Originally published in the West End Word, Feb. 13, 2013
By Eileen P. Duggan
The city of Richmond Heights, Missouri, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, but its history goes back much further than its incorporation on Dec. 29, 1913.
The St. Louis suburb is celebrating all year with a series of lectures, tours, concerts, exhibits and festivals highlighting the city’s past and present. The activities cover many aspects of the city’s history from homes, neighborhoods, architecture, trees, business, hospitals, arts, literature, food, weather, war and peace.
“It’s really exciting,” said Mayor James Beck. “It’s a great thing that the city has lasted 100 years.”
To read the full story, please see the Nonfiction Pages at right.
“Wow, she played!” the piano technician/dealer exclaimed as he ran his fingers across the keyboard and peeked under the lid to watch the hammers do their work.
Indeed she did, and so did hundreds of her students over the decades. And now I was trying to figure out if I could possibly squeeze my recently departed mother’s grand piano into my small house or if I should trade it and my old spinet in on a nice upright, maybe a Yamaha or older Steinway, that would fit in the already allotted piano space.
“If I had a Knabe grand like this, I’d want to keep it,” he said.
It was one of many, many decisions that I, along with my four siblings, had to make about our Mom’s stuff.
My family and I have long appreciated the joys of acquiring and using items formerly belonging to deceased people. From foil wrap to spices to furniture to tools, we have benefited from the property of various Dead Ladies and Dead Guys. I wrote about it in “The Dead Lady’s Stuff,” an essay published two years ago in Toasted Cheese Literary Magazine and republished in this blog. Over the past few months, we’ve been in the reverse position of being the benefactors of such gems. This time the Dead Lady is our Mom. Since she died June 8, we’ve been distributing her stuff and spreading her essence far and wide.
Closing someone’s apartment is a strange operation. It’s like moving, but then it’s not moving, not to a different place. Even when you’re downsizing — as Mom did, twice before — a lot of stuff gets thrown away or given away, but your core stuff goes with you to the new place. If Mom had closed out her apartment and moved in with one of us, a lot of things would go elsewhere, but many things would go with her: clothing, toiletries, make up, some furniture, family pictures and heirlooms.
But in closing the home of someone for the very last time, everything has to go somewhere else. There is no new location. Every little thing must have a new home, whether it be inherited by a family member, given to a relative or friend, sold to an acquaintance or stranger, donated to charity, recycled or thrown in the trash. Every single little thing. A decision must be made about every item: from “Who wants the dining room set?” to “Does anybody need a desk lamp?” to “Should we leave the toilet paper?” By the last week of August, we had gotten to point of “Do you want this elbow macaroni or should we try to sell it?”
Our mother was neat and organized, possibly on the edge of obsessive-compulsive about things being in order, and she was not a hoarder by any means. But she was 90 and she had accumulated 90 years of memories, important papers and personal property. She had five children, a career as a piano teacher, and avocations as a kitchen band leader, community theatre performer and painter. As orderly as it was, there was still a lot of stuff. It took us from June 9 to Aug. 31 to get it all out of the apartment, then there was a yard sale a month later and there are still a few ship-outs to go.
Mom was frugal and believed in reusing, rigging and recycling things. All of us wore hand-me-down clothes growing up. Mom herself wore second-hand clothes she purchased from a shop in her senior center and from a charity resale shop next door to her last apartment. She enjoyed being able to use clothes and items that others no longer needed. So it was a no-brainer that we would donate her clothing to a worthy cause.
Because the summer was already shaping up to be one of record-breaking heat, we decided to go through her summer clothes first so they could be used right away by people who needed them. Mom and I both wore the same hard-to-find shoe size — 7 narrow — so most of the shoes had my name on them. My sister and I could wear some of her clothes, so we kept a few things. Everything else went to the Mary Ryder Home, a wonderful residential care/assisted living facility in St. Louis for poor women. We chose Mary Ryder Home because the clothes are not sold to middle-class suburban women looking for bargains but are given directly to the home’s residents. A week or so later, the winter clothes followed.
