One of the very best parts of living in Indiana is being able to visit Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. Continue reading “Indiana History! And goats and sheep and cows and pigs!”
My favorite thing about summer are the lightning bugs. They’re soothing to watch and the very sight of them fills me with nostalgia. They take me back. Continue reading “The firefly”
After a long winter’s night, there’s nothing more comforting than the singular light in the dark that leads you home.
A few weeks ago, I was excited about the upcoming holiday season. With a new job in a company that is heavily focused on the holidays, I thought this year would be different. The last few years, I have preferred for December to just skip by and leave me be. Due to family issues, Christmas wasn’t joyous or even fun; it was simply uncomfortable. This year, though, I decried my negativity of Christmas pasts and decided to jump in feet first. I remembered the magic of the holiday season and I wanted it back. I burned a CD of Bing Crosby Christmas music (because hello? He OWNS Christmas) and happily tossed it into the player of my car. I was greatly looking forward to the grand displays of lights that I would easily see since I drive home from work in the dark now.
About five days after my exuberant start to the Christmas season, it started to wane. I realized that my heart wasn’t in it like I thought it would be. I wasn’t listening to the Christmas music and paying attention to anything on my drive home besides watching out for drunk drivers. Tonight, we watched A Christmas Story (favorite holiday movie ever) and took Roxie for a walk at 2am and I noticed that there weren’t any Christmas lights twinkling in windows or lit trees glowing against the backdrop of gossamer curtains. And then it made me wonder – where is Christmas this year?
I remember Christmases as a child. From the time I was 8 until age 13, the majority of my holiday seasons were spent inside my parents’ jewelry store. I remember the Santa’s village that my dad built out of wood and decorated to put in the window. I remember Mom playing Bing Crosby on the stereo and going to stand out in the street so that I could hear “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” blaring through the outside speakers as I watched the residents of the town bustle by on the sidewalk. Mom’s big, gorgeous Christmas tree that stood in one corner of the store, beautifully decorated. The scent of cinnamon candles. The sound of the polisher as Dad finished sizing a ring that would end up on some lucky woman’s finger on Christmas morning. The sound of crisp wrapping paper being torn from the roll. My brother and I watching the little mouse that peeked out of the pockets of the advent calendar that hung in our mom’s office, our eyes heavily focused on the number “24” because we knew that was when the magic really happened.
During that same time, we lived in the country outside a tiny town with nothing but a Revco and a grocery store for shopping. Anytime we needed anything, we had to head to New Albany or Jeffersonville or even Louisville. I distinctly remember bundling up in my winter coat and climbing into the backseat our Chevy Celebrity for a trip to Service Merchandise or Target or, if we were really lucky, a trip to the mall to go Christmas shopping. Afterwards, we would wind our way up Floyds Knobs to look at all the Christmas lights and stare out over the twinkling lights of the Louisville metro area. My teeth would chatter with excitement.
And then, Christmas Eve would come and the jewelry store would close in time for us to pile into the car and head to Corydon, where we would gather with my Dad’s family. “Santa” would always visit, wearing the same threadbare suit my father had originally purchased in the 1960s. Every year, it was toted out by an uncle or a cousin and we all got a present from his bag. Every year, the suit looked a little worse. The material was starting to unravel, the beard nothing but a few spindly threads of white fuzz. Then, once we’d had our fill of holiday cheer in the form of my dad’s odd family, we’d climb back into the car and make the hour drive home. By then, it was late. My brother and I usually slept on the way and went to bed as soon as we got home, but we rarely slept on Christmas Eve. We always camped out in my bedroom and would force ourselves to get two or three hours of sleep at most, then wake up at 5am and stare at the clock until 6, which was the designated time that we were allowed to wake up Mom and Dad and then dive into the living room to see what Santa brought us. There was always evidence of Santa, too. Half-eaten cookies. A sooty boot print left in front of the fireplace.
So many memories. So much magic.
I started this post wanting to know what happened to all that magic but I think, over the course of writing this, that I found it. It’s not gone. I haven’t lost it at all. It’s simply not the same as it used to be, but it’s there. And in my memories, I find that the magic is still as strong as ever.
So the remnants of Hurricane Isaac finally made their way to Indiana. As someone who is obsessed with rain because it fires up my writing muse, I was only too happy to move into the living room and set up shop by our huge picture window. I turned on my netbook, lit my oil lamp, pulled back the curtains so that I could watch the downpour, and let out a happy sigh. And then, not even three minutes later…
Water. Right on the trackpad of my netbook.
What the heck?
Lifting my head, I spy five cracks in the ceiling, one of which is allowing Isaac right inside my home.
Calling the landlord tomorrow…
Spending an afternoon with my grandparents is like falling into a time warp. For one, they live in the middle of flat Indiana farmland, their house butting up against a thick stand of trees. There’s no T-Mobile coverage out there, that’s for sure. They also wouldn’t dream of owning a computer and the neighbors are far enough away that the hijacking of an unprotected wireless network is an impossibility. Emails don’t come in, calls won’t go out, text messages won’t even send. In a word, when I’m at my grandparents’ house, I’m simply disconnected.
