The Artist Unwinds by Chuck Thurston

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Sinclair Lewis’s character, George Babbitt, doesn’t have much use for the arts: “…art and literature are left to a lot of shabby bums living in attics and feeding on booze and spaghetti…”

Babbitt has a smidgeon of accuracy. The creation of art is largely a solitary task. The creators don’t ordinarily invite others to sit and watch them at their work, and many have the reputation of being reclusive and ornery. Those types must certainly be the exception, though. When the ones I am familiar with are done with a piece, it is hard to shut them up.

Winemakers consider winemaking an art. Visit a winery mid-week when visiting tasters are in short supply. If you are lucky, you will catch the winemaker himself or herself doing the pouring – and if you are doubly lucky, you will be the only ones in the tasting room. You probably won’t even have to ask any questions before you start getting answers. The cabin that my wife and I built is near ground zero in North Carolina’s wine country, and we are winery junkies. We have hit just about every one and are first name acquaintances of many winemakers. Catching them during a slack time of day guarantees an education in grape types, growing conditions, climate problems, soil types, etc., etc. It is almost as if this effusion was stored up while they were cultivating, pruning, harvesting and putting up their wines.

And now you’re at the wine bar, tasting their creation and they can’t hold it in any longer.

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This past weekend we went to the Sculpture Festival in Lenoir, North Carolina. As we strolled along admiring the works that lined the paths through the beautifully landscaped park, we frequently paused to take a longer look at some work. In a flash, the artist would be at our side – eager to explain the construction, technique or symbolism that went into the creation. There were three grandchildren with us. They would obviously not have been potential buyers for any of the pieces, but that didn’t stop the artists from engaging with them. It was a delightful experience.

Many of these works represented uncounted hours of solitary labor. I could envision mallets, chisels and other tools applied throughout the day and into a lonely night in a cluttered workshop. I could see the artist stepping back now and then to study the last stroke. Stone is an unforgiving medium. Had a mistake been made? Was a correction possible? – or – perhaps – this last little effort was the grand finale! It would be ready for the anticipated exhibition! And now all of the emotion and passion that went into it could be shared. And our little group has stopped in front of it; and we are admiring it. Ahhh.

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Weed Out Wednesday by Chuck Thurston

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stuff
Throw Back Thursday (TBT) has gained some traction. Each week on that day we can expect to see our Facebook family and friends post old photos that bring back (mostly) fond memories. I propose a new weekly ritual. How about “Weed Out Wednesday” (WOW)? Sell, donate, trash, recycle, give away some item(s) you have no emotional attachment to, and haven’t used in decades. Start with your closet. Check your cellar; scan your attic. How about that shed in the back yard? What’s happening in your condo or apartment common storage space? Aha! Knew it! Stuff you didn’t even know you had! Get rid of it! WOW yourself!

One little caveat. When we moved to North Carolina from Pennsylvania many years ago, we had a lot of winter paraphernalia that we thought might be useful. Eventually we unloaded sleds, cross-country skis and ski boots and other items of no further utility. For one reason or another, I kept a pair of galoshes. They hung out in a far corner of a coat closet for many years. Then, last winter, we had a wet, sloppy snowfall. It didn’t last long, but while the trees were still prettily decorated, I grabbed my camera, looked in the closet, and spied these old rubber boots. They fit right over my street shoes, and out in the winter wonderland I sloshed!

galoshes

Oblivious by Chuck Thurston

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Every day all of us walk past things that are startling in their beauty – and, as often as not, we are totally oblivious. Heidi and I go to the Kannapolis “Y” 3-4 days a week, to try and hedge against our maturing years. Heidi has this week off, so I went by myself this morning. As I left the building, I turned to my left and saw this bed of zinnias, and was struck by it. We had to get groceries today, but when I got home, I told Heidi that before we visited the supermarket, I had to get my camera and go back to the Y. When she asked me why, I described my experience. “I have been telling you about those flowers for weeks,” she said.

Wild Life

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Charlotte skyline through trees

I like to play the Dr. Charles Sifford golf course in Charlotte. It was developed as a whites-only course back in the 30’s, but it’s every hacker for himself or herself now. It is only a few blocks away from Charlotte center city, and the skyline can be viewed from a few spots on the course.

Last Wednesday, I got the urge to play, but my usual partner was out of town, so I soloed, as I sometimes do. The course is undergoing some major improvements, and there were temporary greens, scalped out of portions of the fairway near the holes. They weren’t worth putting out on, but the driving and fairway shots were all good, and the course work promised good play ahead. It was hot and getting hotter, though. I had only planned to play nine holes and as I drove my cart up to the ninth hole tee box, I saw something I had never seen on a golf course – a coyote.

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He was trotting across the ninth hole fairway in no particular hurry. He even paused a couple of times to look over his shoulder at me. I kept on driving toward him and he eventually reached the woods and disappeared.

Coyotes have made the local news quite frequently in recent weeks. They have apparently reached pest status in the suburban areas of South Charlotte and residents there are concerned about their pets. But here – within sight of Charlotte high-rises and a bare couple of hundred yards from the I-77 interstate? Where do they make their dens? At night do they come out, trot around the empty course and howl at the moon from elevated greens as the flags ripple in the soft evening air?

Sending a Child to Camp by Heidi Thurston

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2005 camp -  you are kidding

Sarah packed for camp. Grandpa is aghast!

