Saturday, March 31, 2012

Civil Rights Movement In Gadsden, AL

On June 11, 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace took a stand against integration by placing himself in the doorway of the University of Alabama’s Foster Auditorium in order to block the entry of two African American students who were trying to register at the university.  One of those students, James Hood, was from Gadsden, AL; a graduate of Carver High School.  Thankfully, that day in June, President John F. Kennedy sent the National Guard to Tuscaloosa, to assist those two students in their endeavors to get an education, and eventually Governor Wallace stepped aside to allow Vivian Malone and James Hood to enter the building and enroll as students.

Ms. Malone would go on to receive her degree in business management from the university, and would enter into a lifetime of civil rights work.  She died from a stroke in 2005.  She was 63 at the time of her death.

Mr. Hood left the university after two months…for reasons I’ve yet to discover.  He would return many years later to the University of Alabama to finish his Ph.D.  He has since settled back here in Gadsden, AL.  Andy Powell of the Gadsden Times interviewed Mr. Hood in early 2011.  You may watch that interview here.

While trying to find more information about Mr. Hood on the internet, I discovered a collection of Gadsden, AL Civil Rights demonstration photos on the Penn State University Libraries website.  They are part of the Jack Rabin Collection on Alabama Civil Rights and Southern Activists.  You may find them here.  As I looked through the photos, they spoke volumes to me about the Gadsden, AL of 1963.  Notice the number of demonstrators, and their ethnicity.  I am happy that there were citizens here in Gadsden who cared and believed enough about the cause to demonstrate for it, but I cannot help but be disappointed in the turnout, and the seeming lack of support from the white community.   

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Passing of Earl Scruggs, or The Day the Truckers Wept

I grew up on bluegrass; remember my daddy taking me to a bluegrass festival in Tennessee one time where we met up with my Aunt Marilyn, her former spouse (J.C. Fox), and family friends Anita ('niter) & Dexter.  I recall the feeling that bluegrass gave me, one of barely controlled excitement...a racing that started in my heart, then moved to fluttering in my stomach, and made its way as tapping all the way down to my toes.  I wanted to move my feet real bad when I heard a banjo getting picked or some fiddle strings (strangs) being pulled, so I understood the urge of some folks to throw down a piece of plywood and start buck dancing.  It's just a body's natural reaction to all that banjo pickin' and fiddle playin.'

Broke my heart to hear of the passing of banjo player Earl Scruggs.  I sure did enjoy the music he made with Lester Flatt.  Eric and I always look for a chance to reference his Foggy Mountain Breakdown (like when we see a tractor-trailer on the side of the road with its hood up, we'll say something like, "Well, it looks like that feller done had him a Foggy Mountain Breakdown."  And we always say it in the voice of Convoy's C.W. McCall.). 

So, now that I've got banjo music stuck in your head, I'm going to go work our fifth annual GPL Links for Literacy Golf Tournament.    I'm feeling a little Flatt & Scrugg-less right now...

Spring at The Bungalow

Spring arrived early this year.  It has been gorgeously warm for the last month or so, which has caused everything to get confused.  The flowers have been blooming, the May flies have been swarming, and just yesterday, I saw a squished June bug on the sidewalk.  What’s up with that?!?

Our yellow Siberian Iris FINALLY bloomed this year (it, along with the lavender crepe myrtles, was a late Spring 2011 edition to our lawn from the half-price sale of the annual Master Gardener’s Spring Plant Sale).  I expect to be able to split it out next year.  Our original-recipe purple iris doubled in size and need to be split out, too.  I know some neighbors who are going to be plant-bombed this year!

The wisteria that I swiped from mom and dad’s woods two years ago finally bloomed, too.  I’m training this guy to be a tree-shaped wisteria, instead of letting it vine on the house.  I value our mortar and bricks too much to let it loose…

 This sweet shrub is one of my favorite plants that came along with the house.  It is very hardy, easy to propagate, and it smells like bubble gum when you walk by it.  I purposefully positioned the back garden path so that people walking through the garden would brush up against this plant and catch a whiff of its candy-like fragrance.  I'm surprised we don't end up with a back yard full of neighborhood kids when this thing blooms...

And here is one of the many purple money plants that we have coming up in the back yard.  I've pulled up many of these (we had purple and white ones taking over the back yard when we first moved in two years ago), but they are self-seeding, and they always come back.  The trick is to keep them under control...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Paper, Print & Poetry Exhibit: Adult Entries Part Deux

Here are photos of the rest of the adult entries. 

