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Monday, Sep. 1, 2014
The last word (07/28/11)
July 28, 2011 Dear readers, This is my final column for the Southeast Missourian. No mourning is called for. I'm just moving on to other interests. You will too. This column began about 20 years ago, so more than 1,000 Letters from Home have appeared. My mother has clipped and saved every one. Other people occasionally have told me if a particular column made them think. A columnist hopes for no more...
Sundown (07/21/11)
July 21, 2011 Dear Julie, These days are torrid here in the Midwest. Hot, humid, not the kind of weather that makes you want to go outside. The heat builds through the day until close to sundown. Then it seems to explode in a wave that moistens the body and makes you thirsty. In the movie "Body Heat," everyone seems to be sweating and people do things they might not otherwise do. This kind of weather makes people want to kill each other, one of the detectives says...
An art called golf (07/14/11)
July 14, 2011 Dear Pat, Back when I started taking golf seriously in my 40s I naively thought me playing on the tour for players over 50 was possible. The fact that everyone on that tour began taking golf seriously in their teens or even earlier did not dissuade me. Eventually my goal became learning something from the ground up. The more I learned the more I wanted to learn. Golf was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma...
Wondering what (07/07/11)
July 7, 2011 Dear Julie, While transferring her old reel-to-reel tapes onto CDs, my mother found a tape of my old friend David playing and singing three songs he'd written, including one we co-wrote for a creative writing class. It was about horses and Georgia, subjects we knew nothing about. That didn't matter to us then. Twenty-year-olds want to write about what they don't know, not what they do know...
Sitting with dad (06/30/11)
June 30, 2011 Dear Leslie At 10:17 p.m. I am sitting in a chair in an assisted living facility. My father is asleep in the bed in front of me. A man neither of us knows sleeps in the bed beside my father's. A curtain separates strangers. Wheelchairs parked next to both beds await...
Inside DC's brain (06/23/11)
June 23, 2011 Dear Leslie, Our niece Casey graduated from the local university last month with a degree in fashion merchandising. That's after starting college intent on becoming a pharmacist. Our niece Carly graduated from the University of Cincinnati a few weeks ago. She will become an elementary school teacher like her mom. Our niece Kim is studying in Spain this summer. She is double majoring in premed and Spanish at Ohio State...
Welcoming Baby Gill (06/16/11)
June 16, 2011 Dear Patty, After Kristin Gill found out she was pregnant, the second-graders in her class at Blanchard School began work on a book about the baby. The class had a "baby talk" session every Monday, discussing their ideas about pregnancy, writing them down and drawing pictures of Baby Gill-to-be...
Don't know much about history (06/09/11)
June 9, 2011 Dear Leslie, I didn't pay much attention in American history class either. The going could be dry, especially in the days before PowerPoint presentations. Lots of dates to memorize, less context to make the dates meaningful. In one history class I painted old-fashioned two-legged wooden clothespins to look like Redcoats and mounted them on a papier-mache hill. That is what I know about the Battle of Bunker Hill...
Taking the waters (06/02/11)
June 2, 2011 Dear Pat, During much of the last half of the 20th century, the Capaha Park Pool was the epicenter of summer fun for much of Cape Girardeau's youth. Now the deteriorated pool is being torn down. The bulldozer is leaving a hole in the middle of the park and excavating lots of memories...
Upside down (05/26/11)
May 26, 2011 Dear Julie, The tornado deposited Dorothy and Toto in the Technicolor Land of Oz, but the denizens of Joplin have no such fate. Devastation and heartbreak are all around. They must wonder what will become of their town and their lives...
Selling Armageddon (05/19/11)
May 19, 2011 Dear Leslie, You remember Jim Bakker, the televangelist imprisoned for fraud a couple of decades ago. A long time free, he lives in Branson now. His "PTL Club" sold prosperity. Bakker's current cable TV program preaches Armageddon and sells freeze-dried food to help survive it. The show must go on...
Being here (05/12/11)
May 12, 2011 Dear Patty, In junior high school the Central football and basketball games provided my primary entertainment. The athletes on those teams were heroes to me, maybe especially because I was a scrawny kid. They were better than comic book heroes. They were real. So were the cheerleaders...
Corps no villain (05/05/11)
May 5, 2011 Dear Julie, When books and articles about the year 2012 began predicting the end of life as we know it, one contained a drawing depicting how North America supposedly will look once the Earth stops trembling and the poles shift. ...
