Archive for the ‘Turvey’s Corner’ Category

New Image Added to Turvey’s Corner 63050

August 7, 2020

This early August morning has been delicious. I entered the studio early for what I absurdly label “executive time.” While reading Zola’s The Masterpiece, I lingered over the lyrical depictions of the artist and lover’s excursion to Le Havre. Zola painted the northern French landscape with a luscious brush, describing sun, atmosphere and lovely rolling hills. And as I read, the sound of a lawn mower in our neighborhood transformed me back in Proustian fashion to my childhood August mornings, waking up and lying in bed lazily in High Ridge, Missouri. We had no air conditioning in the house so we slept with our bedroom windows open. And as I lay there, I would listen to the sounds of a distant lawnmower, children shouting as they played outside, the voice of a radio broadcaster on KXOK, the popular St. Louis AM station.

The visitation was a warm one, stimulating me to return to the manuscript of Turvey’s Corner 63050. Going through files of my art work from years gone by, I came across the watercolor posted at the top of this blog, and decided to insert it into one of the chapters I’ve recently revised.

The chapter now reads as follows:

Winter in Turvey’s Corner 63050

Early morning polar winds snapped through the narrow valley of Turvey’s Corner, a Missouri town still sleeping through the harsh winter. George Singleton emerged from the Terra Lounge bar with his snow shovel and leaned forward into the frigid air. Overnight winds had hardened the drifts across the walkway and he felt the sting in his cheeks as the wind cut across his face. As he bent to his task, a loud cacophonous whistle from a Frisco Railroad F9 diesel signaled its approach to the crossing, half a block from the tavern, and George felt beneath his boots the vibrations of the thundering freight cars as they rolled by. Assorted box cars and rusting reefer cars crawled through the town, the bells continuing to clang with lights alternately blinking at the crossing.

Turning his head, George looked back up the empty street to regather his thoughts. It was a sixteen-degree December morning in Turvey’s Corner, and his mind was numb to the possibilities of anything memorable happening on this particular day. The Korean Conflict was two years behind him, the 38th parallel over 7,000 miles away. But Randy, his first-born son, not yet a year old, slumbered in a dark bedroom on the second story above. These thoughts caused George to smile in the face of the frozen morning, forgetting the stiffness in his lower back.

George had just opened a new chapter in his life. Striving to put the madness of the war conflict behind him and determining not to return to the shores of the Mississippi River in southeast Missouri to resume the impoverished tenant farm life that had raised him, he set his compass toward St. Louis in search of a better life. For two years he had served his country overseas. Now returning, he wondered if his country, his government, really had anything to offer him. The Missouri motto he was forced to memorize in the country school salus populi supreme lex esto (let the welfare of the people be the supreme law) never penetrated to his center of belief. Convinced of the need to provide for his own welfare and that of his new family, he came to Turvey’s Corner, invested the army pay he had sent home to his folks for two years in this tavern property, and was determined to make it work.

Turvey’s Corner, population 582, was situated on Highway 30, twenty-three miles southwest of St. Louis. Historic Route 66 lay a few miles north of town but was beginning to deteriorate with the arrival of Interstate 44 that bypassed the once thriving midwestern towns. George was O.K. with that, however. In the army he had lived a life surrounded by hordes of men in close quarters. He was ready to carve out a livelihood in a town that time would likely forget.

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It’s time to turn my attention to a pair of commissions I’ve been working on for awhile now. Tomorrow (Saturday) I’ll return to Palestine to work in The Gallery at Redlands for the day and evening.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Settling into the New Studio

August 3, 2020
New Studio Taking Shape

It was wonderful to walk down the long flights of stairs knowing that I’d had good luck working. I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, “Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple, declarative sentence I had written. Up in that room I decided that I would write one story about each thing that I knew about. I was trying to do this all the time I was writing, and it was good and severe discipline.

Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

My Writing Desk

With enthusiasm I post today’s blog from my renovated studio space. This project has been ongoing for months, and finally it nears completion. Decisions are still being made about lighting, and books are still not in order on the shelves, but I’m really close. I now have four work stations arranged about the spacious room–one roll top desk, one reading table, and two drafting tables. Each space is designed for a specfic project I’m working on, and I’m thinking of giving each space a special name. This morning I’ve worked at the roll top desk, calling it my Hemingway space. This is where I do most of my daily writing in the journal and composing on the laptop. Today I rewrote three chapters of my Turvey’s Corner 63050 stories that I hope will one day turn into an illustated novel. I posted the Hemingway quote above because it has continually granted me encouragement when stuck during the writing process.

View from where I’m working now . . .

In future blogs, I’ll share detailed pictures of my new studio surroundings. I close today with my revised Introduction to Turvey’s Corner 63050.

Foreword

Nice town, y’know what I mean?

Nobody very remarkable ever come out of it, s’far as we know.

Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Like domestic coffee, rural towns in Midwest America percolate daily with lives destined for obscurity. That formidable fact however fails to suffocate the aspirations of romantic souls convinced that their corners of the cosmos experience an infusion of divine energy unrecognized in other quarters.

Turvey’s Corner, a fictional Missouri town, lies midway between where I grew up (High Ridge, 63049) and the town where I attended high school and church (House Springs 63051). Turveys Corner, twenty-three miles southwest of St. Louis, Missouri, and a few miles south of historic Route 66, emerged from an underground spring of memories and imaginings.

