Bustling downtown Dows with the grain elevator in the background
There are many simple truths to be gleaned from a simple visit to the scene of your childhood. You need every so often to get in touch with where you came from and the roots of who you are. Dows is not the town where I grew up. But we played them in 4-H softball, and we won almost as much as we lost to them. It is a town near enough to my little home town to be a place that impacts who I am.
You have no idea what this is, right?
Day before yesterday we went to Dows for a dinner with relatives. My cousin and her second husband were there. Her parents, my uncle who still lives on Uncle I.C.’s farm place that has been in the family for more than a hundred years, and my aunt who is going bald a bit, were also there. We ate in a totally Pepsi-Cola-themed restaurant and had a Rueben pizza with roast beef and sauerkraut on it (talk about your total cultural potpourri!) The experience taught me a simple lesson. We come from a bizarre mixture of themes and things cooked together in a recipe for life that can never be repeated and cooked again for our children.
You don’t order Coke here.
We avoided talking about politics because Iowa is very conservative and none of us enjoy yelling at each other about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton using fact-free Fox News talking points and cow poop about how building a wall that Mexico pays for will cure all our economic problems because we all think we know how Hispanics moving into Iowa are ruining our lives. So, instead, we talked about how Eaton’s machine tool manufacturing plant in Belmond is facing more lay-offs.
The restored and re-purposed Dows’ Rock Island train station.
We talked about businesses that have gone out and not been replaced in the little Iowa towns around us. We talked about how no one walks beans any more, walking the rows of soy beans to pull button weeds and cockle-burrs by hand and chop rogue corn with hoe. We talked about how farming has gone to spraying weed-killing chemicals and factory-farming pigs instead. It is a simple lesson in how ways of life come to an end and are not necessarily replaced with something better.
There is an artist working on a patriotic project to put one of these in every county in Iowa.
We constantly remake ourselves as the world changes and ages around us. Nothing lasts forever. Life is a process of growing and withering and regrowing. A simple word for that is “farming”. Who we were impacts who we have become and will affect what comes after. But we learn simple lessons from going to the places we love best and doing our dead-level best to get from there to here and move eventually to someplace beyond. And Dows, Iowa is just one of those places… I guess.
I still ain’t dead. So I am still collecting pictures of sunrises. Today I managed a sunrise picture, or two, or seven, at the family farm in Iowa, where my grandparents once lived, and my octogenarian parents now live.
Thomas Wolfe famously wrote a book, You Can’t Go Home Again, but for all the clever reasoning and poetic insight, you really can. It is a memory held in the foundation of your soul. I am almost 60 years old now, and in very poor health. And the sunrise this morning found a different world to shine upon than it found yesterday. But I am home. And I have one more sunrise to add to my collection.
Yes, this painting looks West down Highway 3, but the end is often really the beginning… of something new, and a bridge to a new sunrise.
My wife visited her home in the Philippines as a consequence of her father passing away there at the beginning of the month. It has been a mixed bag of treats and tragedies. Yes, there was a funeral involved. But it has been years since the six sisters and one brother have been together. They were able to re-connect with friends and family, eat their favorite foods from the old days, and gain weight.
Here’s what they looked like once upon a time before anybody came to the United States.
They are a bit bigger now.
But things always happen to complicate simple happiness-es. Somehow, before she left she managed to put her green card in the wrong pile while sorting stuff to go and stuff to stay. As a resident alien for more than twenty years, she absolutely had to have that green card to get back into the country. So, my daughter and I tore the house apart for three days trying to find it. Then, after throwing my hands up in despair of ever finding it, I managed to sit on a pile of stuff near her bed in the bedroom and realize with my very intelligent behind that I hadn’t searched that pile yet. There it was! I rushed it to UPS with the carefully copied address triple-checked against the text my wife sent me with the warning that it should be written exactly as it appeared in the text. But, naturally, the clerk at the UPS Store was confused by the idea that the zip code had to come before the name of the province. I should’ve asked to see how he wrote it down. The green card finally arrived there two weeks late because the Filipino UPS couldn’t find Tatang’s house. They called the US twice asking for other ways to contact the household. Of course, on our side, we had the advantage of there being no convenient phone in the neighborhood. I finally had to send my wife the tracking number, and she tracked down the package herself.
Of course, we were not home free on the whole return trip thing either. During her journey home, my wife encountered a flight delay in Shanghai that made her miss a connecting flight in Los Angeles. It was a gift of an extra day of travel courtesy of terrorists in Turkey. So, it was a huge relief when yesterday, we were finally able to pick her up from the airport. Of course, now her luggage is missing. Virgin Air had to comb through their entire inventory of lost bags and still didn’t find it. So, there’s a continuing battle we didn’t particularly need either.
