy that he had graduated and moved on to all the wonderful things he had experienced during his long life.

There must be a little "Indian" in me too.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Indiana Farm Boy at 100 - Beating the Odds

My dad would have been 100 years old next year. That's a sobering thought. To hit that milestone with a grandparent doesn't seem that odd. But to realize your parent would be that old, well, it's just weird.

He was born in Peoria County Illinois, but he claimed Indiana as home since he spent most of his life there. I always thought of him as an Indiana farm boy who never really grew up. People never really realized his age until the end of his life. He always looked younger. And he never lost his silly little boy sense of humor. He loved to sing goofy songs, LOUDLY. He giggled. He danced jigs. He ran barefoot in the snow in delight when Alabama had a rare snow event. And he could bang on a piano with his elbows at parties and somehow everyone would be delighted.

My dad lived a long, and very productive life. When he died at age 85 in 2002 he had already beaten the odds of dying prematurely at least three times. When he was just five years old he was hit by an automobile and suffered a traumatic head injury. For weeks he lay in a coma with a fractured skull. Given that this was in 1920 it's a wonder he didn't end up with debilitating brain damage, or that he even lived through it. His parents didn't know his skull was fractured. Or if they did, they never mentioned it to him. When he was in his late seventies he had an X-ray taken to check his carotid arteries and the doctor who was treating him asked him what had happened. My dad had no idea, after 70 some odd years, that he would see the damage from that accident depicted on that film.

When he was in his 30s he was the owner of Frank Engle Studios in Newburgh Indiana. As a ceramicist he was used to working with glazes and knew the risk of contracting lead poisoning. Given that he was the son of a tenant farmer/sharecropper many of the homes he and his family had lived in probably had been painted with lead paint. The dinnerware they had used probably had it in the glaze since American made china still had traces of lead until sometime in the 1970s*. So, when he got sick with lead poisoning it was probably a combination of the glazes he was using in his business, and a lifetime of exposure. He might never have ended up in Alabama if it hadn't been for the lead. In an attempt to regain his strength he arrived at the University of Alabama to teach ceramics in the newly formed Art Department in 1949, and never left.

In 1996 my parents owned a little piece of paradise on the banks of the Bon Secour River just off Mobile Bay. "River Bend" was full of wisteria, azaleas, and water oaks, with a view of the shrimp boats docked across the water, and visiting dolphins would sometimes cruise by in front of the boathouse. One night before they planned to leave to head back to Windy Hill in Tuscaloosa County, my dad had a massive heart attack. He had moved a refrigerator the day before in order to tile behind it. And had blocked the door of their bedroom. The EMTs had to climb through a window to get to the bedroom in order to treat him. Consequently he had a quadruple bypass, and six months later he was recovered enough to dance a jig with me at Christmas.

Now, before you get too depressed and wonder why I would start off a celebration of his centennial birthday with such a sad sounding topic let me explain. My dad wasn't a sad person. He wasn't some poor guy which bad luck, or chronically poor health. He was a remarkable guy who loved life. His glass was always half full, not half empty. He found humor in most things, including his heart surgery. As the anesthesia wore off he kept seeing things. As one female doctor came in to check on him he declared, "I know you can't see her, but there is a naked woman sitting on the end of the bed!" And then he grinned.

I believe the car accident was the reason he was so creative. His little brain must have compensated for its injury by shifting gears and working harder in its right hemisphere. I believe the lead poisoning lead him to the career change that allowed him to grow as an artist and an intellectual. And I believe that the heart attack forced him to stop driving himself to work constantly, and take the time to focus on being creative again.

He beat the odds. He fought hard to live his life as long and as fully as possible. I believe he would have found it amusing to celebrate 100 years of life, and maybe, just a little annoying. He never really liked to bother with egocentric behavior. He had too many ideas floating around in that right hemisphere that needed to be explored.

