Commentary

This is all commentaries on WVPE including Friday's Michiana Chronicles Feature and occasional one-time contributors.

Our Masquerade

Oct 31, 2014

Judging just by its economic impact, Halloween is the second-most popular holiday in the U.S. It's the day when you get to be someone else, and that someone indulges in sweets of all kinds without any concern for the consequences. Perfectly respectable citizens dress as ghouls and turn their front lawns into graveyards, playgrounds for ghosts and devils, and bloody crime scenes. On Halloween we get to try on a different role, perhaps becoming what we secretly wish we could be, in a world without real consequences.

Our Trees

Oct 24, 2014

This was our first house. That first fall, back in 1993, we sneaked over here under cover of darkness, to rake leaves, even though we hadn't actually bought the place yet.  Two flimsy green metal rakes from the True Value on Main Street.  There was no fence, and we worked for hours under the night sky, dreaming and hoping the neighbors wouldn't notice.

At Her Pace

Oct 21, 2014

I am waiting.  Sitting on a hand loomed throw rug on the floor in front of her kitchen sink.  The eighteen by eighteen inch ceramic tiles are immaculately clean.  There are no crumbs along the kickboard of the floor.  I checked.

Usually I tell you small, domestic stories, and this one today is no exception, but today’s story, as well as being a bit more self-revelatory than usual,  also may be an allegory of a much larger topic.

In our family, my son, Joseph, has told a story of helping to launch his sons into the world of self-reliance when they were fairly young, by sending them alone to the check-in counter at the airport. This is what he saw from his yes-of-course-he-stood-back-and-observed-in-case-anything-really-went-wrong-and-they-needed-help, vantage point.

Wedding Suit and Silver

Oct 10, 2014

This is a story about a suit, some silver, a photographic history book, an anti-war bust, and a lunch on the dining room table. Here goes:

Tiny House, Big Life

Sep 26, 2014

As we kiss summer goodbye and head back into our homes with their clanking furnaces, cozy blankets and pie, it’s a good time to consider the connections between our houses … and ourselves.

Some of the biggest ideas in home-building right now are quite … small.  Tiny, actually.  It seems like everyone, suddenly, is talking about tiny houses. And yes, that’s actually the term – not downsized, not small, but … tiny. The average size of a house in the U.S. is 2300 square feet, and tiny houses are about 400 – and sometimes more like 70.

A Visit with Mom

Sep 19, 2014

It was a low-key weekend back at my mother’s house in St. Louis. I cleared my work schedule and drove across Illinois on Thursday, accepting the boredom of the interstate highway in exchange for its efficiency. At least they’ve added a couple of wind farms in recent years, and standing above the bean and corn fields those white towers and the slow waving of those great white blades make the sky seem alive in a new way. I crossed the Mississippi River on the north side of St.

My lunches have been lonely. I mean, Libby is there, but one on one time is different than when it was Libby and Portia and I heatedly discussing how many carrots must be consumed. I miss Portia and Libby together, fighting and working things out. Or like today as together they make up "Nut Job: The Musical" at the breakfast table, the energy is just different. I don't exactly mind it, but I feel unsettled. My lunches are lonely because Portia started Kindergarten this Fall.

It Was Nothing

Sep 5, 2014

Amid so much news of international conflict and human loss (Ferguson, Missouri; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; civil wars in Ukraine, Libya, Syria, and Iraq), Americans were heartened this morning to learn that peace had returned to the houses of Salisbury and Derby with the sudden resolution Thursday of a misunderstanding between Thomas Montagu, Earl of Salisbury and Frederick Stanley, Earl of Derby. Addressing Lord Derby, Lord Salisbury wrote:

Dear sir,

A Skunk in the Night

Aug 29, 2014

It was two a.m.  I rolled over in bed, aware that someone was standing in the room.  "Dad!" a voice whispered.  "Dad!"  It was my son.  Staring blearily at his silhouette, I mumbled, "What is it?"