Sending a child to camp can be quite a traumatic experience, especially if it is for the first time. Never mind what the youngster might be experiencing in the line of doubt and apprehension; it is we, the parents, I am concerned about.

Once the camp fee is sent in, however, most of any father’s responsibility is over and done with; and now mother’s time has come. Oh, didn’t anyone tell you about marking and labeling everything – let alone purchasing all those odd items that are required but will, most likely, never be used?

Well, let me give you a count down of what must be packed into a suitcase in an easy way that makes it possible, at the end of camp, for the child to re-pack each item along with assorted rocks, pinecones and other collectible souvenirs they simply can’t part with:

Twelve shorts and shirts…a set for each day since you won’t want the camp director to think you don’t care whether or not your child dresses in clean clothes.

Eleven sets of underwear with instructions to change every day.

Ten pairs of socks, which may all come back unused along with your child’s very own set of athlete’s foot.

Nine sheets of paper for writing home …for more money.

Eight envelopes; stamped and addressed by all means, or you may never know whether or not the child is missing you.

Seven items for cleaning…deodorant (well for the older ones), comb, soap, shampoo, cream rinse, toothpaste and a toothbrush (you just KNOW they will brush twice a day and after each meal, right?).

Six night type articles: sleeping bag, pajamas, pillow and pillowcase, and top and bottom sheets that will all return in unrecognizable conditions.

Five swim things, including two bathing suits in case one should get lost (camps do not allow skinny dipping) and coordinated swim-caps so they can tell who is drowning.

Four odd items such as a flashlight and by all means include extra batteries (it gets very scary going to the port-a-john in the middle of the night), a plastic cup and a pocket knife (so you give them one without a blade (it has been done before).

Three pairs of shoes including old, old sneakers that you really would rather throw out – most likely they may never return.

Two bath towels and a washcloth (which most likely will never be used); and finally……

One great big kiss and hug – after which you drop them off and run to your car so they don’t see your tears.

The Larkin

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The Larkin

The Larkin by Chuck Thurston
My mother loved auctions. She never spent much, but usually came back with an item or two — a cut glass sugar bowl, a salt and pepper shaker set, perhaps a chair or hassock — if it would fit in her car.
Although she often talked of the shrewd maneuvers she had made to get her prize, I don’t think it was the anticipation of finding a bargain at these events, so much as it was the social experience that drew her to them. She was a farm wife with a large family — five boys and a husband — and the auctions were a pleasurable diversion from her busy life.
I was 10 to 12 years old when she brought home a small writing desk that we put in my upstairs room in a corner of the large old farmhouse. I doubt that she paid more than a few dollars for it. It was dark from many coats of varnish or shellac applied over the years, but I loved it immediately.
it was solid oak with elaborate carvings on the top and a drop front writing surface. It had several pigeonholes for keeping a small boy’s treasures, and was even lockable — although the key was long gone. I spent many hours doing my homework on it.
Eventually I moved on in life — the military, marriage, a family, a job and a move several states away. A brother took over the old farm to raise beef.
A lifelong bachelor, he didn’t need that much space in the big house and a few years ago he mentioned that my little desk was still in my unused old room; he would be glad to haul it down and put it in my vehicle on my next visit.
Within a few weeks, my wife and I were looking it over. It was dirty from the dust and grime of many years, but we brought it home. Even a thorough cleaning didn’t seem to improve it much, so we parked it out of sight in a spare room.
When we built our cabin, we decided to see if it might work out there. We didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it, but I found a furniture restorer in the area, put the desk in the back of my van and ran it over to her. She came out of her house to look at it, and when I lifted the rear van gate said, “You have a Larkin! “And,” the lady assured me, “they are quite collectable now!”
Hmmm…that put a little different spin on things.
I had no idea what she was talking about, but did a little research. Around the turn of the 19th century, the Larkin Soap Company awarded small pieces of furniture like this as premiums for the purchase of their soap products. Ten dollars worth of soap got you a little writing desk.
When I picked it up after restoration, it was as the lady had promised — a beautiful honey-oak underneath all the layers. A few loose joints were repaired and some new brass fittings were added. We moved it to the cabin and placed it proudly along an interior wall, with a small chair from my wife’s own childhood. The two pieces looked as if they had been waiting all their furniture lives for this mating.
That would have been a happy enough ending, but a few years ago, we were approached by one of those slick coffee-table magazines planning on doing a feature story on cottages and small cabins. Could they do a photo-shoot of ours for this issue? We certainly qualified as small.
On a nice spring day, they brought their cameras and lights and computers and went to work. We hustled to stay out of their way as they took dozens of shots. They promised us proofs of the pictures they took, and three weeks later these arrived in the mail.
We have always taken our little cabin’s appeal more or less for granted and have been flattered, but always a little bit surprised, when others commented on it. Now we saw it almost as if for the first time — as captured by a professional photographer.
And in many of the pictures, standing in its quiet corner is our little writing desk. Warm, functional, dignified. Originally gotten for soap coupons, moved from place to place, over-painted, bought at auction with egg money when someone’s household dissolved, and neglected in a dark, unheated room of an old farmhouse for decades — its time come again at last.
We don’t miss many opportunities to show it to visitors and to point out, “It’s a Larkin!”

“The Larkin” is one of the stories in Chuck Thurston’s book “Senior Scribbles Unearthed” – available on Amazon.