*Want more information about lead in your coffee mug?
Frank Engle eating an ice cream cone in his ceramics classroom in the Art Department at The University of Alabama, late 1970s.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Obsessing on Weight Loss

Here I go again. My up and down waist line is the bane of my existence. There is no one to blame but myself. I know it. My closet shows it. Instead of organizing it by color (I'm a bit OCD about it) I really should organize it by "big", "medium" and "small" sizes. It really is ridiculous how many times I have gone down this road.

In 1973 I started losing my "baby fat". I was very proud of my new womanly figure even though I was a bit self conscious about my measurements. By the time I started college in 1976 I was a fit and trim 94 lbs. Before you gasp at that weight let me explain something. At my tallest I was 5' 3 1/2" with a small bone structure. I was also a dancer on my college contemporary dance team. We rehearsed constantly.  When I married in 1980 I was up to 117 lbs. That seemed heavy to me at that time. By the time I was in graduate school I had started working out with weights and riding a bike 14 miles five days a week. I weighed in at 127, which seemed a high number on the scale but I had gained a lot of muscle weight. Then I found out I was expecting.

Son number one did a job on me. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say I developed gestational diabetes and was very sick. As soon as his 9lb 2oz butt entered the world I started working to get all the weight off. In fact, I overcompensated. He learned early what the inside of a gym daycare looked like. I lifted weights like a crazy woman. Power lifting wasn't really my intention, but I was damned good at repetitions and the weights just kept being added. So much so that I moved out of the women's program and into the men's. I was Superwoman and in better shape than I had ever imagined. But no sooner had I gained that lovely hard ab tummy than son number two decided to derail me. Even though I was pushing a baby stroller and running around after a toddler I was back in maternity clothes and fighting to keep my weight stable. And afterward I was back in the gym.

Now a few years went by, I had gained a little more weight and a lot more width around the middle, when son number three arrived. That did it. I got really serious and joined Weight Watchers. I still went to the gym but things were different. The weight wasn't coming off as quickly as I had hoped, so I threw myself into the world of obsessive weight management. In other words it was all I thought about and talked about. I counted everything that went into my mouth. I wrote everything down. I discussed every ounce of solids and liquids that entered by body with anyone who got trapped and had to listen. I was obnoxious, but it worked. I lost 40 lbs and looked better than I ever had. Then tragedy struck. My husband left. All the weight loss hadn't changed the fact that I wasn't in a happy marriage.

Over the next several years I had more stress, my profession became more sedentary, I ended up with a job that kept me working long hours, I had a bad second marriage, and I passed out of my 40s into my 50s. And the weight kept creeping up on me. I would lose then gain. After another divorce I got myself together and started working out and losing weight again. This time I was really going to do it. I was going to get back into those size 8 clothes! Shakira had nothing on me when I shook my hips in a tee-shirt and leggings! I feverishly belly-danced, hulaed, and discoed. Even my dogs got embarrassed watching me sometimes. They would exit the family room to find dark quiet corners in other rooms to escape the loud bass and the wild gyrations. It was working though. I lost 25 lbs.

Then I got sick. Really sick. Too sick to gyrate. I was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. There was no choice but to have a hysterectomy. I did. My friends who knew warned me that it takes about two years to get back to feeling 100%. In the meantime the weight crept back on. Then I found out about the wedding next summer.

Not just any wedding. The wedding of the son of my closest friend. The friend who used to be overweight and who moved to Florida and got thin and in the best shape she's ever been in. The friend who gives me her old clothes because they are too big for her. The friend who is ever supporting and encouraging whenever I need her to be. I refuse to be fat for her son's wedding!

I have seven months to lose 50 lbs. If I lose exactly that amount I will be thin enough to wear a sleeveless summer dress for an outdoor summer wedding. I CAN DO THIS. I WILL DO THIS.

And that piece of wedding cake at the end of the ceremony is going to taste so sweet!

