• Tag Archives Alexandria
  • First Amendment

    Winter                                                            Waning Moon of the Winter Solstice

    Walker stands with national peers in support of artistic freedom.  This is a big deal and I’m proud to be part of a community and an artistic/museum community that supports artistic freedom.

    54 years ago I began carrying newspapers for the Alexandria Times-Tribune, a paper route that went west on Monroe Street from Harrison, then fanning out toward the then brand new elementary school.  Learning to fold the evening paper, the Trib was a daily back then, in a square, and how to pitch it in a gentle arc that landed on my customers doorsteps gave me physical pleasure, a manual skill.

    My dad was editor of the paper then, so the question of freedom of speech was, at least in our house, not a question at all but a loud proclamation, made every day about 3:30 p.m. when the Trib hit the streets courtesy of myself and several other carriers.

    (This artist made the banned movie:  David Wojnarowicz   Four Elements  1990 lithograph on paper  T.B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1991)

    Dad did a couple of things that stuck with me though I imagine he did many more.  First of all when the John Birch Society raised its impeach Earl Warren/US out of the United Nations flag around town, Dad got a copy of its founder’s book, The Blue Book.  In it Robert Welch outlined clearly anti-democratic, plutocratic views.  Dad published relevant portions in the Tribune.  Gutsy in a town of 5,000.   Later, he also published a letter to the editor by a would be English teacher rankled at Dad’s opposition to this coach becoming a teacher of the language.  He printed the letter as received with many spelling and grammatical errors.  Coach did not get the job.

    Extraneous sidebar:  the same coach got himself arrested years later in southern Indiana when he stole a bucket of quarters while gambling on a river boat.

    You may know the John Birch Society best in its present day position of influence behind the Tea-Party Mad Hatters.  My hometown was and is a hotspot for extremist right-wingers.  Back in the day it was the John Birch Society and the Minutemen, later the KKK and now the Tea-Party.  In fact, the Alexandria, Indiana leader of the Tea-Party got arrested for drug possession last week.  My old buddy, Ed Schmidt, alerted me to that piece of news.  Ed was mayor of Alexandria for a couple of terms.

    Muzzling critics, whether political or artistic, cannot be countenanced in a society built on a free exchange of ideas.  The need to speak truth to power demands that we go out of our way to listen to voices on the margin, to open ourselves to what might be unpleasant messages or messages wrapped in unpleasant containers.  The freedom they’re saving just might be your own.

  • All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Go

    Fall                                                                             Waxing Harvest Moon

    Identification quiz.  Can you find Charlie Ellis in this class composite?  Hint, for some reason he’s the only one with a sport coat and tie.  In the third grade!


  • A Life in Ruins: Part II

    Fall                                    Waning Back to School Moon

    When I visited Angkor in 2005, I wrote a piece for my Pilgrimage series entitled, A Life in Ruins.  Ephesus, Delphi, Delos,Rome. Pompeii, numerous civil war battlefields and Attuthya are among the many ruins I’ve visited, trying to piece together from blocks of stone, information plaques and Blue Guides their meaning and significance. At Knossos I wondered what it felt like to be in the labyrinth of rooms that made up what entered legend as the habitation of the Minotaur.  At Delos I imagined what the birth of Apollo and Diana was like.

    Given that history, amazing is an understatement when I discovered my actual life had become a site with ruins, not one, but many.  In my hometown of Alexandria the first factory in which I2010-10-02_0396 worked, Johns-Manville has nothing left but concrete coated pillars and a loading dock.  I worked as a receiving clerk the summer I was there, so I knew exactly what went on there when the trains loaded with coak and limestone rolled onto the factory grounds.

    That was the first, but far from the last.  The old High School, my middle school, gone.  Tomlinson, my first elementary school. Gone.  Most of the businesses of my youth, abandoned shells.  This is only in Alex.  In Anderson the mighty General Motors Guide  Lamp and Delco Remy, employers once of 25,000, gone.  Parking lots and concrete factory pads covering thousands of square feet and fenced in with tall chain link are all that remains.

