First Song









To that which moves, to that which moves, 

        Which penetrates the universal shine

        And shimmy, Roundabout, where other isn’t

Within, without, non-centric circle thing,

      All light that which in most the light begins

      Nor knows, nor can, who descant;

Because in drawing near to what is dear

      Our swallowy mind perspires and jealous folds

      Into itself where memory cannot go.

Truly whatever the realm holistic

     Powerful treasures, body and mind,

    Mind of which I thee sing.

Apollo, creed of the living

    Vessel me in thy talented power

     Bower of joy and sound!

One sum, it adds up to nought,

    For me for you for both

    Swim to the center and cry.

If you can imagine, you, and breathe

     In deepest drawing scent

    While I watch in awe and innocence.

Ten cents a dance, the best

  That I can do, shadow of the realm

  Stamped in my brain, blessed, so what.

Once there was a tree and a crown

  Underneath it all and nevertheless leaves,

  Which shall you choose, O!

So seldom, Father, so seldom, do we,

  But we try, we have to try and

  of human inspiration can we?

So back to the leaves and so forth,

  They fall all over the crown,

  Where is it I say? I say

But no one answers. Maybe better voices,

  better voices after me, after me.

  Alleluia. Please respond!


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Lamenting the Lost Art of Conversation

As luck would have it, I was going to spend last Saturday night in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I drove my daughter to the small town of Deming (about an hour west of there) where she could catch the Sunset Limited heading east to New Orleans. Rail travel in this country is designed to fail but those of us who choose to ride the rails make the best of it. That’s not the topic of this little essay, though I may touch on it again.

As my occasional readers might know, I am fond of old hotels and, if given the option, I will choose to stay in an older hotel in the middle of town than in a Holiday Inn Express or Motel 6 out by the interstate. I’m a preservationist and I encourage efforts to keep some of these classic places going. I was initially disappointed with Las Cruces because there didn’t seem to be any older hotels other than the palatial spa/country club. Finally, I saw a listing for a place called the Lundeen Inn of the Arts. Descriptions were murky, but it seemed to be a cross between an art gallery and an inn or a bed and breakfast. It was only for one night, so I chose to stay there.

I’ll save the full-dress description for another time. Just picture in your imagination a large, though semi-hidden, Spanish-Mediterranean house sitting back behind a courtyard wall and surrounded by large trees. Once inside, the walls were covered with paintings and I could see that the structure rambled off in all different directions and to various levels. The front desk was unattended – not a person in sight. I rang the bell about five times before a little girl, about seven years old, came down stairway. She went off to fetch her grandmother who arrived breathless but smiling from the back yard. This was Linda, the lady of the manor, so to speak.  We had a brief chat on where I was from and how my trip was going. As we talked she was deciding what room I should have. She decided on the Georgia O’Keeffe Room – upstairs at the end of the balcony overlooking the two-story great room and dining room. Georgia never slept there but the room displayed her paintings – or rather prints of her paintings.

Linda is about ninety years old and has lived in this house for fifty years. Her husband was a prominent local architect who purchased the property – two older houses back then – and re-worked them into this intriguing and somewhat convoluted inn. Linda’s husband died a couple years ago but she is carrying on with the help of her daughter who does most of the heavy lifting (but stays in the background). I’m the Vice-president of the New Mexico Architectural Foundation but was somehow unfamiliar with Mr. Lundeen or his work – so Linda filled me in. He was quite accomplished, was a colleague of Frank Lloyd Wright, and was responsible for several local buildings in Las Cruces as well as preservation work on some of the old churches or adobe structures in the area. Most of what one sees at the inn is his work – done by his hands – and it is impressive and obviously a labor of love.

We talked of architecture for some time and I learned that Linda was originally from Albuquerque and had a lot of stories about what was there fifty years ago and what has been lost over time. She still is upset over the loss of the 1902 Alvarado Hotel – a grand Harvey House establishment that served as the city’s train station. The hotel was demolished around 1970 and, frankly, I’m a little upset about it myself although I never got to see it. She and her school-girl friends would sneak the several blocks from the high school to “lunch” at the Alvarado and pretend that someday they would be of the proper society to travel and stay in grand hotels. Linda, an artist in her own right, had gallery shows in Paris so I suspect she made it.