Wish me luck. I'm going to need it.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Wedding Bells and a Fluttery Stomach

Weddings, weddings, weddings! 2015 will be a big year for two of my dearest friends as they plan their children's weddings. One a son, the other a daughter. Both friends have older children who are already married. Both have their first grandchild. Both are waaaaay ahead of me. 

I have three children who spent their early childhoods in the company of the engaged. To be clear, they aren't engaged to each other, but they all know one another. I knew the bride while she was still in the womb, and had the privilege of changing her diaper in the hospital. She was the only baby girl whose diapers I changed. She is only three months older than my youngest son. How is it possible that she is old enough to be engaged much less actually getting married? 

My stomach is fluttery. I feel emotions that I can't fully explain: excitement, envy, anticipation, grief, pride. I  feel old. And I feel a particular sense of loss. Loss because these are the children we left behind when we moved to a different city 15 and 1/2 years ago and we haven't been part of their lives. Loss because one of my sons' came close, but the relationship fell apart after a three year engagement, so there is no wedding in the near future and I know he is lonely.

I also feel fear. That has to do with the "state of affairs" between my bank account and me. My house is the real culprit. It robs me of money every month. It gets creative in searching for new ways to frustrate my savings account and keep it sliding up and down, usually through the plumbing. Weddings get expensive, even those that are not your own kids'. Knowing that two very important events that I don't want to miss are coming up means I have to double my efforts to add to my savings. But I am afraid something else will break.

Truth be told, I would sell my house before I would miss these two weddings. One will be only four hours away and I am bound to find someone who will put up with me on their couch that weekend. The other is all the way in North Carolina. So, I am thinking I'm going to plan a serious vacation that week. I could do more than the wedding. I could actually visit the mountains, or go hunting my ancestors in Mt. Airy, or even tour Biltmore again (I saw it in 1985 when my eldest was six months old). Or I could enjoy the wedding and then head home to fix the plumbing. It's bound to break while I'm gone.

Time to start making plans! 

But first I have to get rid of the fluttery feeling in my stomach. I'm thinking chocolate as the remedy. Everything is better with chocolate in my tummy. Then I can start making plans.

After all, it isn't every year that two of my closets friends see their babies get married.

Best wishes to Matt Crowe his fiancé Lauren Burianek, and Morgan Marr and her fiancé Kyle Mann.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Attack on "Humor", "Satire", and "Freedom of Speech"

From Google

the quality of being amusing or comic, especially as expressed in literature or speech.
comply with the wishes of (someone) in order to keep them content, however unreasonable such wishes might be.
the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.

free·dom of speech (free speech)
the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint.

  1. No one questions the lack of humor in terrorist theory. Every moral person knows that dictators, thugs, and terrorists are bullies, and that bullies can't abide someone else not taking them seriously, or promoting humor at their expense. But this idea of controlling the world media through threats, murder, and economic instability affects us all. The attack on the World Trade Centers was an obvious warning that dangerous minds can destabilize the world market through destruction, murder, and mayhem. The same message was sent with the recent hacking of Sony and the threat to theater owners. Show this poorly written satirical movie meant to promote a comedic actor (Seth Rogen) and a heart-throb (James Franco) and we promise some kind of retaliation (destruction? murder? mayhem?) which means all your other movies will suffer because Americans will be afraid to come to the theater, resulting in economic instability. But the message sent this week in France went a step further. 

    It wasn't a random target with random casualties. It was very specific. And the message was loud and clear. Take us seriously and don't ridicule or criticize our stupidity or vices through satire. Do not express any opinions that question our authority or our purpose. It isn't funny to us. We don't see the humor (noun). 

    Humor (verb) us and we will not kill you or destroy your means of economic support. 