Brandy Hyatt
All I Wanted Was a Friend
Altered book, mixed media.  Open book that has been excavated to reveal a pond, filled with epoxy water.  Scene was created with acrylic paint, modeling rocks, modeling paste, recycled green purse (cut), washer, push pins, and golden ball.  Inspired by Grimm’s The Frog Prince.

Charles Centerfit Hart
Stalking Ghosts, An Exercise
Journal from a church retreat.  Paper is Standard’s Permalife.  Memorabilia pasted and taped in by author.

Martha Ann Burgard
Original poem on handmade paper, tacked to a recycled cedar board.

Brandy Hyatt
All That I Am
Miniature box book.  Vintage cardboard jewelry box, embellished with cut and pasted words describing the artist and the viewer.  



Kathy Russell
Heraldry of the World
Altered book, folded page art.  

Carol Roark York
A Job For the Undertaker
Black cardstock concertina with cut out words from Juliet In Mantua.

Carol Roark York
Untitled Journal
Tan suede (recycled from thrift store jacket) with vintage mirrored button, vintage jet bead; signatures made from recycled paper.


Stacey Stepleton
A Beautiful Mistake
Altered book, folded page art, mixed media.  Front cover is embellished with shells and beads.  Text is composed of folded page art, interspersed with original poetry and art by the artist; hand beaded pages and a felt flower adorn the text.

Carol Roark York
Addie Bundren’s Greek Chorus
Altered book, folded page art.  Acrylic paint on cut boards; paper, paste and bread-tie-wire buzzards.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Paper, Print & Poetry Exhibit: Adult Entries Part I

On Friday, March 23, we hosted our final GPL Book Arts Project program, the Paper, Print & Poetry (P3) Exhibition.  The purpose of this exhibition was to give our participants an opportunity to present their work as artists, and to give our community an opportunity to see work that was generated during this series.  My PSA went something like this:
Browse through the unique art that was created during the GPL Book Arts Project!  From folded-page recycled book art to original poetry written on handmade paper…From macabre fractured fairy tales to elaborate handmade journals…Celebrate and appreciate the art of the book!

As part of the exhibition, we created a make-and-take table where people could sit down and design their own concertina books out of folded and cut card stock, pre-painted mini paintings, and words & pictures from discarded World Books.  It was a direct result of this table that we ran over our scheduled time by at least an hour…I almost had to start flipping the lights and making a last call!

Here are photos of half of the adult entries.  I’ll post the other half soon.  And then I’ll post the teen entries.

Stacey Stepleton
A Thousand Little Houses
Altered book, folded page art, mixed media.  Altered edition of W.H. Auden’s About the House, with stickers, dried flowers, beads and tempura paint.  Cover is embellished with stickers and a punched-copper rendering of a house.

Tiffany Carlson & Cary Long
Happily Ever After
Altered book, mixed media.  Roget’s International Thesaurus opened to the section on the word love; embellished with a Whitman quote, several significant numbers, a framed engagement photograph, feathers, a paper flower and decorative knobs.  Hanger is made from copper wire, with two copper love-birds.

Brandy Hyatt
Enforced Entry
Altered book, mixed media.  Embellished with metal pieces, rice paper, bottle opener, razor blade, pocket knife, mini saw blade, chains, paint, electrical plug cover, washers, bolts.

Kathy Russell
Elements of Legal Research 
Altered book, folded page art.

Carol Roark York
Beauty Is Pain
Mixed media, miniature.  Boards of book were created out of a recycled Avon eyeshadow container, embellished with repurposed upholstery tacks.  Text block is composed of two concertinas made from handmade paper and feature words that describe common historical and modern beauty practices.


Nicole Papa
Fun Day
Altered book, mixed media.  Folded page art, with mixed media.  Embellished with crayons, magnetic alphabet letters, ants (from Milton Bradley Ants in the Pants game), and assorted colorful bugs.

More to come...

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Absalom, Absalom Pub Crawl

I’m in the process of planning our next pub crawl, a pub crawl for a book that ranks number one on my Top Five Books of All Time:  Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner.  Since we are about to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Uncle Bill’s death (no, he’s not really my uncle, but like Uncle Walt Whitman, I claim him), I thought it would be a nice way to remember the GREATEST WRITER OF ALL TIME, and force my favorite book on our participants.

