Monday, August 18, 2008

George Ella Lyon

A Children's Writer from Kentucky inspires us to consider where we are from. The graduate students I am teaching this fall, I hope, will enjoy reflecting about their own culture as they enter into studying Children's Literature from diverse perspectives.

A wonderful professor I had at Duke, Stephen Dunning, believed that we can learn to write poetry as we learn to shoot a free throw, or hit a forehand. We look to an expert, then we copy/and change to what feels natural for us. And we thank them. So many years I watched my sons jump on a trampoline to dunk a basketball ball like Michael Jordon. It was thrilling. When Dr. Dunning applied this teaching method to poetry, he called it, "Getting the Knack." I love it, and have used it for years to learn and to teach.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Where I'm From

Where I’m From
By Sarah Borders
With thanks to George Ella Lyon

I am from Palmolive Soap
From White Rain Shampoo and Old Dutch Cleanser
I am from the red clay that
Stuck to white socks and saddle shoes
I am from the dogwood tree
Outside our dining room window
Blooming for Easter.

I am from tomato sandwiches on light bread
And cold wave perms
I am from white gloves, Easter dresses and Bermuda shorts;
From Margaret O’Brien and Natalie Wood
I’m from silver punch bowls and the silver screen
My mother was from the “Haves”
But my daddy was from the “Have Nots”
“We were poor, but we didn’t know it,” the Gastons say.
I am from a red coupe with a running board and a Bel Aire Chevie
I am from O Say Can You See
And Jesus Loves the Little Children and
The Lord is My Shepherd, I shall not want.

I am from Chopin’s Polonaise and “Let’s Pretend”
From the swing in the strong oak tree;
I am from Davie Avenue School and the First Baptist Church;
From fried squash and bananas with peanut butter and Aunt Kat’s fruit punch;
From my daddy’s lap, and my grandmother’s porch glider.

Under my bed were Belk dress boxes filled with ribbons,
Wrinkled valentines, baseball game stubs,
“Five Minute Date” cards and pressed Easter corsages.

I am from gray scrapbook pages with yellowing scotch tape
And jerky home movies;
And boxes of collectibles not long ago moved from my mother’s dust-free attic
To my very own garage,
Where my very own granddaughter loves to rummage around…
Perhaps to discover
where she’s from.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


When my son Stephen was four years old, I often found a sleepy boy in the mornings who did not want to rush to get dressed to go to pre-school. One morning he rolled over, glancing sideways at our dog Penny who was snoozing away. and with a slight moan said, "I wish I was a dog." "Hmmm..." i responded. "You wish you were a dog?" "Yep. Dogs don't have to go to school."

Now Stephen is no longer four, but forty. As a loving master of several dogs since his teenage years, he has a great gift for convincing dogs that "Life is good." He and his wife Cindy, who live in Grand Rapids, are the proud owners of Ginger, a Weimaramer/Lab Mix. As I visit here this week, I wonder, who wouldn't love to live the life of Ginger?

She starts her day with a romp in the Gladstone neightborhood where friendly neighbors call her by name. She curls up on the soft couch for naps, lifting her head now and then to check on the activty of birds and squirrels. Noon brings either Steve or Cindy home on lunch break to greet her. More naps or chewing on her big bone. The long afternoon walk all over East Grand Rapids or a ride in the van is a big adventure. Today her new toy is a chicken which makes a wonderful squeak. After a little keep away game she curls up again on Steve's feet, happily tired after another day in the life of Ginger.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Max Tharpe: Master Photographer

This week I have a most interesting house guest. He is Max Tharpe, age 87 and a half. When I was a teenager in bobby socks in the fifties he was the ubiquitous photographer who walked all over town with two black box cameras around his neck, taking human interest photos of children, young people, families, farms and churches in rural Iredell county. Loved by neighbors and townspeople for his laughter and admired for his artistry, he worked hours and hours in his dark room at Tharpe's Tourist Home which was run by his mother, Jaimie. He mailed photos from his photo library all over the country, and his mailbox was full of envelopes each day with checks. (Maybe seven dollars at the most!) During at least three decades he literally put Statesville, NC on the map. My best friend Prudy was on a cover of the summer issue of State Magazine in the early fifties in a swimming pool photo, enjoying a vanilla ice cream cone!! Other locals, such as a lonesome little country boy named leaning on a screen door were picked up on the wires by the Washington Herald Post. Max left North Carolina in the mid 70's for Florida where he retired, taking care of his mother. Now he is blessed by a "chosen daughter" Barbara whom he met 26 years ago at church who is his caretaker, friend and "tour guide" for a six week tour of all the places Max has been wanting to visit. This has included visits to the air and space museum in DC, the site for the Wright Brothers flight in NC, the Creation Museum in Kentucky, and two weeks in his old hometown where he has walked some familiar streets in his brand new neon green Crocs. The town is honoring him, thanking him for generously donating 6,000 historical photos to Mitchell Community College to be shared with all the Max Tharpe fans and those who want to learn more not only about local history but about real life.
His gift was capturing ordinary moments which tug at all our memories. "In my work I was always trying to please God. He was the director. " From his fans, a chorus is rising, "Thanks be to God for this person who has touched many lives in ways we will never know."

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

In Spanish, querencia describes a place where one feels safe, a place from which one's strength of character is drawn, a place where one feels at home. It comes from the verb quere, which means “to desire” , “to want”.
Animals have querencia by instinct. The golden plover knows every year where to fly when it migrates. Rattlesnakes know by the temperature when to lie dormant. In winter, sparrows and chickadees know where their food is and they return to the same spot again and again. Humans have querencia, too. Our bodies tell us instinctively where we feel most at home.
My Querencia is “Watersmeet,”… a simple, but cozy house with channel rustic siding which sits where two streams converge in the Western hills of North Carolina. The name was first suggested by a friend from Tasmania and later a visitor from Ireland stood in the water and sang an Irish song called “The Meeting of the Waters.”
Tall willows line the riverbank. I remember well when they were just sticks, planted there 40 years ago by my daddy. (“I don’t see how those will ever be tress,” said my mother, “but your daddy usually knows what he’s doing.”) Over the years the water has changed things, digging a little deeper here, reforming a bank there…moving, always moving … like the lives of us who live and work and play here.
The season of my delight is summer, because I love open windows and porches, and the sound of the water. Even the tap water here is refreshing as is runs cool from the well. A large deck and an enclosed side porch are my newest additions. They are my favorite places to be in summer. The willows’ limbs droop… providing green curtains with their leafy branches. Their leaves move in the breeze and glisten in summer rain. The sound of rippling water gently breaks the silence.
There is a rather neglected flower bed next to the house, but all kinds of little asters and even golden rod come up to transform it from time to time. It is a favorite spot for the butterflies and birds.
Inside on the coffee table is the old guest book with a flowered cover. It is filled with stories of kids (who are now 40 years old) in the creek, spring snows, catching crawdads, popping touch-me-nots, church retreats, rock throwing, music making, romantic getaways, anniversary and birthday celebrations, a recipe for cornbread salad, an autograph from Eric Carle, a four leaf clover, children’s drawings of houses with shiny suns and a sad story about the death of a favorite dog, Hondo.
This is my Querencia…a refreshing retreat, a gathering place, a blueprint of memory.