The cycle of stories includes a host of fictional characters, sketches drawn from my personal life as well as the lives of my family members and friends. Native American writer N. Scott Momaday, a lover of words, presents his literary works as “pieces of a whole, each one the element of an intricate but unified design.” He calls his stories “facets of a verbal prism, if you will, patterns like the constellations.”[1] My hope remains that the cast of characters from Turvey’s Corner will present a constellation triggering similar memories from the reader.

[1]N. Scott Momaday, The Man Made of Words, p. 1.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel I am alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

July 27, 2020
Hank and Randy at Caprock

I have decided to go ahead and post a pair of stories I’ve been incubating for quite some time now. The draft is still rough, but the ideas are in place. This continues my Hank & Randy cycle for the Turvey’s Corner 63050 collection of short stories . . .

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Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.

Hebrews 12:1 (King James Version)

Looking up, Hank noticed that Randy had put down his coffee cup and had a small volume open and was reading by the fire light. “What are you reading?” he wanted to know.

“Translating, actually. I still carry my little Greek New Testament in my pack because I like working the language.”

“You quit the ministry. Do you still believe all that stuff?”

“Not all of it. But much of it still rings authentic. And then there are other parts, like what I’m reading tonight that really stimulate my imagination. This is from Hebrews 12. The image is a race in a stadium filled with spectators. The spectators are “heroes of faith” mentioned in the chapter before, people who suffered hardship but still believed in what they were doing. The author writes that the one running the race is being cheered on by all those heroes of faith who have gone before. It’s supposed to give one courage and confidence living out this life as an arduous race.”

“When I was a kid, I always thought my aunts and uncles who already died were looking down from heaven, approving or disapproving of what I did. I like the picture you just gave—ancestors cheering us on and encouraging us.”

“That’s what I’m feeling right now. Since I quit the seminary, Paul Tillich and Karl Barth have stayed with me. I still read them a great deal, especially Tillich. I can identify with a lot of what he went through, though my own troubles seem microscopic compared to his. Still, I draw strength from his example. Then of course, there are other writers who are not theologians that give me plenty of encouragement and reason to believe—Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, Kerouac—I love them all and wish I could have known them in real life. But I really do feel their presence when I read what they’ve left behind.”

“I can identify with that. I wonder if we’ll still feel this way when we get old.”

“I wonder that too. I just hope I don’t get too mentally lazy and stop reading and imagining as I get older.”

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Randy drifted slowly in and out of consciousness throughout the morning. It was his fourth day in hospice, and though he was unaware of how long he lay there, he knew he would drift away before too much longer. Judy, his only love, sat to the left at his bed and Hank, his lifelong friend, was seated on his right.

Eighty-three years. A satisfying sojourn. Few regrets. A myriad of memories worth embracing. In fact, Randy did nothing else but re-visit memories for four days now. The pain in his chest was minimal and breathing not very difficult. The drugs numbed his body, but his mind felt keen. The refrain of memories that occupied him the most included the west Texas caprock campouts, complete with campfire, coffee and soul-searching conversations.

Randy wondered why he had held fast to theology throughout his years. He never would pastor a congregation. He dropped out of seminary without completing a degree. Yet the life and writings of Paul Tillich had held the center of his broad reading and musing throughout his years. From the day he dropped out of seminary, he had fed on a steady diet of Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Kerouac, among other essayists, poets, and novelists. But he always came back to Paul Tillich, the German theologian expelled by Hitler from German universities. The Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary faculty in New York City came to his rescue, arranging for his passage to America. At age forty-three, the frightened scholar would arrive on New York shores to begin a new chapter in his life that would last the remaining three-plus decades of his life.

Randy had always felt he found a kindred spirit in Tillich, though the man had died a decade before Randy even learned of his life and work. As the energy slowly ebbed from Randy’s body, he felt the warm kiss of Judy on his forehead. “I love you, Randy. I always have.” Hank squeezed Randy’s right hand. “Love you Pal.” Randy tried to whisper: “Hell of a ride,” but was not sure if the sound passed from his lips.

Though his eyes were closed, Randy could see clearly where he was now—on an enormous crowded ship pulling into a harbor. The statue of liberty loomed overhead as they glided by. How unusual to be surrounded by a throng speaking a cacophony of European languages. On the shores, thousands of people were thronged, waving in a frenzy, welcoming the refugees on board. Sadly, Randy had not arranged for anyone to meet him. As he flowed with the travelers off the boat and onto the land, he watched with an aching heart as men and women embraced, children leaped into the arms of parents, and joyous clamoring rung out across the frenzied city.

But suddenly, he saw a thin man in a gray suit pushing impatiently through the crowd, gesturing at him. Paul Tillich? Randy was incredulous. He had seen dozens of photos of the Prussian scholar in books he had read and collected throughout the years. And now, Paul Tillich was eagerly fighting his way through a crowd to greet Randy?

“Randy, my dear Friend!”

“Professor Tillich?”

“Paulus, please.”

“You know me?”

“Of course!”

“How? You died ten years before I even heard of you.”

“Such a naïve lad! So. You didn’t really believe what you told Hank by the fire that night when you shared the words from Hebrews 12?”

“You know about that?!”

“Of course. Out here, we don’t have limits! I wasn’t the only one watching and listening that night. Let’s go. Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Kerouac are waiting. I left them in the café to come get you. We have plenty of things to talk about . . .”

Judy and Hank wiped tears from their eyes. “At least he went peacefully,” was all Hank was able to say.

“Yes,” replied Judy. “I wonder what he was dreaming there at the end. He seemed happy.”