This will be our sixth pub crawl.  So far we’ve hosted the Milton 400/Paradise Lost Pub Crawl, the Portable Pub Crawl for Hemingway’s Moveable Feast, the Bloomsday Pub Crawl for Joyce’s Ulyssess, the Pilgrimage Pub Crawl for Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, and the Whitman’sSampler Pub Crawl for Leaves of Grass.  They have been very successful, especially considering the size of our city (Gadsden’s population is about fifty thousand).

I essentially stole the pub crawl idea from my adopted home of six years, Denver, CO.  See, way back in 2004 or 2005, I helped out with one leg of an all-day Bloomsday Pub Crawl that took place throughout the city.   It was a HUGE pub crawl, one that started in the morning, and didn’t end until late in the evening.  Bookstores, street corners, watering holes were all on the pub crawl route.  Professors, businessmen, then-mayor John Hickenlooper, and average Joes were involved as readers.  It was a fabulous pub crawl, one that inspired me to create my own pub crawl on a much smaller scale, in a much smaller town.

So, I am now in the process of rereading Absalom, Absalom for the umpteenth time in preparation for the June crawl.  I will be reviving Dean Faulkner Wells’ Faux Faulkner Contest for the evening.  Winner gets a rusty hand scythe!  You Absalom fans out there will get that joke…

For anyone who is interested, here is my PSA:

Absalom, Absalom Pub Crawl to honor William Faulkner!

When:  June 27, 5:45PM
Where:  Assorted Pubs On Broad Street

Join the Gadsden Public Library, Downtown Gadsden, Incorporated (DGI), and our sauntering scholar Dave Murdock as they hoist a glass to remember William Faulkner on (near) the 50th anniversary of his death.

Enter our Faux Faulkner Writing Contest to win a rusty hand scythe!  Only pre-registered pub crawl participants may enter!  Only one winner!  Judging takes place at the end of the evening!

5:45PM-Pitman Theatre-Meet & Greet Reception.
6PM-Pitman Theatre
7PM-Downtown Tavern
8PM-Blackstone Pub & Eatery

How to participate:
Pre-register for Pub Crawl by calling 256.549.4699, ext. 107.  Purchase or check out a copy of Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom.  Read book.  Dine & drink while reading & discussing Faulkner throughout the evening in three of Gadsden’s finest downtown establishments!

Seats are limited to 25, pre-registration is required.

Each individual is responsible for his/her own bar tab at the Downtown Tavern & at Blackstone Pub & Eatery. 

This is a GPL & DGI Production.  For additional information and pre-registration, please call Carol @ 256.549.4699, ext. 107, or email at 

Still looking for Mark A. Smith.

Some folks who read my blog post Missing Person:  Mark A. Smith may be wondering if there has been a break in the case.  There has not.  My cousin Mark is still missing.  Here are the news items about him:

From WKRC Cincinnati:

From Fox 12:

Still holding out hope.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Tex Part II

About a month ago, I was on my way home when I saw Tex about a block from the house.  He was swinging a stick at some invisible foe when he looked up and saw me.  I waved and kept on driving.  When I pulled into the driveway, I looked in my rearview mirror and was surprised to see Tex running up behind me.

Me:  Hey there, Tex!  How’re you doin?’ 
Tex:  Well, I’ve done run away, is how I’m doin.’
Me:  Hmmm…well, how come you run away?
Tex:  I been accused at school of sayin’ somethin’ I didn’t say, and my grandpa just about beat the life outta me, so I left.  I don’t have to take that.  (Tex started talking faster at this point) I’mgonnaliveinthewoods and killarabbitwiththisherestick and I’mgonnabuildafireandcookitandeatit.
Me:  Well, what did they accuse you of sayin?’
Tex:  That I called this big old fat girl a big. old. fat. girl.
Me:  Hmmm…well, you know that if you did say something like that, it wouldn’t be nice, right?
Tex:  But I didn’t, so that’s why I’m running away.
Me (looking at the sky):  Well, okay, but it looks like a storm is rolling in.  You may want to postpone your running off until tomorrow or something…
Tex:  Naw, I’ll be okay.  I can sleep on your porch and be safe.
Me (with much put-on emphasis):  Now listen here!  We can’t be havin’ no fugitives livin’ on our porch!  You best get them thoughts outta your head!
Tex (laughing):  I’m no fugitive!
Me:  Why, yes you are!  The minute you ran away, you became a fugitive!  You’re tryin’ to get me and Eric in trouble with the authorities for harboring a wanted fugitive…aiding and abetting…you little rascal!  I’m not fallin’ for that…

