Monday, May 26, 2014

Moving Again

Kingston, NY, Stockade District

No, the picture is not of Fairhope. I still visit Fairhope every winter for a month or so, but I have lived in the Northeast since December of 2007 and now am quite happily at home here.

First I relocated to Hoboken, and got very hip learning the local lore about Frank Sinatra and Chris Christie. Five years later my daughter persuaded me to move closer to her and I moved to New Paltz, NY, a fun and exciting town with a large branch of the State University and other points of interest. I love it, but the winter of 2013-14 was so brutal I was in Fairhope again for the month of February. When I returned it was still as cold as when I left, with snow and ice everywhere for a couple more months. I now own a snow shovel and a few encounters driving on ice (and the loss of a car as a result) has prompted me to supply my vehicle with snow tires.

But I love living here, and by the end of June I'll be in my own Queen Anne house in Kingston, the town where my daughter lives. I've started a blog--actually, I've had three other blogs since leaving Fairhope. For my Hoboken adventures you can peruse "Finding Myself in Hoboken," and then when I moved to New Paltz I recorded my experiences on "New Life, New Paltz" and now I've simply renamed the last one "New Life, Old House." I hope you'll check my "old house" blog and follow my adventures, or at least, now that you've found my Fairhope blog, that you'll scroll through the five years of posts about everything from the meaning of art to the history of Fairhope. I hope I continue to do as well for Kingston.

I've written two books about Fairhope, one focusing on the characters I knew as I was growing up (The Fair Hope of Heaven), and the other a novel about a young teacher in the 1920s who moves to the bohemian utopia that Fairhope once was, That Was Tomorrow. Both are available at Page & Palette in Fairhope, or online at amazon dot com.

I'm thrilled that you found my blog and I hope you'll enjoy it along with my others.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Revisiting Heaven


I returned to Fairhope Monday for a business trip. The business was to promote my books about Fairhope: That Was Tomorrow and The Fair Hope of Heaven. It is not as peaceful as it used to be, but then, neither am I. I crowded my schedule with book signings, book talks, and meetings with various people who are interested in what I have to say about Fairhope's history and the story of the Organic School.

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The first speech “Nostalgia and That Was Tomorrow” at the Fairhope Museum of History went better than I expected. Intrigued as I have been by a recent article in the New York Times about nostalgia, I gave my description of it--including the diagnosis of cowbells causing brain addlement, and how the young Swiss mercenary soldiers, missing their beloved homeland with its hillsides of cows and the soothing sounds of the bells, might well have been perfectly sane to yearn for a more pleasant time and place than war on foreign battlefields.

I read a little from The Fair Hope of Heaven, about the sky and the stars, the Fairhope I remembered fondly and the one I’d heard about from those who recalled the past. I read  from That Was Tomorrow about the young schoolteacher’s reaction to her first days in Fairhope, with my descriptions of the Fairhope of the day, the unpaved streets, the wandering children pulling satsumas off trees, the goats and chickens, the occasional eccentrics saying hello. Time travel to "Old Fairhope" is always rewarding. My audience seemed entranced, and I was heartened by what appears to be genuine interest in the topic, one upon which I can expound for hours.

Today I spoke at the Marietta Johnson Museum about the Organic School and Mrs. Johnson's commitment to education reform at the beginning of the 20th century. A large audience, (large to me, anyway, probably about 40 at one talk and 30 at the other) was stimulated to ask challenging questions and kept me on my toes. At both venues I sold some 20 books total--and there will be many more sold at the book signing at the indie bookstore (Page & Palette) Friday from 1-3.

I'll wind up my trip Sunday with a talk at the Unitarian Fellowship, and return to Albany (NY) Monday. I am having a wonderful visit and expect more surprises in days to come.

Will let you know as they happen.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Fairhope From Here

Fairhope is a world away from here, but I'll soon navigate that world and be there.

Where I am, New Paltz, New York, we call it a heat wave if we have three days in a row of temperatures over 90. In Fairhope, we called it summer--and it lasted from the end of May until at least the end of September. It was "cool" if the temperature went below 90. And humidity is another story. Summer is hot everywhere, but with humidity over 75 every day, it swelters in the South in a different way. I wasn't dry until I was in my 20s and moved to Atlanta.