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Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

OK, So I’m Writing a Book

July 20, 2020
My New Studio Still under Constsruction

Life! Life! Life! What it is to feel it and paint it as it really is. To love it for its own sake; to see it as the only true, everlasting, ever-changing beauty, and refuse to see how it might be ‘improved’ by being emasculated. To understand that its so-called defects are really signs of character. To put life into things, and put life into men! That’s the only way to be a God!”

Emile Zola, The Masterpiece

Studio time has been pleasure-filled today as I’ve returned to the task of painting evergreens in watercolor. I certainly share the sentiments expressed by Paul Cezanne long ago when he wrote “I am still learning from nature, and it seems to me I am making slow progress.” The Zola novel I’m reading has been reported to be based partly on the life of Cezanne and the quote above is from the character believed to be the artist.

Evergreen Experiments

I have accepted the invitation to address the Mansfield Art Association this evening. The ninety-minute presentation will combine a talk on our current art scene, my new projects in progress, and finally a demonstration of one of my watercolor techniques (these evergreens, if I can get a handle on them sometime today!). I have missed dearly the camaraderie of other artists, and this group I have never met before. So I’m looking forward to tonight.

Showcasing my art and my writing in the form of a published book has been a long-time fantasy of mine. But I never really took the idea seriously. Until COVID19. For months I have been satisfied with reading, blogging and making new paintings. But now, with my final art festival of the year canceled, meaning 2020 will pass without my doing a single public art event, aside from my One-Man-Show in February, I have decided I will indeed publish a book, even if I have to self-publish. As with other artist friends with whom I’ve contacted over past months, I feel that I must do something.

Currently, my work on Turvey’s Corner 63050 has reached forty-five typed pages with my watercolors as illustrations. But new characters have been born in my mind over the past forty-eight hours, and I have decided to introduce one of them now . . .

THE PHILOSOPHER

Bob Farrow (prismacolor pencil)

Bob Farrow liked to sit. And smoke. And drink. And think. The septuagenarian still had plenty of blonde woven through his hair and beard, and he struck quite a figure in the sun, seated in his old chair with nothing but time on his hands. His leisurely life came, compliments of the federal government. A Navy World War II veteran, he suffered the misfortune of standing nearby when an aircraft disintegrated upon landing, scattered shards of steel and glass in all directions. Bob spent six months in the hospital, discharged with the orders of never to lift anything heavier than twenty pounds. Since 1944, Bob fished, tinkered with small engines in his tool shed and engaged in his favorite hobbies mentioned above. Turvey’s Corner folk referred to him as The Porch Front Philosopher.

Looking up, he noticed Hank pulling up in front of his shed in the old borrowed Dodge pickup from Jerry’s Texaco, and a trailered john boat.

“Where you off to?”

Hank stepped out of the truck with a pint in hand and sauntered across the grass to sit in one of Bob’s empty chairs. “Rock of David. Things are slow at the station, so I closed early. I may just camp out overnight if the fishing’s good.”

“What’s that you got there?”

Hank handed Bob the pint of Jim Beam. Taking off the cap, Bob poked the bottleneck into his mouth and took a long pull.

“Sodie pop! If you want the real thing, it’s this.” Bob handed over his pint of Ten High.

As far as Hank was concerned, the Ten High tasted about as good as gasoline, but he just nodded in acquiescence. No doubt it cost less than half what he paid for the Jim Beam, and worth even less.

“Yer lookin’ sorta grumpy,” Bob observed. “Somethin’ happen at the station?”

“Nothing ever happens at the station. I’m just tired of all days being the same, that’s all. I thought if I got out of town a little while, things might look better.”

“We talked about this before,” Bob mused, taking another long draw from his bottle. “Yer still young, yet. Don’t worry. You’ll find yer way.”

“I guess you’re right. Anyway, thanks for the time. I want to get on the river before dark, so I’ll catch ya later.”

Two days later, Hank returned to catch Bob up on the news of his fishing. The old man wasn’t in his lawn chair, his shed was padlocked, so Hank went to the door of his small house and knocked. Nothing. Looking up, Hank noticed his old Rambler sitting in the driveway, so he knocked again. Still nothing.

Walking around to the side window, Hank shielded his eyes and peered into the dim living room. There was Bob, seated in his recliner, his head slumped forward. Hank knew.

He’s No Longer Here

The quiet neighborhood was shattered by the sharp crack of three crushing blows from the ball-peen hammer that broke open the padlock on The Philosopher’s shed door.  They had just found Bob in the living room of his small house, dead, seated in his favorite recliner with a cold cup of coffee and his tattered copy of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass on the side table.  Beneath the layers of his faded beard, they thought they could detect a slight smile.  His book was opened to “Song of Myself” and he had underlined in pencil: “I am large; I contain multitudes.”  The onlooking friends mused about his seven decades and all that his life had encompassed.

Entering the dim interior of the fishing shack, they looked silently at the tangled pile of gear in the corner, and hesitated to gather it up, as though rudely disrupting the sanctity of a shrine.  There lay the Garcia Mitchell 300 open-faced reel, with which he had landed his 6-lb. largemouth bass while poking about the lily pads in a rowboat one evening on Hunnewell Lake.  He was only a teenager then.  The bait caster was still there–the one he never could seem to get the hang of, trying in vain to cast old wooden bass plugs without backlash.  His Uncle Art would just look on, shake his head, smile, and mumble through the smoke of his Lucky Strike: “Cute Kid.”  The Pflueger fly reel and vintage bamboo rod were a gift from an aged farrier in Pine, Colorado, who passed them on as a torch, noting that his fly fishing days were behind him.  The battered suitcase was from college days back in ’42, when he hopped the Frisco passenger train for his monthly cross-the-state visits to his parents back home.  And on that train, he was always served Dining Car Coffee.  And the old knapsack–he never tired of bragging on the day he talked an Athenian merchant out of that tattered leather bag for $12.  On that day, he owned the world.  

