Mountains, classrooms, and concert halls

Author: douglashesse (Page 1 of 4)

Mentor and Models, Paul and Dedra

An Iowa City Backyard, 40 Years Ago

On Monday, in Delaware, I received an email from Wilson Diehl that her father, Paul, had died, and I immediately regretted having lost track of him and Dedra over the years.  Paul directed my master thesis in nonfiction at Iowa, but beyond that he modeled how a professor might live a life, for a student who was a slow learner.

Paul and Dedra lived on Brookland Park Drive in Iowa City, tucked over south of the hospitals and the fieldhouse, on a short, quiet street cantilevered with tall trees.  Theirs was the second professor’s home to which I’d ever been invited, the first being Dee Morris’s, who hosted my small undergraduate class in her apartment, where I met her very young daughter. Ellen, I think.

Coming to a professor’s home meant a lot to a first-generation, working-class college kid who was intimidated by all professors—including Paul. I’d met him in one of my first graduate classes in 1978, a class focusing on style and writing and including Elgin and Grinder’s Transformational Grammar. In summer 1979 he hired me to score student essays for a research grant. Thousands of Texas high school students had written arguments in response to a scenario about whether to build a recreation center. Near the end of the summer, I crawled with Charles Cooper on Paul and Dedra’s living room floor, inch-deep in piled paper. We were analyzing T-Units. That will mean something to maybe 200 people in America these days.

But none of that is the point.  Paul had had childhood polio (at least as I remember now), and he walked with a slanted amble that made certain tasks impossible. One was installing window air conditioners, and he asked one summer if I might come over to carry units from the basement to an upstairs bedroom and to a downstairs window.   So started a twice-yearly ritual of putting in/taking out.  I’d ride my bike across town from Riverside drive, across from Mabie Theatre, propping it against a tree in their front yard. It was an orange Centurion, and later I learned that Wilson (at that time six or seven and going by Amy) associated that bike’s presence with mine. 

The air conditioner operations took but five minutes, but they garnered lemonade and cookies and, best of all, conversation, welcome and reassuring time within a family like one I imagined perhaps someday to have. I deeply appreciated Paul and Dedra’s gracious, down to earth hospitality, kindness, and southern ease. Astonishment: professors could have children! And those children could be cutely precocious in all the best ways! Amy and Ethan. But Ethan is dead now, too, just recently of an infection, something Wilson let me know in Monday’s message.  

After I taught three years in Ohio, I came back to Iowa City for my PhD. Dawn and I rekindled a friendship with Paul and Dedra. Monica was two and Wilson was older, and she occasionally babysat short stints.  Years later, during my first years at Illinois State, Wilson stayed with us a few days in Bloomington; we met the Diehls in Galesburg for a kid transfer, and they came to our house on Towanda eventually to pick her up.  But I was too stupidly busy (or so I so stupidly thought) to keep up an obvious friendship, one of the lessons I’d failed to learn from such good teachers.  Twenty years after that, I met Amy again, now Wilson, in a hotel suite in Washington DC, where I was interviewed teaching candidates for the new writing program I was starting at Denver. Dense me hadn’t figured out the name until she walked into that room and introduced herself. That 30-minute interview was overladen with so much that couldn’t be put into such a circumstance. Some years after that, I read one of her essays in the New York Time’s Modern Love column.

From those idyllic visits to Brookland Park Drive so long ago, one stands clearest. In my Denver kitchen are two recipe cards in Dedra’s handwriting, one for flank steak teriyaki, the other for a zucchini/cheese casserole.  These are from a summer evening in their backyard, when Paul dad grilled steaks and Dedra served Pim’s Cups along with the casserole. Kids played in the grass. So much seemed easy, so much seemed possible that night under the trees. So much was, but I wasn’t paying attention. At evening’s end, we asked for recipes and Dedra wrote them on cards I’ve now carried forty years. I have those tokens of the past, and I have the distant memories, and for the latter I’m grateful. But why aren’t there more memories, and why did I misplace so much time from family and friendships to ephemeral professional pursuit? I had a mentor and model for both. I learned half his lessons, right away. Others took longer.

On Carl

Hanging above my office desk

I’m standing in front of a vending machine on the third floor of the English Philosophy Building at the University of Iowa, in November 1975. I’m a sophomore, in my first semester as an English major. Standing beside me is my very first writing professor, a man who inspires and intimidates me, the two perhaps comingled, bushy eye-browed, wearing a heavy cotton blue and white striped shirt, sleeves three-quarters rolled.  “He’ll judge what I buy,” I think, and the judgment matters somehow. So I buy a box of raisins, strange choice for me, and offer him some, shaking into his palm. He makes a small-talk comment, and I feel as though I’d received Isaac’s blessing. It is a momentously silly thing.