I will spend a week in the heat and humidity of Fairhope, alleviated, I hope, not only by the ubiquity of air conditioning, but also by the joy of seeing old friends and talking with them about my book.   I wrote That Was Tomorrow from the perspective of a young woman who moves to Fairhope from New Jersey in 1921, before there was air conditioning, and she is constantly struck by the oppressive heat and humidity. My daughter, editing and proofreading the final draft, said, "Mom, you use the phrase 'heat and humidity' way too often!" I found ways to change it a few times, but could not imagine someone traveling to Fairhope for the first time--from the Northeast--not being confronted with the phenomenon of the heat/humidity of the region.


This time it's me. I try to restrain myself when people here in New York State complain about humidity. They can't take it. After 19 years back in Fairhope I learned to. I've been away for a couple of years and usually have the sense to return in the winter months. But this is something of a business trip.



That Was Tomorrow is available in paperback, and I'll be in Fairhope from July 15-22 to introduce it to the town where it was born. My schedule is:

2 P.M. July 16 -- Tea at the Fairhope Museum
3 P.M. July 17 -- Book talk at the Marietta Johnson Museum
1 P.M. July 19 -- Book signing at Page & Palette
11 A.M. July 21 -- "Fairhope Then and Now" at Unitarian-Universalist meeting

I can take the heat and humidity--thanks to air conditioning and the purpose of the trip. I hope Fairhope loves my novel as much as it loves Fairhope!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A Life on the Stage

Clayton Corzatte, an actor from Fairhope who died last weekend, had a profound effect on my own life and certainly on many others as well.

Happy-go-lucky as this picture looks, Clayton spent his life as a theatre actor, working in New York and in the regional theatre before Alabama Shakespeare Festival was even thought of. He had a shot at the movies, did a little television, but was more interested in living a life as an ordinary guy who just happened to be an actor by profession.

As I remember it, he was in the speech department at the University of Alabama, majoring in Radio/Television when the television part was in its infancy, when someone said he really belonged in theatre. The director of that department was Dr. Marion Galloway, one of those old dragons whose name often comes up with Alabama actors of a certain age. Clayton was a gentle soul even then and he was warned, "Dr. Galloway will eat  you alive."

But he had found his calling, and he hit it off with Galloway, had some success in university theatre, then took off for Barter Theater and other venues that were beginning to spring up in the 1950s. When I was a teenager he was home from Cleveland Playhouse for a visit with his family and was persuaded to do a one-man show of monologues and poetry at the then-high-school auditorium. I must have had a driver's license, because as I recall I went alone.

I remember sitting in total rapt attention to Clayton reading, among other things, the works of Dorothy Parker. I'm not just being nostalgic when I remember his performance. He read such works as "The Waltz" and "Just a Little One" as a woman, and he was convincing and downright brilliantly funny as well. I had never seen a man playing a woman -- and it wasn't a drag show. He did this without benefit of costumes or props. He simply became a woman. He even performed the agony of "The Telephone Call," about a woman obsessed with getting that all-important call (that is not going to come) from a man who has loved and left her, and left me convinced she/he was brokenhearted as only a Parker heroine (and real women everywhere) can be. It was before we knew about "He's just not that into you," and long before the concept reached me, but the day was dawning.

When I moved back to Fairhope in 1988 I asked Clayton and his actress wife Susan to help me with a fundraiser to launch Jubilee Fish Theater, which would be an Equity professional theater for as long as I could keep it going. They did some scenes that brought down the house, and Jubilee Fish became a local institution. They returned two years later for a program of one-acts and a question and answer session with the audience. He was as charming and unassuming offstage as he was talented. He and Susan were a delight to know.

When I learned of Clayton's death I had the mixed feeling one often has. I wish I had known him better. I regret that he died of complications from ALS, which means he had a bad time it it in his last years. He died in Seattle, where he had worked at the Intiman Theater for over 40 years, keeping audiences happy while he and Susan raised a son and daughter and lived a real and full life on and off the stage. He played in virtually everything in the American repertory, from Shakespeare to Tennessee Williams and Kaufman and Hart. He said about his life that he was lucky. That he was, and Fairhope and the country was lucky to have him.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Positive Move

I'm in a new place now, New Paltz, New York, a sweet little town with a major university, four distinct seasons, a vibrant population, one grown daughter and two teenaged grandsons. I retired in reverse--leaving Fairhope for fair hope and another shot at a different future.

