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Monday, April 27, 2015

Harley King

This is a photo of my maternal grandmother taken in the early part of the 20th century. I remember hearing a story about my grandmother when she was a teenager.  She and a cousin snuck out of the house early one morning and went riding on horses.  My grandmother was thrown from the horse and broke her leg. Rather then tell her parents, she limped back to bed and pretended to be sick.  It took two days for her parents to discover that her leg was broken.

We all have stories from our childhood about our ancestors — the uncle who was a drunk and burnt the house down, the aunt who rode motorcycles and the cousin who died young.  As artists and creative leaders, we need to turn our family history into stories, poems and paintings.

May you be blessed with stories about your ancestors.  For in those stories, we can discover who we are and from where we came.

I wrote a story poem some 35 years ago about a story I had heard as a child.  I showed it to my grandmother when she was 83.  She told me the facts were not correct and she was right.  I changed the details of the story to protect the innocent.  Yet for me, my grandmother lives on in this story.  I discovered my ancestors through the process of writing the story.

Brother AL

He was a little bit of a thing —
knee-high to a grasshopper
as pa used to say.
But his hair was the funnier sight —
white as the coverings
women wear in church.
Been that way since birth.
He didn't seem to mind it, though,
until he met Ruthy Shonkwiler.
She was a big-breasted girl
with farmer's hands.
Seems he fell in love
the moment he set eyes on her.
But as things have a way of happening
in this neck of the woods,
she had her heart set on Stephen,
old Samuel Yoder's youngest,
tall as an oak
with hair the color
of a bull Angus.

Now, Alvin wasn't one
to let obstacles get in his way.
He would stuff pages
out of an old Sears catalog
into his shoes to make him taller
and he was always on the look out
for something to blacken his hair.

It happened one day
that Ma was cooking up
a big batch of prunes
and she set the juice out to cool.
Alvin, in his infinite wisdom,
thought that it was God's answer to his prayers.
He dipped his snow-white cap
into the kettle of juice
hoping to turn it black.
Well, let me tell ya,
it didn't work.
All he got was a lickin' from pa
and a hot bath and shampoo.
Ma, though, thought he should be taught a lesson.
Said if people don't like
what the good Lord gives them,
then the good Lord ought to take it away.
So she shaved his head
clean down to the scalp.
Embarrassed the poor guy to death.
Ruthy, I'm told, laughed and laughed.

Well, he survived somehow
and married, Eli's oldest, Sarah.
Together, they had a parcel of kids,
not a white-haired one among them.
Ruthy went off to college
and married some doctor fellow
from out east.

To this day Alvin refuses
to eat prunes
or order anything out of a Sears catalog.

May your ancestors live in your stories 
and reveal themselves through your memory.