Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Story of the portrait

Nice backstory to this portrait of Frances Sullivan. When she was seeing the wonderful Dean Dowdy, he took a photograph of her and passed it along to his son-in-law, Duke Curnutte, who was a warden at the Kentucky State Penitentiary. Duke knew a man who was a gifted artist (unfortunately also a convicted forger) and the man did the portrait based on the photo. The price of the portrait?  Two cartons of cigarettes.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

NPR picks up the story...

NPR's 'All Things Considered' picks up the wonderful story of Margaret Ann Harris hearing her father's voice for the first time in her adult life.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

1943 Christmas Show

This was perhaps the most fun and gratification I've ever had in working on a project. Our librarian, Paul McCardell, found a box on a shelf that contained recordings of a Christmas Day radio broadcast produced in England by The Sun's World War II correspondents in 1943. The show featured holiday greetings and music from area soldiers sent to loved ones back home. We rebroadcast the show for the first time in 70 years on Dec. 20, 2013 on Dan Rodricks' "Midday" show on WYPR FM and the response was phenomenal. The videos below include the show in its entirety (with photos of and information about soldiers and Red Cross workers who were on the show), interviews with a couple of people who were on the broadcast 70 years ago, and families of others who were on the program. Also included is an interview with a woman we heard from the day after the rebroadcast. Her father was killed in action a couple of weeks following the original broadcast. She was a year and a half old when he died and is now 71. She had never heard his voice until now.

1943 Sunpapers Christmas Radio Show - Part 1 of 3 from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

1943 Sunpapers Christmas Radio Show - Part 2 of 3 from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

1943 Sunpapers Christmas Radio Show - Part 3 of 3 from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

Charles Irwin talks about singing on the 1943 Sunpapers Christmas Day Radio Show from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

Sarah Sadler Woods, 97, talks about the 1943 Sunpapers Christmas Day Radio Show and the Red Cross in World War II from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

Hears her father's voice for first time from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

Daughters remember Martin Willen from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

Sons remember Walter Ives from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

Nephew remembers Katherine Heuisler from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

Grandsons remember correspondent Lee McCardell from Baltimore Sun's The Darkroom on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Curried Beans

I shouldn't complain about the cold because we've had a mercifully mild winter. But yesterday was on the chilly side and I was looking for a quick, easy and warming dish that we could throw together for dinner.

The photo doesn't do the dish justice. In fact, I'm discovering that when I use my phone to snap a shot of anything boiling or simmering, the result is that it looks like something floating in slime. Next time we make it, I'll shoot the finished product instead.

This recipe came off one of our old hand-written cards, but I think it's based in part or whole on a similar recipe in Annemarie Colbin's "The Book of Whole Meals."

Curried Beans

2 cups kidney beans
8 cups water

1 tsp sea salt or to taste

1 medium yellow onion

2 cloves garlic

2 Tbs corn oil

1/2 tsp curry or to taste

Place the beans in a 2-quart saucepan, then wash and pick them over. Cover beans with water and soak for 6-8 hours. (Or to save time, bring beans to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 2 minutes; turn off heat, cover, and soak in the hot water for 2 hours.)
To cook, make sure the beans are covered with water, then simmer for 1 hour or until tender. Add the salt, and simmer for 5 minutes more. Strain, reserving the liquid for use in soup.

Chop the onion; crush and mince the garlic. In a 2-quart saucepan, heat oil and saute garlic, then onion; add curry, stirring well, then add 2 cups cooked beans. Cook for 10 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally. Add some bean liquid if the mixture is too dry.

The recipe says to serve atop polenta, which is typically the way we make it. And there's usually enough polenta left over to make corn mush that we serve the next day for breakfast, with a little maple syrup on top. But it's also good on top of rice, which is what we opted for this weekend.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Granny Franny's Cole Slaw

It's been nearly 40 years since my mom, Frances, passed away. One of the great pains in my and my brother's lives is that our kids never had a chance to meet her. But they know her. She left us with many great stories that we've shared with the kids, who in our house call her "Granny Franny."

One of the tangible ways I've been able to share my memories of her and my dad, Courtlan (who also died much too young) with my kids is through some of the recipes I've posted on this blog.