"Dad, there's a badger outside my room."

I sat up.  "A badger?" 

"Yeah," he said, still in a whisper.  "A badger.  I looked it up on Google.  It's in the window well.    

Look - I even took a picture."

With Birthday Bees in My Bonnet

Aug 27, 2014

When I was younger, much younger, the high point of my social calendar was a birthday party—preferably my own. These events always included a chocolate layer cake made from scratch by my mother. I enjoyed licking the beaters almost as much as I enjoyed the finished product. A family friend once requisitioned one of mom’s legendary creations, and, with the help of Tupperware, flew across the country with carry on cake to celebrate her daughter’s birthday. Talk about two wings and prayer. Fortunately, the cake and its escort both arrived in one piece.

Let's Eliminate August

Aug 25, 2014

Wyeth Not?

Aug 22, 2014

You ever notice how Susan Stamberg often does stories about arts-related topics on NPR? Well, today, I’m exhibiting my Stamberg-wanna-be side and have chosen to talk about the Wyeths. This is occasioned by what turned out to be a Wyeth binge that was a recent detour in my life.

Literary Ancestors

Aug 15, 2014

My mother’s mother was named Ellen Morden Long. She was born in New York City in 1884, but lived her married life in Syracuse, New York. Ellen Long had a grandfather, my three times great grandfather, named Ralph Morden Long. He was born in 1788 in eastern Pennsylvania, but died on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, not too far from Brantford, where he was taken during the Revolutionary War by his grandmother Ann Durham Morden, who must have been a “loyalist”—on the British side, to flee to Canada.

The Train Truth

Aug 8, 2014

If you groove on the idea that “it’s the journey, not the destination,” long-distance train travel is calling your name.  There are more efficient ways to cross the Rockies and Sierras, sure, but it’s hard to beat the enchantment of Amtrak’s California Zephyr if you want to get from Denver to San Francisco.  Our family boarded the Zephyr last week, and we still feel bewitched.

Cabin Pressure

Aug 1, 2014

The obesity epidemic became more real to me during my travels last weekend. My return flight was fully booked, and I boarded late only to discover that my seat was already partly occupied by the bulging left side of an especially large man. Although he sat with his arms tightly crossed, his side and shoulders swelled well beyond the invisible frame marked by the armrest. His leg extended at a sharp angle onto my seat. I’m not a big man, but airplane seats are narrow enough these days that I wasn’t able to place my back squarely against the seat back.

The Wind Storm

Jul 25, 2014

For a couple of weeks we had a fool-proof conversation starter around the neighborhood:  “How’d you do in the storm?” The storm being the July 1st just after midnight blast of wind and rain that knocked stout branches out of grand old trees and brought them down on parked cars and utility lines and garages and the roofs of houses. So, how’d you do in the storm? We were pretty lucky.

Have you ever seen a movie, like a thriller or a horror film where you KNOW that person shouldn't go in the basement?  They kind of write the scene that way to get your adrenaline pumping.  Going into that basement just means they will never come back out of it.  I have one of these basements.   In my dark, damp, ugly basement Things Get Lost.   We call it Storing Stuff,  but really, if we are honest, we just Loose Stuff in our basement.  Down the rickety Needs Paint stairs are mildewed walls and a cold bare floor.  Is it just cold, or is it wet too?  I often idly wonder, but not for long.

It's 8 am on a Monday.  I'm standing in the lobby with three other guys, looking at a piano.  I check my watch.  We're under a time crunch.  In three hours' time, there will be a jazz concert in the ballroom upstairs, and they need this very piano.  Did I mention it was a grand?

Summertime is not downtime

Jul 7, 2014

Summertime—And the Livin’ is Easily Misunderstood

Another school year has ended. For teachers, that means hearing the familiar question again, “So, what are you doing with all that summer vacation?”   

I understand the assumption. Many of us remember June, July, and August days filled with biking, swimming lessons, pick up games of baseball and football, or curling up to read books of our own choosing--with no one demanding book reports.