How water acts and how we should during disasters (04/28/11)
April 28, 2011 Dear Pat, Though the duration is hardly biblical, more than a foot of rain has fallen over the region the past week. Part of one city has been evacuated, and communities around the region are putting up sandbag defenses. Up and down the Midwest, historic river crests are predicted...
Breath within the breath (04/21/11)
April 21, 2011 Dear Leslie, DC saved some of the large hailstones that pelted the region last weekend to serve in drinks later, perhaps when the weather seems less threatening. Outbreaks of hundreds of tornadoes are rare. The storms that have been sweeping the country this spring have decimated families and communities. Everything's a bit unsettled...
Demons at the door (04/14/11)
April 14, 2011 Dear Julie, Some opponents of a proposition that would have banned smoking in public places in Cape Girardeau demonized the American Cancer Society for contributing thousands of dollars to the campaign. They pointed out that a company that makes a stop-smoking drug is a major contributor to the ACS and therefore has a monetary interest in ACS's success at promoting anti-smoking campaigns...
A man's dinner (04/07/11)
April 7, 2011 Dear Patty, One of the beauties of men is that we can be satisfied quite simply. A ballgame, a beer and some wings can make many of us very happy. This simplicity extends to food, to the extent that simpler seems better to the male palate. If it's salty and creamy and chewy and spicy, we're in love...
Paying the piper (03/31/11)
March 31, 2011 Dear Leslie, The city is huffing and puffing these days over a proposal to ban smoking in restaurants and bars. Voters will decide next week. I just returned from Ireland, a country that banned smoking in public buildings seven years ago. The pubs are still full. Smoking seems not to be missed...
Disaster recovery (03/24/11)
March 24, 2011 Dear Julie, If in a matter of a few years one-fourth of the people in Cape Girardeau died of starvation or disease or moved away, the city would be devastated economically, socially and psychologically. That happened to Ireland on a much larger scale, and the country is still getting over it...
Irish experience (03/17/11)
March 17, 2011 Dear DC, Today is St. Patrick's Day everywhere in the world, but Ireland celebrates the saint for a full week. Parades, fireworks, concerts and performances are scheduled most every day and most everywhere. Our group will spend St. Patrick's Day in Galway, Ireland's arts capital...
Bowling memories (03/10/11)
March 10, 2011 Dear Patty, Jack held his pose -- each one different -- after throwing the ball down the lane. Bella had to exchange her gold lam tennis shoes for those clunky shoes with numbers on them but twirled as she bowled all the same...
Who needs the training? (03/03/11)
March 3, 2011 Dear Leslie, Our family had a Boston bull terrier named Butch. One day my mother took a roast out of the oven and set it on the table to cool before we left the house on an errand. When we returned the roast was gone and Butch was lying on his back on the floor, motionless, his belly protruding. He looked pregnant with roast beef...
Taking control (02/24/11)
Feb. 24, 2011 Dear Frank, By the time the unrest raging in the Middle East ends the world may look very different to the many millions who have spent their lives under the control of dictatorships and oligarchies. Their leaders belong to a world that does not exist anymore, due in large part to communication technologies they can't control. The fear of Big Brother yields to the wonders of freedom...
Rescuing Potter (02/17/11)
Feb. 17, 2011 Dear Patty, Early Sunday morning Cassie Kipper took her new dog Potter for a run in Capaha Park. Though the temperature still was below freezing, the frigidness of the past week was just beginning to lift. Seeing no one else in the frosty park that morning, Cassie released Potter from his leash. Usually he stays close to Cassie, but a minute later Potter suddenly turned to chase a goose onto the park's partially frozen lagoon. He had never chased geese before...
Choosing your life's purpose (02/10/11)
Feb. 10, 2011 Dear Julie, Shel Silverstein's book "The Giving Tree" is about a tree's love for a boy. The boy plays in her limbs and rests in her shade and eats her apples and crowns himself king of the forest with a wreath of her leaves. ...
Letting go (02/03/11)
Feb. 3, 2011 Dear Pat, When I was a kid, Mill Hill was fabled as the place daredevil sled riders went for thrills after a snowfall. Mill Hill is Cape Girardeau's piece of San Francisco. That section of Mill Street drops precipitously like an Olympic ski-jump approach. ...