You may have been following my progress, you may not. I moved from Fairhope in 2007 to Hoboken, New Jersey, which I loved, and five years later am getting to know a different neck of the woods. My daughter actually lives in Kingston, and my grandsons are almost ready to fly the coop (the oldest is a freshman at SUNY Albany). I, on the other hand, am still in the process of finding fair hope and finding myself--writing books and blogs and learning to do better what I do best and doing my best to guess exactly what that is and why I'm doing it.

I finished That Was Tomorrow about a year ago, published it in electronic format, and now am in the process of having it published as a paperback. The story is set in 1921 in a Fairhope, Alabama, that doesn't exist anymore--a utopian colony created to prove the theory of single tax, peopled with idealists and visionaries of many stripes, including the important personage Marietta Johnson, who is a key figure in my story.

It's a story of a schoolteacher, a rather liberated young woman of her day, who moves to Fairhope to prepare for a career by working with the renowned educator. She takes her life into her own hands and women in the early days of feminism (and long before it was called that) were just beginning to do. She has a radical plan for her life, which doesn't include marriage--and she's willing to move into the adventure that was Fairhope of that time to experience life, romance, and self-fulfillment on her terms. I hope I capture the setting, the atmosphere, and the optimism of that time as I populate the novel with real and fictional characters who once lived there.

I've revamped my website in an attempt to draw traffic, billing myself as an Alabama writer of some note (in fact, you might think this writer to be the second coming of Harper Lee). I hope I'll be forgiven the overstatement as the constant use of the phrase "Alabama writer" along with "Alabama book" was seen by my web designer as a way to optimize my search engine traffic. And That Was Tomorrow is without doubt an Alabama book by an Alabama author, however non-traditional and unexpected they may both be.

Look for my website here. Look for me in Fairhope sometime in early summer, to sign books and meet you--some as old friends, and some for the first time. I shall update the blog on the website at least twice a week, often weaving the phrases "Alabama book" and "Alabama writer" into the text, but saying something as profound as I can in spite of that.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween in Old Fairhope

This is from my novel That Was Tomorrow, just in time for Halloween 2012.