Carl Klaus was my first writing teacher and, with Susan Lohafer, one of the two best. The first course I took as an English major, having given up chemistry when I figured someone making B’s in a subject matter ought to understand what he was doing, was Carl’s 8W:10 Expository Writing, and the texts were Walker Gibson’s Persona and Scholes and Klaus’s Elements of Writing, a slender book on style and effect that included grand 16th and 17th century periodic sentences by writers like Hooker, Brown, and the like. We spent the whole first class talking about a single sentence and doing things to it, adding, subtracting, substituting, rearranging: “Revision, in its root sense, means to see again.”

Our first homework assignment was to produce four revisions of that sentence, and then write an extended commentary on the effects of each version and how it achieved them. I copied my final version in my best penmanship in blue ink on lined paper, and a week later, Carl returned a half page of typewritten comments about my comments, reading me as closely, it seemed, as we’d read that sentence.

In that first exchange, I grasped that there was something inexhaustible about writing and about language, something important and holy. I found what I wanted to do with my career.

I took more classes with him as an undergraduate and as a student in the nonfiction MA program. Among them was his magisterial “The Art of the Essay,” conceived and taught in the 1970s, long before creative nonfiction became fashionable in MFA programs. Addison and Steele, Charles Lamb, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, E.B. White, James Baldwin, Joan Didion. When Philip Lopate’s anthology came out in the 1990s, I irrationally begrudged it. Klaus and his Iowa colleagues had lived there long before latecomers re-staked the land.

That element of Carl’s intimidation never disappeared, and I was perpetually awkward around him, desperately wanting to please but figuring myself not quite worthy. When I came back to Iowa for the PhD in the mid 1980’s, I wrote a dissertation about narrative strategies in essays, 18th century to the present, The Story in the Essay. Carl would have been the obvious person to direct it, but I knew he’d expect so very much—reasonably so but more than I could then give with a wife, a four-year-old and a one-year-old living in a cement block apartment. So I asked Susan instead, with Carl on the committee.  Susan was terrific, of course, but I think over the years how I might have come differently through Carl’s refining fire.

It’s been nearly a dozen years since I was physically with Carl, though I’ve been many times with his five books published since then, with his emails, and with his spirit. In November 2010, he was reading from The Made Up Self at Prairie Lights in Iowa City. They’d printed seventy five broadsides for the occasion, a very short essay, five paragraphs (nothing was by chance with Carl), “Childhood Selves: A Personal Essay.” I purchased #28, and it has hung above my desk since then. It’s a sober essay, intensely personal and yet oddly removed, talking about his having become an orphan at age six. At one point he realizes that “seemingly out of nowhere I developed a deep and long-standing conviction that there was something so special about me that I would never die,” only later to come to the more profound realization that “death might, after all, be something devoutly to be wished for. A distinguished visitor to be welcomed and embraced with a proper sense of warmth and ceremony—relatives, friends, and neighbors bringing exquisite dishes to commemorate the occasion, as they did, I’m told, when my parents died so many years ago.” He thus ends with long, eloquent sentence fragment, an afterthought, it seems, but with the profoundest punch. Completely finished.

Carl died February 1, 2022. Many of us really thought he’d never die, could never die: He was too important to our formations and identities as writers and writing teachers, to our lives. He has burned in the hallways and backrooms of my own prose nearly fifty years. You will forgive me if his death seems less like a distinguished visitor than like a rude thief taking an exquisite life.

Carl Klaus, Doug Hesse, Laura Julier, Ned Stuckey-French.
Iowa City, November 2010.

Denotations of Bread Terminations: An Empirical Study

Douglas Hesse
The University of Betty Crocker
Principle Investigator

Abstract

An opportunity survey of 73-75 respondents (the author lost count) revealed that most folks grew up calling the end of a loaf of bread “the heel,” although there were variations. This disappointing finding, no doubt indicating lax upbringings and/or the influences of Mayonnaise v. Miracle Whip, may derive from geographical or other factors. Or it may not. The author was too lazy to press the issue.

Funding

Are you kidding?

Conflicts of Interest

The author believes “crust” is the more honorable name; however, he swears he was impartial.

