Monthly Archives: July 2011

Navigating

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I’m standing here in my hotel room, looking out over the top of the other hotels, looking into the distance and seeing the Rockies stretched out across the horizon. I’m looking at the clouds as they grow, billow out, turn darker shades of blue and lazily drift across the sky. I’m looking out and thinking back to the July that’s slipping away into August. I’m looking back and missing my family already, even though we parted company just a few hours ago.
Most of the good photos are still living on my camera, which I’ll need to upload and add to this blog. The wedding photos will have to wait for a later post. Chris, the newly acquired member into the clan, will soon learn what it’s like to be a part of this tribe. He’s had four years of experience, four years of Dad’s bad jokes, Mom’s amazing skills of organisation and Facebook contact with his wife’s far flung siblings. The kids are camping now. On their honeymoon. Personally, that would be my version of hell. But anyway…
It’s been great to reconnect with family, meet members that have been hiding in the woodwork and also make new friends. A highlight for me was meeting Eileen (or re-meeting, as I’d met her when I was a child). Leeta Eileen, daughter of Leeta. Leeta was the younger sister of Guy, born in the house made of mud. Eileen is Grandpa’s cousin. You follow me?
My sister-in-law Constance and I were standing in a side aisle in the church, waiting for the wedding to begin, when this very smart looking woman in a beautiful brown and light blue dress walked up to us. Constance was introduced to Eileen. I then put out my hand, said “I’m Cassandra, the bride’s sister.” Suddenly, I was all wrapped up in a wonderful hug. Eileen had just been to see the artwork at the Art Guild. It took me a minute to work out that this was Grandpa’s cousin. She had tears in her eyes and I think that was down to seeing the house where her mother was born, the mud house which features prominently on the Nebraska plain.
Oh, Eileen. What a joy it was to meet her. During the wedding reception we talked about the stories we’d been passed down from the family. Maria descended from royalty, so I’ve been told. She married beneath her. That Joseph. Son of a farmer. I’m not really sure what to make of all that. The family research will surely continue for many more years. This will please ancestry.com as I fork over more hard earned cash to them.
I will be keeping in touch with Eileen. Teacher. Taught in Bolivia and Ukraine, but mostly in Eastern Nebraska. I could tell she was a teacher at 20 paces. She’s got that look about her.
And so. And so. Navigating old territory, me. Navigating new. Like the pioneers using landmarks to guide them, I shall be trying to figure out what my own life’s milestones are telling me. I kinda think that meeting Eileen was life letting me know I’m on the right track.

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Big clouds and anecdotes

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These are the thunderheads (anvil clouds) I’m used to. The day starts with high, light blue skies, then as we lazily drift into late afternoon small puffball clouds start forming in the distance. They begin as small insubstantial islands then build up and out and grow into things that you may want to keep an eye on. Check the colour. Is it green? Green means hail and with that hail storm could be something hideous lurking behind. So we watch the clouds.

My Dad said that when he was a little boy, he used to lay next to a poll and look up towards the clouds. You don’t realise how quickly they are changing until you compare them with a fixed point in the sky. The poll would create the fixed point and he would watch in wonder at the changing sky above.

I’ve noticed that the clouds above Edinburgh often create dramatic and awesome skies. They usually display variations on silver, streaks of blue and hints of purple. They remind me of home and I can’t help but stare up at these billowing beasts, wondering what sort of weather will sweep in along with them.

As for the days rolling into the next here in Nebraska, each and every one offers a good story, a great revelation and sometimes, a deeper understanding of myself. The best stories begin with “Remember when” or “Grandma used to.”

Remember when I was babysitting Nicole and she kept eating pickles. She was four or five, watching cartoons, popping up every so often to get a pickle from the fridge.
“Nicole, no more pickles. You’re going to make yourself sick.” Bossy older sister, annoyed to be babysitting for the umpteenth Saturday in a row.
Nicole goes into the kitchen and returns with a cup of something good. With a cup of something tinted green.
“Nicole! That’s disgusting!” And the bossy older sister takes away the very large cup of juice from the pickle jar.

Random food story over. But hey, here’s another cool picture of clouds:

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The people you meet along the way

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Meet John Clesson, inhabitant of McCook, Painter of Things, Hammerer of Nails, Son of Scotland. Ron Evans and Mr Clesson, very kindly and professionally, put up my artwork onto a very long wall in the Art Centre. Here is an action shot of that event taking place:

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I did try to get Ron in there, but every time the camera came out he had done some tricksy magic and disappeared.
Both of these fine gentlemen have done extensive searches into their own histories. Ron’s grandmother started collecting information decades ago. He now has several boxes of facts, information and photos to work with. I’m envious of all that information.
As for John, well, he was teaching me a lot about Scotland. The man has done his research and even showed me a file full of detailed information about Duntrune Castle in Scotland.
I think that both Ron and John need to make a plan to visit the places where their ancestors walked. I encourage everyone to make the journey to the lands of their ancestors. It just does something to you when you walk their steps, when you sleep where they’ve rested their heads, when you see the land they settled and see where they worked. I was taken by surprise when I felt my own strong connection to the places the Greens called home.