The school year 1921-22 was moving almost too fast. It was soon time for the big Halloween Party, and, by the second semester, the new folk dance teacher would be on campus. There was much more excitement about folk dancing than Amelia ever would have imagined.
In the meantime, Marietta Johnson had already made one trip to Greenwich, where her summer teacher training school was held, and met in New York City with the “Fairhope Educational Foundation” who gave fund-raisers for her school. When she traveled she was always invited to speak in neighboring towns, and she took the opportunity to encourage them to employ Organic methods in their school systems. She never returned to Fairhope without a family or two following her, to see her demonstration school at work. Most stayed and enrolled their children. There were over 100 students, many of them boarders.
All the students were excited about the Halloween party they would hold in Comings Hall. The older students organized projects to make the party fun—a costume contest, cakewalks, washtubs of water full of apples, and booths surrounding the rim of the hall with games.
Everybody in school would be involved in decorating the big, empty hall. They envisaged the event as a massive fund-raiser, even though little money exchanged hands. They would charge for a wheel of tickets, and every game and contest would cost a certain number of tickets. The parents got involved with refreshments—a bake sale, plates of ham and potato salad, lemonade and punch. A large urn of coffee would be on hand. Mothers baked cakes for the big cakewalks which would be held periodically during the evening. Mordecai Arnold, father of Louisa and five other Organic students, had for several years volunteered for the job of calling the cakewalks, which featured himself standing in the center of the circle while Piney Gaston played her enthusiastic brand of piano, stopping suddenly, and calling a random number for a handful of cards handed him by Mrs. Johnson. Whatever cakewalker—man, woman or child—was standing on the square marked with that number, was the winner of a homemade cake! This age-old party game always had currency in Fairhope.
The school event would be on the Friday of Halloween weekend, meaning that most of that day was taken with preparations for the party. The high school emerged as organizers, painting the floor with the cakewalk circle, putting up posters all around town, and decorating Comings Hall with festoons of crepe paper and huge handmade posters of witches, black cats and jack-o-lanterns they had created in their Arts and Crafts classes. The older boys were in charge of the Fun House, which was set apart on the stage with the curtain drawn. Behind that curtain they had created a maze of reconstructed cardboard cartons, a crazy mirror, the tunnel to a barrel that would roll its occupant some ten feet, and an exit on a slide down the steps to the main floor. The boys guided their charges, mostly kids their age or younger, through the labyrinth to the exit. If a child entered who was clearly not able to make his way, he was given an abbreviated tour.
Five cakewalks were scheduled during the evening, and one big costume parade. Sarah, looked astonishingly beautiful in a gypsy skirt and blouse with golden hoop earrings. Paul Frederick, Jim Gaston and Maxwell Taylor were judging the costumes. This was a wrench for Max, who had a hankering to win with his Mad Hatter costume, but he had recused himself from the competition to lend his expertise as a judge.
All the town, Amelia reckoned, showed up for the party, and in fancy dress too. Captain and Mrs. Cross came as Tweedledum and Tweedledee from Alice in Wonderland; E.B. Gaston came as a wizard in a high pointed hat with stars on it, and his wife came as Mother Goose. Mrs. Johnson felt she should have come as The Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe, but she didn’t know how to articulate that as a costume, so she settled on a ghost costume, which didn’t fool anybody for long.
The women of Fairhope had spent weeks making these costumes, sometimes going against their better judgment when asked by their children to create such outlandish disguises. One boy gave his mother the task of designing a Headless Horseman costume. She accomplished this by taking a hatbox to cover his head and shoulders, attaching a tin can to the top of it to provide a neck, covering the whole thing with construction paper and cutting slits in the box so he
could see. He made a head for his horse, and the head he would carry under his arm, out of papier-maché in his arts and crafts class. The horse’s body was a broom. Fairhope children rode brooms as horses all the time.
One of the school’s big families, the Arnolds, came as the ragged, shipwrecked Swiss Family Robinson, taking the idea from a book they were reading together. Their oldest four children were boys, with Ezekial (“Zeke”) being a senior in high school, and the other,s stair steps on down in size. The two youngest girls took part with Louisa playing Jenny, the English girl who appears at the end of the book. The toddler Bonnie dressed as Knips, the monkey.
Hal and Martha Etheridge and their daughter Ally came as a family of French poodles.
Avery and Amelia decided not to tell each other what they were working on for costumes. Avery’s was quite unusual, Amelia could see that—at its base a black, body covering leotard, such as worn by circus performers. She peeked one afternoon as Avery assembled all the components of the costume, but Avery shooed her out as soon as she saw her.
“This is ART!” she told her roommate. “I need my solitude to create!”
Amelia stood outside the bedroom door like a curious child. “It doesn’t look like art to me,” she called. “It looks like black underwear!”
But it did look rather like art at that. She knew also that there was a lampshade involved.
Amelia would dress as a scarecrow, in bedraggled men’s clothes with a floppy straw hat and bunches of hay sticking out of her shirt cuffs and pant legs. The girls agreed not to see each other dressed until the party, so Avery put on her costume at the School Home, which was chaotic with children getting into costumes. Amelia dressed at The Sieve, and walked to Comings Hall in full scarecrow attiree. It was still daylight. She might scare a few crows on her way. The party started at 5 P.M. and she didn’t want to be too early or too late.
She was hardly prepared for the pandemonium. She watched in awe as the hall filled up-- little kids were literally climbing in the rafters, and the crush of partygoers in bizarre modes of dress was impressive. Jim Holloway was Abraham Lincoln, and it turned out Avery was a floor lamp, complete with cord and plug. She had cut out eyes in the lampshade so she could see. She was quite a figure. Jim took one look at Amelia in her scarecrow attire and said, “Who are you? Luther Beagle?”
Moments like this made Amelia wish she had the kind of quick wit that Avery did. She said, “Who are you? Charlie Chaplin?” It got a laugh, but she wasn’t sure it was really funny.
She and Jim were having their ham dinners when the first cakewalk was called. They put their plates aside and took part in the walk which was made more fun by the running commentary by Mr. Arnold, describing the costumes and chanting, “One, two, three, four, keep walkin’,” and Piney, in a witch costume with a long black gown and a pointed hat, played a variety of tunes, from “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” to John Phillip Sousa marches—and the walkers fairly strutted in time creating a kaleidoscope of color and contrasts.
