November 25, 2015
This may be the longest stretch between columns for me. Real events have temporarily taken over, especially the revelation that my great-great grandfather William Holton Jones was a leader of the Underground Railroad in Michigan, helping thousands of slaves escape to Canada and risking his life for others. Rest assured, I am outlining a book.
But I have been walking; have been meeting old friends on the trail. Yesterday was in the 60s and balmy. Great blue herons plied the waters of AltonLake, as did a lone sailboat. Robins were perched in clutches above the trail and chattering and enjoying communal warmth. I could use some communal warmth.
Genehouse is settled and unpacked, and a new birdfeeder is feeding nuthatches, tufted titmice, wintering juncos, housefinches—all for the entertainment of Scout the Cat who lounges on the sofa top and watches the circus unfold outside. My friend Asta brought us the gift of irises, now planted in the front yard, a symbol of spring and friendship.
Farmer Orville has been under the weather. I joined him and his wife Quilt Queen in their kitchen for coffee and the first chocolate chip cookies of Cookie Season. Reba the farm dog was outside and swallowing whole mice, head first.
The topic (Orville always has a topic) was women singers—how bad most of them are. But then, after criticizing the caterwauling of women on TV who sing the National Anthem: “Hey, I really like that blonde gal singer.” Who doesn’t like a blonde? “The one all over the news the last few days—only got one name.”
Did he mean Adele?
“Man, she has got pipes.”
“OMG,” as Granny Baldwin used to say, “OMG.”
Dear Adele, a seventy-seven-year-old man in Godfrey, Illinois is your biggest fan. Please come to his farm this summer. He will pick blackberries and tomatoes and strawberries for you, no charge. You could make a music video in our beautiful countryside, perhaps one of you sucking on a blackberry and staring seductively at Orville—I mean, the camera.
But, sweet-singing Adele, watch those lyrics. We have local censors here in our public schools, like principal Mrs. Curvey at Gilson Brown School, who has decided that I am a guest speaker not fit for children, despite my being named Drama Teacher of the Year in Chicago, in 2005 for my work with 3rd-7th graders; despite being nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize for literature; despite my being shortlisted for the 2014 Cork Prize for Memoir Writing, in Cork, Ireland; despite being a Mississippi River Artist (so-designated by the Illinois Arts Council for my Lewis and Clark Project with elementary school kids in East Alton).
I’m not worthy, Adele, not good enough for my hometown. I hope you don’t know that feeling.
Of course, dear Mrs. Curvey has not contacted me to talk about this—she simply cancelled my planned talks about Indian artifacts and creative writing and hoped I would go away quietly. The real victims are the students. (By the way, Adele, I volunteered.)
No apology has been forthcoming for this, what amounts to character assassination. It will come when pigs fly: “the twelfth of never.” (Nod to Johnny Mathis; “chances are” you’d be welcome at Gilson Brown School.)
But see, Adele, I’ve been to the big city—I learned a thing or two, gosh dang-it. I lost my Midwestern reticence. I will not go away quietly, will not go gently.
My Roosevelt School (in Belleville) fourth grade teacher Miss Josie Halter would be proud. She led me on the path to art and writing. There is a monument to her in the front yard of the school. It reads: “She Loved Children.”
Eat your heart out, Gilson Brown School.