    Personally I love humor, but I'm not so sure about satire. There have been enough bullies throughout my life that I tend to find satire suspect. But instead of trying to censure it I choose to ignore it. Growing up during the '60s and '70s I loved Mad Magazine. Maybe it was because the cartoons were funny and I loved silly looking illustrations. But I didn't care for All In the Family even though I understood it's purpose and the humor behind its satirical script.  Maybe it was because there were "real" people being bullied. Maybe it was because I felt the bigotry, the undercurrent of mistrust, dislike, and fear between the characters. 

    This week we have all been hurt and offended. That anyone would hide behind a religious doctrine that condones torture and murder in order to force that doctrine on others goes against everything democratic societies find morally precious. Standing together to define our outrage and to show solidarity is commendable but it cannot be temporary. This isn't a "problem" of another city, country, or culture, or even of this generation. This involves us all. This is forever.

    Freedom is more than being able to write and publish satirical cartoons or write and produce satirical movies. It's more than having the ability to buy a magazine or a movie ticket.

    Freedom is about living without fear. It's about the ability to live WITH HUMOR. 

    Je suis Charlie. Vive la liberté! Longue vie un sens de l'humour!


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sanctuary from the Storm

Last Saturday my middle son and I dared to cross the great divide to reach T-Town. For anyone who is not a native Alabamian that means we left War Eagle Country for Bama Country and Tuscaloosa, the location of The University of Alabama. If you are still confused it means you aren't a football fan and the references don't matter. The point is, I was returning my son to graduate school after his holiday break.

The weather was nasty. The air was full of rainy drizzle and the sky was a depressingly monochromatic shade of gloomy befitting our moods. The end of the holiday break is always a bit depressing anyway, add a little gloom and you have a the perfect mix for a post-holiday funk. Then add a poor lunch stop decision and a standing still interstate (with no idea of how long a delay due to a wreck) and a girl just wants to throw a hissy fit, the only redeeming factor being the company which you are keeping.

After three and a half hours I dropped the kid (he's 28, hardly a 'kid') at his apartment in T-Town and headed out to our home in the country. Windy Hill is a nonworking farm with a mysterious looking house half hidden by overgrown azaleas, rambling roses on a chain link fence, and a giant magnolia tree. Even if you are lucky enough to know the owner there is still a protocol you must endure in order to acquire admittance. But once inside, the house is a refuge of esthetic overload, fine food, drink, reading material, and conversation. On Saturday there was none of the above. I was only there long enough to drop off my bags, and the kid's laundry, pet the two doggies on the head, race to the bathroom, and head right back out.

My mother wanted to brave the elements and drive back to town to purchase a new mattress. When my mother has a single minded purpose you either go along or you get out of the way. She knew what she wanted, just not exactly where to find it. After reviewing two newspaper flyers we chose one and headed back into town. We were on a mission.

The original plan was to look the mattresses over and compare, but time and the elements influenced our decision to go to the first place we came to, which was probably the better choice anyway. Their flyer was nicer. We stepped inside and were a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of giant marshmallow white mattresses and boxed springs confronting us. The saleswoman was jovial and immediately called my mother "sweetheart". Usually not a good sign. My mother does not care for false affection. But this young woman seemed to be all heart. She was very informative. My mother lay down on several mattresses and encouraged me to do the same. She was a bit overwhelmed. I was entertained.

Memory foam is fascinating. I found myself poking, prodding, sitting and jumping up quickly to see how fast the mattress would recover. I giggled. I dug my hand as deep as possible into the 'example'. "This stuff is awesome!" I burst out. The young man behind the desk found that statement (and probably the fact that I am too old for such juvenile exclamations) amusing. He grinned. After all the poking and bouncing and sitting, my mother made a decision and the transaction was finalized.

Good grief.

Even the sale price was atrocious. But the guarantee should see her through at least 10 years. And she got one that raises and lowers both the head of the bed and the foot. She was happy. I was envious. My mattress is a 20 year old nightmare hosting a love nest of dust mites. We said our 'ta-tas' and headed out into the dark to go get the kid for dinner and to head back out to Windy Hill. Then, my mother turned the key of her new car.