John Ross (01/27/11)
Jan. 27, 2011 Dear Leslie, The Village Voice, the Nation and various San Francisco publications eulogized the leftist journalist/poet/muckraker John Ross after he died last week in Mexico at 72. The critic John Leonard once described him as a "Huck Finn/Holden Caulfield/Dennis the Menace/Weatherman wannabe and subversive journalist -- who's been on the losing side of every cause since the Spanish Civil War." John lost his final fight to liver cancer...
Our river perceptions (01/20/11)
Jan. 20, 2011 Dear Julie, The spring semester has begun, but actual spring seems far away. The days are cold and gray, enclosing us, encouraging us to turn inward. Fog hid the river in a mystical shroud earlier this week. We don't call it the Mississippi River. It's just The River, a force in our lives that seems always to have been here...
Heroes of Tucson (01/13/11)
Jan. 13, 2011 Dear Leslie, Many people acted heroically Saturday in Tucson. People reacted swiftly to stop the gunman without thought of their own safety. One man died shielding his wife. The 9-year-old victim, Christina Taylor Green, was there to learn about politics. The significance that she was born on Sept. 11, 2001, should not be lost on anyone. She believed the time had come for the world to change. She was a hero for being there on that street corner...
Bowling into 2011 (01/06/11)
Jan. 6, 2011 Dear Patty, At the start of a new year, many people resolve to get fit. DC and I decided to get a head start by doing something healthier than usual on New Year's Eve. Instead of spending the night in a smoky nightclub, we proposed bowling our way into 2011...
Society's happiness is in the pursuit, not in the bottom line (12/30/10)
Dec. 30, 2010 Dear Julie, One of the places I've explored in California is like a magical kingdom surrounded by seven bulbous hills and the Pacific Ocean. People fill the town square because no cars are allowed. Those people seem to have a lightness about them, as if they're perfectly happy doing whatever they're doing...
Christmas letter 2010 (12/23/10)
Dec. 23, 2010 Dear family and friends, In an elementary school Christmas pageant long ago I played one of the Magi bearing gifts for the infant Jesus. I sang: "Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume/Breathes a life of gathering gloom/Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying/Sealed in the stone-cold tomb."...
Expecting baby Gill (12/16/10)
Dec. 16, 2010 Dear Leslie, "Mrs. Gill's Baby" is the working title of the book Mrs. Gill's second-grade class at Blanchard School is writing this year. Mrs. Gill used to be named Kristin Hummel. Her class read with me last year and wrote a how-to book titled "How To." Last summer on a beach in Mexico, Ms. Hummel became Kristin Gill...
My playlist (12/09/10)
Dec. 9, 2010 Dear David, The new issue of Rolling Stone magazine is filled with playlists composed by famous musicians. Bono chose his favorite David Bowie songs. Rod Stewart picks his top Sam Cooke songs. Ozzy Osbourne cues up the Beatles. Elton John picks out new pop classics by the likes of Amy Winehouse, Eminem, Lady Gaga and Kanye West. Ice Cube lays out his universe of West Coast hip-hop. Iggy Pop on Chicago blues. Pete Seeger on folk music. Lucinda Williams on country women...
Fanatical fans (12/02/10)
Dec. 2, 2010 Dear Sally and Doug, I'm writing out of a concern that being an Ohio State fan has become your religion. It's not just Sally's Ohio State license plates and the fact that we usually buy Doug red Christmas gifts because that's the team color. It's not that your son Kyle graduated from Ohio State. With more than 55,000 students enrolled, many thousands do every year...
Promises to keep (11/25/10)
Nov. 25, 2010 Dear Adams family, The Thanksgivings with you are memorable to me for the feeling of grace in the room more than anything else. At tables filled with your family and homesick friends, each one told of something we were thankful for. Mine was your family's willingness to take in lost souls like me...
TV withdrawal (11/18/10)
Nov. 18, 2010 Dear Leslie, In John Prine's song "Spanish Pipedream," a topless dancer advises him to blow up his TV, move to the country, eat a lot of peaches and try and find Jesus on his own. As secrets to life go, these make as much sense as any...
Barking Buster (11/11/10)
Nov. 11, 2010 Dear Patty, Occasionally the newspaper succinctly reports the name of a local resident issued a summons for a barking dog. That could be me. I imagine going before a judge and pleading, "Your honor, I've tried everything to quiet the dog."...