My sister took a sofa that she had helped Mom shop for just a few years ago. She had fallen asleep on it many a time as holiday gatherings at Mom’s place wound down. My brother who has lived in California for years remembers breakfast at the dining room table when he was in high school. He had the dining room furniture shipped to his home. Another brother, a professional musician, took bookcases and a ukulele we had plunked on when we were children. He knows how to tune it now.
At various times, we had all helped Mom load her paintings into her station wagon to take to art fairs and exhibits. So we all kept some of her paintings. We hope to sell the remainder of the artwork, to continue her own efforts to sell them and to ensure they are enjoyed by others, rather than being stored, covered by an old sheet, in a basement. We shipped two of them to Mom’s sister in California. She is taking the china that belonged to their mother, to be shared among her daughters and granddaughters. That monumental packing and shipping task is in progress.
After claiming all the furniture, personal effects and other items that we wanted to keep, the search was on for new owners for all the other stuff. A college theater major got the dresser with matching mirror and the vintage 1960s pole lamp that shone three beams of light onto the piano’s music rack. A co-worker of my sister bought a bookcase. Another co-worker was thrilled to buy the single bed (complete with several sheet sets and a comforter), the rocking chair and bedside table for her live-in grandchildren’s room. She couldn’t wait to rock her grandbabies in the chair, where Mom used to read and sew. A friend bought two bookcases where Mom had neatly stacked music in her studio, and Mom’s cousin took her favorite glider chair and a tea service table.
Some piano teacher friends of Mom’s took some of her music, some rhythm instruments she had used with students, and music-related pictures. One young teacher, who had never met Mom but had heard legends of her teaching, took the remainder: an entire banker’s box of Bach, Debussy, Clementi, Liszt and other wonderful piano music. Children at a nearby day care center are now enjoying her colored markers and crayons as well as tambourines, mini-drum, maracas and other rhythm instruments. A fellow alum of St. Louis Institute of Music was happy to have Mom’s extensive Progressive Series library of piano music.
Our goal was to not move any leftover furniture that wouldn’t fit into any of our cars (two compact cars and a Honda station wagon). Anything bigger that remained after the moving weekend would be picked up by Salvation Army. As the last weekend of August drew near, there was one such troublesome item left: an attractive but bulky two-shelf TV cabinet made by my brother years ago for our Dad. It was housing a 19-inch analog TV, and it was accordingly deep, 23 inches to be exact. Although it had the great selling point of castors, big-ass analog TVs are not so popular anymore, so the cabinet had limited appeal. As wonderful as this cabinet was, none of us had room for it in our homes, and it did not pass the car-fitting test to even get it to my house for the leftovers yard sale we were planning for early October. No one who came to the apartment to pick up other items was interested in it. An e-mail plea to family and friends and my sister’s 900-plus Facebook friends and her seemingly endless supply of worthy co-workers came to naught. We posted it on Freecycle.com hoping it would be snapped up as fast as some other items. But after a few days of missed connections by just two interested parties, I scheduled a pickup by Salvation Army for the last week. At last, one of the Freecyclers came through and we rolled it out to her SUV just before moving weekend. She planned to use it to store her crafts supplies, so not only did it find a new home, but a new use. We found that a number of people are “repurposing” things.
The last difficult item was the aforementioned 19-inch analog TV, which worked except for about 3 inches of faint horizontal lines running across the screen at all times on all channels. We knew the TV was on its last legs and felt bad even trying to Freecycle it. But try we did, and alas, even Freecyclers had no interest. Plan C was to take it to an electronics recycling joint after the final cleaning night. But a last-ditch e-mail found another co-worker, whose soon-to-be-ex husband ran off with their TV. Now someone else is enjoying the TV on which Mom watched countless NCIS marathons and Tom Selleck movies while lounging in her glider.
As for me, I have Mom’s roll-top desk, where she figured all her accounts, kept track of her students and wrote cards and letters to friends and family. I have many other things of hers — clothes, shoes, jewelry, bookmarks, make-up (especially her Bonne Bell White White, which I had long been out of and which may be out of production). Yes, these are all just things, but they keep her alive, not only in our homes, but in us and in the homes and hearts of all the people who use the “stuff” she once cherished and enjoyed.