Hank stood there silently, his tear-filmed eyes surveying the stack of assorted memories, each item with its own story, clinging to its own fragment of history. It was time to take down the monument. As he removed and packed each item, Hank vowed that Old Bob’s story would not end here. Somehow, Hank and Randy would write new chapters and find ways to extend The Porch Front Philosopher’s legacy.

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Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Sunday Morning with Randy in the Motel

July 5, 2020
Ozark Court Motel. Stanton, Missouri

Sunday morning rays of sunshine lanced through the slits in the closed blinds of Room 6 at the Ozark Court Motel. Randy lay with his eyes closed. It took a few moments before he realized where he was and what day it was. Hitchhiking had not fared well the day before. Driving rains soaked him to the skin and no one was pulling over on Route 66 to offer him a ride. Why would they? No doubt he carried all the charm of a drowned city sewer rat as he trudged along the muddy shoulder, his knapsack beginning to let in water as well. But this morning he was OK. A soothing shower the night before and a Jack Daniels nightcap ushered in a quality night’s sleep. But now it was Sunday. What to do?

His Greek Testament lay on the bedside table; he had removed it the night before, intending for it to be the first thing his eyes would see the morning after. Now he sat up in bed, stretched his limbs and reached for the small volume he thought he was going to discard once he dropped out of seminary. He couldn’t. Though he no longer congregated, he still woke on Sunday mornings feeling the need to reach for a text that had been his companion for two-and-a-half years, only now he no longer felt shackled by deadlines of term papers and Sunday morning sermon manuscripts. He could read what he chose.

But what to read? The Gospels crossed his mind. Always a good choice. But what did he want this morning from the Gospels? Did he want to see or hear? Seeing would include mental images of Jesus walking either along a shore or down a dusty Palestinian street. Would he be solitary, seated in the wilderness, or thronged by a clinging crowd? Maybe Randy wanted to hear. But what? The voice of Jesus resonating in a synagogue, or speaking softly inside a living quarters? Would he be strolling country lanes with disciples listening, or seated on a boulder discoursing? Or would he be sitting in a boat, his voice going out over the waves while disciples pulled at the oars?

Why was Randy reaching for the New Testament? Because it was Sunday? He wasn’t congregating. He wasn’t called upon to address any hearers. What did he want this morning?

Outside the motel, traffic was heard rolling along Route 66 along the bottom of the bluff. Randy was aware that he was seated in bed, alone, in the heartland of America. Today is Sunday, the Fourth of July, 1976. The country had been surging with anticipation for months as she edged closer and closer to this day—the nation’s bicentennial. No doubt Randy’s former seminary friends—preacher friends—had been whipping themselves into a frenzy over what to preach on this Special Sunday. Randy was glad not to be under that kind of pressure. What exactly would he say today, standing before a congregation?

Opening his Greek Testament, he let his mind drift down pleasant corridors of memory. To this day he was grateful that he had learned Koinē Greek. The first semester was strictly recitation, vocabulary and functional grammar; the class never saw a New Testament. The objective was functional literacy. As children learn to speak their language before learning to read and understand the technical architecture of grammar, so Professor Corley wished for his students to recognize and read Greek early and dissect the grammar later. And so, Randy studied his lessons and performed the daily recitations for a semester.

On the first day of the second semester, the Professor walked to the blackboard, picked up the chalk and scrawled the following:

Sitting at his desk in the third row, Randy leaned forward earnestly and read the words instantly: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” The Professor turned to the class and solemnly declared: “You are now reading the New Testament. In Greek.” Sitting up in bed, Randy felt waves of warmth surging through his being as he recalled that historic morning. It was as though scales had fallen from his eyes and enlightenment had dawned. His life had been marked by so few quality moments. Opening his New Testament to Mark 1:15, he read the words afresh.

The time is fulfilled. On that historic day, Randy felt that he had fulfilled his apprenticeship to elementary Greek vocabulary and grammar. He read a Greek New Testament passage with no assistance from a teacher or book. It was a new day. A new world dawned and beckoned. He had no idea then that a ministerial life, just underway, would collapse and burn in less than two years.

Now it is Sunday, July 4, 1976. The nation celebrates its 200th birthday. Randy wondered what exactly he was celebrating, if anything. What was life offering now? Was he about to pass through another portal? Again, why was he reading the New Testament? Because it is Sunday? Because it is the Fourth of July? Because the country is now two hundred years old? What was in the air for Randy? He wanted to know.

Was he reading from the life of Jesus because he needed a mentor? Someone to guide him? Thinking back over his life, Randy realized that he had always sought direction from a strong leader. His father, his pastor, his professors, and a few years ago he had that conference with Reverend Elton in Dallas. Did Randy need a mentor now? Or was it time to think for himself? Maybe his apprenticeship to life was ended and it was time to stand up, to strike forth and find new ground under his own direction. The time is fulfilled.

Rising from bed, Randy stretched and strolled across the small room to the writing table in the corner where he had placed his journal the night before. Opening it to the pages he wrote the day he quit the seminary, he found a passage he had copied from James Smart’s The Divided Mind of Modern Theology.