Introduction

In 1976, the author, having grown up in DeWitt, Iowa, and then a student at the University of Iowa, moved into an apartment with Dennis P. Mott, William H. Davis, and Kaj A. Jensen. There he heard Mott (Paulina, Iowa) refer to the end of a loaf of bread as “the heel,” which shook his reality, as the author had understood it always as “crust.” Around 2 pm on 1/15/22, the author took a loaf of wheat bread out of the office and suddenly was struck by memory of that fateful day.  Wondering just how anomalous his childhood was, the author set out to survey whomever was wasting time on Facebook on a Saturday afternoon.

Review of Literature

Yeah, right. Look up some stuff about the fight over “soda” v. “pop” and get back to me with what you found. Get a life.

Method

The author posted a single question on Facebook, around 2:30 PM MT: “Research: What did you call the end piece of a bread loaf when you were growing up?” He chose the delightful aspen tree background. Then the author went hiking around Genessee Mountain.  When he came back, he was astonished to find a total of 101 comments, with 73 responses and a little cajoling. He counted the number in each category and, had he not been lazy, he’d have figured percentages and other stuff.  But he was and he didn’t.

Results

What do you call the end piece?

The heel                      48

The crust                     8

Heel or crust      4

It Depends                  3

The end                        5

The butt                      4

The Stump                  1

The Toot                       1

Janice                           1

Some respondents were either shiftless or bilingual (as with Sandy H. (English and Minnesotan)), referring to the piece interchangeably as “heel” or “crust.” No wonder people storm the Capitol.  Other respondents (see Dennis B.) had conditional names dependent on whether the bread came for a bakery or a home oven or it was store-bought, aka, Wonder Bread, aka, “you can smoosh a piece into the size of a raisin. “

Analysis

The author and about 80 separate respondents have way too much time on their hands.

Acknowledgments

King Arthur Flour. Dremel. William Wordsworth.

Pressed Life

Card sent me by Patti Stock, made by her mother.

A month ago I bought several old books from the American Alpine Club, which has its offices and library in Golden, Colorado, in a fine building that used to be Golden High School. Pre-pandemic, I spent a fair amount of time there, ostensibly taking notes (used in a couple of pieces I published) but just as often looking at mountaineering books and magazines from decades past. The AAC has duplicates of some publications and occasionally sells them to make space or raise funds. My recent purchase, for example, included a 1922 mint condition issue of Trail and Timberline, the Colorado Mountain Club’s longstanding periodical; this particular issue was devoted to the death of famous climber Agnes Vaille on Longs Peak, during a winter ascent.

But what really caught my attention and credit card was an offhand volume, Challenge: An Anthology of the Literature of Mountaineering, edited by William Robert Irwin (Columbia UP, 1950). Written on the page facing the front cover were several inscriptions, including “Happy birthday, Papa, June 1949 ~ Klaus” and a note that the book had been on the shelves of the Timmerhaus Ski Lodge in Winter Park, CO. Curious, I looked up to find that the (now Americanized) Timber House Lodge still operates, with its most usual description being “unpretentious,” just a notch above the fear-inducing “rustic” or the more ambiguous “quaint.” Paul Timmerhaus owned this namesake lodge, and Klaus, his son, was a noted Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Colorado. In 1949, he’d have been working on his degrees at The University of Illinois. This was all interesting stuff, and as someone who rarely minds chasing textual threads (or procrastinating), I enjoyed sleuthing.

Then I noticed something more remarkable.

Inside the front cover was a small address label, the kind I get every other week from Defenders of Wildlife or the Audubon Society or St. Jude or Unicef as a teaser to donate. The names: “David & Gudrun Gaskill.” I recognized I was holding an even more interesting piece of Colorado History. Gudy Gaskill, whom the Denver Post memorialized as “a force of nature,” is revered as the driving energy in forming the 567-mile Colorado Trail. I’ve been at the bridge and Trailhead dedicated to her, on the Middle Fork of the South Platte River, between Foxton and Deckers. It turns out that Gudy was Klaus’s sister. I speculate she got the book from her father at some point, then donated it to the American Alpine Club at some other point. I was holding a book she’d owned. Very cool.

Then I noticed something even more remarkable–something to the theme (finally) of this essay. Flipping through the book, I found dried flowers pressed between pages 394-395. They were ghostly white, with faint tinges of green and blue, though maybe my imagination and desire have projected color where there was none. A far more skilled naturalist than I am could probably identify the flowers–along with other ones pressed between pages 24-25, 120-121, and 152-153, all the same species.

