The Shack

the shack masks blog 2018
I created this digital sketch for my book, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”. Although the skills displayed are crude, the picture helps to tell my story and conveys the mood of the day.

I’ve been working on and off on a memoir, “Arrows Axes and Scythes”.  It’s an odd book.  Because it is about my early childhood, many memories are vague, but impressions are not.  As a consequence, I created pictures, using “Paint” and “Gimp”, to help recreate the scenes I recall.  The narrative below explains what is happening in the picture.  My book, in yet again under revision. I hope to be publishing it…soon.

 

As I explained earlier in this book, my first years in school were not successful. Everyone believed I was slow. This assessment persisted into at least November of the third grade, when my teacher wrote a sympathetic note to my mother and lamented my poor performance. Between November and the end of the year something remarkable happened. I learned to read. By June, I had become one of the most advanced readers in the grade.

With this improvement in skills came an insatiable appetite for reading material. There was none at home, until we discovered the shack. This humble building, shown above, was concealed by thick overgrowth in the forest. When we investigated, we found that comic books covered the floor of the ramshackle shelter. We helped ourselves to these, though we did not know who might have proper rights to them.

The shack was my library.

Reading was one of the great gifts of my life. Socially I remained awkward, but peers and teachers showed new respect simply because I seemed to be talented. The conversion from being a dolt to being an excellent student taught me an important lesson. I was the same person before and after my transformation, but people around me changed. Previously, they had punished me for being dull, a circumstance over which I had no control. And then they rewarded me for being bright, a gift I’d done nothing to earn. The folly, the sheer cruelty, of their early behavior enlightened me. It taught me to place little value on the judgment of others. And it allowed me, for the rest of my life, to see worth in people whom others disregard.

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Art Alone Enduring, By Mary Steenson: Book Review

 

 

Park Bridge by Zora Steenson

“Park Bridge” by Zora Steenson, used with permission of Mary Steenson.  Copyright protected.

 

 

Art Alone Enduring is a poignant story of two sisters, Hughberta and Zora Steenson, who were social pioneers and artists. Zora established herself as a freelance artist when most women did not work outside of the home. Hughberta joined the Marine Corp during WWII and became one of the first women ever admitted into that branch of the service. Both women created brilliant art that is just today beginning to gain well-deserved recognition. Art Alone Enduring offers vivid color reproductions of this work. The pictures alone are worth the price of the book.

Mary H. Steenson, author of Art Alone Enduring, is related to the Steenson sisters by marriage. Her husband, Robert, was their nephew and helped to oversee their care near the end of their lives. The journey traveled by these sisters is one that takes readers through Depression-era hardship, WWII and the post-war boom in the United States.

This book is loosely based on the lives of Zora and Hughberta, but it is also a work of imagination. It is impossible to separate the known details from the fictional embellishments. No matter. Ms. Steenson has created a viable vehicle for introducing two remarkable artists to the public. These sisters began their lives in the Midwest and ended, many years later, in a Tacoma, Washington nursing home.

Hughberta was the younger sister, filled with sibling rivalry. Zora was the protective older sister. After drifting apart and finding their separate destinies, the sisters reunited in midlife and stayed together until Zora was removed to nursing care. They did not remain apart for long.  A determined and resourceful Hughberta found her way into the nursing home and stayed with Zora for the rest of her days.

In 1998, Hughberta died after a bout with the flu. Zora lived on for another three years. Today, the sisters are buried together near their parents’ graves, in Minnesota.

I recommend strongly that readers seek out the art of Hughberta and Zora. Their work is arresting and unforgettable. A website maintained by Mary Steenson, maryhsteenson.com, displays some of their pieces.

Art Alone Enduring is a lovely book, a delight to hold and peruse. It is the sort of book that reminds us why sometimes reading the physical copy of a book is an experience that cannot be matched by consuming the material through an electronic device.

 

A. G. Moore  August 2017

 

A Burial

swamp website 2018 children fixed2
Swamp: an illustration from my upcoming memoir, Arrows Axes and Scythes

By A. G. Moore

This selection is adapted from my upcoming memoir, Arrows Axes and Scythes.

Burial

The move from Krumer’s to Lockwood’s necessitated many adjustments, some positive and some less so. The increased privacy and space were balanced by a cessation of food deliveries. The problem of decreased food supply was exacerbated by an increase in the number of mouths to feed: We began to accumulate pets. Eventually, the number grew to nine. Our pet/food imbalance became a crisis as the animals starved.

I can state with certainty that my mother asked for none of the animals. She didn’t particularly enjoy having pets, but was a compassionate person. Once a pet had been remitted to her custody, she cared for it. The animals sensed this, and they loved her.

Our pets were a hodgepodge of pedigree and mutt. Some were strays and some were delivered to our door in a misguided attempt to give the pets a home. One of these charges was contributed by my father. He found a huge animal, a St. Bernard/Great Dane mix, rummaging in the garbage behind a restaurant. This “rescued” animal, Boots, became a beloved member of the family.

Another dog was brought to the home by my mother’s brother, Jimmy. Uncle Jimmy was important to the family because he owned three dry cleaning stores in Brooklyn. He regularly gave us abandoned clothes, in excellent condition. These were the core of our school wardrobe. Uncle Jimmy’s Chihuahua, Chico, was no longer welcome in his home. That’s how we got Chico.

With nine dogs in the home, and no regular food supply, my mother tried to manage. Potatoes, delivered by my uncles, were cooked and mashed for human consumption. Peels were for the dogs.

Because hunger was their perpetual companion, the dogs took measures. They foraged in neighbors’ trash. Complaints poured in, but my mother couldn’t control the animals and she couldn’t feed them. So the neighbors, or at least one of them, took their own measures. They poisoned the dogs.

Dogs began to turn up dead. They came home to die. We discovered them in various stages of decay. It was Clinton’s job to bury the deceased, but since this was a family tragedy, everybody pitched in.

With the earth frozen, burial was a particular challenge. Clinton’s solution? A bog, a quicksand pool, he found in the forest. In the picture below, the scene of a burial is depicted, as I recall it. This memory is clear.

We dragged our dog, Hortense, up to the bog. Clinton threw her, as respectfully as he could, onto the mud and we waited for her to disappear. In a very little while the surface was smooth again and Hortense was no more.