There are remarkable parallels between the European mood of the twenties and the English and American mood of the sixties: God seemed to have gone into hiding; religious and theological language out of the past had become wooden and unconvincing; men felt themselves suspended between a world that had died and a new world that was waiting to be born; a church indifferent to the plight of the masses was recognized as unworthy of the name Christian; the identification of Christianity with Western civilization, and of divinity with the higher elements in man, had become highly suspect; in various forms the hunger for a new world now was felt, and some understood it as hunger for a living God. In that kind of world Barth and Bultmann became theologians whose one endeavor was to find the word that would unlock the future, the word that would bring wholeness of faith and creative power by being the very truth of the living God.

It is Sunday, Randy thought. Today, churches would perhaps be filled to capacity, no doubt to celebrate a 200th birthday. Yet, Randy sensed that the ministers would still crank out those same tired sermons, their singsong voices rasping like rusty squeeze boxes, sounding out the same two-note refrain of the deadly forces that continually threaten the vitality of our church and nation—abortion and communism.

Randy replayed from memory a line he had memorized from his reading of one of Nietzsche’s early essays:

He who has but two strings on his instrument . . . does not understand those who can play on more strings. It is of the essence of the higher, multi-stringed culture that it is always misinterpreted by the lower culture . . .

Randy’s sojourn of recent years had definitely added more strings to his life’s instrument. No doubt this is why he was not attending church this particular morning, or most mornings for that matter. Virtually everything delivered from pulpits he had heard before, and indeed was beginning to write them out in his own sermons before he quit. He didn’t need to hear them again.

Randy recalled with a smile a quote he had read from his readings in the religions of India, how the Upanishad movement was sprung partly because the general population had grown weary of listening to the traditional chants of the Vedic priests “who sounded like croaking frogs in the swamps.”

America in 1976 was sounding restless. Perhaps a new world was beginning to dawn. The time is fulfilled. Randy wondered if his own odyssey was corresponding with the quest of this American nation in 1976, poised to enter a new age of Enlightenment. Where was Hank? It had been months since that night they sat at the fire, camping in west Texas. It was time to get together and talk some more. No doubt Hank had just as much weighing on his mind as Randy. Later today, Randy would return to Turvey’s Corner, having been away four years. Maybe Hank was already there.

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Thanks for reading my blog.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Zwischen den Zeiten

May 28, 2020

Good day, blogging friends. It was a long drive home yesterday and I was wiped out when I hit the sack last night. Waking early this morning, I immediately went about a number of tasks that needed to be done in the house, but Hank and Randy were on my mind, and the following story played out as I worked. Finally sitting down to the computer I spilled it out, so here’s how it’s looking at this time. Thanks always for reading, and thank you so much, all of you who have been posting comments. I’m thrilled that people are actually reading this. I managed a little time today to work on the accompanying watercolor as well, so here it is, still in progress . . .

8 x 10″ watercolor in progress

The night seemed to grow quieter in response to Randy’s remark on having plenty to chew as he sounded the religious depths of his life. The coffee was doing its work, soothing his tired spirit as he gazed into the fire, watching the yellow-orange sparks drift and disappear into the night sky. Pulling an index card from his field pack, he read to Hank what he had written on it:

The understanding of history is an uninterrupted conversation between the wisdom of yesterday and the wisdom of tomorrow.

“This is from the preface of the first edition of Barth’s commentary on Romans. I wrote it on an index card and kept it in my study carrel at the seminary where I could look up at it every day while studying. Finally, I decided to memorize it and keep it as a sort of mantra. Once I quit seminary, I decided to begin keeping a journal, and the card is now a bookmark. I’m forced to confront it every time I open the journal to write something. More than ever, I’m feeling a connection with the past—past writers anyway—and I’m trying to join my ideas to theirs to see if I can come to some kind of understanding of what’s going on in my life.”

As he listened, Hank felt an inner stirring of something unresolved. “You know—I think I’m going to start keeping a journal. I’ve never met anyone before you who actually did this, though I’m always reading about writers from the past who kept journals as a lifestyle—Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Twain. Nobody I know does that today, except now you. Soon as we get back to town, I’m gonna pick up a spiral or something and start volume one. I really believe we’re gonna find plenty to write about on this little adventure of ours.”

Randy reached for the urn and poured a second cup of the cowboy coffee, tasting better as the night unfolded. “Sometimes I wish I had started the journal earlier in life, but frankly I don’t really think I had anything worth recording till the stuff of the past year ruptured my plans. I’ve been struggling lately for something to read that makes me feel there is some kind of hope. On the bus yesterday, I found this from Barth’s Romans:

He is the hidden abyss; but He is also the hidden home at the beginning and end of all our journeyings.

“You know, Hank, I had this fairytale image of God planted in my consciousness from the time I was five years old when my folks made me go to church. The image really didn’t change much from those years till last year, even though my intellect allegedly grew in all other areas of life. When things started falling apart last year, I found myself questioning everything including whether God actually was there. I really feel this quote from Barth nails it—God is like an abyss, hidden. But I’m actually feeling like I’ve found a home in this life, some kind of refuge, though I am now on the road and without an address.”

Hank sat up straight. “Randy, the two of us are on parallel tracks. For both of us, a past life has crumbled and something new is trying to emerge.”

Randy nodded with enthusiasm. “Hank, I believe we’re living between two worlds, between two eras, Zwischen den Zeiten as Brother Barth would have said. The Jews between the Testaments conceived a rupture between the present evil age and the age to come, the ‘olam ha-ze and the ‘olam ha-ba. We now dwell in a Zeitgeist that I have no use for. I want to know the Arcadia I believe Thoreau found at Walden. The Indians that roamed these plains must have felt this about the land before the Europeans came and took possession of it. Every time I encounter a barbed wire fence, I want to cut it with wire cutters. You know, from Mexico to Canada, cowboys used to run cattle without barriers save for gorges and rivers and of course the Indians.”