Who had placed them? I’d like to imagine Gudy Gaskill hiking a high Colorado meadow in the Lost Creek wilderness, picking striking flowers, moving them from her pack to the heavy pages of Challenger. Maybe, she’d had dozens of flowers, and over time the best had been replucked and repurposed for letters or shadowboxes. These were but remnants. Or perhaps Gaskill had idly thumbed the book over the years, each encounter with withered blooms reminding her of that high mountain day.

Of course, it’s just as likely a summer guest at Timmerhaus had picked the flowers along Cooper Creek in Winter Park and pressed them, with great intention, into the heaviest book he found in the lodge library. But in the hustle to make the train back to Denver, he’d forgotten. Perhaps knew, even at the picking and the pressing, that whatever floral essence might remain would mockingly fall short.

Or, just maybe, the thought all along was to leave wispy smiles to future readers: to the family from Omaha to Gudy Gaskill to me. Instead of millennia-dead people chasing around Keats’ Grecian urn, here were fragile traces of life–plant and picker/presser–long gone yet preserved.

About this time, I received a card from Ann Arbor, Michigan. I’d sent my longtime friend Patti Stock some postcards printed from my mountain photographs, and she was replying in creative kind. Actually, Patti had gone better, for her card, pictured in the first image atop this essay, was fronted by a pressed flower, still brown, still yellow, held against paper by some film and process I couldn’t figure, delicate and whimsically strong.

But it wasn’t just any flower, any card. Patti’s letter inside told how her mother had fashioned herself a flower press, now passed on to Patti. With the press were flowers her mother had saved, and with them these were still a few cards Mom had fashioned, years ago. Patti trusted one of those cards to me. I was delighted and honored, humbled and a little choked.

My father passed away three months ago, following my mother by a year, leaving my sisters (mostly) and I to go through countless boxes of ephemera: photographs, of course, but also diaries and documents and knick knacks and bric a brac from wooden duck decoys to a set of straight razors from a grandfather’s barbershop, Dad’s Dad killed on Christmas Eve when Dad was eight. There were letters and school programs and Mothers Day cards and birth announcements and old tickets and locks of first haircuts: a vast welter. Much of it was loose, occasionally clumped by rubber bands, occasionally thematically congregated. An impressive fraction was gathered into albums and scrapbooks, sometimes with captions, sometimes not. In my sister Joellyn’s living room, we paged through 90 years of two lives, a small portion put into order, on one hand colorful and vibrant, on the other fixed and faded. It was plucked and dried from Mom and Dad’s full lives, each photo or artifact a flower gleaned from vast meadows of experiences gone, gone, gone. Mom and Dad had preserved scattered flowers of decades. Now they’d come to the children.

One could call this foolishness. How vain to hope that this columbine or that cinquefoil, pressed into pages–into memory–could at all capture that bluebird day when white aspens stood against the quartz outcropping, when the Cooper’s hawk whimpled and the mountain drew your heart up a still-snowed couloir! How desperate to put pretty flowers in the flap of a backpack! To what end, really? Desperation? Common advice about pressing flowers is to choose ones with low moisture, even if they’re a little less colorful. In drying faster, they retain more of whatever color they have. Lusher flowers desiccate to brown. A sensible person, then, would go for the dull, knowing the futility of trying to keep the vibrant. A sensible person wouldn’t, in fact, put plants in books or presses.

Still.

The goal is never perfect rendering. Justice to life as lived is impossible, and that’s not the point. When I’m surprised by Gudy Gaskill’s flat alpine vestiges, when my breath catches at Patti Stock’s card with her mother’s embodied hand and heart, I’m moved not because they are perfect but because they exist at all, because a particular person at a particular moment decided this I’ll preserve, however hopelessly inadequate, imperfect, and ultimately dimmed. It is the care and the caring.

The evening my father died we were celebrating my youngest daughter’s wedding, a thousand miles away. We’d known from sisters back in town that he was down to final hours and I’d left a lengthy phone message that I’d like to imagine Dad heard when Joellyn played it. I learned near the end of the dance when he passed. Late that night I pressed my boutonniere between the pages of a notebook I’d brought with me, and three months later this morning I looked to see how they’d dried and what colors remained.

A Father’s Toast

Paige and Armand

September 24, 2021 | Audubon Sanctuary | Chevy Chase, Maryland

My heartfelt greetings to all here gathered.

In a more perfect world, I wouldn’t be giving this toast. That profound delight would fall to Paige’s father, Tim, whose love for her was clear and boundless.  Tim’s spirit is here today, and he rejoices.