Talk about serendipity! For over a year, I’ve been thinking to drive down and look at Peru, IN. (Only the natives are allowed to pronounce it “Pee-roo,“ I’m told.) When I finally quit procrastinating and toddled off to look at the website to see what things Peru has to offer other than the thing that I had in mind to visit, I was amazed to see that that very weekend was the annual festival of their famous native son. In the mode of sometimes-Indiana-surprises-me, some years ago I had learned that Cole Porter was from there and wanted to visit his birthplace.

My Yard is Biting Me

Jun 27, 2014

I dug up still another patch of backyard Friday and Saturday, and the same thing happened as last time. My forearms swelled up. For a couple of days I looked like Popeye the Sailor Man. Right now, although the swelling has receded, “I’m itching like a man on a fuzzy tree,” although the other symptoms associated with that song have not displayed. I guess it could be mosquitos, although I didn’t hear them around my ears or see them alight. This pest is maybe chainsaw-us vexans, its cousin hammerdrill-us vexans, or sneakuponus vexans.

Space Time Travel

Jun 20, 2014

In this summer travel season, when many of us return to places filled with personal history, here’s a meditation on the space-time continuum. The whole topic of revisiting is saturated with regret – witness E.B. White’s classic essay, “Once More to the Lake,” worth rereading in spite of his melancholy theme that returning to the lake of his youth is shadowed by loss.  The adult E.B.

Designing a Book

Jun 13, 2014

You can hardly find a college campus these days without its share of courses in creative writing. Novelists and poets instruct their artful students in the long history of literature and in its latest innovations. Guest writers give public readings in the evening to enthusiastic audiences. People line up at the end to buy books and have them signed by the very writer who composed them. The participants plainly think that something valuable, perhaps even magical, is going on.

Spring is now here and those fresh, balmy mornings on my tiny front porch have begun. We often eat breakfast on the front porch and dinner on the backyard patio. Being outside is so enjoyable, especially after that endless winter! With these warm Spring days we just drift outside to enjoy the sunshine.

Last week, my wife and I, feeling restless in South Bend, took a self-guided tour of the natural history of our region. We wanted to see the remaining local traces of the Grand Kankakee Marsh, the wetland that once dominated Northern Indiana the way the Everglades still dominate South Florida. Today the Kankakee River is almost invisible. It is a series of small canals (drainage ditches, really) running southwest from the “cooling pond” at the old ethanol plant.

Levi

May 26, 2014

The Funeral Home

May 23, 2014

It's early Friday morning and I'm sitting in the parking lot of a funeral home, eating a sweet roll from Dunkin Donuts.  Well dressed employees are arriving all around me  They stare quizzically.  I smile back.  I'm not here for them - I'm here for their wiring.

Last  night, I get a text from my boss.  Meet me tomorrow at the funeral home.  We need to replace some speakers in their chapel. 

"Wow! There are a lot of people in this community who are interested in grave-robbing. And lots of them are sort of old. That's pretty creepy­" That's what I said to history-buff, Larry, as we stood at the South Bend City Cemetery one recent Saturday. We were waiting for a program presented by the Center for History to begin. The plan was that Travis Childs from the Center for History was going to trot us around the cemetery in conjunction with the Saint Joseph County Library's "One Book, One Michiana" selection for 2014, Frankenstein, talking to us about local grave-robbing lore.

From the Ethereal

May 9, 2014

From the ethereal to the earthereal, the fun never stops. I woke up Monday morning with my arm hanging limp from my shoulder. A little body English would have swung it around in circles like a mean boy with his sister’s rag doll. Lit-tel story. Sunday I played bodhrán—the Irish frame drum—as I describe it, north-end-of-a-south-facing goat—to accompany a glorious choir, the St. Joseph Valley Camerata. I bought a new suit for the occasion! Know when the last time THAT happened? When I got married-1970.

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