Hank nodded in agreement. “I like the sound of that.”

“Hank my friend, your collect call may as well have been John the Baptist crying out like a voice in the wilderness. I was so ready for a new direction. Thanks for reaching out and bringing me here.”

Ten more minutes passed with neither of the two speaking. The coffee’s buzz had worn off and lethargy was taking over.

Randi pulled his sleeping bag from the straps that held it to the field pack, unrolled it, pulled off his boots and crawled inside. Hank did the same.

“Good night old Friend.”

“Good night Pal.”

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Thanks for reading!

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Westward on the Greyhound

May 16, 2020

Here is my latest installment of the Hank & Randy saga . . . (two stories precede this on my blog)

8 x 10″ watercolor

You moved out from the city?  I don’t blame you. In a world where they can split a tiny atom and blow up hundreds of thousands of people there’s no telling where it’s all going to lead. Best to find a quiet place and do what you have to do.

From the motion picture Pollock

Oklahoma. Randy gazed tiredly out the window of the moving Greyhound bus as it cleared the small town of Vinita. Squinting across the prairie under a bright sun, he tried to visualize Hank camped beneath the stars there eleven months ago.

He pulled from his pocket the postcard saved from the day he received it.

Randy,

Oklahoma stars are winking at me tonight in Vinita. I found a stretch of wide open prairie to sleep on.

More later,

Hank

Smiling now, Randy decided it was time to read. He still had hours of travel rolling out in front of him. Taking his field pack down from the overhead rack, he drew out his tattered volume of Karl Barth’s Epistle to the Romans. This along with his Greek New Testament was all he retained from his seminary years.

The barrier marks the frontier of a new country . . . Looking up from his book, Randy mused over the barriers that had hampered him. Until now. Turvey’s Corner was virtually a town hemmed in by a Medieval wall to keep out cultural invaders. Lutheran piety sheltered him from “the things of this world” his church leaders continually reminded him. College could have been an “opening up” for him, but he simply found the Jesus People wall a substitute for the Medieval one. Once out of college, he withdrew once again into the Lutheran fortress, in fact Luther’s Wartburg castle. Inside those walls, he studied his Greek New Testament, believing he had finally found genuine sanctuary.

And then, he read Karl Barth. In that second year of seminary study, Randy experienced the equivalent of Europe’s eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Die Aufklärung, the clearing. The scales fell from his eyes, and he felt he was looking at life squarely for the first time, like Matthew Arnold’s record of the ancient Greek “who saw life steadily, and saw it whole.”

With that Enlightenment came a heavy price: a young marriage and an established profession. Randy continued reading from Barth: But the activity of the community is related to the Gospel only in so far as it is no more than a crater formed by the explosion of a shell and seeks to be no more than a void in which the Gospel reveals itself.

Closing the book, Randy leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes, recalling all Professor Kirkpatrick had shared in the theology seminar last year. Barth’s commentary, written during the first World War, “fell like a bomb on the playground of the theologians,” wrote Karl Adam. Randy sighed deeply, thinking over the ramifications of the crater left in his life by recent convictions and decisions. As he journeyed westward, he wondered, what would now fill this enormous cavity opened up in his life?

Randy recalled Hank’s final words as he was saying good-bye to Turvey’s Corner nearly a year ago. Continually citing Thoreau’s Walden, Hank shared with Randy on that final day that Thoreu walked away from his parents and friends who continually hounded him with questions such as “When are you going to make something of yourself? With your Harvard degree, why don’t you get a job? When are you ever going to grow up and take responsibility?” Hank’s words before he turned to walk toward the highway leading from town still whispered in Hank’s memory:

Thoreau moved to Walden Pond in order to clear the cobwebs that clogged the ductwork of his daily consciousness. This is the only way epiphany could happen, by entering the Great Silence. I’ll get back to you soon, my Friend.

Closing his book, Randy stretched in his seat and closed his eyes for a nap. He was entering the Great Silence, no longer afraid of the crater.

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Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Shed the Burden and Travel Light

May 15, 2020
Leaving Town

During the work it was often as though I were being looked at by something from afar, from Asia Minor or Corinth, something very ancient, early oriental, indefinably sunny, wild, original, that somehow is hidden behind these sentences and is so ready to let itself be drawn forth by ever new generations.

Karl Barth, Letter dated September 27, 1917 to his friend Eduard Thurneysen

“If ya ask me, a fellah should be able to fit everything he owns into one of these. Ten bucks.”

The middle-aged veteran tossed the field pack down from the shelf of the Army/Navy Store. Randy caught it and was surprised that the twisted mass of green canvas and wagging straps wasn’t heavier than it appeared to the eye. The retired soldier climbed down from the ladder and stood there silently at attention as Randy examined the merchandise.

Feeling the cold stare from the pale blue eyes of the warrior, Randy nevertheless sensed the disciplined patience of a man well seasoned, and took his time looking over every compartment, every buckle and stitch of the pack. No one else was in the store, and there was no hurry. Randy needed to be sure he was selecting the right gear for the journey waiting ahead.

“I’ll take it. I need to look at some mess gear as well. And a sleeping bag.”