A few weeks ago I got a message on Facebook from Cathy Toney, a Madisonville friend who very nearly became my step-sister (a story for another time). Cathy mentioned that she had made cole slaw from my mom's recipe. I had vague memories of that dish (cole slaw wasn't a big favorite of mine when I was young), and certainly didn't have the recipe anywhere in my files. Cathy provided the recipe and I decided I would make it as a side dish for this year's Christmas dinner (yes, cole slaw is a perfectly suitable side for our traditionally unorthodox Christmas-day meal).

Granny Franny's Cole Slaw

7/8 cup of sugar
1 cup vinegar
2/3 cup salad oil

1 head cabbage, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
sprinkle liberally with dried mustard
sprinkle with celery seed

Mix everything together and let chill.

When I first read the recipe I was a little amazed at the amount of sugar. But then, thinking about what we ate growing up in Kentucky during those years, yeah, it made sense. As Brother Dave said, we're still wearing a lot of that sugar around our guts.

When I sampled the slaw, it indeed provided a flashback to the early '70s. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's feast when it will be one more way to share Granny Franny with my wife and kids.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dead Heads

When we lived in Austin I enjoyed going to Mexicarte, a little gallery that specialized in Mexican and South American art works. There were three things in particular that I liked.

They had these tiny Guatemalan "worry dolls". The story with them is that if you were plagued by worries, you could share them with the little doll and it would accept the worry, leaving you free to sleep easily.

They also had little hand-painted armadillos made out of tiny gourds. Each armadillo had a little bobbing head protruding from a hole carved in the gourd.

And they had lots of "Dia de los muertos" figures. Day of the Dead. Little displays of skeletons, often whimsically dressed, that were brought out in late October to honor deceased loved ones.

A few weeks ago I started thinking about this stuff and remembered that I had some modeling clay in my home office. I went up and fashioned a little "dead head" that resembled the dia de los muertos skulls. The first one I made was pretty good, but I had the oven turned up too high and the finished product looked like it had been burned at the stake. But once I figured out the right temperature, I started cranking the things out en masse. The photo below shows two of my early heads.

I don't think this is the start of a second career for me, but I've enjoyed making all the little marble-sized dead heads.

The Wallet

(The following is a true story. My friend Barry McCalister sent me a Facebook note late one night early in 2010 to tell me about a message he'd received from a stranger with a truly amazing tale.)

It was like a bell went off in his head, waking him up. The first thing Ronnie Ragan said to himself that day was, “Find the wallet.”

It was April of 2010. Ronnie hadn’t thought about the wallet for at least a couple of years. But he went upstairs in his house in Madison, Tennessee and started going through boxes until he located a tan, leather woman’s wallet, closed with a zipper. The wallet was showing signs of age – it was at least 60 years old. Inside were several black and white photos - a group of sailors, what looked like school portraits - all from the 1940s or ‘50s. There were also some pay-check stubs, various receipts, a letter from Aunt Billy passing along regards from Uncle Arden, a Social Security card and a driver’s license. In a snap-sealed coin pocket was $1.85 in change – a 1923 Liberty silver dollar, plus three quarters and two nickles minted in the 1940s. According to the Social Security card and driver’s license, the wallet had belonged to Joan McCalister. But neither the license nor any of the other papers included an address.

Ronnie had been trusted with the wallet by his late grandfather, Bill “Pappy” Reece. Pappy had been an auto parts salesman for the S&S Sales Company. He lived in Madison, Tennessee, but his sales route frequently took him into Western Kentucky and Southern Indiana. On one of his swings through his territory in 1949 or 1950, he stopped at a store in Cadiz, Kentucky, about 85 miles northwest of Nashville. He found the wallet in the store’s parking lot.

Many people might have simply taken the money and left the wallet. A dollar eighty-five might not sound like much, but it’s the equivalent of a little more than $17 by today’s standards. At the very least, it would have provided a nice meal.

But that wouldn’t have been in character for Pappy. He wanted to get the wallet and everything in it back to its owner. Cadiz is the Trigg County seat, but at that time it was still a few births shy of 1,300 people. It was a small town and he figured someone would surely know Joan McCalister. He went from store to store and asked several people, however nobody could provide him any leads.