“And the first cake goes to the gentleman without a head!” he announced as one of the mothers beamingly presented a cake to the headless horseman. The boy had to pass the cake to his parents so he could continue to enjoy the party. Without a head he couldn’t bob for apples, but he remained headless to the costume parade.
This would be the climax of the party. At that moment the milling, chattering crowd of fantastical characters circled the hall in a slow-moving, serpentine extravaganza of color and flash. Disparate characters talked with one another, a circus of incongruity. The four judges, just as extravagantly attired, were making notes and conferring with each other about what they saw. One by one contestants would be tapped on the shoulder by a judge and asked to form a smaller circle in the center. Clearly these were the finalists: The Crosses, the Headless Horseman, the floor lamp, Abraham Lincoln, and one four year old in a fairy costume that looked as if it came from a road company of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Max showed his theatrical side in announcing the inner circle of winning looks. How different he was in his role as a theater director! His voice boomed, and he exuded the confidence
of a circus ringmaster—which he was for the night. His replication of the Mad Hatter in the Tenniel drawing was complete with a lopsided top hat that had a tag tucked into the ribbon, saying In This Style 10/6. He added a dramatic flair to his announcements. Amelia had never noted the rich baritone timbre of his voice before.
“The floor lamp with the astonishing hourglass figure is runner-up Number Two!” Max bellowed. Applause from the crowd. Not that Avery had the kind of figure called an “hourglass” by previous generations, but her female shape definitely showed in the black body stocking. She may have been embarrassed by Max’s description, but if she was blushing it was hidden under a lampshade.
Tweedledum and Tweedledee agreed to have a battle—” he said, “But they won’t have it tonight, because together they are the First Runners Up!”
It was clear how much everybody loved the Crosses. There was a wave of applause and whistles.
“And the winner of this year’s Best Costume Award...” Jim in his Abe Lincoln get-up looked as if he thought he would surely win, and the little girl did a fairy dance in the most modest way she could.
“The Headless Horseman of Sleepy Hollow!”
No one was surprised or disappointed when the headless horseman won the contest. His prize was a handmade pottery jack-o-lantern, made with some artistic flourishes by Miss Kitwell. It had been glazed bright orange in the kiln, and filled by the high school students with homemade fudge.
After the presentation of the prize, the crowd began to mill around, forming random patterns of colors and patterns. There were enough witches to add a dash of black among the contrasting splashes of bright color. The oversized bow around the neck of the mad hatter was blue with big gold polka dots and the Swiss Family Robinson were mostly in white and gray. There was Julian Crane as Father Time, a grim reaper with a sickle and a dingy white robe, accompanied by his wife in sparkling white as the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. Abraham Lincoln had his arm around the waist of a beautiful gypsy girl and was gazing down into her eyes. Mr. Gaston, for the night a wizard, possibly of the dark arts, approached them with his peaked hat—sparkling with moons and stars—slightly askew. Mrs. Johnson, well concealed under a ghostly sheet, strode around the room, as if she assumed she had anonymity in her village for a night. Amelia realized she was truly anonymous; her scarecrow costume included a hooded mask, and she was new, so not that easily recognized. The phantasmagoria of costumes disguised the usually reserved, scholarly reformers, teachers and parents, and it was as if the town had actually become inhabited by their doppelgangers.
The floor lamp came up to her and said, “Well? What do you think? Does this group know how to put on a party or not?”
“I never saw anything quite like it,” Amelia responded. “I’m beginning to understand the concept of the surrealist movement.”
“I think it’s about time to leave this cacophony of color and go home,” Avery said.
The party was indeed winding down as people gathered up their things and told each other goodbye until tomorrow—which would be the day they would get together to take down the decorations.
When they got home Avery went straight upstairs to get ready for bed, but Amelia went to the kitchen to make herself a cup of cocoa. She needed to unwind. When the milk was hot she stirred it into the cocoa powder and sugar, thinking of the party. She heard noise from next door, as if maybe Sam Bradley might be having his own gathering. She walked out to the back porch to see what was happening.
“Hell-FAR and damnation!” came the boom of a man’s voice. A chill went down her spine as she strained to see who making the racket.
It was clear in the dim light from Bradley’s back porch that he was ejecting someone from his house.
“The devil takeem all!” The man was screaming.
Amelia had not heard such language in Fairhope. She was riveted to the spot, squinting to see who it was. Bradley’s voice was low, as if trying to tame a wild beast.
“I know how you feel, but we can’t do nothin’ about this,” Bradley was saying. “It’s time you went home to cool off.”
“They’re all goin’ to HELL anyway.”
Just then the cursing man wheeled away and started to stumble up the path to the street. She had a glimpse of his face, distorted in rage but eerily smiling. After a moment she recognized Curry Cumbie, but Amelia was thunderstruck with remembered fear.
She thought of the wicked witch causing danger to her teddy bear. She heard her own voice warning her cuddly toy of hellfire and damnation. She began to understand the source of her mistrust of this man, and once the connection was made she would carry it with her the rest of her life. Miss Pritchart.
*
The real Halloween, October 31, was Monday. The date was known as a night of mischief. A few high school boys let livestock loose on the streets, not doing real damage. Some threw a few eggs into the trees on the streets of homes they knew well—basically their own and those of friends.
The big event was taking Luther Beagle, the town drunk, to the bay and giving him his yearly bath. Luther protested, as usual, but he was light in weight, so that two boys were able to subdue and lift him after he realized that fighting was futile. He had gone through this for several years by now, so he knew well that protesting would only postpone the inevitable. Usually he tried to hide from the boys, but his cunning was long gone and he could never successfully avoid his yearly dunk. It was a rite of passage for the older teenaged boys in Fairhope to abduct the old derelict, in his fit of mostly feigned outrage, and haul him off to the big pier, late at night, every Halloween. They claimed it was the only bath he got all year.
If you're interested in learning more about my book--or, better yet, interested in buying it, visit my website my website