When Paige came into my life through Becky—and into Monica and Andrew’s lives, too—she was was five or six, inquisitive and passionate. Her characteristic move was to come up forehead to forehead and look into my eyes. It was impish but also implied, “I’m committed. Are you?” I’ll demonstrate.

Paige was and always has been deeply empathetic and artistic.  I remember endless living room costume dramas.  They started in rehearsed scripts but morphed into improv. I’ll confess sometimes slipping out before curtain.

Paige is also fiercely independent and resilient. She moved alone, carless, to LA, taking the bus from Koreatown at three AM to one radio job, commuting to Pasadena and KPCC for another. There she met Ashly and, of course, Armand.

Our family’s first meeting with Armand is legendary. We were renting a house off Franklin Avenue over Thanksgiving.  Armand peddled up on his bike with a 20-pound turkey in his backpack and pots in his panniers.  It was a bold move.

Every Thanksgiving we’ve spent with him since then has featured Armand’s day-after gumbo, the divine mysteries and ministrations of the dark roux.  I’ve come to appreciate his interest in Soviet history and art. Who else owns a Nikita Kruschev nested doll?

Together, Paige and Armand have the capacity to find deep interest and care in everything, large or small, including each other. They’re a perfect match.

And so a toast.

To guests here gathered, California to Connecticut Avenue.

To fathers and loved ones absent but present.

To Becky, to Elizabeth, to Mo.

To families joined and joyous.

To arts and artistry.

To compassion and care.

To Armand, beloved son.

To Paige, beloved daughter!

Donald Glenn Hesse 1930-2021

Dad, 2020

Donald Glenn Hesse passed away quietly in the presence of family on September 24, 2021, at Maggie’s House in DeWitt. He was the loving, devoted husband of Coral Krukow Hesse, a caring father, a self-made businessman, an accomplished outdoorsman, and a wry storyteller.

Don was born in Donahue, Iowa, on September 5, 1930, to Gladys Gertrude (Holcomb) and John Willis Hesse. His father was killed in an accident on Christmas when Don was eight, leaving him a child of a single mother until many years later, when she married Bill Gribbon. During the Great Depression, he lived with families on farms across Clinton and Scott counties, doing chores and attending various schools, developing the kind of stoic resilience that became a hallmark of his life. He graduated from DeWitt High School.

Don served as a combat engineer on the front lines of the Korean War, running heavy equipment that helped establish beachheads, bridge rivers, and open mountain passes. Until his later years, he spoke of his military service with great reluctance. He had been the longest continuous living member of the DeWitt American Legion.

On September 14, 1955, a Wednesday night, he married Coral Ardis Krukow, the love of his life, at Grace Lutheran Church.  They were married 65 years until Coral passed away in October 2020. Don and Coral enjoyed going out to dinner, taking long drives, having picnics, participating in church activities, serving the Central Community Historical Society, and following Iowa sports.  They devoted vast energies to their children and grandchildren, faithfully attending any child’s event–large or small–within driving distance, phoning or writing if circumstances prevented..  They kept a trim Victorian house on 6th Avenue, where Don planted extensive flower beds of red Salvia. In later years they valued neighbors Jim and Sue Foote. 

After maintaining roads for Scott County, Don established Hesse Oil Company in the late 1950s, delivering fuels to farms, homes, and businesses, sponsoring a bowling team by that name. In the 1960s, he opened a small bait shop in DeWitt and worked night shifts at Caterpillar. In the 1970s he and partner Fred Behr created B&H Sanitary Service, picking up trash in DeWitt, rain or cold, sickness or injury, until his retirement in 1995.

During many of those years, he was a member of the DeWitt Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as Chief.

To say that Don was an avid fisherman is to say the sun rises and sets. For many years, his garage featured a dedicated blender for mixing catfish bait and a refrigerator for storing it. Every week would find him on the Wapsi or Cedar Rivers in his custom flatbottom boat, joined by a succession of fishing partners and close friends, most notably Gabby Fletcher, Ray Cole, and John Camp. In earlier years, he trapped and hunted, including as a member of the Teal Club. His euchre skills were unsurpassed.

Don was a man of quiet, pragmatic, effective action rather than words, although his word was his bond, and personal integrity and self-sufficiency were his heartfelt values.

