Crack In The House

Crack In The House

quiltI heard a strange tearing noise and looked up as I walked across the room. A crack moved slowly across the south wall of my dining room. That’s strange. I watched with horror as the crack continued to move down. Within a minute, it widened. What was happening? I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Leslie and Jeff were upstairs in their rooms unaware of impending disaster. I stood for a few more minutes watching. The crack was now opening more, probably one inch wide; I could see the trees in the backyard through the opening.

Just this morning on TV, I had watched a home in California falling into a large sinkhole. That couldn’t be happening here. Our house was on stable ground. Or could it? The opening increased. I called the kids and tried not to sound too alarmed as I hollered, “Come here, hurry.” My instructions were loud and clear. “We might be in trouble. Get your coat and go across the street to Joyce’s and wait there. I will get a few things and back out the car and meet you outside.”

Just in case this house is in major trouble, I had to think quickly about the most essential thing for me to do. If my house is somehow destroyed, what do I think I must save? What cannot be replaced?

I hurried for my purse, my phone, my coat, some underwear, a couple of shirts and for sure the new genealogy quilt that our daughter had sewed with family names on it, certainly an heirloom that I want to pass on to my children. My Bible. I could get another, but this has so many notes and passages underlined. My computer with 400 gig of data; that’s too heavy for me to handle just now. My piano that was purchased in memory of my sister Bev who died in an auto crash; no. What about all my family history/genealogy books? My stack of music? The books in the library? My china? All the files? Scrapbooks?

I had always said that if I had to get out of the house in a tornado or catastrophe, I would run first for my scrapbooks. Seventeen of them full of family pictures and travel diaries were stored in the trunk that Randy had purchased at a farm sale. I couldn’t carry all that. I had thought once of putting that trunk on wheels so I could pull it out with me. Too late now.

Well, then I woke up and realized the crack in the wall was only a dream (nightmare). But I now couldn’t let loose of the thought of what I would do, what I would take, what I couldn’t take with me in a crisis. At 74 years old, I had already thought of what I would take to the nursing home so contemplating a move was not entirely new. How much I had in my house — how much seems close to my heart.

Because of a recent cancer diagnosis, I had to think about values and property. In addition to the example of a life well lived, my parents had passed special things to us –Mom’s beautiful quilts, bedroom furniture when we were first married, grandmother’s red dishes, Grandfather’s rocker.

As I contemplated my own values, I turned to writing, to remembering and writing. I researched the history of my Grandmother’s Graber family from South Dakota, the history going all the way back to Moses Goering, baptized in 1766 in Montbeliard, France. I now had started exploring my Dad’s family. I learned stories of special people from different locations, different ways of thinking, different time frames. My evaluation in my writing was obvious — my belongings are not as important as writing stories of my family and articulating matters of importance to me, stories that may instill a sense of family stability and belonging to my grandchildren and stories that bring me much comfort and pleasure.

The next morning as I walked through the dining room, I couldn’t help peeking at the south wall. No crack there. But maybe I’ll pick up my pen and paper and write.

–Kathy Goering, April 10, 2017

A Good StoryTeller is a Creek

A Good StoryTeller is a Creek

creekA good StoryTeller is a creek…...

….This became clear to me driving home once more from visiting family in Colorado. We take an off-the-beaten-path route through small towns and open prairie, and in so doing, cross over one after another dry, sunken ground marked by a bridge, and a green sign, proclaiming it to be a creek: Wild Horse Creek, Black Squirrel Creek, Rush Creek. They are almost always dry as a bone.

Yet, they are clearly significant enough to be worthy of the permanent declaration of their essence, dry or not. I had never reflected upon this until a few months ago. We had such a wet summer! Hurtling through the scrubby hills in August, we were overjoyed to see all the creeks gurgling with life. Water was everywhere, but it was all of it flowing over thirsty ground, through cracks and crevices in the dirt, on down and into the waiting arms of any available creek.

Fast forward to mid-November. Once again, I am speeding through these soft and lonely hills. Once again, every “creek” is dry and silent. The empty creeks call to my mind, and I am struck: What actually makes a creek a creek? Surely not the presence of water, because 95% of the time then, these hollow channels would NOT be creeks, even though 100% of the time, those signs attest to the permanence of their state of being creeks. So what, then?

I realized that it is their very readiness, through dust and drought, to receive the water, whenever it comes, fast or slow, trickle or flow. And it is the creek’s sunken state that renders it ready. It is of the earth around it, but deeper. Creeks draw into themselves all the moisture missed, rejected, and ignored by the hills, run it over and through their gravelly hearts and silty souls, and pass it on downstream, to be absorbed whenever the nearby ground is ready.

There is a little mouse named Frederick, in a picture book of the same name by Leo Leonni, who perches on the warm stones soaking up the sun all summer while his fellow mice work gathering stores for the winter. Once in a while they chide him about his inactivity, but mostly, they ignore him as irrelevant. Winter sets in, and the mouse clan hunkers down to a well-earned rest deep within a cozy den well stocked with the fruits of their labor.

Yet, eventually, their supplies grow low, and they grow restless and depressed in their cramped quarters. They are cranky and short tempered with each other, even as the wind and snow continue to blow full force outside, promising no early spring. Finally, one of the mice remembers Frederick. “‘What about your supplies, Frederick?’ they asked.” They are now ready to receive what he has been holding for them.