And I now have my mother’s grand piano, which is truly a symbol of her identity. My entire home office was displaced in order to fit the piano into the house, into its own room. But before the end of the first day of the piano’s arrival, it looked like it had always been there, always belonged there. Mom’s piano had found its new home.
— Eileen P. Duggan
Having trouble getting anybody to visit your blog? Do you get more spam than actual page views? You’re posting well-crafted prose, beautiful poetry or scathingly brilliant ideas on your pages, yet nobody visits them but your sister. You send out e-mail notices of new posts to all your friends, relatives and colleagues (when appropriate), and you even have a few followers who’ve signed up for automatic notices of new posts. You comment on other blogs and dutifully add “tags” to your posts to “optimize” your search engine position, like the self-proclaimed experts tell you to do. But still, visitors are few and far between, and [legit] commenters even fewer.
Except for that one page. If it weren’t for Vickie Newton, my blog would have no visitors at all on most days. My most-visited page is my article about Vickie Newton [see http://dugganpubs.wordpress.com/nonfiction/vickie-newton-fantasy-to-be-tv-anchor-came-true/]. That page — featuring a three-and-a-half-year-old story from the St. Louis Journalism Review — nets a minimum of one hit per day, usually more, sometimes much more. The visitors spike when she changes her hair, calls in sick or takes a week off. The search terms that lead readers to my blog reveal that people want to know if she’s married, if she’s divorced, why she got divorced, where she lives, does she have children, why isn’t she at work?
Who is Vickie Newton? She’s a celebrity. A local celebrity. Until three weeks ago, she was an evening news anchor on KMOV-TV Channel 4 in St. Louis. The day she announced she was leaving, I got 200 hits on my blog, almost all of them between 5:40 p.m. and midnight. The day she actually left, Thursday Aug. 16, it was 184. When she announced that Monday that it was her last week, my hits spiked from 10 the day before to 67, then increased steadily until Thursday. The next Monday, 91 viewers who had just noticed she was gone found my blog while searching for her.
Keep in mind, this is a blog that averages 3 to 4 hits per day, and it’s only that much because of Vickie. Now that she’s gone … But wait, I still have Jennifer Blome, another local TV anchor who generates regular interest.
Judging by search terms, there is a shocking number of people who are interested in the personal lives of even local news celebrities. Some people want to know when Kay Quinn and Art Holliday got married. Kay Quinn and Art Holliday are not married to each other — they just get along well on a 4 p.m. news show on KSDK-TV Channel 5 (St. Louis). Before last September, Art Holliday had been on the morning news with the aforementioned Jennifer Blome for 22 years. Yes, search terms reveal that some viewers thought THEY were married, because they got along so well on-air.
So, I’m thinking, a low-profile blogger like myself could crank up the page-view quotient by writing about more celebrities, bigger celebrities, national celebrities, worldwide celebrities. Not that I would have any reason at all to write about George Clooney or even Brad Pitt, although he IS from Missouri and so is Sheryl Crow (not to be confused with Russell Crowe). But if I wrote about Brad Pitt, I would also have to mention Angelina Jolie. And Sheryl Crow was once engaged to Lance Armstrong, who’s back in the news these days. And George Clooney used to date — well, everybody — but he starred opposite Julianna Margulies in “ER” and now she’s hit it big on her own show, “The Good Wife,” one of my favorites.
If I wanted hits from the younger set, I suppose I’d have to write about Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift or Taylor Lautner or Kristen Stewart or Rob Pattinson (although he was cute in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). Come to think of it, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint would be a must, but then that leads to Alan Rickman (ooh-la-la), Emma Thompson and Maggie Smith (can’t wait for Season 3 of Downton Abbey, can you?) and of course J.K. Rowling.
As for literati, I’ve already expressed my lust for JR Moehringer and Nicholas Weinstock (although they are no Vickie Newton, I can tell you that) but I could mention Stephen King, who’s been known to sell a book or two. Stephenie Meyer has had phenomenal success with the Twilight series, although I haven’t read any of them.