He is survived by six children: Doug (Becky) of Denver, Colorado; Joellyn (John) McDonnell, of DeWitt; Susan (Terry Frahm) Hesse, of DeWitt; Kathleen (Rick) Miller, of Leander, Texas; Barbara (Doug) Range of Lilburn, Georgia; and John of Cumming, Georgia. He is further survived by 17 grandchildren, Monica (Rob Cox) Hesse, Andrew (Molly) Hesse, Paige (Armand Emamdjomeh) Osburn, Shannon (Phil) Schroetter, Josh (Nicole) McDonnell, Jason (Sarah) McDonnell, Adam (Jill) McDonnell, Sean Hunter, Katie (Ryan) Rebers, Austin (Jessica Miller), Courtney (Dusty) Lozano, Nathan Hesse, Jade (James) Helm, Jacob Range, Jenna Range, Jared Hesse, Justin Hesse, and 14 great-grandchildren. His stories and values live through them.

Visitation will be from 2:00 p.m. until the service time of 3:00 p.m. Saturday, October 2, 2021, at Grace Lutheran Church, DeWitt, The Rev. Eric Obermann officiating. Burial will follow at Elmwood Cemetery, DeWitt. 

Memorials may be sent to Kids Fishing Foundation, Honor Flight of the Quad Cities, or the DeWitt Fire Department.

Snapshots: Thanksgiving, DeWitt, the 60’s

Grandpa Gribbon, Grandpa Krukow, Uncle Dutch

Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, better than Christmas.  

There was, of course, the element of being the first fall holiday; when I was a kid, way back before schools had fall breaks, Thanksgiving held uncluttered glory as a four-day vacation. There was the late fall feel, inevitably chilly and cloudy and leafless, sometimes flecked with snow: the kind of weather that beckoned people inside with others.  There was, mostly though, the relative simplicity: family came over (on a Thursday!), and you had a big meal, and grownups talked or played cards.

Here are scattered memories of Thanksgivings at 1122 6th Avenue, DeWitt, Iowa.

Thanksgiving was always at our house, involving a vast turkey that seemed to go in the oven at the crack of dawn or earlier, resulting in white meat the consistency of Styrofoam. It was glorious! It was turkey! Besides, I was in dark meat’s camp. There was nothing better than poaching pieces, especially skin, from the pan as the bird sat resting.  Mom would look the other way for a few swipes, but then you had to sneak.

We had an electric knife, a kind of meat chainsaw, and Thanksgiving was one of the few days a year it got deployed.  Have you seen an electric knife in the past decade?

Dad would peel potatoes into a huge pot of cold water, accumulating a mass of peelings onto a newspaper on the floor, usually sitting at the kitchen table.  Occasionally the need to peel potatoes created urgency sufficient for Dad to miss church, a strategy I admired and envied. Usually, though, we all went to Grace Lutheran, which was two blocks from our house. We drove.

Thanksgiving has little and lousy music. “Over the River and Through the Woods” was drafted in desperation as a Thanksgiving song, though the sleigh ride really promises Christmas.  The top Lutheran hit was “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.”  (“First the blade and then the ear/Then the full corn shall appear.”)

The more people at our house, the grander the holiday.  Grandpa and Grandma Gribbon were solid mainstays; Dad was an only child, after all.  My Uncle Dutch and Aunt Uvonne were reliable, too; Grandma G’s brother and wife had no children.  Grandma and Grandpa Krukow at Thanksgiving was a very rare treat, as they needed to ration themselves among four kids. The all-grandparents constellation was rare, forever lost in 1965 with Grandma Krukow’s death.  I was nine. So, I’m reaching back to Thanksgivings when I was but three years older than my grandson Isaac is now.

My Uncle Walt and Aunt Myra (Grandma G’s sister) occasionally came, too, and then so did my dad’s cousin Ron, his wife Sherrie, and their daughters Kelly, Carrie, and Kimberly. They lived in Davenport. Out of town company! Kids! This scenario required at least one, sometimes two card tables in the living room.

Dinner was noon or close thereunto. The evening meal was supper. Always. 

Almost never did anyone in the early days watch football. We did watch the Macy’s parade, and the Mummer’s, that strange display of feathered men.

Thanksgiving dinner always include a relish tray: carrots, celery, pickles, and olives.  It was the rare time that we had black olives.  We kids would stick them on ends of four fingers, waving our “rings” before eating them. We would dip celery into little crystal salt cellars at each plate—the only time these ever came out.

As I got older, I often volunteered to make the whipped cream for the (always) pumpkin pie. Of course, this was a pretext for being left in the kitchen with the cream, sugar, vanilla, and a beater, the process involving so much sampling that it’s a wonder I didn’t contract Sudden Onset Diabetes. Did Mom really have no clue?

Thanksgiving was the rare day when coffee got made in the afternoon, in a big stove-top percolator into which Mom would put an egg.  I really should look up this odd practice.

