“Enter when you will, take what you need, leave something of yourself when you go”
I have a friend I met over a bottle of scotch in a Brandywine Valley bed & breakfast some odd years ago who travels constantly and widely, sending me bits and pieces of the world as he goes. Each picture contains a sense of mystery, or surprising humor, and/or most likely the bicycle he rode in on.
I forget where he said he shot this wide planked shack. It is intriguing, don’t you agree? The sun and scattered leaves promise it is a bright, brisk day, yet, I wonder what musty odor fills your nose when you poke your head through the door, what scurrying varmint lives in the corners, what fingers grab your ankle once you cross the threshold and the heavy door slowly shuts out the light, the long, strong boards slide through the door handle locking you inside…
… you go first…I am right behind you…
It is simple, really.
So easy to just go with the tears, the outrage;
To kick the damned wall, rather than paint it;
To throw out the chipped china;
To cut out the worn spot in the carpet;
To ignore the crack in the sidewalk.
La la la la la – I can’t hear them, I can’t see them!
I cannot see you…
That is the real issue, isn’t it?
You are not nearby.
You are not close enough to reach with the very tip of my longest finger;
Not close enough to hear me whisper your name.
I do not care that you cannot help me work, or pay my bills, or feed and clothe myself, or put a roof over my head.
Those are all things that must be done regardless.
The worst of it is truly that you are not here to hug with joy; to lean against in peace and safety; to enjoy.
JULY 20, 1920 – John Oliver Herman was born at 60 Soley Street, Charlestown, MA, “in the shadow of the Bunker Hill Monument.” His sister Amy, age two, was no doubt delighted to have her new baby brother, but then again, she might have been a wee bit, how to say it…jealous? We’ll never know for sure, but in later years they talked and laughed great deal, telling stories about each other with wide, innocent (NOT) blue eyes aimed to convince you they were telling only the truth. John even stole one of the ebony elephants with the ivory tusks from Amy’s collection she displayed in her “jungle room.” Some one of us kids has it still, I’m sure. I’m also sure the two of them became very adept at torturing their five younger brothers and sisters: Natalie, Dickie, Martha, Pat, and Bill. Here’s to the fun they had. Does ANYONE have that record of John and Dick singing “Baby Face?” I so remember them laughing through it, hollering at one point, “Close the door, Natalie!” Who doesn’t remember John singing “The Old Sow Song” while pumping away at that old organ in Grandma’s house in Amesbury – altogether now, Snort – Whistle – Toot…
TODAY, JULY 20, 2019, we celebrate the beginning of John Oliver Herman’s Centennial Year, which will culminate, no doubt, with great ado July 20, 2020, a triple magic number day in the universe. Over the coming months, I, John’s oldest daughter, shall endeavor to discover and relay hilarious people, tales and events of the years between 1920 and 2020 that John may have experienced and/or caused, and that legend has embellished. This journey may take us to the likes of Les Paul, Jose Jimenez, Wizard of Oz, Vincent Price, Slim Pickin’s (Uncle Don), Nose Pickin’s (Uncle Jack), Gwennie, the AHH Monster, instructions about how to take out your eyeballs to clean them, and/or how to keep your fists up in front of your face while boxing. We may visit Mississippi, Louisiana, California, New Mexico, Minnesota, Massachusetts, and Japan. We shall see. If anyone remembers fun and/or funny things about J O Herman, his family, friends, adventures, do tell… I have come to realize how little kids can know about their parents as people, so will be looking to fill in the blanks…
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, POP, WHEREVER YOU ARE… Look down with that one crossed eye in the sky, and stir up the FUN in living during the last century. Lord knows we have done our share of crying…let’s get to the laughing parts, eh?
They say it is UFO Day…and there will be a full solar eclipse later. Already the light outside is sharp around the edges.
A professor of mine from SNHU has sold all his worldly possessions, and is now on his way to a year teaching in China. Does he inspire? Yes! but I sha’n’t be going to China for my life changing event.
I had the great good fortune of hosting a wonderful author event for Jennifer Pastiloff last evening, and to rave about it online and in emails this morning. Such a collection of touching hearts in one room.
The sun feels so good pouring through this small, side window into the front bedroom I have set up as a makeshift “office” for purposes of showing the house for sale. The air is cool, and still. Emil Catt is snoozing atop blankets covering my turn table and CD stereo system partially packed for the move. Nothing to do at this very moment, but feel the stillness.
There is magic in the air, along with space aliens! Life is good… let’s just enjoy it for today!
Just recently I have forsaken my long nightgown and robe for sweat pants and a raggedy t-shirt to walk out to the little library, checking on the latest surprises therein.
This morning it is a slim collection of Carl Sandburg, “Chicago Poems,” 1994 edition, though he died in 1967… I wonder who claimed the revenue for the 1994 printing.
I knew he was the Poet Laureate, or won the Pulitzer or something, didn’t he? I only just now, reading this, learned he was born in Illinois in 1878, seventy five – eighty years or so before I remember hearing of him. This morning I learned he published his first poem, “Chicago,” in 1914, in Poetry Magazine. We read it in grade school. I am certain of that, I think.