Who cares? (10/28/10)
Oct. 28, 2010 Dear Leslie, Though our Puritanical roots resisted, in the middle of the 20th century Americans loved having a Sin City where anything went and Sinatra crooned "One for my Baby" far into the desert night. We just didn't want the hard-partying Rat Pack and mobsters in our backyards...
Some people (10/21/10)
Oct. 21, 2010 Dear Patty, I was living in California and elsewhere when the notorious SPANK parties were held here from the late '70s through the '80s. On visits home, those who had attended one spoke of debauchery and live music and party games remembered as if in a dream...
How the world is doing (10/14/10)
Oct. 14, 2010 Dear Julie, At the beginning of the movie "The Social Network," a male Harvard student is having a beer with a young woman in a bar. Their conversation is more of a duel. Parry, thrust, parry, thrust. At some point she decides to break up with him, in part because being around him is so exhausting. "Dating you is like dating a StairMaster," she observes...
Heels over head (10/07/10)
Oct. 7, 2010 Dear Leslie, The last of the season's crop of tomatoes remain in the garden. The cucumbers, beets, carrots and lettuce struggled this year, but we couldn't eat all the tomatoes. I know someone who serves Bloody Marys made with fresh tomatoes from her garden. Fresh and real are impossible to simulate...
Enchantment abounds (09/30/10)
Sept. 30, 2010 Dear David, I awoke this morning to the sound of a dog retching somewhere nearby. Thankfully he was not burrowed under the covers anymore. The Jack Russell terriers who came to live with us over the summer have become permanent house guests. That's how I think of them, as guests who might someday decide to move on...
Bottom line (09/23/10)
Sept. 23, 2010 Dear Leslie, If you pay any attention to the nonstop political commentary on television, you notice that certain phrases are like vampires -- they live somewhere in the dark places of our brains and come out when we don't know what else to say. They can only be killed by a stake to the heart, by pushing the Power Off button on the remote control, or by exposing them for sucking the blood out of the English language...
Religious divisions (09/16/10)
Sept. 16, 2010 Dear Leslie, Until last week, my most recent memory of Terry Jones was him pitching at Capaha Field at the end of the 1960s. He was a powerful lefty whose dad was a former major league pitcher. Terry and I grew up in the same neighborhood and played sandlot baseball games together in the summer. His dad told us about pitching briefly for the Reds and remembered a headline that read: "Jones in more hot water than a housewife's hands."...
Free lunch (09/09/10)
Sept. 9, 2010 Dear Julie, Our annual Labor Day weekend at the Castor River concluded with the annual visitation by trombiculid mites, better known as chiggers. As parasites go, they're probably less troublesome than many. By the time your ankles are itching the mites are already gone. They just chewed on you awhile...
How to eat (09/02/10)
Sept. 2, 2010 Dear Pat, Our niece Casey is staying with us for a month as she moves from one housing arrangement into another. She is a senior at the local university majoring in fashion merchandising. She just turned 23, spent last spring break in Paris and sounds eager to explore the world beyond Southeast Missouri...
Art of teaching (08/26/10)
Aug. 26, 2010 Dear Julie, We named the father Buster, his son Dizzy. As I feared, the two Jack Russell terriers we agreed to take in and find a home for have made their home with us. Buster and Dizzy are like toddlers with ADHD, a fact that keeps many sensible people from owning Jack Russell terriers. Preventing them from slipping out when we open a door is a test, and they refuse to be ignored. They want your attention. All of it...
Hero's journey (08/19/10)
Aug. 19, 2010 Dear Julie, To learn that you didn't see "The Wizard of Oz" until your 40s wasn't that surprising. I knew your parents the music educators probably weren't sold on the educational value of television. And they were right. ...
Jackson Browne (08/12/10)
Aug. 12, 2010 Dear Leslie, Jackson Browne was one of the singer/songwriter heroes of the '70s who never stopped making albums, even when he burned out. At the end of the '70s, his album "Running on Empty" described that willingness to keep on going though the rock 'n' roll- and LSD-powered revolution of the '60s had descended into a parody of disco and cocaine...
Planet California (08/05/10)
Aug. 5, 2010 Dear DC, After I moved to Northern California at the end of the 1970s, one of the first stories I covered was a protest by a man and woman standing outside the Humboldt County Courthouse with signs criticizing the practice of circumcision. He wore a yellow mask, she a red one. They talked to me but refused to reveal their identities. So the newsroom, of course, nicknamed them mustard and ketchup...