There was a funny sound. "RrrrrrAhhhhRrrr".

"What was that?", she asked cutting off the ignition.

"I don't know."

"This is a new car, and it shouldn't be making that sound."

"I don't see any indicators on the dash that you have trouble. Try it again.", I said.

She turned the ignition again. "RrrrrrAhhhhRrrr". We rolled down the windows to better hear the engine.

"That's a siren." we both said at the same time. The timing with the ignition had been spot on.

"What do we do?", she asked.

"Go back into the store and find out what's going on.", I answered.

Just what we needed. A tornado warning in Tuscaloosa. And we were in the precise location of the 'big one' that hit in 2011. Just lovely. My thoughts went to my son on the second floor of his apartment building. I called him. "Tornado warning.", he answered calmly. He was watching The Weather Channel.

"We're still at the mattress store. You're on the second floor," I stated the obvious, "do what you have to do. We'll be there as soon as we figure out what's happening."

Inside the store both clerks were on their phones. Our saleswoman was talking to her mother. The young man next to her informed us all that the T-Mobile next door was closing. That explained why a family with young children were frantically running out from the T-Mobile store and jumping into an SUV as we had been sitting in our own vehicle. We approached the service desk. "It's a tornado warning for the southwest corner of Tuscaloosa County," our saleswoman said a she disconnected from her mom, "and we aren't closing."

The young man promptly disappeared through the 'employees only' door. Our saleswoman handed us her phone so we could see the squall line ourselves. "You're welcome to come into the back of the store with us."

Hmmmm. Memories of the devastated area four years ago flooded my head. My mother refused for the same reason. I looked up to hand back the phone but the woman had also disappeared. My eyes went back to the squall line on the tiny screen.

"Let's go get the kid and go home.", I said, heading for the back to return the phone. We could avoid the worst if we went north and then west toward home. And so we did.

The drive back to Windy Hill was long, through torrential rain, lightning, and thunder . We were passed by multiple emergency vehicles along the way. Something had happened on the highway, and for a while we weren't sure if it would block our exit. Whatever it was turned out to be on the opposite side so we were able to make our way through the county down our old road, and eventually to the house and sanctuary. It poured and thundered around us but we were safe and warm.

Outside on the back porch two orange tabby cats huddled, obviously miserable. My mother tried to feed them, but instead a beautiful young opossum appeared. The cats looked on with disgust as the little fellow with a very pink nose and little pink feet knocked over the bowl and devoured their food. We watched through the window in awe.

"It's a baby. I've never seen him before. The opossum that usually eats the cat's food is bigger." my mother said. Living in the country guarantees wild encounters but I found her statement amusing. The cats never tried to defend their food. They watched too.

The next morning was still. Pools of water lay across the grounds behind the house. Looking up I noticed a kettle of vultures (or 'buzzards' as we call them) circling over the northeast field. Not good, I thought. I went for my 'wellies' knowing I would need them to get around the swampy ground. My son came with me. Fearing a downed coyote or deer we trekked around the fencing to reach the area. By the time we made our way around the birds were down. We couldn't see them, or what it was they were turning into their breakfast. Thankfully it was on the other side of the tree line. On the way back to the house we discussed planting an orchard on the hill where we were walking. The storm was over and it was time to think about planting and harvesting. All was right with our world.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Tigers and Badgers and Elephants and . . . Buckeyes?

Football and New Year's Day go together like team names and their mascots. Not really. The whole team name/mascot thing confuses me. I have never understood why my alma mater is named 'The Crimson Tide', as if there might be confusion about some other team with the same name. How does a team named after red water (which has always sounded a little sinister to me, like blood or dangerous algae)  have an elephant for a mascot? Oh I get the whole legend thing, but why didn't someone stop and say "Wait a minute! That makes no sense. Maybe we should call it one or the other? We could be the 'Crimson Tide Sharks' or the 'Stampeding Elephants'!" Elephants in Alabama never made sense to me either, but I love and respect elephants and no one else has one for a mascot.