A couple of times Dad and Uncle Ron would go pheasant hunting in the afternoon, and I’d get to join, with my .410.  We’d drive up to farms around Lost Nation where dad had spent some of his childhood. We never shot anything that I can remember, so I think the point was mostly to get out of the house.  At least once, I remember we went “road hunting,” which Dad usually scorned but somehow deemed appropriate this one time; that meant driving slowly and looking for pheasants in ditches, then an elaborate ploy of driving past, stopping the car to unload shotguns, then creeping back through the ditch to flush the pheasant.  But as I said, this was all theoretical, since we never shot anything, and that wasn’t the point.

When I was in junior high, I’d started working with Dad on the trash truck. The Friday after was a double-route day, two trucks in full operation, two days’ trash in one. The exciting aspect was getting to have a friend working with me, often Kirk Anderson or Joe Ryan.

The pies sat on the dryer in the laundry room, where it was cooler.

If the Davenport contingent was at Thanksgiving, right before they went home, we drew names to exchange gifts at an annual Christmas party, which revolved among homes on my Dad’s side. 

But Thanksgiving was ours.

Almost Welcome to Denver

Denver Union Station after a Rockies Baseball Game, August 2019 –Doug Hesse

The 2020 National Council of Teachers of English convention was to have been in Denver this week, and I was local arrangements co-chair, along with Jill Adams, also of the Colorado Language Arts Society. Ah, well. Following is the Welcome to Denver I wrote in May 2020. It would have appeared in promotional materials. It has a touristy cast, but I tried to convey some deeper sense of the place, befitting the convention theme. NCTE Program Chair Alfredo Luján had chosen the theme ¡Confluencia! Songs of Ourselves, which was perfect for this city.

Welcome to Denver

Denver is a vibrant, progressive, historical, multicultural city with an energetic downtown surrounding its convention center. From that center and the convention hotels, you can easily and safely walk to dozens of performance venues and movie theaters, to world-class museums and cultural centers, and to countless restaurants and nightspots, from James Beard-winning venues to diners, brew pubs, cabarets, and jazz clubs. Many are along the 16th Street, a mile-long, tree-lined pedestrian promenade, along Larimer Square, the city’s oldest block, or in nearby walkable neighborhoods. People not only work and play downtown, they live here. 

Cultural opportunities abound. Only two blocks from the convention center is the Denver Performing Arts Complex, the second largest in the country, with ten theaters for plays, symphony, opera, ballet, and Broadway shows. November visitors will have their choice of events.  Dozens of other theatres, comic clubs, and performance spaces dot the city, from the innovative Buntport, Bug, and Curiosity theatre companies to famous music venues such as the Paramount, the Fillmore, the Ogden, the Bluebird, and The Mission Ballroom.  

In the mid 19th century, even before Denver had a school or hospital, it had a performance of Macbeth in a local saloon. The primacy of a saloon, befitting a city begun in the 1850’s gold rush, presaged Denver’s current 150+ craft breweries, pubs, and tap rooms, second in the nation.

Many of Denver’s distinctive, thriving neighborhoods are just 5-10-minutes away. Should you have the inclination, the glorious Rocky Mountains and foothills are but thirty minutes from the convention.  Some of Denver’s 200 parks are actually in the mountains, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which Rolling Stonenamed the best outdoor concert venue in the world, and Genesee Park, home of the city’s own buffalo herd, descendants of the last wild bison brought here from Yellowstone in 1914.

Even if you don’t get to the mountains, you’ll see them dominating the western horizon, with over 200 visible named peaks, thirty of them over 13,000’. While the mountains will likely be festively snow-capped for NCTE in November, Denver itself will probably be warm, clear, and dry.  It’s sunny over 300 days a year here on the high rolling plains, and with only 14 inches of annual precipitation, the air will be bright and crisp. How nice is the weather? The city’s 90 golf courses are open year-round. There are 850 miles of off-street bike trails.

The Denver Art Museum, its stunning building designed by Daniel Libeskind, has an astonishing permanent collection and features top level exhibitions, recently including Van Gogh, Monet, and Dior. The Museum of Contemporary Art, the American Museum of Western Art, the Kirkland, the Clyfford Still, and dozens of galleries in the Santa Fe and Tennyson art districts round out the visual arts.  The Cleo Parker, Wounderbound, and Colorado Ballet dance companies highlight the kinetic. 