Californy quest (07/29/10)
July 29, 2010 Dear DC, Though driving in the free-for-all traffic almost made me cringe, Northern Californy is the still where you oughta be. I'm staying at a motel in Petaluma, where lots of movies set in the 1950s have been filmed because parts of the downtown still look the way they did half a century ago. The movie houses of the day are still operating, and the ghosts of '55 Chevys and Mercurys rove Petaluma Boulevard searching for cherry Cokes and burgers...
Danish views (07/22/10)
July 22, 2010 Dear Leslie, Kronborg castle, "Hamlet's castle," is a one-hour train ride north of Copenhagen. At the time Shakespeare wrote "Hamlet" and set the play at the Danish royal castle he called Elsinore, Kronborg had just been restored. Helsingor is the Danish name for the nearby town...
Visiting the Danes (07/15/10)
July 15, 2010 Dear Carolyn, Imagine Southeast Missouri in the middle of July with no air conditioning. That's been Copenhagen the past few days. The latitude is Alaskan, and our friends Robyn and Frank have always told us Copenhagen is chilly even during the summer. ...
Big footprints (07/08/10)
July 8, 2010, Dear Julie, Summer has brought flotillas of relatives to our burg on the Mississippi. DC's sister Danice's family delivered the two great-grandchildren here from San Diego for Father's Day. For four days at the cabin on the Castor River they ate, swam, slept, ate, fished, ate, watched a movie out at the amphitheater, blew up fireworks, slept and began again. ...
Beyond choking (07/01/10)
July 1, 2010 Dear Leslie, A few weeks ago, a talented young golfer known for being unflappable entered the final day of the U.S. Open with a 3-shot lead and foozled it away in the first few holes. Dustin Johnson eventually shot 11 over par that day. Eleven over par is what I shoot on a good day. Professional golfers leading tournaments on the final day don't shoot 11 over par unless they give in to the fear everyone must face. They choke...
Temporary gremlins (06/24/10)
June 24, 2010 Dear Patty, They remind me of the sometimes cuddly, sometimes diabolical characters in the movie "Gremlins." One fine thing about watching a movie at home is the ability to press "pause." With Jack Russell terriers, pause isn't an option...
Falling Whistles (06/17/10)
June 17, 2010 Dear Leslie, In the Democratic Republic of Congo, 1,500 people die each day in a decade-long war subsidized by the country's mineral deposits. Most die from pneumonia, malnutrition, malaria and diarrhea, all normally treatable if not for the war. Nearly half of those who die each day are children...
Buddy's time (06/10/10)
June 10, 2010 Dear Pat, On a summer day 15 years ago, DC heard whining coming from the park next to our house. It was a mixed-breed puppy we named Hank. When we learned that someone had dumped a whole litter in the park, we found one of his sisters at the Humane Society. We named her Lucy...
Authentic Self (06/03/10)
June 3, 2010 Dear Julie, In 1931, a mysterious man named Bagger Vance and the writer O.B. Keeler walk a darkened golf course discussing something Vance calls the Authentic Swing. It's the swing you were born with, the way you swung the first time a golf club was put in your hands, the swing that is unique to you, the swing you've been trying to rediscover ever since the beginning...
Entrepreneurs (05/27/10)
May 27, 2010 Dear Pat, In the past five weeks the 20 members of the entrepreneurship class I'm taking have learned many of the pitfalls of starting and running a business. Many there are, Yoda would say. One five-minute brainstorming session produced more than 30 expenses that will be incurred before a new business can even open its doors. ...
Loving food (05/20/10)
May 20, 2010 Dear Patty, Last spring I experimented with a horticultural innovation named lasagna gardening, so called because the growing area consists of multiple layers of newspaper, mulch and compost. The benefits are no tilling, supposedly no weeding and no herbicides or pesticides...
How to ... (05/13/10)
May 13, 2010 Dear Leslie, Kristin Hummel's second-grade class at Blanchard Elementary School decided to write a how-to book this year. First the students listed things some of them already knew how to do, like tap dance, throw a football and play Monopoly -- nothing to second-graders. ...
Acting out (05/06/10)
May 6, 2010 Dear Julie, Last weekend, some of the seniors graduating from the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Southeast Missouri State University volunteered to showcase the talents they honed at the university. To prepare them, the school imported from New York City a choreographer, an audition expert and an Emmy-winning casting director for nine hours of workshops...
