Have a Marlis Day!

Archive for May 2011

And Whoosh! Memorial Day weekend is over. On Saturday, our kids and grands arrived. They came from Indianapolis and from across the lake to fill our quiet home with love and laughter, the very essence of family. The four older grandkids drove the golf cart around to the swimming dock and engaged in the first swim of the season. Not a lover of cool water, I coached young swimmers, played lifeguard, and took pictures. Our son fished and rode the horse, who was amazingly cooperative after not being ridden since last fall. I picked the first lettuce from our garden, wilted it, and served it with an Italian dinner.  Our daughter brought fresh strawberries with shortcakes and whipped cream for dessert. After dinner all ten of us played whiffle ball on the front lawn, while the baby watched from the shaded porch. I laughed so hard when my daughter tagged my daughter-in-law out, as she tripped and accidentally slid  into first base. Our rules include: pitch until they hit it, swap teams when needed, and anything goes. 

On Sunday we pulled the kids on a large inner tube behind the pontoon boat, crossing our path often and creating waves. Later, we sent them on a scavenger hunt, then equipped them with sidewalk chalk and bubbles. For dinner,  along with the usual picnic favorites, we grilled  marinated turkey breasts, which were outstanding. Dessert was homemade ice cream. My brother came with his wisdom and gentle ways, a grand uncle to the little ones. Today they enjoyed one last swim, then began packing for the drive home. We shared a lunch of leftovers, finished up the ice cream, and hugged everyone good-bye. School’s out. Summer has officially begun. I must take down the flag and get back to my writing. I’m getting my mysteries ready for reissue by Echelon Press as trade paperbacks and ebooks. Also, I have to get ready for Printers’ Row in Chicago next week-end and its expected crowd of 100,000. But Memorial Day memories will linger, especially tender ones of bathing the baby and reading bedtime stories to the little guys bunking in their dad’s old room. Life is sweet.

On April 29, 1916, James Whitcomb Riley, our beloved Hoosier poet visited our small town, Monroe City, Indiana. He recited his poems at the Presbyterian Church on Main Street. My grandmother, Margaret Black, 28 at the time, was in attendance. I imagine she took my dad who was only 3. How I wish I could have been there to hear “When the Frost is on the Pumpkin,” “Little Orphan Annie,” and “The Raggedy Man.” A well-published poet, Riley’s work adorned coffee tables and parlors of American homes around the turn of the century. His first published book, The Old Swimmin’ Hole, sold more than 500,000 copies, a phenonenon in those days. Writing over 1,000 poems, he was a super star in his day, reciting his work in front of thousands. He was a guest at the White House on several occasions, lunching with President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. Riley traveled by train, then later by car to towns all over America reading to his fans. He is best remembered for his woodsy, home-spun verse and pioneer Indiana dialect.

Some thoughtful proprietors of Reed’s Hotel in nearby Petersburg, Indiana, where he stayed, saved the page of the guestbook and later had copies made. I had one laminated and donated it to the local library. His signature is easy to read. I noticed he paid $1.50 for his room. I visited his hometown, Greenfield, during “Riley Days” and toured his childhood home. I was touched to see  his clothes, his bedroom, and his toys, as well as many of the subjects of his poems.

Riley Hospital, the famous children’s hospital in Indianapolis is named for him as well as many schools and streets. My Margo Brown mysteries, are set in fictional Riley County and the school where Margo teaches is, of course, Riley Middle School. In my Bailey’s Chase juvenile novels, Sparky and Grey attend Riley Elementary School. They participate in a JWR Poetry Contest in the first book, which Grey wins.  In the sequel they learn how Mr. Riley’s spirit hovered near during the contest, and that he was very pleased with their efforts.

Grandma shared how she read aloud on the front porch during warm summer evenings, and neighbors, young and old would come to listen. She said it wasn’t unusual for a youngster to call into her kitchen, “Are you gonna read tonight, Miz Black?” I’ve always enjoyed reading aloud to youngsters; maybe I inherited it from Grandma. Maybe it all started because Mr. Riley came to town.

I’ve wanted a pontoon boat ever since  my first glimpse of one. Finally, my hubby agreed we needed one. His idea of a perfect day is sitting in one of the front swivel fishing seats and hauling in the biggest bass in the lake.  My idea of a fun day is putting around with the grands, serving lunch from one of the handy built-in coolers, and watching the kids jump off the back edge for a refreshing swim. However,  the perfect day…. that’s me in the boat alone, anchored in the middle of the lake, reclining on the wide back cushioned seat with a pillow, a cool drink, and a good book. Warm temperatures, blue skies, and billowing white clouds. Now if it would just stop raining!

Hi! I'm Marlis.

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