    If we had a magic button we could push, one that would light up the home’s lost among those 25,000, we would have a better estimate of the lives ruined along with these structures.  These are the missing elements at Ephesus, Rome, Delos.  What about the lives of the priests, the grounds keepers, the cooks, the sailors?  Like members of my class and their parents forces beyond their control eliminated the places where they earned their livings.  Places made sacred by the holy work of labor.  So much desecration.

    These factories, these shops, these shuttered houses, these abandoned people are the friends and family with which I spent the weekend, real people, not statistics.  Never did I think that the mighty flood of cars bearing workers on Highway 9, no absurdly named Highway of Vice Presidents, would dry up.  Never did I think that the vibrant small town of my youth with its mens store, its womens store, two variety stores, two pharmacies, a bakery, two theatres, bars and banks and service stations would fade away only to be replaced by dollar stores and wholesale outlets.

    So this weekend, an affair of the heart most of all, a reconnecting with those who lived then, only underscores the pain.  I will never visit a new ruin again with the same detached attitude.  Real people lived there;  real people suffered.

  • Friends

    Fall                               Waning Back to School Moon

    October 3nd, Western Hotel, Camp Chesterfield 8:35 am

    Had breakfast again in the Maxon Cafeteria, just east of the Western Hotel. It was late enough that the crowd here for John “Medicine Bear” Doerr’s workshop, Becoming a Spiritual Warrior, had already eaten, so I dined alone. Oatmeal and bacon.

    A good nap after the laundromat yesterday followed by a quick visit to the gift shop here at the Camp. It reopens at noon today. Lots of interesting books and gee-gaws from a wide range of religious traditions. I’ll spend some money.

    Big doings last night at the south room of the Norwood Bowl. A cement block addition to the bowling alley, the south room has a parquet dance floor, seating for around 70 which we filled 45norwood-bolw-10-02_0402and a kitchen area;/wet bar raised above the dining and dancing floor by about three feet. It was a perfect space for this event.

    Having the homecoming parade float and the impromptu meal at the Curve on Friday night, the Historical Society meeting yesterday morning followed by the tented champagne brunch at Steve Kildow’s place before this sit down meal allowed a lot of mixing and story telling to happen over an extended time. It made for a real sense of having gathered together again as a class.

    Toni Fox, a self-described “a bit plump but still cute as a button,” was an early crush of mine. By early I mean first/second grade. She’s retired now and set to go on a 1940’s train ride to Memphis with her now cancer free husband. Louie Bender worked his charm on the ladies as he always did, vying at times with Toni for the attention of the crowd.

    Jerry Ferguson, an old buddy with whom I apparently had more good times than I recall, and I had a lot of laughs remembering crazy stuff we did. Jerry remembers, and others did too so I’ll take their word for it, that we painted 1965 on the water tower. He said, “I turned to you and you were high-tailing it for the truck. I yelled, Charlie, what are you doing?” “Man with a shotgun,” I shouted over my shoulder. Tom Urban got behind the wheel of Jerry’s green pickup, we dived in the back and Tom drove across the railroad track. Tony Fisher said, “We could see the whites of the engineer’s eyes.” Big fun. Lucky I survived childhood.

    Tom Friend was there. He played coronet in high school and had a way with the ladies like Louie. Tom lived near the Nickel Plate tracks north just off Harrison.

    Frank Johnson and Susan Mahoney, high school sweethearts and married since college, live in Fort Wayne. Frank had a benign brain tumor, quadruple by-pass surgery and prostate cancer. “I’m getting all the bad stuff out of the way before retirement.” He should be almost bullet proof. Susan, who looks like she did in high school, now works in admissions for a private school. They attend 1st Presbyterian in Fort Wayne, a congregation that tasted blood about 4 clergy ago and have continued to chum the water with each new pastor. A typical pattern for churches that succeed in ousting a minister, usually to devastating affect on the congregation.

    Larry Stafford workdd for GM at Guide Lamp for 42 years until they shut down five or so years ago. Now, at 63, he’s out of a job and trying to find something new, “But, Charlie, there just aren’t any jobs out there. I got my associate degree in information management, too.” A tough spot.