Linda had work to do, and so she sent me off to Old Mesilla, the original Spanish community south of town to see the plaza and basilica church. There was an Indian market in the plaza and I ended up buying a hand-woven rug as well and stopped in at a little cantina for a beer and local color. Local color is not what it used to be since everyone has a cell phone to stare at. Linda’s husband had reworked a local adobe house into a fine restaurant on the Mesilla plaza – the Double Eagle – and she encouraged me to go in and see the place. It was my choice for supper and it was not disappointing in terms of food or architecture. The place was a little eclectic with crystal chandeliers hanging from Spanish colonial ceilings and a huge walnut bar. Like many old New Mexico adobe homes, the place is somewhat broken up and it reveals itself to you as you explore. There’s no “open concept” design in these old places so you must wander a little.

My night at the inn passed quietly. There were other guests at the inn although I didn’t meet them or even know they were there until morning. I’ve since seen online reports from other travelers that my room (mine and Georgia’s) was haunted. You couldn’t prove it by me. It was very comfortable, and I slept well. Some folks have wild imaginations.

I met the other guests the next morning. One gentleman was from Albuquerque and was there buying a small condo next door in an adjoining building (once part of the inn). There was a young writer from New York City who was in New Mexico to capture material for a writing project.  There was a retired English professor and his librarian wife from Alamogordo. He now is a volunteer park ranger at White Sands National Monument. Lastly there was me, endearingly eccentric as always, and also Linda, our hostess. We began talking around eight in the morning over coffee, continued through breakfast and on to about eleven o’clock when we realized that the day was passing us by. Linda had lots of stories about various celebrities who stayed at the inn…some good and some bad. A movie was filmed there some years ago and movie crews are notorious for not paying their bills. I can imagine the place being the setting for a novel.

Our young writer was enthralled with New Mexico, a common reaction. Her friends in New York think she will move here – she says no but I think she is hooked. She was not much of a morning person but came around after about a half hour. She has written screen plays but nothing we had heard of. Her parents came from Iran back in the days of the Shah’s regime and then couldn’t return home after the revolution.

The English professor is not a writer but has several ideas and notes for writing projects. He is mostly engaged in the park ranger work these days. He spoke of a French couple and their son who went on a hike through the White Sands desert a while back with only a small amount of water. The mother turned back but became disoriented. The rangers found the mother first and luckily checked her digital camera to learn that the father and the boy were also out in the dunes -- somewhere. The parents both died from the heat and dehydration in just a few hours, but the boy survived. The desert is beautiful but can be lethal at the same time. Our young writer friend was heading to White Sands that afternoon, so she was given advice and several water bottles. Our conversation went on like this touching on many subjects but avoiding others. I’ve not talked with people this long in recent months when the topic doesn’t stray to politics. Not this time – no politics and no religion, which are often entwined topics these days.

It was a very pleasant experience. It was a comfortable space with people who had no urgent schedule or agenda other than to enjoy the company and the morning’s conversation. The only other place where I’ve encountered this openness and social commitment to lengthy conversation has been on long-distance trains (I told you I’d be back to this, eventually). A passenger train is a community on wheels. No one with an urgent schedule would choose to travel by rail across the country so they are generally open to meeting new people and sharing in conversation, often for hours…or miles. That is a lost art in this country. We are controlled by technology or the calendar or the clock and are too self-absorbed to even have the inclination toward meeting strangers and getting to know them.

There are few venues left where this can happen. My daughter walked the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela a couple years ago and related the interesting transient friendships and conversations she had with other pilgrims. That harkens back to Chaucer and his pilgrims on the road to Canterbury. We really are social animals and need to get back to the idea that our fellow pilgrims have something interesting to say.


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Social Life Slowed by our Age

Aging brings frequent doctor checkups—teeth, eyes, hearing aids, heart, INRs for blood thickness, etc. etc. Then add the fact that doing the minimum of what needs doing takes forever, and we get slower every year we age.  At least some of us do. The result is that our social life has slowed down considerably. We do not get out much in the community any more, and we hesitate to invite people over for a specific date since we might be called into town to help take care of Katherine on that date if an aide fails to show up. My dad used to say if people invite you over and do not set a definite time, they may not mean it. I think he was only partly correct. We love it when people drop in and find us home. We have enjoyed some social life this month and are grateful. It does us good to be around others and hear their stories and experiences. It makes our limited life less limited!