Still, in spite of the fact that so many things went wrong, and it was all about a loss of a treasured family member, the adventure has ended, and she is back home again, safe and well.
As an artist I have definitely become aware that popular art comes in popular waves. What do I mean by that? Well, think about superhero movies. Since the Iron Man movie came out, the superhero movies have come in tidal waves. I discovered another tidal wave of teacup pigs. To be fair, it was actually John Oliver who put me onto teacup pigs with a throwaway running joke on his show Last Week Tonight .
John Oliver, the only picture in this post who is not a teacup pig.
He introduced me to the horrifying wave of cuteness with a couple of pictures which he apparently pulled from Pinterest.
But I have to warn you, the tidal wave of sickeningly cute pig pictures headed your way is tsunami levels of big. They are going to inundate your life to a degree rivaling pictures of Minions, Grumpy Cat, and Disney Princesses. It is already swelling phenomenally on Pinterest, and it will soon take over Facebook and Instagram like a zombie apocalypse of cute little porkers in people disguises. And like zombies, they are fairly easy to tell apart from regular people, and, in a way, they will eat up your brains as you post porkalicious pictures of pixie pigs on Pinterest instead of paying attention to important things like how thoughtlessly racist and narcissistic the last thing Donald Trump tweeted was.
Jamon, a mini pig from São Paulo, Brazil, just may be the most handsome devil on Instagram right now. The pig has amassed more than 55,000 followers who fawn over his every move and his festive outfits, from Hawaiian shirts to sombreros, and even turtle costumes.
So, this is fair warning. The teacup pig-apocalypse is on its way. It soon will be taking the place of internet cat videos as a thing inexplicably and inescapably on your mind.
Okay, I know it’s in German. Being from a German-American family from Iowa in a mostly Germanic/Scandinavian little Midwestern town, everything I write is in German, even though it’s written in English. So let me explain my square-headed German logic here. Here is a quote from Wikipedia to define it; “In literary criticism, a Bildungsroman (German pronunciation: [ˈbɪldʊŋs.ʁoˌmaːn]; German: “novel of formation/education/culture”), novel of formation, novel of education, or coming-of-age story (though it may also be known as a subset of the coming-of-age story) is a literary genre that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of the protagonist from youth to adulthood (coming of age), and in which, therefore, character change is extremely important.” I wrote one of these previously. My episodic tale of a young boy who is the new kid in the small Iowa town and through experience learns to become one of the gang, is called Superchicken. It is an example of the coming-of-age tale that closely follows the pattern. Edward Campbell has to learn the hard way that being mature both physically and emotionally is really hard work, and you can fall short of your goal without even meaning to. But his opposition to his parents’ rules and sense of propriety eventually leads to acceptance.
Miss Morgan, however, follows a slightly skewed version of the pattern. In the novel, Francis Morgan is a good teacher and mature woman at the very start. She has convictions about teaching and how to handle students that she is willing to fight for. And society around her seems to want to break her of her habits and convictions. Principals and school boards can bring enormous pressure on a teacher, and they generally don’t want to hear you’ve been teaching magic in the classroom. She is going to learn lessons the hard way, whether she wants to or not. But it is entirely possible that she will not change, not give in to society’s demands. I don’t think, however, that it means that she won’t mature and change in some very important ways.
I am working on this novel, The Magical Miss Morgan, this month. It fills me up and then exhausts me. It uses up most of my hard-won wisdom from my years as a teacher, and I am hoping it will turn out to be the best thing I have ever written.
Sometimes it is entirely necessary to acknowledge the fool and the helpless, hopeless clown that lives inside us all. Okay, I hear what you are thinking. Not you. There is no clown inside of you… only me. That is one of a myriad of mistakes that makes me acknowledge that I am far short of perfection. I am not a know-it-all. I am a know-it-sometimes who too often tries to bluster his way through like he isn’t completely unsure of himself and terrified that other people will see what he truly is and laugh him out of business. I am a pratfall, butt-of-the-joke, snicker-at-snidely sort of buffoon who never gets it right and deserves every guffaw thrown at him. Clowns are often all blue, squishy, and sad on the inside. That is often the only thing that makes us funny. Do you know what brought on this wave of self pity? Of course you do. No man ever went through a day of stumble-muffs and misquotes, goof-ups and stubbed toes like I did without feeling at least a little bit that way. Oh? Not you, again? I hear you. It must be nice to never make mistakes. I have my car registered with the wrong registration sticker. When I tried to get the State inspection done, I found out my car is now supposed to be the old van my wife destroyed in a car accident last spring. My bank’s bill-pay service has twice sent money to the electric company which somehow lost the electronic check. I can’t even handle idiot-proof details any more. My son who was home on leave went back to the Marine Corps early this morning. I took him to the airport and had to bring all his deodorant spray, shampoo, and toothpaste back home with me because soap on an airplane equals terrorist. Apparently that should’ve all gone into the bags we checked, because that stuff only explodes in the carry-on bags, never the baggage compartment. I am called out for my many writing mistakes, even the ones I made on purpose trying to be funny, and my self-editor let me down on several occasions in the past week. So I am depressed. At life I am, at best, a .125 hitter, barely making more than one hit in every ten at-bats. I am a rodeo clown trying to play in a basketball game, and the bulls are all Michael Jordan. (How’s that for a mangled metaphor?) But it isn’t all the blues that I am singing. Good things have happened too. Life continues in my unlikely body afflicted with six incurable diseases, and I am a cancer survivor since 1983. The golf-ball sized growth the surgeon removed from the back of my head last week was benign, no sign of cancer. My son was home on leave. Every day is it’s own miracle. And I have gotten some writing done. So what if every editor and every reader doesn’t fall in love with every single word? The story goes on for at least another day.