    Tony Fisher sells insurance in Liggonier, Indiana. A couple of years ago he won $2,000 dollars at an insurance convention, money for a trip. He chose New York City. “I didn’t know Central Park was so big you could drive through it. I saw Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero. I always wanted to see them. Course I also saw the wax museum and Ripley’s Believe or Not, too. I’d go back.”

    Traveling is on his to do list. He wants to go Las Vegas for “all the glitz and glamor” and he also intends to take the South Bend to Chicago train and see the Shedd Aquairum and all that stuff. “Ive gotten interested in that stuff as I’ve gotten older.”

    Steve Kildow, who paid for and hosted the champagne brunch yesterday worked at GM and lost a good bit of money when GM’s stock tanked. Looks to me like he compensated for it in other areas.

    Old groups that hung out together 45 years ago reformed, catching up in the years since 1965 and reliving the ones before. Memories were the token of exchange over the weekend and each person came with a full account and left even richer in them.

    A photographer took shots of the whole class, then broke us down by feeder schools: Orestes and Cunningham were outside Alexandria’s city limits, Tomlinson and Clarke were for the southern and northern parts of the city for elementary school. I didn’t even know Clark existed. We were only in Tomlinson and Clark for first and second grades then we merged at what is now Thurston Elementary.

    Miss Thurston would come in to the lunch room, go student by student, rapping each on the shoulder, “Now Charles Paul. Eat your peas.”

    Toni Fox recalled that when we went to Tomlinson the school took us home for lunch because the school was on Highway 9 and we couldn’t walk home. I didn’t remember that.

    Richer Howard told me the saddest story of the evening. Richard Lawson, a good buddy while I was in High School, went to Vietnam and came back disabled. He married, had a couple of kids. A divorce took him hard and he lost his job, became homeless. Richie gave him money now and then.

    It got to the point where Richard was living out of his car. He had a stroke and that made getting around difficult. During a recent very cold winter he had returned to his car, opened the door, then slipped and slid under it. They found him there the next morning, blue and solid.

    Richie also told a tale about Richard. Richard joined the Navy after his discharge from the Army. Richie got a call at 3 am, “Hey, Richie. What’s you doin’?” “Sleeping.” “Hey, man. How do you cook a turkey?” “What?” Turns out Richie and some other sailors had washed up on the shore of Spain somehow and a farmer gave them a turkey, but non of them knew how to cook it.; Richie put his wife, Becky (Ellis, no relation), on the phone and she walked him through the steps.

    There were, as there always are, those who couldn’t come. Ronnie Montgomery I missed most since we had stayed in contact through college. Zane Ward and Larry Cummings, part of the poker playing crew, I’ve not seen since high school. Zane runs the junk-yard and Larry has bait shop in Arkansas.

    Jerry said Jack Staley has his own engineering firm specializing in heating and cooling systems. Jack has the controls for Budweiser’s beer storage warehouses in his basement in Indianapolis. The warehouses are in St. Louis. Mike Taylor, the only African-American in our class, who moved before high school, also became and engineer specializing in high-end kitchens.

    Willard Grubb, another poker player, is a pharmacist nearby.

    We’ve had deaths, mostly cancer and brain tumors, but a heart attack whiled driving, too. That was Rodney Frost, the guy with whom I had my one and only fist fight. Mike Gaunt, my doctor’s kid, died a couple of years ago. One of the pretty girls in our class, Sherry Basset, died in 1989. Two died in Vietnam. I don’t whether 20 or so is a lot or a little for a class of 120. Since we’re all 63, the number will grow faster between reunions now.

    The woman I met here yesterday from Bogota said that one of the things she admired about Americans was their loyalty to groups. “Coming all the way from Minnesota for people you knew 45 years ago. In Colombia it’s just go and live your life. That’s it.”

    There were, too, the objects and places to which memories adhere, the house on the corner of Harrison and John that has the stone wall running along the sidewalk. When Mom and I would go downtown, I walked up the flat mortared slope and then along the top, watching my mom from high above. At the point where some steps broke up the run of the wall, I always looked in the yard and so the big doghouse built for their St. Bernard. The hill, which felt so big back then, down which I rode my skateboard. I got pulled over by the police and ticketed for being in the street. At city hall I looked up the ordinance and found that wheeled vehicles were required to be in the street.