Frankly last night the tide ebbed. In fact it was kind of like when the water is sucked out from the shore before a major rogue tsunami thunders in and drowns all life. There were no thundering elephants at the end of the Sugar Bowl last night. They were taken down by buckeyes.

'Buckeyes', now there's a name for you. No stampeding herd there. Not even a snarling beast. When I hear 'Ohio Buckeyes' my mind's eye sees the Ohio fans pelting the opposing team with acorns, or worse, one of my favorite peanut butter and chocolate candies. Seriously, autumn in Ohio must be as difficult to walk around with all those buckeyes to step on as the family room after the gifts are opened on Christmas morning and the kids received Legos. Why would you want to remind everyone about that? Thankfully The University of Alabama (there is that capitalized 'The' again. Is there another?) doesn't call itself the "Sweet-gum Balls", though those nasty buggers are all over the place down here.

The Crimson Tide may be my alma mater but I live and work in Auburn Alabama. My three sons attended Auburn. Two of them crossed over to the 'dark side' for their graduate studies. We support both football teams except on the Saturday after Thanksgiving when my boys consider themselves 'Tigers' all the way. I like Big Al, but I am in love with Aubie. He's hands down the cutest of all the college mascots. His head wagging and silly antics will make anyone smile, except maybe an LSU or Clemson fan. But we should give them some slack. They can't help it if they have tigers of their own that aren't as cute. However, Auburn has their own legend about a war eagle. So why weren't they called the 'Eagles' or the 'Raptors'? In this the two schools have something more than their home state in common. Or maybe it is because they are both located in Alabama. We like to have nicknames down here. What we don't have here are badgers.

Badgers are nasty animals. They are mean. They are a relation of what we call 'polecats' in Alabama. We don't want any in this state.

We do have ducks though and this morning I realized I have a new appreciation of them.

Quack, quack!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Into the Woods and Out the Other Side

New Year's Eve is my least favorite holiday. Actually that is a misnomer. It isn't a "favorite" at all. For reasons close to my heart, I hate it. I'm already aware of who died during the year, what horrible tragedies befell us all, what wasted moments piled up, who divorced whom, and how another year has passed and I am still in debt with no end in sight in the coming year. The new year isn't going to make me rich, or younger, or thinner (At least not permanently. I know. I've lived long enough to catch on to that pattern). I'm not going to win the lottery, board a time machine, or have the money for a gym, a personal trainer and/or a nutritionist.

So how do I get through it?

A movie.

Not a DVD, or something on television (although I did watch "A Time to Kill" last night and realized Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock, Keifer Sutherland, and Ashley Judd were all about 12 years old when they filmed it. Just kidding. They were 18 years younger than today, which freaked me out when I did the math. New Year's Eve must really be a challenge for them in the "younger and thinner" category!) But I digress. Every year I actually fork over the green stuff to a kid dressed in a shirt topped by a vest with black slacks for a little piece of paper (remember when we actually got a ticket?) to be allowed to sit in a seat other people have had their butts in before mine, in a darkened theater with a bunch of strangers (not really true this year, since I knew a bunch of the people in line getting tickets), and eat crap that definitely makes the weight loss resolution a joke.

I love going to the theater to see a movie. There is something about it that connects me to my mother like the traditions of Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I can pretend I'm part of the "golden days" of going to see the Hollywood greats. With the exception of just about everything about it, it feels like I've gone back in time. My mother loves going to the movies. She was raised on it. I can just imagine how she giggled and squirmed on Saturday mornings at the cinema when she was a little girl. Or how she tried not to cry when she was out on a date with a cute guy next to her and they were watching "Anna Karenina", or not be too scared while watching "Sorry, Wrong Number", or to laugh too loudly while watching "I Remember Mama".