By this point, Tex was bolstered by the idea of being a wanted fugitive, and was looking right proud of himself.  He swung his stick up under his arm like a Tommy Gun, threw his head back for a belly laugh, and strolled off down the road.  He was on the lam…

An aside:  Eric pulled in from his race yesterday afternoon.  It usually takes him a little bit of time to unload his gear from the car, so I headed out to help him.  When I walked out on the porch, Eric was unstrapping his bike from the car, and talking to what seemed to be the brick post.  I walked over to see what he was talking to, and a grinning Tex poked his head around the corner.  Tex was in a talking mood.  We listened as he told us about his new pet chicken, the one he was keeping in his tub at home, how he had come by it, and how he was planning on never having to buy eggs again.  As Tex talked, he pressed himself up against the brick wall, scooted down to creep up the stairs to the porch, and folded his body behind our chaise lounge.  It was as if he was trying to sneak up on our porch without our permission, but was doing it right in front of us by distracting us with his storytelling.  It worked.  Pretty soon, he was sitting on the chaise lounge across from me, talking up a storm.  When he notice that the couch upon which I sat was one that moved on hinges, he exclaimed, “A swing couch!”  Eric responded, “Well, it’s a glider, actually.”  Tex retorted, “Well, I call it a swing couch!”  Eric’s last words as he walked through the door were, “Some folks call it a Kaiser couch…”  Smart aleck.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tex Part I

Now, there’s this kid in the neighborhood whom I adore because, not only does he seem like he’s a long lost member of the Little Rascals Gang, but he reminds me a great deal of my darling nephew.  I suspect that like my nephew, he has Asperger’s, but unlike my nephew, I don’t think that he has been tested or diagnosed, so he’s missing out on the educational and behavioral assistance that he can receive from that diagnosis.  Eric and I have become watchful of this kid, and we go out of our way to ask him how his day is going, or to let him help us do yard work. 

The first time I met this kid was when my friend Tami and I were having after-work wine and snacks on the porch about a year ago.  I saw him coming our way from a fair piece down the street.  He had probably smelled the pimento-stuffed olives and cheddar cheese from a mile away, as growing kids are wont to do with food.  As he approached, his eyes were focused on the food platter.  He hopped up on one of our pine stumps (this was the phase between pine removal and stump grinding) and asked, with his eyes locked on the Cabot Vermont Cheddar, “Whatchall got there?”  I was thinking to myself, “Now look here fella, we don’t want no trouble outta you…”, but instead I said, “We’re having adult snacks and beverages and conversation.”  He cocked his head to one side, “Well, can I have some?”  My mind toyed with the idea of giving him one olive and one square of cheese, but then I imagined word of my feeding of children getting out amongst the kids of the neighborhood (I had experienced their Blitzkrieg the winter before when I had baked up some cookies at Christmas), so I thought better of it.  I replied in as kind, yet stern a voice, “No, now, you best move along.  Like I said, these are adult snacks and beverages, so, this is a no-kid zone right now.”  He did move along, glancing back over his shoulder a few times as if to give me a chance to take back what I said.  I worried that I had hurt his feelings…

That was not the case.  His feelings were not hurt in the least, and he kept coming around.  Often.  And the more he kept coming around, the more I learned about his personality and his personal life.  He has a strong Southern drawl and a voice that goes up and down with lots of emphasis and, in some cases, indignation.  He goes through growth spurts that come so often, he’ll walk up to you in pants that fit, but walk away in high-waters.  He’s got a lot of pride and bravado, and he sometimes stretches the truth.  He knows more about the Alabama Crimson Tide than my own momma and Tom Banks, III combined (which is saying a lot), and is determined to play football for them one day. He lives with his grandparents here in the neighborhood, ‘cause his momma lives in Texas.  After one of the times that he went to visit her, I began to call him Tex.  He really liked that for some reason, so I still call him that to this day.  You can tell by looking at him what kind of mood he’s in; if he’s swinging a stick and walking with his head down, beware. But know that his mood can change really quickly if you just ask him how his day was, and then just let him talk. 


Friday, March 9, 2012

Missing Person: Mark A. Smith

I’ve mentioned before about spending summers and Thanksgivings in Kentucky with my grandmother.  I would do all manner of things while I was there, like steal horses, look for stills in the blackberry brambles, practice my water witching, pick ticks off the dogs, and roughhouse with my boy cousins.  Well, since my boy cousins had at least eight years on me, it was more like they would roughhouse with me than I would with them.    

