England Part V

What would a visit to the past be like without actual people being a part of it?

I was just lying down for a nap on my bed at The Anchor around five or so, when there came a knock on my door. And there was Ann, my gadabout friend from my Walberswick childhood, 40+ years later!

We eyed each other in a friendly manner, eager to get to the root of each other and erase the 40+ years as quickly as possible.

“Shall we go down to the pub?” Ann said. “My husband, Tiggy’s, down there and so is my sister Rita and her husband. Perhaps you’ll remember, Tiggy?”

And as soon as I saw Tiggy, I knew him as that good-looking village scamp he once was!

We sat in the corner seat reserved for locals and Ann and Tiggy treated me to wine (The Anchor has a good selection) and fish and chips (also excellent) while we told stories on each other from the past.

Before they left, Ann made me promise I would visit her mother in the village the next day. I had planned to do this anyway. And she invited me to come and visit them on their farm in Stowmarket.

Next morning, I walked up the village green and down the little street to see Ann’s mother, Vida.

Vida was the person who would welcome me into her family fold on a Sunday after her church and insist that I be included in their special Sunday dinner–usually a roast of some kind, even if it meant her own portion was diminished. Now, living alone in her house since her husband died, she gets many visitors because she was always so kind to everyone in the village in her younger years.

The door to Vida’s house was open, the morning sun lighting the path in. Within a very few moments we were sharing stories and laughing together. And Vida, sensing I think that I like literature, told me about how her mother had not had an easy time of it and had not been able to give her a lot of attention when she was growing up, but that her mother had written her a poem for her thirteen birthday, which meant a lot to her. At eighty-nine Vida proceeded to recite the poem by heart with beautiful diction in the most heartfelt proud manner:

We may write our names in albums
We may trace them on the suns
We may chisel them in marble
With a firm and skillful hand.
But the pages soon are sullied
Soon each page will fade away
Every monument will crumble
Like all earthly hope decay.
But my child, there is an album full of leaves of snowy white
Where no other name is tarnished
But for ever pure and bright.
And in this book of life, God’s album
May your name be penned with care
And may all who herein may write how their names forever there.

Beneath the Arc of a Double Rainbow

Ntozake Shange’s “choreopoem” called “for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf,” had part of its origination from an epiphany Shange had when she passed under the arc of a double rainbow one morning and realized that “In that moment of seeing the double rainbow, I felt connected to the delicacy and irrepressible majesty of life.” (Nov. 8, 2010, New Yorker, “Color Vision” by Hilton Als)

My husband Paul had a similar experience kayaking on the lake below our summer cabin in Wisconsin. As he tells the story: “I tumbled out of bed before 5 and noticed the sun arising though a narrow band of clear sky only to have its rays reflected in a thick cloud cover that was moving east. I hustled down to my kayak and paddled directly toward the sunrise. But as I got halfway across the lake, rain started to fall. I looked back and noticed ominous storm clouds moving quickly toward me. Sadly, I turned around and headed back toward the cabin when a magnificent double rainbow appeared before me, with its arc anchored at opposite ends of our bay. And right under the rainbow: our cabin. I was overcome with joy and appreciation for my parents having built this family jewel and then, after their recent deaths, bequeathing it to me. I reflected on how this cabin would provide a place where Lynn and I could spend together the years ahead in the beauty and quiet of nature. What more could I possibly ask of life?”

I have never had such an epiphany under the double arc of a rainbow, but my last blog “Buttercup Hill” describes the miraculous magic of first buttercups to my sisters and me when we were children, which was our yearly rite of spring. As such, we experienced its seeming sudden glorious appearance and, in our own simple ways, paid homage to it.

Randi and I no longer talk much about the miracles of spring, but my sister Krissie–who became a horticulturist–and I do. Just yesterday, we talked about whether snowdrops are better left to enjoy where they sprout up, or whether it’s okay to snip some to put in a little vase and enjoy indoors. (She said it is okay to snip.) She likes to snip this flower and that and arrange them in delicate formations in vases, a sort of fresh art ensemble to enchant the eye. I remember one year she foraged in the countryside for dried wild flowers and vines and set to work making unique Christmas wreaths for our mother and each of her four siblings. I had mine for about ten years. Finally I had to admit my wreath had become woebegone and bedraggled. Reluctantly, I threw mine out.

A neighbor’s invitation arrived in our mailbox yesterday. The card read, STOP BY for WARM PIE AND COFFEE; We hope you will join us for this chance to get together before winter comes and takes us all inside.

This winter I want to keep myself in the arc of a double rainbow; I want to imagine the joys of Buttercup Hill, snowdrops under the earth waiting to come out while I make and enjoy warm pie and coffee.

Teaching Kids to Connect to Art

My webmaster suggested that I write some blogs about the teaching of writing as it connects to art, since this is a subject that has interested me for many years, a subject that I concentrated on as a teacher of kids: kids who were gifted; kids who were “average”; as well as some with dual exceptionalities, such as gifted and having Asperger’s syndrome.

At the Philadelphia Museum of Art many years ago, I attended a workshop called Writing through Art. We teachers sat on little stools with pads on our laps and took down notes about what we saw and felt in a painting or sculpture before us; then we learned how to take our own words and compose poetry or prose with them.

I took the ideas from this workshop back to the classroom and experimented with them. Over the years, I had great success with the method. I found that any kid could write a good poem.

Here’s one example of how it works:

I blew up Roy DeCarava’s photographs from The Sweet Flypaper of Life, not showing the accompanying narrative by Langston Hughes. These are very engaging portraits of black people living in Harlem: an old woman standing tall and proud against a wrought iron fence, a young family on a Sunday outing at the Hudson River, mischievous boys letting water out of a fire hydrant on a scorching summer day, a girl dressed up all in white for a confirmation, crossing a dirty empty city lot.

The photos were laid out on the floor. (I think there were 40 of them; I duplicated favorites.) Each student picked one he/she liked. Then, on a piece of paper with three headings—seeing words, action words, feeling words—the students studied their photographs and jotted down notes.

Man in a suit
Girl with a bow in her hair
Two boys in shorts

What’s the man doing?
Sitting on a log

What’s the girl doing?
Playing down by the water

What are the boys doing?
Sitting on handkerchiefs on the log

How are the different people feeling?

The man’s feeling proud of his family
The girl’s happy to be by the water
The boys feel good sitting next to their father

And how does the photograph make you feel?

The photograph makes me feel interested and joyful. It’s different from my life, but I’m glad they’re having a good time. I’m always happy by the water myself.

What words on your page interest you the most?

Girl with the bow in her hair

That’s a good title.
Start from there.

GIRL WITH A BOW IN HER HAIR

Girl with a bow in her hair
Plays down by the water
She doesn’t dare get her feet wet
Cause it’s Sunday

Her brothers sit stiff on handkerchiefs
Gazing at the black river
They are still, next to their proud father
On the old log
Having a quiet Sunday time

This technique works with any piece of art that interests kids, but they need choices with which to identify.

I’ve had success using the photographs from Charlotte’s Web and Stone Fox with younger kids because kids have such strong feelings about the characters in those books.