1914! One HUNDRED five years ago, if you are reading this in 2019. Three years after the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC in 1911 that fueled changes in labor laws for the future. Eleven years after the Wright Brothers glided above the beach in North Carolina, shutting up naysayers, and forever leaving us with our eyes lifted skyward. Nine before Mom took her first breath in Des Moines, Iowa, some years before her family and she moved to Illinois, that common denominator to this musing. Did she read him, I wonder, or was she too busy growing up, living her life… He was an old, old man when he died. I remember pictures of his white haired head – I imagine he smelled old, and spoke with a rasp. Of course, I could be wrong about that, but no one can prove me wrong.
These poems, read anew this morning as I stood in front of my Little Free Library, reek of Illinois; carry the mid-west accent of those who live there; Mom’s accent, though sometimes I think she spoke with a bit of the Swedish tones of her stern grandmother, Clara Fredericka…something in the way Ma said “you.” I cannot explain it…so I shall get back to Sandburg.
These poems reek of Illinois (yes, I repeated it), of Chicago in 1914; AND 2019.
“They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women…
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free…
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger…
…so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them…show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning…”
And Sandburg continues on with a pride so fierce, so total, so hotly alive, I forget I knew him only as a musty, old man in my head, and I hear his clear voice, his vigor. Who can write of sneering back at those who sneer, but a street smart, crusty young man, veteran of the Spanish American war, veteran of the very streets of which he writes so fully.
Eighty some poems fill this small, thin booklet printed by Dover Thrift. A tight, sad inscription fills a corner of the title page: To Bruce From Chandra to help you remember Chicago when you’re gone (gone is underlined with a flourish). I am honored to hold this in my little library. I shall read it first, though, and taste that distant city along with the life of the man from Illinois who penned them, perchance to find something of myself.
written and unedited 5/15/19 rJo Herman at the table in the backyard in the sun and slight breeze with grass that needs mowing and a growling stomach…
This remodeled library is a glorious expanse, with airy, tall ceilings enveloping the shelves, and any number of comfortable chairs, high backed and low, set near the fireplace, or the magazines; some alone, some angled in pairs in cozy corners overlooking the trees, some clustered to encourage whispered conversations and hand covered giggles while sharing a favorite paragraph, or chapter.
There is everything you could want in this great new space. Large conference rooms, small glass front offices with screens and white boards begging for graphs and tables. Everything you could want, or need, or dream about, including privacy in an otherwise public area.
So tell me, Dude with the scruffy, long beard, and the grunge covered jeans, old boots and whatever else you hauled in with you, why did you think you had an invitation to push into my corner against my egg shaped cocoon chair, pile your newspapers on the table in front of me, then unceremoniously settle your arse in the chair touching mine, letting out a sigh as though I should look at and/or speak to you?
I was in the library alone by design. Lord knows I was not there to save anyone, speak to anyone, acknowledge anyone. I was there for a few minutes just to take some time to think and read in a beautiful, comfortable place. I know for a fact that there were at least fifty other empty chairs available…at least fifty. I briefly waited to see if you realized I was sitting there. Surely you did, and just as certainly, I realized you intended to continue to sit there. Rude douche. You must be related to those people in the grocery store who see you studying the spice rack, then elbow in front of you, rather than going around, to grab their can of red beans. Or those inconsiderate chicks who stand right next to you at clothing store, checking out the clothes YOU are holding in your hand.
You, Interloper, drove me from my magazine article about saving my fatty liver to the fiction section to find a Tami Hoag, or a Stephen King to calm myself with a horror filled murder or two. And now I am home, in my own comfortable chair, by my own toasty fireplace, still fuming, and hoping your skin develops boils, and your scruff is filled with gnats. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, as they say, I shall never encounter you near me ever again.
Amen, and hallelujah for lonesome spots in the world where you can sit in peace while contemplating your very own navel.
It must be a five,
else I’ll never finish it.
That book I just chose.
rJo Herman 4/14/19
But sometimes, a northbound train hauling strange and unusual objects such as huge, blue airplane bodies, no wings, no tails, just long, pointy nosed tubes, making everyone stop, stare, and wonder whips up the rails with seeming abandon, leaving us with much to cheer and exclaim about for a day or two.
rJo Herman 4/10/19
Once, driving home to Denver from Gillette by way of Buffalo —
All the windows open to that wild Wyoming wind —
I embraced that lovely, lonesome road,
Relishing the thought I was the lone world survivor.
But as I sang along with Garth, as loudly as I could sing,
‘Bout all my friends in low, low places,
I chanced a look east across the plains,
And there in the middle of a wide, open basin,
Taking my breath clean away,
Stood a bison, shoulders tall, beard blowing.
Clearly the King of all he surveyed.
And I was humbled,
And hushed to awed silence, before I whooped and hollered
At the wonders of God’s creation.
Life is good!
rJo Herman 4/3/19