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Magical Realism of History

I'm struggling with ambivalence. My eBook is selling everywhere except in Fairhope. I don't get it. I still promote it everywhere I can, including activating my account on a booklovers' site called Goodreads, where I've created a blog and posted the following this morning.

When I revisited Fairhope, the setting for my novel That Was Tomorrow, in my mind, I wanted it to be as I wished it was in 1921, long before I was born. There was something magical about teleporting myself to that time and that particular place, and I hoped to bring readers along.

I grew up in the town in the 1950's, when there were still people around who remembered the halcyon days--I only wish they had still been around to help me fill in the pictures in my mind when I began writing about them. In my childhood and young womanhood, Fairhope's utopian dream was just beginning to fade and I had no way of knowing how much I would miss it the rest of my life. I began writing books with nonfiction, embellished by my own vivid memories, of what the town was like some 50 years before.

I then wanted, through fiction, to explore the magic that happened in Fairhope long before I got there, when the reformers, nonconformists, dreamers and idealists were young and still believed the reality of Fairhope would eventually change the world. These people built a little society on that premise, that the best of people would be borne out in their enclave and, town by town, the rest of the country and eventually the world would see the light and adopt their economic and educational system.
Just as they held their hopes, so did I hope, some 90 years later, that a novel about that magical time would stir excitement about the place and its ideas. The Fairhope of today, it seems, does not need the Fairhope of yesterday. It is populated with those who love the town as it is, a well-manicured, attractive little city with magnificent sunset views and a lot of new houses. Interest in That Was Tomorrow is coming from other places. I hope it will come from lovers of historical novels who want to learn of life in a real-life utopia of hopeful times past.

I also wish for magic. I hope that something happens to ignite interest in That Was Tomorrow in Fairhope. If you'd like to know more, visit my website and see what you think.