An unexpected family reunion was our first event this month! My mother-in-law's maiden name was Godwin, but her father died soon after she was married. Gerald is not even sure if he actually remembers Nathaniel Godwin or maybe his one memory is just of a photograph of him as a little boy sitting on his grandfather's lap. Mom Glasco talked about her family and cousins, and I remember meeting one cousin decades ago.

We also were briefly in contact with some Godwin relatives that Gerald's sister Ernestine found online in Saint Louis. That is how we found his great grandparents' graves in the Creal Springs cemetery several years ago. We were surprised since the Godwins we knew about had lived at Pomona. Since we live so close to Route 166, I invited these Saint Louis folk to come by the next time they visited the cemetery, but they never did. However, Gerald's cousin Irma Fay (Wenger) Brown met a Godwin relative at a funeral visitation recently. He turned out to be a custodian at the school across from my childhood home in Jonesboro. That meeting resulted in an invitation to their annual Godwin reunion. So on a recent Saturday, we took off for the Devil's Backbone park in Grand Tower on the banks of the Mississippi River. Although very windy, it was a beautiful day, and the drive through the hills and farm lands was beautiful. We stopped at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Murphysboro to obtain our contribution to the pot luck, so it was a work-free outing for me, which was good since I was having some leg pain. We were able to see all of Gerald's Wenger cousins, and we met lots of nice folks there and learned a little more Godwin history. I wish I could hear better in crowds, and I might have learned more!

Last weekend we were delighted to hear that Jeannie was planning on coming down since she had not been able to come in August. She brought lots of school work with her despite working late Friday night. But I always enjoy visiting with her as she sits handling her kids' art work helping them get ready for their next step—the current project is making sketch books. Since she has over 500 students (K-5) at two different schools and is expected in some cases to teach from a cart, it sounds to me that it is an impossible job that reflects the lack of respect too many have for the value of the arts. Nevertheless, when I hear her talk and see the kids' work, I am positive her students are learning more than she can guess. In talking with the kids about books, she found they knew the word “spine,” but since the kids are computer literate, she was surprised they did not know about fonts. She took back a arm full of old magazines from our house to help her students discover different fonts.

Before Jeannie arrived on Saturday, Gerald invited me to go with him and our birthday granddaughter Brianna and her mother to Carterville. Gerald had been planning for some weeks that he wanted to buy her a new Bible for her birthday. He had recently met a knowledgeable clerk at the book store there that helped him buy two new Bibles, so he wanted Brianna to meet this clerk and have his advice. Brianna is by nature a thoughtful person, so she listening thoughtfully and considered carefully before we left with her new Bible. Mary Ellen made some Christmas gift purchases, and I knew I was getting old because I resisted buying a single book. (Every time I was tempted, I remembered the pile of half read books awaiting me in our living room and told myself not to add until I finished some of them.) After lunch at a nearby family restaurant, we returned Bri and her mom to their house as Brianna had plans to dress for Halloween parading with her brother Trent in Carbondale. (They went as Dexter and Dee Dee in memory of their childhood when Trent was always involved with some scientific project and Bri was the annoying little sister.) We went home to anticipate Jeannie's arrival.