You can’t go wrong by mentioning the celebrity-in-chief Barack Obama or his sidekick, Michelle Obama, or I-feel-your-pain Bill Clinton and his sidekick, Hillary Rodham Clinton, or any of their past or present opponents (no, I think not). Or the fabulous late speechifier Ted Kennedy or his brothers John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.
Speaking of which, some dead celebrities keep raking in the dough and the attention long after they’re gone, like Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, James Dean, Heath Ledger, Steve Jobs, etc. etc. and so on.
Apropos of nothing, Will and Kate, Prince Harry, Pippa Middleton, Adele, Paul McCartney, Simon Baker, Bonnie Raitt, Kelly Clarkson, Robert Redford.
But if you turned your blog over to celebrity plugs, you’d have to deal with all the comments, both positive and hateful (but you could set comments to be subject to your approval). On the other hand, some of the celebrity-bound visitors might actually stay and read your regular posts and pages. No, probably not.
Maybe I’m better off with Vickie Newton. I’ll miss you Vickie, and your hits, too.
Like all print news publications, the St. Louis Jewish Light, a 64-year-old weekly, has run into the reality of the 21st century: declining readership, declining revenue and online competition. To meet the challenges, the Jewish Light’s Board of Trustees and staff have made substantial changes to the paper’s content, distribution and revenue sources over the past few years.
The Jewish Light’s content runs the gamut of local, national and international news, op-ed, features, arts coverage, enterprise reporting, obituaries, columns, gossip, a calendar, crossword puzzles and social announcements. There are special sections and the quarterly Oy! magazine, each with a different focus and available in print only.
New City School students plant, harvest crops to benefit area church food ministries
The mention of “food pantry” calls to mind boxes and bags of packaged foods and canned goods. But the shelves of two Central West End food pantries also include fresh produce, grown locally at a volunteer-powered community garden.
Earth Day marked the first anniversary of a community garden tucked away at the back of an open lot in the 5000 block of Waterman Avenue. In its first year, the garden has yielded more than 1,000 pounds of all manner of vegetables and fruits to benefit the community.
Nick and JR have enthralled me — while simultaneously beating me down — with their prose, their prowess, their proficiency.
Nicholas Weinstock and JR Moehringer are my current favorite contemporary authors, my literary lustees, my vocabularian valentines. They are not yet household names, like Hemingway, King or J.K. But they could be.
Their writing is so eloquent, so fluid, so full of the perfect phraseology (you don’t mind if I say phraseology, do you, JR?) it makes me, as a writer, want to put down my pen and say, “I’m out.”
Did I mention that their book jacket photos make both of these men look like matinee idols? Yummy.
JR Moehringer’s memoir, The Tender Bar, spins his story of growing up under the fatherly tutelage of the men who populated a neighborhood bar in Manhasset, New York. The book — a true story written in novelistic style — was a best seller when it broke in 2005, and for good reason. But I just read it last month (OK, so I’m about six years behind on the latest books). Male coming-of-age stories don’t usually interest me, but this one was an addicting page-turner. It’s a get-up-early-on-Saturday-morning-to-read story, a book that entices one to sneak in a page during commercials — oh hell, forget the TV show, just read two more chapters. I cheered JR’s successes, ached over his failures and heartbreaks and puzzled over some of his choices — more than once I was inclined to groan at the book, “No, JR! What are you thinking?”
Nicholas Weinstock’s novel, The Golden Hour, found me via, of all places, the Dollar Tree, which is a travesty. (Yes, the price tag was $1.) Such fine writing should not be relegated to the literature shelf of Dollar Tree, along with large-print puzzle books and cheap pocket-size Bibles. Not that I don’t love Dollar Tree for its bargains. Fortunately for me, this book was not just a bargain, but a true find. The Golden Hour follows a burned-out Manhattan investment banker, Bill, through the aftermath of some type of marital and/or work-related meltdown, which only becomes clear in fits and starts over the course of the story. He’s left his job and moves to a summer home in rural New York state, where he falls into a gig as a volunteer firefighter. Through his bonding with the firefighters, Bill gradually regains his equilibrium and finds himself — after a number of both serious and humorous mishaps.
The two books have a common theme. Both the fictional Bill and the real-life JR are seeking the meaning of manhood and how to achieve it or retrieve it.