Among the items in the wallet were pay stubs for Robert McCalister. No home address was listed, but the company on the stub was Servell in Evansville, Indiana. When Pappy’s travels next took him to Evansville, he tried to track down Robert by going to Servell. But Robert had recently left the company and there was no forwarding address.

So, Pappy came home and put the wallet in a drawer and there it stayed until the early 1990s when he brought it to Ronnie’s attention.

“I started doing family genealogy and I was researching these different branches of my family and I was having some luck finding some people. (Pappy) mentioned to me one day, ‘I’ve got this old wallet I found when I was on the road. Do you think you’d have any luck finding the lady, because if you would, I’d like to return this to her.’”

It had been more than 40 years since Pappy had found the wallet. Ronnie did the best he could at the time to locate Joan McCalister, but the trail was too cold. However, he pledged to Pappy, “I’ll keep the wallet and one of these days if I can ever find (the McCalisters) or their children, I promise you I’ll get the wallet back to them.”

Pappy passed away at the age of 95 in April, 2008. Then, almost two years to the day later, the wallet flashed into Ronnie’s consciousness for the first time in nearly a decade.

“I brought it to work with me and started searching obituaries through Ancestry.com and Google.” He soon found an obit for Robert McCalister who died in 2007, then one for Joan, who had died in 2003. He noted the names of the children, then went on Facebook and found a listing for the youngest son, Barry McCalister. “I saw Barry’s name and his friends included an Adams McCalister and I knew his mom’s maiden name was Adams. Then I saw a Billy McCalister, which I knew from the obituary was his brother. So I thought, ‘This has got to be the guy.’ And then when I saw that on Mother’s Day he wrote about how much he missed his mom, I said, ‘This is why I woke up thinking about this. This is the guy who’s supposed to get the wallet.’”

Just after the Memorial Day holiday in 2010, Ronnie sent a Facebook friend request to Barry McCalister, with a short note mentioning he had something that might belong to him.

“Well, naturally, I think it’s a scam,” said Barry, who lives in Madisonville, Kentucky, where his parents had moved in 1957. “Then this incredible story opens up and the he turns out to be just a super-nice guy.”

Ronnie sent him another note explaining why he contacted him. Not only did he describe what he had, but he also included a photo of the wallet and all the treasures it contained. Barry said that he was so overwhelmed he had to have his wife, Karla, come in and type the response for him. “When I saw the picture and the contents, I just started shaking. It was like a little time capsule.”

He said when his mom lost the wallet, she would have been 19 or 20 and his dad around 25. They would have been married for about four years and had just given birth to the first of their three sons, Billy. The McCalisters at that time were living in Cobb, which was 10 miles from Cadiz.

“Mom was a housewife. She was probably out shopping with a baby in her arms and dropped the wallet and didn’t realize it until later. (Middle brother) Mike and I laughed about it, because first of all, I bet she didn’t tell daddy that she lost the wallet. Then Billy said, ‘I bet she didn’t tell daddy she had that kind of money, either.’ That would have been walking money back in 1950. I guarantee that was kept a secret.”

Ronnie packed up the wallet and mailed it to the McCalister family. Barry kept the wallet in a box, waiting until the entire family got together at Thanksgiving.

“We were sitting around the table and went through all of it,” Barry said. “There were a lot of emotions there.”

Among the items they pulled from the wallet was a 1949 bill from a Caldwell County Kentucky hospital for the delivery of oldest brother, Billy. Barry said, “Billy was a little disappointed when we pulled the bill out and he found out that all he was worth in 1949 was $149. He caught some hell over that one.”

Barry said that his sister-in-law Patti took all the items in the wallet, digitized them and gave copies to all the family members. Mike and Patti McCalisters' daughter, Ann-Michael, who is Joan and Robert McCalisters' only granddaughter, was given the wallet. It’s locked in a safe, with all the contents it held when Joan dropped it and when Pappy Reece found it more than 60 years ago.

“I think Pappy knew that the wallet made it home,” said Ronnie. “I’m one of those people that believes those on the other side know what you’re doing and maybe even help you in doing it. I’m not so sure that when I woke up that morning that that wasn’t Pappy prodding me, saying, ‘Hey son, don’t forget the wallet.’”