On Sunday, Mary Ellen and Brian invited us to celebrate Bri's birthday by having lunch at Kay's Sugar Creek restaurant in Creal Springs. Many years ago when Gerald and I used to go down for Sunday lunch or Friday supper at a little cafe on the opposite side of the street, Kay's was closed and seemed at that time mostly open for noon-day meals for seniors. I had not even realized they were open again on Sundays. (And for all I know, they may have been for years.) It had been several decades since we ate at Kay's—I only remember one Sunday dinner there with a favorite pastor and his wife way back then. So last Sunday, we walked in to the typical country-style cafe with a cozy friendly atmosphere and only a few tables occupied. A blackboard told us that Sunday dinners gave you a choice of fried chicken or chicken and dumplings with two sides. I debated and ordered the dumplings, which surprised me by being served in a bowl, more like a soup than the usual dumplings. But the down home ambiance was charming; we had not been there long when a fellow Crab Orchard school alum walked in, and Jeannie and Mary Ellen enjoyed a brief visit with someone they'd not seen for years. The best part, however, was lingering after we'd eaten. Jeannie asked her daddy some good questions that brought out some family facts and stories I'd never heard. Our sweet waitress was more than patient; and with plenty of other tables for those arriving after us, we felt no need to hurry and depart. I've always been fascinated with the history of Creal Springs, where Gerald's grandfather Ben Glasco attended the Academy to earn his teacher's license and where my grandmother Sidney Martin attended a church assembly that was held there in the 1920s, I think. (Gpa Ben chose not to use his teacher's license since farm hands earned a larger salary! So not valuing education has been with us a long time. Nevertheless, I understand that Gpa Ben would have neighbors gathering in since he took a daily paper and was able to read it and keep up with the news the others wanted to know in those days without even radios. He also was considered an excellent mathematician and ready to help figure interest and other farm sums. I always admired this trait in Gerald's dad also.)

Jeannie left us Monday morning, but we had an evening to look forward to. Gerald's high school class of 16 no longer has planned reunions, but when their Wolf Lake class valedictorian and his wife come down from Peoria, we are grateful that Irma Dell Eudy Elkins gives Gerald a phone call and an invitation to meet other classmates or relatives who get the word and have dinner with Harold and Jean Stark at Anna's Mexican restaurant. The service team there is so kind and attentive and they have a great reserved room for us. Even in our separate room, I have a great deal of trouble hearing. Since others there had the same problem, I did not feel out-of-place as I sometimes do when I have to keep asking for repetitions. I always enjoy catching up with Shirley Miller to ask her about their small church in the village of Reynoldsville. Houses on the west side of highway have been torn down long ago and their property absorbed into one large farm. With that area in a flood plain, no new houses can be built on the east side either. So the once thriving small village church of decades ago has seen young people move away and older people die off. But a local dozen or so residents still faithfully attend, and I love to hear all about their worship and mission activities. For example, they bought 22 pairs of tennis shoes for local school children who needed them. They are prompt with needed food or errands if they see a need. If you are going to have car trouble on Route 3, try to have it near Reynoldsville. Their congregation stands able and willing to help those with misfortune on the highway. This tiny congregation is not made up of highly moneyed people, but Shirley says they have no problem paying light and heating bills and for a young man gaining experience preaching for them. I have heard of small churches having difficulty securing a pianist, but Shirley prevented that problem years ago when she and her husband gave their daughter piano lessons as a child. She has no idea when the congregation will no longer be there, but she is enjoying the present time, and I enjoy it vicariously.

Gerald's special social outlet has always been “breakfast with the boys.” And so this morning, he made time to drive down to Union County to eat breakfast with his one remaining brother and his nephews and who ever shows up for breakfast at wherever the current gathering place is. Getting to see little Jentra in her spurs preparing for the horse show at their arena this afternoon was a special treat for him today. As usual, I slept late, and he brought the family news home to me.

Despite aging problems, we have enjoyed the social life we have been blessed with this month. We are grateful to have the energy to visit with others and hear their news—if we keep our hearing aid batteries changed and if we sit close with enough concentration!










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Evening Walk

The slant of light gives all a clarity.

Emerald silhouetted leaves quake

against the lustered sky as folded  

wings congregate in glimmered shelters,

light and shadow tangled in the branches.


The path curves, and we, dimmer now,

and chill, stepping closer, hand, hand,

turn for shelter and repose,

but somewhere further on we see

shivered light spill redolent evergreen.

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Latest Comments

Ken Hartke Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
Thanks, Rosy, -- glad you liked it.
Ken Hartke I Promise
20 May 2018
I am so looking forward to your return -- I love your writing and wish you well. From my youth I've...
Stephen Evans I Promise
20 May 2018
Sometimes when I am dealing with deep anxiety I find that work (by which I mean writing), and the f...
Rosy Cole Sofia's Bakery
20 May 2018
I just love this, Ken. As appealing to the senses as a painting. Thanks :-)

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