The invasion (04/29/10)
April 29, 2010 Dear Leslie, Ants were villains In one of the scariest movies of my childhood. They were not spoil-the-picnic ants. They were not huge mutants created by atomic-bomb tests either. These were just regular ants in numbers so huge -- billions, trillions, quadrillions, quintillions, sextillions, septillions, octillions -- that they instantaneously stripped the vegetation and flesh off everything they crawled over...
Long lives (04/22/10)
April 22, 2010 Dear Julie, Last week, DC's sister flew in from San Diego and her brother and other sister arrived from elsewhere in Missouri to surprise DC and her father for their birthdays. He turned 87, she was about to trip the 60 wire...
Lucky Cape (04/15/10)
April 15, 2010 Dear Patty, When my seventh-grade Missouri history teacher divided the class into teams to debate issues, Hollis Headrick and I took the pro side of whether the state should legalize casinos. Our research turned up photographs of next-to-naked Las Vegas showgirls who represented the best argument our testosterone-pickled 13-year-old brains could think of. Of course our teacher, Ms. Wilferth, wouldn't allow us to show the pictures to the class, and we lost the debate...
Haunting music (04/08/10)
April 8, 2010 Dear Leslie, When my brother Scott was in high school, he and some musician friends planned to drive to a city an hour away for a concert by the jazz trumpeter Bill Chase. Then my grandfather died, and my brother couldn't go to the concert because the visitation was the same night. ...
Forgiving ourselves (04/01/10)
April 1, 2010 Dear Julie, With the video camera she received for Christmas, DC first photographed eagles. Then she aimed her lens at trees swarming with swallows along Kingshighway. A flock of swallows roosting is a sight neighbors are unlikely to appreciate, but it is magnificent...
Southern swing (03/25/10)
March 25, 2010 Dear Patty, My friend Rick and I were charging south toward Huntsville, Ala., in a quest for golf and warm weather when hunger called timeout. His GPS system said the Shady Lawn Cafe was only a few miles or so down the road. My imagination conjured up a converted plantation with a big screened-in porch where diners sipped sweet tea to a bullfrog serenade and the night air was thick with deep-fried smells...
Ah, baseball (03/18/10)
March 18, 2010 Dear Leslie, This semester the sports writing class I teach is reading and analyzing some of the best American sports writing from 2009. One story is about a runner who had a degenerative condition in his left leg that made it impossible for him to continue running as he got older. ...
Dogtown (03/11/10)
March 11 Dear Pat, The St. Louis neighborhood known as Dogtown is not far from Forest Park and the St. Louis Zoo but hides, like many St. Louis neighborhoods, behind the wide concrete chutes that carry much of the city's traffic. I'd only seen Dogtown in the movie "White Palace." I didn't know Dogtown...
The courage of children (03/04/10)
March 4, 2010 Dear Julie, Janet Goodin runs the Christian School for the Young Years in Cape Girardeau. She decided to find out what they could do for the children of Haiti. One need is to establish preschools that can be set up in tents because people are still afraid to go back inside buildings. But children need to play, especially in the wake of a disaster...
Finding eagles (02/25/10)
Feb. 25, 2010 Dear Patty, DC awoke me with an offer no one could resist, even early on a Saturday morning: "Want to go see some eagles?" Yeah. When DC asks a question like that, the unspoken words "right now" are understood. Unbathed and unshaven, I pointed the car east across the Mississippi River and then south about 15 miles to a swampy conservation area called Horseshoe Lake. Someone had told DC about seeing eagles there...
Ice dreams (02/18/10)
Feb. 18, 2010 Dear Leslie, For a kid in Southeast Missouri in the middle of the 20th century, watching the Winter Olympics on TV was an opportunity to see what Austrians named Franz did for fun in the winter. Franz liked skiing down a hill to see how far he could fly off a ramp and land without falling down...
Love is ... (02/11/10)
Feb. 11, 2010 Dear Julie, Here on the tundra, as we think of Southeast Missouri these days, the wind sings to our houses and the frigid ground has us seeking warmth wherever it can be found -- in coffee cups, in an extra blanket, in a dog. Ol' Hank frolics in the snow. Lucy doesn't. In the summer, Lucy likes to swim. Hank doesn't. They are yang and yin and yet extracts of the same furry gene pool...