    Those two numinous blocks of Monroe Street where I lived from age 4 or 5 to age 12 were the terrain of magic for me, where nights became playgrounds for hide and seek and kick the can, where a field nearby became a fort, a hide-out, a place of refuge, where Mike Hines and I performed our experiments where explosion was the mark of success.

    In 1957 Mike and I were out back in our backyard, we lived across the alley from each other. We looked up and saw three silver shaped objects high in the late afternoon sky. To my recollection this was September or October. We watched those objects for a while, then they went behind the moon. That’s right, behind the moon. Mike and I reported this to my dad who wrote a small article in the paper about it. This was the time of the UFO’s and Mike and I saw some. Nothing ever came of our sighting.

    Mike left the US during the Vietnam War for Canada. According to Toni, who saw Mike’s sister Susan not long ago, he’s still there.

    Some of us had grown up on the same street together, then gone to elementary, junior high and high school together. We passed from children to youth to teen-agers together. Those memories, those years together in the same place are a powerful bond, one not broken by time or physical separation. We proved that all over again at this weekend.

  • Here Comes the Parade

    Fall                               Waning Back to School Moon

    Had no internet connection at camp Chesterfield.

    October 1st, 2010 9 pm

    Chesterfield Spiritualist Camp, Chesterfield Indiana Rm 219, The Western Hotel

    Drove down from Lafayette taking interstates because I wanted to have time for a nap. Got here about 2 and took an hour long nap. The room is basic. A bed, a small chest of drawers, a lamp and a bathroom. No three pronged plugs and no internet. A retreat environment.

    In Alexandria I saw Tim Lockwood and Mike Lynch hanging out in front of the Alexandria Historical Society. My folks. When I went inside there were about 15 people in the room, many of whom I didn’t recognize.

    Teddy Bryant I did recognize. He told me about Saturday being the devil’s night, long ago. He’s a real estate agent now after a career as an electrician. “I had two careers, both of them I looked forward to going to work in the morning. Not many people can say that.”

    Then, he added, “I have a bone to pick with you.” Huh. “One night after we got done with the truck at Coxes I walked over and asked Vicky Moore out. But. When I asked her again the next day, she said, Charlie told me what you said. She never went out with me.” Gee, Ted. A while ago. I don’t remember the incident or Vicky Moore for that matter.

    Jay Kantner was there, short as ever with a beard and a hearing aid. He lives in Oregon, fishes the Columbia and hunts in the area. When I asked him if it was salmon, he said, “All five species.”

    Larry Maple, the original organizer with Becky Ellis, looked pretty beat up. He had a bladder taken out and replace, then a swollen lymph gland that they just drained three weeks ago. He looks thin and weak.

    Tony Fox came up and asked for her flowers and honey. I plain forgot. She hugged me to her now ample bosom and gave me a kiss.

    After a bit more like that, they organized us for the homecoming parade. We had a float which consisted of a flat bed trailer with hay bales and a few chairs. About 20 of us got on and rode 670class-of-1965-floatthrough town doing the wave and old Alexandria Tigers cheers. Along the way we played remember what used to be there along Harrison Avenue, many of the store fronts are empty and only Cox’s Supermarket and Broyle’s furniture remain of the businesses from our childhood: The Rexall Drug Store, Danners, Murphys, PN Hirsch, Bailey’s pharmacy, Furman’s, Baumgartners, Mahoney’s.

    It was fun and bittersweet, being with old friends, childhood friends, sharing memories but noticing that this was our 45th reunion, lots of gray hair, 20% of the class now dead.

    After the parade wound its way out to the newer Alexandria High School, Larry Etchison drove us back into town. We got our cars and drove out to the curve. I saw Bill Kildow. Geez. Been a real long time. His brother, Steve, was in my class, but Bill and I had a special bond. It was good to see him. The Kildow’s lived on Monroe Street in the late 50’s and so did I.

    We sat around swapping stories. Where do you live now? What do you do? Any grandkids? You have great grandchildren! Louie Bender, extroverted as ever, went up and hugged a woman, said, “Tamara, Don’t you remember me? Louis Bender.” It wasn’t Tamara.