Hank had phoned collect less than two hours ago. Already Randy Singleton had determined he would leave Turvey’s Corner to join his lifelong friend. Would he be coming back? Maybe, but hopefully not for a long time. The town no longer felt like home as he had moved away to attend college six years ago, and upon graduation, chose to live in St. Louis nearly an hour away. Being married to one not from here, there had been little reason to linger any longer in Turvey’s Corner.

Randy was no longer the young idealist that left the small town in 1966. At college five hours away, he had experienced a profound, existential loneliness. It was not just that he was separated from his parents and homelife; something much more debilitating crippled him–that feeling of being lost in an unfamiliar world seemingly unaware of him and harboring no regard for his achievement or failure.

Then the Jesus People embraced him. This West Coast movement that Midwesterners derided as “freaks” enveloped his small, rural state college campus like a warm quilt during those gray winter months, and Randy for the first time in his life felt accepted and regarded by a large number of peers.

After two months of nightly prayer gatherings, praise meetings featuring live acoustic guitar and enthusiastic singing, Bible study rap sessions, and coffee house leisure, Randy accepted the “call” to serve Christ. Suddenly his college studies paled in interest; he only wanted to pore over the Scriptures. His life had in every sense converted–he was on a radically different couse than he had ever known before.

Graduation came quickly, it seemed. The four years were a blur, and suddenly the Jesus People evaporated, many of them migrating further East, some quitting, most graduating and scattering to the winds to find employment. Suddenly wihout a community, without a support group, Randy was alone and directionless. Again. He held in his hand a college degree with a teacher’s certificate, but felt no inclination to enter a classroom and collect a monthly minimal paycheck. There had to be something more.

Returning to Turvey’s Corner, Randy determined that he did not want to be a teacher come fall. So what else could he do? Sitting up late one night with his boyhood friend Hank, the possibility of seminary study came up. Having been raised Lutheran, he was aware of Concordia Seminary in the St. Louis region an hour away. Why not? More schooling didn’t seem such a bad idea. Better than going to work as a schoolteacher.

Concordia was a campus that seemed to have more regard for Randy’s welfare than the state college he had endured before. Had it not been for the Jesus People, he would not have felt any depth of concern for his well-being. This was different. Support groups abounded. He never felt alone, and in his second semester he met Debbie, a secretary in the Office of Admissions with southeast Missouri roots. Her lifelong dream was to be a minister’s wife. The small-town chemistry between the two seemed solid, and ten months later they were married.

Then came the earthquake. In the third and final year of seminary study, a profound change came over Randy. He didn’t feel comfortable confiding in anyone what was happening, but in June 1972, Randy knew for certain that he would not be entering the ministry. When approached for ordination, he quietly said “No” to his elders. Debbie was shakened to the foundations. For years she had embraced dreams of church life, of social engagements, community organization, and Lutheran practices. She dreamt of children nurtured in a Christian home and a loving pastoral husband. Suddenly, Randy was saying “No.” Why? Everyone asked. Randy wouldn’t answer.

Tomorrow would be September 27. Randy was buying supplies and would board a Greyhound bus in the morning to roll toward the Southwest and renew aquainance with Hank. And maybe he would be able to talk about this.

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Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

It is Now “Hank and Randy”

May 14, 2020
Hank & Randy

“Collect call from Hank Shelton, will you accept?”

“Yes.”

“Randy?”

“Hank! Is that really you?! Where the hell you calling from?”

“Lubbock, Texas. Can you believe it?”

“Jesus! How’d you get so far away?”

“Long story, and this call’s gonna cost you already.”

“Are you alright?”

“Aw yeah. Things are good. I just wanted to hear a friend’s voice. I’m all by myself still. How ‘bout you. Seminary treatin’ you right?”

“I dropped out.”

“What?!”

“Yeah. And Debbie and I are through too.”

“No!”

“Yeah. Lot’s changed since you left.”

“Sorry.”

“Don’t be. I think this is gonna be the right thing.”

“Hang in there, buddy.”

“Hey, Hank.”

“Yeah?”

“Call me back in a couple days, promise. After 5:00 when I’m off work.”

“O.K., sure.”

“I wanna come out there where you are.”

“Really? You’re kidding!”

“No, really. I need a change. Bad.”

“You’ll hear from me, promise.”

“Thanks for calling, pal. I’m gonna tie up some loose ends here and get ready to hit the road, so call me. We’re gonna raise some sand!”

After weeks of traveling between Lubbock and Arlington, Texas and working on this house daily, I was struck with a new idea yesterday to continue my Hank saga. Enter Randy Singleton, Hank’s friend since second grade.

In answer to friends who have asked “Who is Hank, really?” my reply is that Hank has been a combination of my life and my friend Wayne White since second grade. Thanks to Facebook, we found each other a few years ago after being separated since high school graduation. Since then we have camped together, fished together, and sat up all night telling stories. Wayne still lives in Missouri, so I don’t see him nearly as often as I wish. But he also keeps a blog (https://ramblingsofafarrier.com/) and we stay in close touch.

My stories and paintings hit a snag recently, not only because of this move back and forth between two cities five hours apart, but because I ran out of steam with Hank always being alone and my having to create interior monologues. I knew he needed a companion. So . . . I am now introducing Randy and will attempt to flesh out their separate identities as they prepare to join each other on the road.

The painting posted above is of Wayne and me, camping. I created it a couple of summers ago. I already have plans for the next painting of the pair of characters for the story, but I have yet to start that actual painting. Hopefully, it won’t be long. Since yesterday I have written three brand new stories of this pair, and plan to launch them soon, after some more editing.