J.D. Salinger: Looking for any hope to latch onto (02/04/10)
Feb. 4, 2009 Dear Leslie, In W.P. Kinsella's novel "Shoeless Joe," an Iowa farmer on a quest goes looking for J.D. Salinger, who in the 1960s seemed to go into hiding and stopped writing books. The novel became the movie "Field of Dreams," and in the movie Salinger became a fictional 1960s activist who has lost faith...
Life in 3-D (01/28/10)
Jan. 28, 2010 Dear Patty. Some people have reported becoming depressed after seeing the movie "Avatar," in part because the reality awaiting as they walk out of the movie theater doesn't seem nearly as spectacular as the reality in the 3-D movie...
Haiti's mountains (01/21/10)
Jan. 21, 2010 Dear Julie, Beyond mountains there are mountains, says a Haitian proverb that has many meanings in a country where extreme poverty has become a way of life. It can mean opportunities are limitless. In mountainous Haiti it also can mean that overcoming one obstacle just gives you a better view of the next one to be taken on. In Haiti, to believe both is possible...
Just the facts, please (01/14/10)
Jan. 14, 2010 Dear Leslie, When you and I began our newspaper careers, partisan journalism was an oxymoron. The idea that a journalist can promulgate a point of view, much as someone in public relations does, is more accepted now. In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Princeton professor Paul Starr makes a case for partisan media, the media that is selling best now that the profusion of cable, talk radio and Internet media have diffused the public's attention. ...
The silence of snow, and other musings (01/07/10)
This is a time more for thinking than acting, for settling in rather than going, for talking and for listening, for sleeping and dreaming what is and what will be. That is the longing, for whatever is to come, knowing it will. Jan. 7, 2009 ...
2010s stretch before us (01/03/10)
Dec. 31, 2009 Dear Julie, It's difficult at almost any age to project into the future and imagine yourself and your situation 10 years from now. Ten years ago, purveyors of Armageddon predicted that computers would stop working at midnight 2000, sending the world into chaos. Nothing happened...
Faith in the future (12/24/09)
Dec. 24, 2009 Christmas letter 2009 Dear family and friends, Greetings from Lorimier Street, where the red berry tree in the front yard now leans like a drunken New Year's Eve reveler. Last winter's ice storm changed the tree and reminded many people in the region that a warm house is no birthright. We kept our power but have learned from our friend Carolyn, who didn't and now has a new fireplace. Eden wasn't heated either...
Embrace the light (12/17/09)
Dec. 17, 2009 Dear Julie, Animal behaviorists classify our dog Hank as a fear biter. He has nipped a few people, including our niece Darci, whose theatrical background probably has concocted a much more fantastical story about the scar on her derriere. After Darci screamed we sought professional help...
Wintergreen (12/10/09)
Dec. 10, 2009 Dear Pat, A shiny new set of golf clubs leaned against a wall in my family's living room on the Christmas morning of my 12th year. The clubs from Sears gleamed like gems in their black leather bag. Waiting to try them out seemed impossible, but winter begets the miracles of spring on its own schedule. From the public library I checked out a book by Arnold Palmer and practiced his knock-kneed putting style on our living room's hardwood floor. Anticipation was the game...
Humming swamps (12/03/09)
Dec. 3, 2009 Dear Leslie, At the beginning of the 20th century, a group of businessmen began draining the largest wetland in America. Turning the Big Swamp into fertile farmland required steam engines to extract the cypress stumps by the millions. When the project began, forests covered 90 percent of the 11 million acres. Now 95 percent of the land is cleared...
Your purpose is well worth the searching (11/26/09)
Nov. 26, 2009 Dear Adams family, I miss your sunny Southern Californian smiles around all the Thanksgiving tables required to seat everyone and their friends in your home. That was two decades ago. A new generation has arrived since then, here to fulfill their destinies in the world. But are our own destinies done? If we are still alive, that can't be so...
Getting the news (11/19/09)
Nov. 19, 2009 Dear Leslie, Each week my Writing for the Mass Media class takes a current-events quiz, 10 questions about local, state and world events. Students who aim to become media writers begin by knowing what's going on in the world around them, I reason. Reading, watching and listening to how the news is reported also is a way of learning to do it yourself...