    October 2nd. A laundromat across from what used to be the Roller Rink, at one time the best in the nation and site of national competitions. Now it’s an Eagles. The only skating is, as someone said last night, “after there’s been a lot of drinking.”

    Breakfast this morning at the Maxon cafeteria, just across from the Western Hotel. It serves guests and residents of Chesterfield. At the table I talked with two women, professors of Spanish and Spanish Literature at Depauw, one from Colombia and the other from Argentina, Buenos Aires. They had a similar reaction to the Camp, about which they’d known nothing before they got there. It’s a great setting for a book, like being back in the 19th century, down to the little floral decals on the light bulb holder in the bathroom.

    “I’m interested in how people form their worlds,” I said, “And this is a particular world. We all have them, but here the line are so clear.” After I said that, I realized it was exactly what I’m interested in, how people form, give definition to their weltenschaung. How do you become and sustain a belief in spiritualism, in the non-physical plane? You have to ignore or explain away a lot of evidence to the contrary.

    After breakfast, it was back to the Alexandria Historical Society for coffee and another meet up. I looked at a 1965 spectrum, our yearbook. Gee, it was a long time ago. A lot of things were different back then. I had hair. Juvenile delinquency was a problem. Remember j.d.’s? How innocent, almost quaint they seem in light of rap music, meth and general ornerynesss of our time.

    Steve Kildow had a huge tent with catered food and lots of booze. A lot folks were there including Jerry Ferguson, who looked a lot different, enough that I didn’t recognize him. Steve lives two miles west of town off Hwy 28, a big spread with a fancy house and lots of horses. Steve looks like he enjoys his groceries.

    Now I’m at the laundromat, getting enough clean clothes together for the rest of the trip. I decided to spend this time to pack a bit—a lot—lighter. I’m glad I did. Well, the dryers are coming to a stop and I have folding and rolling to do.

  • Going Home

    Lughnasa                                              Waxing Back To School Moon

    Ah, well.  It seems the bug has won.  A cold.  Again.  After two years of relative health, I’ve had three colds in as many months.

    My 45th high school reunion, for which I purchased tickets and made hotel reservations a month ago, has shifted a bit.  Early notices said October 2nd, but the bit about homecoming, it turns out now, falls on Friday, October 1st.  I’ll change my plans if I can since riding on the float with the other members of my class was part of the attraction for me.

    At the seminary last Thursday night I walked past the Steckel Learning Center to get to the new chapel.  Earlier that day I had seen Clyde Steckel, after whom the seminary named it.  Clyde taught psychology and pastoral counseling.  He’s in the junior docent class that is in training now.  We chatted a bit after the docent luncheon.  Turns out he was in Anderson, Indiana, his home, for his high school reunion just last month.  I’d forgotten he was from Anderson.

    His dad worked at Delco Remy and thought, Clyde said, “That it would go on forever.”  Delco made starters and batteries for all the GM cars.  In the 50’s and 60’s Delco and Guide Lamp employed around 25,000 people working 3 shifts.  Now they’re both gone.

    There are plenty of chores to get done here before I go, but I have to go into St. Paul right now to hear Leslie preach.

  • Oh, Yeah? How’d It Go?

    Summer                                                  Waning Strawberry Moon

    We keep our walkin’ around money at the Credit Union, Associated Health Care Workers.  I like credit unions because they’re small and friendly, unlike our mortgage holder, Wells Fargo, who has shafted us time and again.  The credit union knows who we are.  I went in today to pick up our weekly cash and the teller said, “I’m used to having Lynne pick up the money.”  She doesn’t Lynne goes by Kate, but otherwise.  “Yes, she had surgery.”  “Oh, yeah, how did that go?”  “Well.  She’s walking around.”

    I grew up in a small town and I value personal interaction with merchants.  It makes me feel known and welcome in a broad, perhaps shallow way; but a wider net of personal connections away from work or friends gives a sense of density to life often, perhaps usually, lost in the city.

    The electrician, Jeff, who works on our stuff from time to time was out today.  He lives here in Andover and we talked about bees and hemp while I tried to identify where the fence guys cut the wire to the sheds.  Again, personal.