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The low down on that Frank Lloyd Wright house in McCook

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The Sutton House is down one block, around the corner and across the street from the Green Family House. I walked passed that house hundreds of times, en route to West Ward Elementary, Central, Junior High then High School. It wasn’t until I studied Art History at college when I discovered what a unique gem we had in McCook.
The story behind how Mr Wright came to design a house so far from his native Illinois is very interesting. Mr and Mrs Sutton first corresponded with the architect in 1905. At the time, Mr Wright was only just beginning to attract world wide attention.
Initially, the Suttons were interested in their home being remodelled. Frank Lloyd Wright, house remodeller?! I don’t think so! Thank goodness the Suttons had the good sense to realise that a new residence was worthy of the architect’s skills.
Neither Frank Lloyd Wright or his associates ever set foot in McCook. All plans, designs and revisions were sent by post. Mrs Sutton requested minor changes to be made and eventually, after years of letter writing and building, the house was completed in 1908.
Mr Sutton wasn’t pleased with the whopping price tag of the end product -$10,000. He had given his wife a budget of $2,000. Way to spend that money, girl!
Unfortunately, a great travesty befell this house in 1961. Dr Donaldson remodelled it into apartments and turned a portion of the building into a clinic. Someone, in what I can only call really bad judgment, erected a rather substantial fortress, I mean wall, around the building. No wonder I never noticed the house during all my strolling to and fro.
About three years ago, the current owners of that fine house did their magic and changed the house back to its original design. Amen to good sense.

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Rooted

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Visiting my hometown has been wonderful. After having moved to another country, then moving several times within that country, I was starting to feel that I belonged nowhere. With each move, I’ve worked hard to try to lay down roots, meet people, find new places to call my own. My life is becoming firmly planted in Edinburgh and it is my plan to grow my roots there, nice and deep.
But this place, this town in the prairie, has my name etched all over it and in return, it’s name is written in my heart. I remember spending summers splashing around the public pool. Ice cream cones at Dairy Cream and Strawberry Vanilla Mountain Dew from Mac’s were dietary staples. There’s the tennis court where I practiced my serves and never improved. The track at the high school where I was a terrifically average middle distance runner. There’s the dustiness of the fair grounds and wide, slow streets to drive on. My piano lessons were in the small house on the corner here and this is the sidewalk by a friend’s house where we pressed our little hands and wrote our names.
Family live here. Friends live here. While I feel I may have drifted off to the UK, I know that I will always feel like a daughter of McCook.

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McCook Art Guild exhibit and reception

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Today was the exhibition reception at the McCook Art Centre. Iced tea on tap, gallons of coffee and a punch bowl full of punch, along with lemon cookies, chocolate cookies, something delightful in toffee and chocolate, oh yes, and mini hot dogs swimming in sauce were on offer. I grazed. Talked. Grazed. Drank. Left feeling very wired and sated.
The turn out was terrific. My wonderful art teacher from Junior High made an appearance. We talked about past projects, the group children’s book being a favourite. He still has the Art Room sign I painted – quick mental maths and dismay at the age – 20 years ago! We talked about creating art at home and how we’ve ruined our bathrooms cleaning printmaking screens.
Screen printing chatter continued with Emily, the featured artist of the vault. She’s a recent graduate from UNK, currently exhibiting her first one woman show in the vault of the Art Centre. Talking to such a delightful young lady, just on the starting line of her career, made me remember what it was like at her age. Everything yet to be discovered. Life sprawling out before you in hundreds of directions. Where to go? What to do?
Friends I had met when I was five were there as were friends from High School. Relatives and friends of the family also walked into the room, carrying the searing heat from the outside on them.
Local artist, Gary Ginther, made an appearance. He is a legend ’round these parts. There are quite a few massive sculptures around here made by his hard working hands.
And then of course, Mr John Clesson in full dress of a son of Scotland. I most certainly was not expecting to see a kilt during my visit to Nebraska.

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Documenting life

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This is my grandmother’s diary, first written in 1939. Obviously, the words contained in the beautiful leather book are of a personal nature, which must be respected and I will therefore not divulge too much information.
What I will say is that it has been interesting walking through her life, age 17. She was ever so studious, my grandmother Arline. Every night she seems to be studying for tests: English, Writing, Typing, Shorthand III, Economics. Every Sunday it’s Sunday School and Church. I wish I could sit down with this 17 year old girl and hear about her day, her plans, how much she enjoys her sister’s company. I want to ask her if she was annoyed that the young man she went on a date with moved to another town to teach. I’m glad that relationship never started for the obvious reason that if it had, I wouldn’t exist.
I wish I could have gone to the family reunion at Grandma Kramer’s. “Stuffed (3 kinds of ice cream, 2 pies, 2 cakes, etc).”

I remember my grandmother being such a sweetheart. Good natured. Listening. Smiling. Growing Hibiscus flowers the size of my head. I think of all my aunts, it’s my Aunt Patty that reminds me of grandma the most.

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