My daddy didn't really like films. He knew a lot about the actors since he had ended up in Lost Angeles working for Lockheed Corporation during WWII. Many of them he found lacking in some way or another. There were only two movies during my childhood that he felt compelled to view. He escorted my mother and me to see "Patton" and "True Grit". My father was a man's man.

This year I sat down and looked over the theater offerings. To be honest even though there was a good selection, there was really only one choice for me, "Into the Woods". I had to see Meryl Streep as the witch. The previews were too provocative. And it was fantasy, my preferred New Year's Eve genre. There was only one problem. My son had the car.

A little thing like transportation doesn't deter me if I am really set on something. I just grabbed his girlfriend and informed her we were going to go to the movies, and she was driving. Oh and, she didn't have a choice as to which movie. She went willingly since I was paying. It helped that I bought her candy and popcorn. Some would think of it as generosity. It was a bribe, plain and simple.

The theater parking lot wasn't full, the result of a newer, bigger, and swankier alternative in the next town. We were able to pull in close to the front and go in quickly. There was a big sign over the old ticket booth saying "Tickets inside at concession stand". Bastards. They know we consumers are dumb enough to fork over more dough if we have to get close to the popcorn. I didn't let them down. The slight discount I received by going to the matinee was quickly erased and superseded by the cost of the refreshments. I refused a small fountain drink since it cost over five dollars, but the popcorn and candy plus tickets ran me over thirty dollars. Back in the day my mom would have paid a nickel for a ticket and about a quarter for a soda. According to author Richard McKenzie in his book Why Popcorn Costs So Much at the Movies: and Other Pricing Puzzles movie studios ran the theaters until 1948 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the studios had to divest themselves of their theaters. The end result was skyrocketing ticket prices. And the price gouging has never ended. Since the theaters are privately owned competitiveness has pushed them to be creative (and greedy) in their marketing and product sales. And the movie studios themselves are the same. We aren't really paying for the right to see the movies, we're paying for the rights of the theaters to show the movies and the cost of all those folks involved with production. And we pay by buying all those salty and sweet things we gorge ourselves on during the previews.

I skip the previews. 40 minutes of trailers is not why I have come to the theater. I can Google them if I want to see them.

Now, back to "Into the Woods". It was great. It was also very Grimm even though it was adapted by James Lapine. Since I have not read the original book by Lapine or seen the musical I can't speak for how authentically the director Rob Marshall stuck to the actual written script, although Lapine did write the screenplay. Stephen Sondheim's music was great and I loved Meryl Streep's voice. That dame can sing. The costumes and sets were beautiful and the special effects were dazzling at times. The beans when thrown exploded in light, and the beanstalk was formidable and terrifying. The witch's transformations are spectacular.

There was one confusing element. Rapuzel appeared to have her hair wrenched off by the baker's wife in one scene only to have it miraculously regrow in the next so her "mom" the witch could climb up the tower. There was no explanation, just Hollywood magic. Who am I to question that miracle? Overall I left the theater satisfied and excited by what I had seen. My companion must have enjoyed it. I heard her gasp more than once, and observed her cover her eyes. She kept her opinion to herself in the end, and I didn't ask her how she felt. I wanted to keep my own thoughts focused on how it had affected me.

After returning home I worked on some crochet and eventually spent the remainder of the evening alone watching "A Time to Kill" and playing Christmas music by the cast of Glee while I dismantled some of the decorations. By midnight I was ready to call it a night so the dogs and I stepped out on the back deck to look at the stars and listen to the sound of firecrackers. Everyone else was partying somewhere. It was peaceful with the exception of the popping somewhere in the distance. I thought of the wondrous beanstalk, and was glad I was on the ground on my deck looking up, not in the woods, and not in the clouds. I live in my own fairytale.

Another New Year's Eve over and done. Another year begun. I had been through the woods and come out on the other side. And all is well.

Happy New Year,