The $120 million History Colorado Center presents an expert and honest history of extraordinary artifacts and narratives. The museum highlights travesties as well as triumphs. including the centuries before Colorado’s the Gold Rush led to statehood, time when the Arapahoe, Cheyenne, Utes, Apaches, and Comanches and others lived on this land. 

Denver is a proudly diverse city. Over 31 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino descent and 10 percent African American.  The city holds the nation’s largest Cinco de Mayo celebration and largest Martin Luther King Jr. march and rally.  The Chicano Humanities & Arts Council has a gallery and cultural center and promotes Chicano/Latino visual arts, literature, music, and dance. 

The Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library is located in the historic Five Points neighborhood, once known as the “Harlem of the West” and a frequent stop for jazz greats like Billie Holiday and Miles Davis.  Jack Kerouac knew Five Points well from his time living in Denver; you can visit sites he wrote about in On the Road

If you fly to Denver, you’ll arrive at America’s fifth-busiest airport, an architecturally distinctive terminal with convenient and inexpensive light-rail service directly downtown.  The airport train arrives at Union Station, a completely renovated 19th century grand work of architecture whose main hall is surrounded by restaurants, bookstores, and boutiques. 

Union Station sits at the heart of lower downtown (LoDo, to locals) a center of nightlife and day life, home to everything from Coors Field and the Colorado Rockies, to the world famous Tattered Covered Bookstore and the venerable Rockmount Ranch Wear, inventor of the western snap shirt. At Rockmount you could run into Kevin Costner or John Legend, Anne Hathaway, Jack Black, or Bonnie Raitt, all of whom have bought its iconic clothing. The adjoining River North (RiNo) Art District, with its galleries, food halls, pubs, distilleries, and markets, was named one of the “one of the top 10 neighborhoods to visit in the U.S.” by Lonely Planet.

What else? Denver has seven professional sports teams, highlighted by the Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets, and Avalanche.  There’s an amusement park direclty downtown, near the Aquarium, along the South Platte River.  A gold-domed State Capitol. Botanical Gardens. Museum of Science and Nature. The Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop.  A civic plaza that drew 200,000 to the initial Women’s March and tens of thousands to the student-led Climate March on Denver. A respected LGBT community. An outdoors-oriented population regularly cited as one of the healthiest in America. A large, diverse school system and multi-branched public library. Colleges and Universities ranging from the University of Denver to the University of Colorado Medical School to Metro State and the Community College of Denver.  Teachers dedicated to the arts of language, to an educated citizenry, and to their students.

Denver is a sanctuary city of people who are tolerant, civic-minded, multicultural, and energetic: committed to the environment, to children, to opportunities for all, to a sustainable and just future.  You are all welcome here.

–Doug Hesse

The First National Day on Writing, October 20, 2009

I was involved in planning the first National Day on Writing for the National Council of Teachers of English, which created a gallery of thousands of pages of every day writing from around the country and hosted hundreds of events. The image above is from an event we hosted in the University of Denver Writing Program. I was the curator for the Colorado gallery, which, alas, is lost to time along with the entire gallery.

Here’s the NCTE flyer for the original event. And here’s an article from the September 2009 Council Chronicle about the day.

What I wrote then:

Let’s imagine America writing.

Let’s imagine essayists and auditors, poets and nurses, tweeters and technicians, blogging beauticians, church bulletin scribes, advocates and analysts, authoring.

Let’s imagine memoirs and memos, rants and remembrances, oral histories, letters to the future, postcards from the past, profiles profane and sacred, instructions, directions, reflections, retorts, factual and fancied.

Let’s imagine a living American gallery of writing checked with salons, fitted by school or site, by genre or by identity, but most importantly by you, salons in which a homeless man’s story hangs next to the finance major’s wedding vows.

Let’s imagine school kids linked to college students, teachers to professors, and all to city halls, shelters, board rooms, all linked by writing.

Let’s gather writers who’d never thought themselves that: mothers, bus drivers, fathers, and veterans. Let’s have sharings, coffees, contests silly and celebratory, so that the national gallery of writing has myriad outposts, local and physical. Let’s open our writing centers to our communities.

Let’s imagine October 20 and all this embodied in a National Day on Writing, a day when we cut the digital rope on our Gallery, when the Norman Mailer Writers Colony gives creative nonfiction awards to high school and college writers in a gala ceremony sponsored by famed New York writers, students whose work has been supported and selected by NCTE members. 

Actually, that day is planned. What’s needed to make it happen is you. Please help.

—Doug Hesse, National Council of Teachers of English member, former chair of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, and director of Denver University’s University Writing Program.  

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