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.

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.