Keeping Sabbath (11/12/09)
Nov. 12, 2009 Dear Patty, Americans have difficulty doing nothing. That probably is a legacy from our ancestors, who wouldn't have settled North America so quickly if they'd embraced the idea of spending some time doing nothing. They had trees to fell, houses to build, corn to sow, cows to milk. Churches tried to get them to take Sunday off by scheduling services from morning to night. Going to church became too much like work. You might as well get something done...
Finding your art (11/05/09)
Nov. 5, 2009 Dear Julie, When the writer Annie Dillard asked a painter she knew how he came to be a painter, he answered, "I liked the smell of the paint." Maybe it's as simple as that, what we become. We are drawn to it, like salmon to their river, like clouds to a mountain pass. Other ways offer resistance. Going our own way feels more like rowing a boat gently down a stream, maybe even for salmon...
Food for the soul (10/29/09)
Oct. 29, 2009 Dear Julie, Every culture has its own version of soul food. In Latin America everything begins and ends with rice and beans. In India, yogurt and lentils and flat bread are basic. A winery nearby serves Swedish soul food, delicious meatballs and the like...
Nashville online (10/22/09)
Oct. 22, 2009 Dear Leslie, The Lovin' Spoonful's John Sebastian estimated the number of guitar players in Nashville at 1,352. "And anyone that unpacks his guitar could play twice as better than I will," he sang. Sebastian low-balled the right number by a considerable amount but captured the insecurity of striving to survive in a place awash in talent. In these parts most everybody knows a musician who made it, is trying to make it or doesn't hope to make it in Nashville anymore...
Tiger at large (10/15/09)
Oct. 15, 2009 Dear Pat, It was a normal Saturday morning. DC busied herself in the backyard before we left for the Homecoming parade. A small, tiger-striped young cat appeared and kept getting under her feet, meowing at her. She picked the cat up a couple of times, but it didn't like to be held for long. Then it rolled over on its back and DC began stroking its belly. Suddenly blood spouted from a vein beneath her wrist. Bitten, DC yelped. The cat vanished...
The lawn guy (10/08/09)
Oct. 8, 2009 Dear Leslie, Who hasn't survived a bad haircut? A few years ago I made a full recovery from my first-ever flattop, which actually was not a bad haircut but a bad idea on my part. Most bad haircuts are probably just bad ideas...
Autumn's arrival (10/01/09)
Oct. 1, 2009 Dear Patty, The coming of the fall is foggy in the morning, and a sheet no longer keeps us warm. Our dog Hank sometimes sleeps until midmorning now, slowly shaking his old bones and joints awake one more time. His sister Lucy is as ready as ever to descend the stairs and have breakfast. DC is more like Lucy, I am more like Hank...
Cheering for the Cardinals, spit and all (09/24/09)
Sept. 24, 2009 Dear Leslie, The St. Louis Cardinals may have clinched the National League Central Division championship by the time you read this. I know this news will make you go cross-eyed, but for people who grew up here on the eastern side of Missouri and lots of other places in the Midwest, rooting for the Cardinals is part of our birthright...
Midway meeting, fair food (09/17/09)
Sept. 17, 2009 Dear Patty, A young Joni Mitchell set one of her melancholy love songs at a fair. It begins with a meeting on a midway with someone who "stood out like a ruby in the black man's ear." The sideshow becomes a metaphor for her life in popular music...
Castorfest '09 (09/10/09)
Sept. 10, 2009 Dear Leslie, The cast came from California, Oregon, Florida and most corners of Missouri last weekend for Castorfest 2009. The weather for the annual Labor Day weekend of fishing, swimming, barbecuing, ice-cream making, dog petting and well-, semi- and never-rehearsed performances was cool and rainy, but half a million people at Woodstock made do, and so did we...
Golf-free summer: Dreaming of the real thing (09/03/09)
Sept. 3, 2009 Dear Patty, The summer almost gone seems as if it hardly was here. Someone turned the heat down. DC and I have cooled the house with only window fans instead of air conditioners, we've pitied kids shivering through 8 a.m. swimming lessons and we've blamed the balminess in part for my garden's limp harvest...
Technology changes, but good writing transcends all (08/27/09)
Aug. 27, 2009 Dear Julie, This is my first week back at school. This semester I will teach college sophomores to write for the mass media. The first day of class, we talked about how much the mass media has changed in only a generation. I don't think 19- and 20-year-olds can understand how much. The Internet has always been their home away from home...
Sam Blackwell
Letters From Home