Thanks always for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

Completion of “Hank at the General Store”

April 20, 2020
Hank at Crane’s General Store

The journey from the Caprock fire site to the city of Lubbock took most of the day. Highway 84 was light on traffic and even lighter on motorists willing to pick up a hitchhiker looking like he had just emerged from the wilderness. As evening encroached upon the college town, Hank decided on a quality night’s sleep in a small roadside motel south of town. A shower and clean shirt would also make him look less threatening in public.

The following morning surprised him. Late October in Texas was not what he had known growing up in Missouri. Here, a bright sun-splashed morning with a hint of autumn weather embraced him, not the biting frost he had known all his life this time of year. Crane’s General Store lay on the quiet southern border of Lubbock, the traffic occasional on the farm-to-market road stretched out front. On the south side of the store, a long stretch of cotton field lay, looking like freshly fallen snow. Hank had only read about cotton farming when in school; he had never seen one with his own eyes. To the north of the store, a lenghty stretch of land rolled out flat as a carpet, golden brown under the autumnal sun, the low horizon providing a bright azure sky with no clouds. The cool winds brought acrid smells of tractor exhaust and he saw the rusty Allis-Chalmers chugging along the empty stretch of farm land.

Inside the dim interior of the store, Hank noticed immediately the pot-bellied stove, not yet needed for winter, but already on standby. The brightly clashing colors of canned and cartoned essentials lined the tidied shelves, ready for his restocking before hitting the road again. The sight of the meat counter took Hank way, way back to Proustian remembrances of Marlin’s store down the road from his grandparents’ farm in southeast Missouri. The Marlin family lived in the back of the store, and Hank now noticed a door behind the meat counter that separated the Crane residence from the actual store. It reminded him of the residence he left behind in Turvey’s Corner less than a month ago.

Mrs. Crane (call me Annie) was a gracious soul in her late years, her silver-colored hair stretched tightly back into a neat bun, her white apron already stained from the foods she had been preparing for customers throughout the morning. Conversation with her was warm and inviting, and he learned that this store had been established during World War I, and had never been out of business, handed down through the generations of Cranes living on the southside of Lubbock. Hank had not entered a store such as this since the late 1950’s and the mental journey back into his personal history filled him with a warmth that he needed this particular morning.

Peering at the items beneath the glass, Hank ordered a pair of sandwiches to be prepared, one for now, the other to be wrapped in wax paper for later. Bologna and sharp cheddar cheese were sliced on the old white Hobart machine. The bread also was sliced from a loaf and slathered with mustard and mayonnaise. Each of the pair of sandwiches was completed with a slice of yellow onion, slice of fresh tomato from the garden out back, and some lettuce. Glass bottles of Coke were collected from the big red box at the front of the store. Hank thanked Annie for the warm moment and stepped out to the front porch.

A row of freshly painted Warmack steel lawn chairs lined the shaded portion of the store, waiting for company. Setting down his backpack, Hank settled into one of the chairs, took out one of his sandwiches, and, forgetting to open his Coke, went back into the store to find an opener on the front of the red box. Now, it was time to chew the sandwich slowly and resume his reading of Emerson from the volume of essays the minister gave him a few days ago. “Self-Reliance” titled an essay that Hank thought might be appropriate for this stage of his life’s journey.

Ne te quaesiviris extra.

“Do not seek outside yourself.” Brushing back tears, Hank leaned back, closed his eyes and paused as a wave of cathartic emotion washed over him without warning. Throughout his life, he had harbored an inferiority complex. He never regarded himself as physically attractive, he was not athletic in school and not popular either. From his early childhood, his family had lived in rural settings with no neighborhoods of children with whom to bond and play. Hank, an only child, had spent his childhood years alone, and once entering school, never really knew how to reach out to his classmates. Remaining quiet during class discussions, he listened with envy to his peers answering all questions and bravely leading out with their opinions on literature assigned. And so, to add to his physical appearance and lack of sociability, Hank harbored this notion of being intellectually inferior. Time spent working in the gas station did not improve his social condition; proprietors were mostly old men who talked and laughed with each other, while Hank stood in the background looking on. His entire life was spent measuring himself against the standard of what he saw in others, always concluding that his own spirit had been weighed and found wanting.

And now he was here, seventeen hours from his home, afoot. Why? To think, and not be surrounded by the people he had seen all his life but who never really seemed to see him. Out west, Hank was finding time, space and a feel for destiny. No longer would he have to listen to Mom asking “When are you going to make something of your life?” or Dad commenting that Hank was O.K., just had been sheltered all his life and now had no clue what to do with it. The other day, the Reverend told Hank: “God made you, and God doesn’t make junk. Read Emerson’s Self-Reliance. It’s time to start believing in yourself.”

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men,–that is genius.

One reason Hank was ready to listen to Emerson with his whole heart came from a fact the Reverend had surprised him with in conversation: the reality that Emerson was a nominal student in school, not a class standout by anyone’s standards. In college as well, Emerson did not impress his mentors. What essentially set him apart as an American sage was this indwelling determination that he had quality to share with anyone who would listen. Hank was now listening.

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.

Emerson was now calling out Hank in the most provocative way. In school all those years, Hank always thought his ideas were wrong and inferior because they did not match what his teachers and peers were saying aloud. Now, for the first time, he was embracing his ideas because they were his. People don’t go out on the open road with no advanced planning. But this is what Hank was doing, right now, and for the first time he was ready to believe in its value.

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Thank you readers for your continued encouragement as I work on this new Hank material. I am forced to take a hiatus for a few days . . . I’ll explain later. I hope to return soon with new stories and a new painting to continue the Hank saga.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.