Both books are hilarious and poignant. Both are so enchantingly written, I found them irresistible — and that goes for their authors, too.
I yearn to wield my vocabulary, such as it is, like JR does. I despair of ever crafting descriptive passages like Nick does. I envy their mastery in weaving the words, phrases and passages into compelling and humorous tales.
I long for their talent, I envy their skill, I lust for them — literarily, of course. But I wouldn’t mind meeting them. Again I say: Yummy. And I’m just three degrees of separation from JR. I know St. Louis’ KMOX-AM radio talk show host Charlie Brennan, who was once on-air partners with McGraw Milhaven, who is JR’s cousin and figures prominently in The Tender Bar. Milhaven now hosts a show on KTRS-AM in St. Louis.
I can dream, can’t I?
— Eileen P. Duggan
The Tender Bar (Hyperion, 2005), http://www.hyperionbooks.com/the-tender-bara-memoir/
The Golden Hour (William Morrow, 2006), www.harpercollins.com/browseinside/index/aspx/isbn-13-9780060760878
Does anybody else hate digital TV as much as I do?
A recent episode of ABC’s PanAm featured a scene in which one of the off-duty pilots was trying to get TV reception of a live space launch back in the early 1960s. The picture came in and out and went all staticky (as a certain former Alaska governor might say) as he carried the antenna around the room testing different locations and positions. In the end, he recruited one of the stewardesses to climb through a window and hold the antenna outside for the perfect reception.
With the advances in TV technology during the past couple of decades, this type of scene had become a quaint anecdote of the past. Until June 12, 2009, when we all were forced to accept digital transmission of TV broadcasts.
So, for those of us who still refuse to pay to watch TV (or can’t afford to), the antenna dance has returned. I can seldom get through an entire show without some sort of reception mishap: pixelating images, frozen images, st-st-st-stammering sound, no sound, or the dreaded blackout with the message “No Signal.” I haven’t heard ba-ba-ba so many times since the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann” was a Top 40 hit.
One or more of these glitches usually occurs just before the murderer is revealed, as the punchline is delivered or as the winner is announced.
Some stations are worse than others for a few weeks, then a different station catches it. For the past couple of months, our CBS affiliate has had it (are you listening, KMOV?), which is a bummer because I’m missing large chunks of NCIS, NCIS-LA, The Good Wife, The Mentalist, 60 Minutes, the evening news …. Reception is particularly churlish when there’s any kind of weather abnormality, such as extreme cold, extreme heat, rain, snow, wind. And in St. Louis, weather abnormalities are pretty much the norm. Even in good weather, the fizzles seem to get worse as the day wears on. The morning shows are usually fine, but by the time the 5 p.m. news comes along, the pixels have started pixelating. By prime time, I have to keep all three of my TVs on during a favorite show so I can still pick up the sound if one of them blanks or b-b-b-bumps out.
Funny, I never notice it happening during commercials.
At first, I assumed it was because I was using converter boxes to get the digital reception on my older TVs. But when one of my TVs died, I got a new digital TV. The high-definition color is beautiful (when there’s a picture), but the reception is the least dependable of the three sets. I’ve tried several styles of digital antennas, but they all require constant fiddling, adjusting and juggling. By the way, the instructions for the digital converter boxes suggest that you should rescan for channels every time you adjust the antenna. Which would be every 10 minutes. And I thought the days of aluminum foil on TV antennas were long gone. Ah, well, at least foil is cheap.
This is progress? Like in PanAm’s 1960s, I often have to stand or sit in a certain place to pick up reception. At least back in the olden days, I could get one of my brothers to do it (“Timmy, stand there —keep holding your arm up like that!”). Waving the remote at the TV seems to work; so does rubbing a moist finger across the remote’s sensor. I’ve even tried pointing the remote at the TV, shouting Potter-like incantations (“Rennervate! Lumos! Stupify!”), which sometimes work, but that could be a coincidence.
The TV-watching supplies I keep on hand include: rubbing alcohol, Q-tips, canned air and, of course, foil.
What works best is when I’m not in the room with the TV. That kind of defeats the purpose.
Makes me just want to read a book. Or write a book. On paper.