He tells them all to close their eyes as he speaks in beautiful words about the sun, and the colors of the summer. They all begin to feel warmer, and to see the colors in their imaginations as he artfully weaves words. They slowly move closer to each other. He reminds them of the world they were despairing of ever seeing again. He reminds them they have reason to hope. When he is done, they are a community once more, and Frederick is rewarded with the recognition by them that he is a poet. The acknowledgment is important to Frederick, but it is not news. He “blushed, took a bow, and said shyly ‘I know it.’”mice

Frederick knew he was a creek. When the sun was shining, and the world was flowing with life and color and busy-ness, he was silent, and still, but he was always wherever his fellow mice were. When they were in the grainery, he was in the grainery; when they were in the fields, he was there too. He was part of the group, but deeper, because of his contemplative nature. He soaked it all up and held it until his world was ready to soak it up from him. He was able to hold what washed over and past the others because he longed for it, and reflected upon it constantly. He did not create the warmth, or the colors, or the words; he merely absorbed them, then released them when his community was ready to receive them.

Writing is a lonely calling, because it asks us to be a part, yet apart. It asks us to remember, longer and more clearly, the beauty and the hope and the water that comes to us in droplets as well as deluge, from clouds and clods, cracks and crevices, and to hold it deep in our soil souls to finally flow out and over the page, to feed our others as they may be lost in the darkness of a long winter, or drought. It is lonely because that water is often rejected by the very soil that needs it, and in order for us to appreciate it, we must be looking deeper, and longer, and more slowly, at the run-off around us.

But what makes a creek a creek? What makes a writer a writer, a poet a poet? It is not merely the words! It is the waiting, and watching, and seeing, and holding...we collect and give back, and thereby, affect our world, but also ourselves. We also are transformed by the very act of serving as the creek. By receiving and then passing along the water, we ourselves are carved even deeper, and grow ever closer to the very core, the Truth, behind life itself. We do not create the Truth, we merely recognize it and collect it. And then we share it with a busy but thirsty world.

Amen.

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The Silent Screech

The Silent Screech

screech owl
by Laurie Oswald Robinson, founder of StoryTellers of the Great Plains

Screech owls make their home throughout the Great Plains. They are so small and inconspicuous that they may nest in an urban backyard without the owner's being aware of their presence. Most often they are detected by their distinctive wailing call, or a series of short whistled notes that often speed up and become a trill. The sound is like the noise of a ball bouncing to a standstill.

About two years, the idea for a creating a connective community of storytellers was birthed in my heart. And this fall, StoryTellers of the Great Plains was launched as a place and space for writers of all kinds.

Who knows, exactly, how that seed was planted? Could it be the fact that as a freelancer, I work alone a lot? Could it be that in leading several writer’s groups, I see the isolation within writers’ souls as they pull away from the world to write its secrets? Could it be that the vocation of writing has always been undervalued for the inner riches it uncovers, even as the writer is underpaid and underappreciated?

No matter, in the end. Because if one is a writer, she or he must write – against all odds, in the middle of the night, on napkins in coffee shops. In the face of a superficial world that taunts us when we want to go deeper than a brand, higher than a platform, farther than a Facebook post.

If you are writer reading this in the middle of the night as you struggle through writer’s block, know there are other night owls out there. They are brewing more coffee, deleting more sentences and nesting in trees nearby. Even though you may not see them, you will hear them, if you listen.

That is what Storytellers of the Great Plains has been launched to do – listen to all storytellers who are scattered nearby and who want to gather in various face-to-face and online venues.

Together, we will listen to each other’s screeches – so often hidden, though distinctive. In Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner wrote, “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. ... It is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.”

If you are out there, hidden in the branches of a backyard tree, StoryTellers of the Great Plains is waiting for you to emerge into the light of day. We have heard you. Now it is time to see you. Welcome. Please let me know where you perch by sending me your contact information and a written piece, so that I can post it and share it with all our friends!

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A Child is Born

A Child is Born

The rain was coming, the sky was dark and we feared it might be a stormy evening. But severe weather cannot stop a birth. This is true of babies being born and it was true for the event that launched StoryTellers of the Great Plains.

So on this unpredictable fall evening in rural Kansas, twenty-one writers came from Newton, Hutchinson, Hesston, Goessel, Wichita and even a peace and justice bloggers from New York City were present. Three regional writers groups were represented as well as several published authors. The launch party for StoryTellers of the Great Plains happened on Saturday, September 24, 2016. Doing this two hour celebration of writers and storytelling: hot dogs were eaten, stories were read and connections were made.

The evening began with food and fellowship and ended with several readings from local authors. Kimberly K. Funk read from her new children’s book, Christmas at the Stable: The Animals Tell Their Stories. Kathy Burkey Wiens also read from her upcoming book, Foster Girl, Farmer’s Girl Daughter. Local writers Wendy Funk Schrag and Stan Epp read from pieces they are currently working on. The evening was a great success and a good start to this new venture.

StoryTellers of the Great Plains, is the brain child of Laurie Oswald Robinson, journalist, author and writing coach. About a year ago she began tapping fellow writers on the shoulder to see who would come along on this creative journey. Three women, Kathy Goering, Barb Orsi and Kathy Wiens, answered Laurie’s call and the StoryTellers’ seed was planted. The group began to meet and plan. Each woman brought their unique gifts to help nurture and grow this new endeavor.

The group’s goal is to strengthen writers locally and connect writers regionally. The hope is to develop a supportive and networking community or all types of writers: memoirist, essayists, bloggers, journal keepers, poets and fiction writers. The group plans to sponsor at least two events a year, bringing writers together to connect and network. The blog and Facebook page will help connect writers and provide educational resources and “tools of the trade”.

Founding members and steering committee are: Laurie Oswald Robinson, Kathy Goering, Barb Orsi, Kathy Burkey Wiens.

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