At first, I’m fidgety. I’ll check my phone a hundred times, willing emails to magically come through. That lasts about a half hour before I finally give in to the inevitable – I’m not going to be able to connect with the outside world as long as I’m inside those brick walls. It’s at that point that I get up from their dining room table (which is the center of all family gatherings), go into the living room, and slide my phone into my purse. My eyes move over their ancient Zenith TV, which I know will come on later, after everyone leaves, so that they can watch their favorite shows on the RFD channel. Once I drop back into the chair, I’m now more relaxed. No internet means no distractions. This is the point when the conversation actually starts.
Mamaw and Papaw were both born in 1934. They survived the Depression, then entered their formative years while the entire world was at war. They were both insulated from it, of course, growing up on farms in central Indiana, but they still have stories of rationing, of family members who went off to war, of the way things used to be. As they talk and as I ask them questions, I get lost in their world – the world of their past, but one of which is unceasingly fascinating to me. Before I know it, two or three hours have passed.
This was such the case on Saturday. As I’m in the preparation stage of my World War II-era novel, it has become startlingly clear that if I want to ensure that my manuscript feels authentic, they are the people I need to spend time with. They remember shortages of sugar and coffee, of how they felt when someone they knew went to war but didn’t come home, and how it was to only get bits and pieces of news. Researching those experiences teaches me a lot, yeah. But hearing about them first hand, having the opportunity to wrap my head around the emotions intertwined with those experiences – that stuff is far more powerful than any web query done in the name of research.
I’ve made plans to go back out to their house and ask a lot of questions. Most of these questions have never been broached by anyone in our family, so in a sense, I’m going to be recording family history. I want to know everything – from their earliest memories to their lives on their farms to how they met and fell in love. I want to hear any and all of their recollection of the war years – what it felt like, how they endured shortages and worry, and how it changed them. I’m so lucky at my age to have them in my life still and I need to take advantage of it before anymore time passes.
Still though, I know I’ll deal with the anxiety of being disconnected from modern society when I’m there. It happens every time, and my reaction is worse now, thanks to the invention of smartphones and tablet devices. I’m always, always connected. The question, though, is connected to what? Human connection with these people, who are absolute treasures, are worth having to wait a few hours to answer a text message or respond to an email. I’m wondering if frequent disconnection won’t help me connect to the world around me, and my writing, more. If that’s the case, I’m game.
The thing I love about history is that it’s everywhere. Growing up, I was convinced that I lived in the single most boring spot in America: southern Indiana. My parents were quick to correct me of this gross inaccuracy and then proceeded to haul me all over the state over the next few years, pointing out that I was, in fact, from a very interesting area. There was the house just down the road, built of Indiana limestone and with nicks in the rocks from an American Indian raid in the early 1800s. As a child in Madison, I was regaled with stories of Civil War hospitals, escaped slaves, and clandestine stops on the Underground Railroad. I saw the site of the Battle of Corydon,where General Morgan attacked during Morgan’s Raid in 1863. I’ve stood at the first state capital building in Corydon, before Indianapolis snatched up the title in 1825. We visited (and eventually became volunteers) at the site where Abraham Lincoln and his family lived from 1816 to 1830 in what is now Lincoln City, Indiana. I’ve stood at the grave of his mother in Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and at his sister’s grave just across the road in Lincoln State Park.
As I grew older, I became fascinated with World War II history and as it turns out, there was plenty of that around, too. The most visible site was the old Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, which stretched for miles along Highway 62 between Charlestown and Jeffersonville. The place looked abandoned, forgotten, like everybody just packed up one day and never came back. The old buildings, with their cracked windows and crumbling glass, used to send chills down my spine. Even still, I was wide-eyed at the history of the place. Opened in 1940, it was a major producer of munitions during World War II and employed over 27k people.
Once I became a college student majoring in history, I learned even more. The great Falls of the Ohio (in Clarksville) was a captivating place because it was where Lewis and Clark, with their Corps of Discovery, set off to explore the west in 1803. Then there were places such as Rose Island, which was on a piece of land where Fourteen Mile Creek empties into the Ohio River. An amusement park reminiscent of Coney Island, it was a great attraction for residents on both sides of the Ohio River in the 1920s and 1930s. Steamboats from Louisville and Madison would drop patrons off daily for a ride on the Ferris wheel, a trip around the wooden coaster, a swim in the pool, or a spin around the roller rink. The Great Flood of 1937 destroyed this park and it was never rebuilt.
Now that I’m writing a war-era novel and I’ve decided to set it in my old stomping grounds, I’m indebted to my parents and professors for making the rolling hills of southern Indiana come alive with history. What seems like nothing more than abandoned buildings, decrepit homes, and forgotten railroad tracks are, in fact, fascinating places. There’s a story to be told behind every door and I hope, through my novel, to bring some of those stories to life again.