I sent this novel to the publisher during the October submission window last night. I am hoping it will get published and add to my published catalog. Superchicken was my nickname in high school, so this one is a little autobiographical. This is also the one where a boy is tricked into going camping with a girl who has a crush on him at a nudist camp. So it should be noted that some things in this story really happened. Still this young adult novel is mostly funny, a little serious, and a lot of fantasy.
For more than three weeks now I have posted a blog entry every day. It was becoming a bad habit. But this weekend, the weekend that I ended my teaching career, was too busy to blog. Dorin, the oldest son, (his fictional name, not his real one) graduated from high school. It is the payoff for a long, hard four years of failing progress reports, absence make-ups, unpaid band fees, and intermittent girl trouble. It almost didn’t happen, but he made it. We spent Saturday at the UNT (University of North Texas) basketball arena. The senior class of Newman Smith High School, 2014, graduated.
We done did it! He is graduated! Here he is below with goofy ol’ dad, Mom, younger brother Henry, and little sister, the Princess.
This is only a small part of the collection that sits on bedroom shelves.
Star Wars 12″ Action Figures are a large part of my collection.
Star Wars is not my only obsession. Captain Action caught my heart in the 1960’s.
Vintage Captain Action (circa 1967-68) (I always wanted to use “circa” somewhere in my writing.)
My newest Captain Action and Dr. Evil.
Beautiful Barbie Dolls
Believe it or not, I like to play with dolls. It all started in 1965 with a Navy G.I. Joe doll. I had a black rubber scuba suit for him and it was the neatest toy I owned. My sister had a Barbie’s friend Midge doll. The comic-book adventures of the romantic heroes, Midge and Joe began that year. I added a Captain Action with an Aquaman suit along with a German G.I. Joe and an Astronaut Joe with a Mercury Capsule. My sister added a dark-skinned Christie doll and little sister had a Tammy doll. I built a submarine/spaceship with my Constructor Set, and then the adventures were really off into the blue.
Today I collect Barbie-dolls, G.I. Joe action figures, Captain Action figures and suits, and a hodgepodge of Star Wars, Star Trek, and Planet of the Apes 12″ figures. I am not ashamed to call them my doll collection. I use my wife and daughter as an excuse for buying Barbies and my two sons as an excuse for buying the rest, but it is entirely me who is obsessed with dolls and doll clothes. Don’t tell anyone I said this, but I will always be ten years old when I have a doll or action figure in my silly old hands.
There is something really absorbing about dolls. My mother made them in a kiln we bought one summer. She fired beautiful works of porcelain, painted, stuffed, and dressed them, an expensive obsession, but cheaper than buying them. I know a fellow through e-Bay who molds his own reproduced Captain Action masks, and I’ve seriously thought that toy-making might be my next business. Who knows? Obsessions are often the best sort of inspiration.
Did you know Barbie started life as a German prostitute doll named Lily? Mattel copied one brought back from Europe after World War Two. G.I. Joe wouldn’t have existed if some bright boy hadn’t decided that little boys would accept the same doll-and-changeable-uniform toy if it was marketed as a fighting man action figure! Captain Action was Ideal Toy Company’s plan to use superheroes to make an action figure to compete with Hasbro’s G.I. Joe. The current market in dolls as collectibles is now driven by doll-playing old men like me, Baby-Boomers who long to recapture youth by recapturing the toys of their childhoods. At least I am not the only Peter-Pan-Syndrome, sad old obsessed guy out there!
Take my advice. If you have to develop a vice, ignore booze, drugs, and sex. Stay away from identity theft and computer porn. Go buy a doll, and see if it doesn’t bring back the child in you!