My cousin Mark was real good at playing hard with me, squishing and flipping me so much, that I even threw up once or twice.  Now, don’t think that I didn’t enjoy the playing just because I threw up.  No, the throwing up meant that I was enjoying myself a little too much…and once I threw up, an adult usually intervened to usher me off to a spare bedroom so that I could rest up until the next session.  Usually I would spend that time wisely moaning and thrashing about the bed as if Mark had squeezed scurvy or lock jaw or epilepsy into my body somehow (my knowledge of ailments was somewhat limited at that time due to lack of life experience).  So, by the time Mark would come and check on me, he would be so grief stricken at the state that he had left me in, he would punch out all of my paper dolls for me.  At least that’s how I remember it.  He may recollect differently.

When the Dukes of Hazzard first aired in the late 70s, I swore that my cousin Mark and Bo Duke were one and the same.  To me they looked remarkably alike.  Both had all-American good looks, feathery blond hair, and could enter and exit a car through a window (I speculated on that last fact).  AND I never saw the two of them in a room together at the same time.  It’s a fact.

Mark and I have stayed in touch sporadically over the years: him coming to see my mom and dad several years ago in Rainbow City and us being Facebook friends.  Distance doesn’t make it any less distressing to find out this morning that the last time anyone saw or heard from Mark was on February 16.  Mark is missing.  And although I am a positive person, my experience with missing persons is not good.  Regardless of whether Mark has dropped off the grid to clear his head over something that the rest of us don’t know about, or something unthinkable has happened to him, he needs help.  I cannot do much for my cousin Mark, but I’m going to do what I can through this blog.

Now, I don’t know where my readership is, but I would appreciate ANYONE reading this blog to please look at Mark’s profile on the National Missing and Unidentified Database.  Better yet, here is more info about Mark that is not on the NamUs site:   His full name is Mark A. Smith.  He is 50 yrs old.  He has short brown hair.  He is about 6’3,” 220 lbs.  Mark is from Independence, KY, Kenton County.  Mark drives a 1999 Blue Ford Ranger with KY Tags 816-AYK.  His sister Mechelle Wallace posted this on her Facebook about Mark: “Mark's cell phone has been going to voicemail since he has been missing, which is not like him at all. He always keeps in touch with his family & friends on a daily basis. He didn't take anything with him that he would normally take is he was leaving to go out of town. The Independence Police Dept. are doing everything they can but have little to go on, so if you have see(n) Mark Smith or know anything...Please contact The police dept, Mechelle Wallace or Jane Smith with anything that may help.”  Or message me here on my blog.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

When Irene Latham came to town...

...she was wearing a red floral skirt and biker boots, which spoke to me of both a femininity and a toughness that I admire about her as a person, and that I admire about her work.  Irene was just the inspiration to prompt folks to write during our writer residency portion of the GPL Book Arts Project.  Students quilted poetry out of emotions and memories, bloggers noted forgotten thoughts on the backs of a scraps of paper, a men’s group began planning an Easter sunrise service that will include participants reading bits of poetry about rebirth, renewal and love…

Irene Latham is an author whose storytelling has such depths and richness, a reader can get completely lost in the words.  Both her poetry and her prose remind us of life’s greatest pleasures and pains, the things that round us out and make us who we are.  Love and loss.  The colors of nature and the changing of the seasons. The smells and the tastes that trigger memories.  I don’t have to tell you anymore, right?  You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? 

One of my all-time favorite poems happens to be one penned by Irene (and may be found in her book The Color of Lost Rooms), a love poem entitled Black Shaw Remembers Crazy Horse (reprinted here with permission of Irene Latham):

The old ones like to say
memory is like riding a trail
at night with a lighted torch.
And so it does not surprise me
that your face has been swallowed
by darkness, your voice black as
the wounded wings of a crow.

But sometimes the torch flares,
illuminating the way your body
folded itself against mine,
how the last time you loved me
you dipped your thumb in red paint
and covered the part in my hair,
marking me a woman greatly loved.

When the rattlesnake came into
the lodge, you could not crush it.
And you couldn't save our daughter
from the white man's coughing disease.
In the end, the Black Hills were lost, too -
the heart of everything that is.

I wasn't your only wife. But I am
the one who remembers. I whisper
your name and it drifts as snow
across the prairie, then melts
and is gone.

I especially love the image “memory is like riding a trail at night with a lighted torch,” and “sometimes the torch flares.”  Memory is just like that.  So perfectly said.

On this International Women’s Day, I celebrate the women I know and love by reading Irene Latham’s The Color of Lost Rooms.  For additional information about Irene, please visit her website here, and her blog here.