    In Alexandria, where I lived from age 2 to age 17, most people knew who I was and I knew who they were.  Alexandria had about 5,000 citizens, but the families were much fewer and knowing a family member meant you had some sense of the rest, too.  Yes, it can be suffocating, perhaps more so as an adult, but as a kid, it meant there was no where in town I felt anonymous, a cipher, just a person paying 4 bucks for a latte or buying a new computer.  Neither of which we had of course when I grew up in the 50’s and early 60’s.

    You can take the boy out of the small town, but…

  • Ordinary Stuff

    Beltane                                       Waxing Strawberry Moon

    The half Strawberry moon hangs just above the basswoods in our woods.  The night has a velvet texture, not the Elvis portrait kind but the backing for a stunning diamond necklace kind.  The moon lays upon it as a gem of unique character, instead of fire it has a subtle glow, a depth that promises mystery.  As it always is here at this time on night, it is quiet.  Solitary.  Right now it’s just the moon and our house floating along on a dark, silent river.

    Somehow melancholy can be transformed now, as if the inner and the outer merge for a moment and the ache dissolves, only a small blackness measured against space.

    A friend from long ago, the Alexandria days, wrote on facebook that he had had a tumor removed from his bladder.  His sister-in-law wrote to say she loved him.  I got a quick jolt of time having passed, so much time.  We were high school buddies when I left and now he’s an aging baby boomer like me with health problems and a family that loves him.

    This is ordinary stuff, yes.  But it has history, breadth, too, for Larry and I know many of the same people, grew up with them, played little league and sat through 5th grade with Mrs. Craig and listened to Hit the Road, Jack on the high school public address system.

    We remember when Alexandria had a thriving downtown, a strong sense of itself, a small town with muscle.  Now it has and has had for a long time, a wasting disease.  Empty storefronts.  Chain businesses on the edge of town with big box architecture and big city charm.  Ferguson’s, a women’s clothing store, is gone.  So is Baumgartners for men.  There was a moment when Alexandria had two movie theaters and plenty of patrons.  We all remember it.

    The place where the child has played can never be recovered or repeated, only remembered.  It was there, for me, in that little town, with all those others.  My friends.

  • Reaching Back in Time

    Beltane                      Waxing Hungry Ghost Moon

    We’re only a week away from the summer solstice, but you could not tell it from our current weather.  We’ve had a cool, rainy streak that has made work outside appealing.  It’s also given the weeds considerable encouragement.

    The internet allows a look-up phenom that you’ve no doubt experienced at least once.  An e-mail shows up from someone in the way back long ago.  A posting of Facebook.  A comment on  your blog.  I’ve had a few.  Got one Friday from a high school girlfriend, a relationship that meant something to me.  It was nice to hear from her since we stopped seeing each other my senior year and went our separate ways.  E-mail is a great medium for this kind of oh my it’s been so long reacquaintance.  Neutral. Not time sensitive.

    Vega has a new gorilla that she carries with her in the house where ever she goes.  It makes a noise and whenever she triggers it, she scoots off for a safe area, not quite sure.  Rigel has no interest in toys, she enjoys the thrill of the hunt, the joy of escape.  Which she did yesterday.  Again.  She got out through a hole under the fence I wouldn’t have thought big enough for her.  I’ve hardened the lower edge of the fence line over the years, but this spot had rotted out.  I found her collar hooked on a log where she’d crawled under the chain-link.  She does not go over the fence anymore.  Electricity.

    Kate’s on a countdown for a new hip.  June 30th.  She commented on a discogram yesterday (this involves a probing needle that injects dye between the discs to get a contrast image), “I’m a Norwegian, a stoic and a woman and still I had copious tears.”  She can bear it, but she pays a price.  She also observed, by the way, that I will never, ever have a discogram.  She’s right on that one.

    Not a bee day today.  Wednesday looks like the day for the hive inspection.

  • A Drive Down Mainstreet of My Hometown

    Beltane                                      Full Planting Moon

    Ah, the internet.  It can suck you in and keep you in place longer than you intended.  I found this quirky video, a drive on Harrison Street, the main street of Alexandria.  If you notice the Masonic Lodge he shows about halfway through, our house was just behind it, flanked by two nearby funeral homes.

    The character who took this I don’t know, but he’s real familiar anyhow.