Saturday, August 30, 2008

Happiness is Getting Together With Your Friends

I've made lots of friends over the years, and lost a few too, but there are only a handful who have stayed close despite living miles away.  This past week I got together with my college roommate, Cathy, who lives near South Bend, Indiana.  We shared a room in a rented house as undergraduates.  Both of us were English majors with an interest in art.  I decided to teach, and she decided teaching wasn't her calling and went into journalism instead.  

These days I am retired from teaching, and she isn't working for a newspaper any more, though she is very busy with a high school freshman son, some freelance editing and her artwork.  She's a wonderful pastel artist who has started a pastel society in South Bend. Busy as she is, she made time for me. We each took a train to Chicago on Sunday and had lunch and a walk around at the Art Institute.  Then we both took the South Shore train back to Indiana.

Her husband Bob, a Notre Dame grad, oversees the official student publication of the school as well as its literary magazine and yearbook.  They were married at the log cabin on Notre Dame's campus, and I was honored to stand up in that wedding in 1976.  This week we hiked around one of the lakes on the campus, where I took this view of the golden dome.

We took a couple day trips, one day to a couple nearby Amish communities.  I would have liked pictures of the barefoot wives hanging out laundry on the line, the children (also barefoot) playing in their schoolyards, or the young men and women on bicycles, but that isn't something they appreciate, so no photos.  I especially enjoyed seeing the men putting bales of hay on wagons pulled by horses.  My dad and his neighbors put up hay together, though they used a Farmall tractor. Another day we drove a few miles north to Michigan and Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve near Niles.  

There are miles of trails, and several different themed gardens.  Late summer showed off the black eyed-susans, and Joe Pye weed teeming with butterflies.

Here she is in the herb drying house at Fernwood.  This little series of posts occurred to me because I share her fondness for Charles Schulz.  She was once a "little red-haired girl" and she actually sent him homemade valentines.  Later, she struck up a friendship with the cartoonist that lasted until his death.  In 1997 she invited me to a writers' conference in California and I got the chance to meet him and some of his family.  Unforgettable.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Happiness is a Warm Puppy

The other day I found a nice clean used copy of the 1960's book featuring Charles M. Schulz's characters called Happiness is a Warm Puppy.  Rereading the little book it occurred to me that I was reading an entirely different way than I did when I was young.  No surprise there. Rereading childhood favorites is a risky business.  Sometimes a rereading reveals whole new layers of meaning that only life experience and the context it provides allows a reader. Sometimes the book turns out to be awful, a story that is overly sentimental, cliched, or just dated.  This book was and still is charming.  Part of it is nostalgia, I'm sure.  Part of it is that a highlight of my adult life was getting to meet Schulz at a California writing conference in 1997.  But also the book offers simple insights into what makes people, of any age, happy.  Happiness often comes packaged in a furry package, sometimes of the puppy variety, but sometimes in the shape of a cat, a bunny, or other sort of pet.

This photo from about 1925 is of my grandfather, Howard Tess.  I don't remember my grandparents ever having pets (Grandma thought they were dirty), but there are several pictures of Howard with animals, mostly dogs.  I also have pictures of him with a cat, with calves, and with the pony he bought for me and my younger sister.

This photo from 1932 is of my father, Ralph Pierce.  Dad always loved animals.  Many of the early pictures of him show a farm dog, but I know he loved cats just as well.  When we were little he also sometimes caught wild pets, especially raccoons and  crows.  Sometimes when he was mowing hay a cat or wild animal would be injured, and he had real trouble hiding his sorrow when he had to put them out of their suffering.

Here I am about 1952 with my preferred pet.  Many of my childhood photos show me with farm cats.  This was Mom's cat, Snookums.  Ever since I have had a place to call my own I have had a kitty, and luckily my husband is a cat lover as well.  Our current cat, Bucky, is a great lap cat.

In 1963 one of our favorite furry pets was Smoky, the bunny.  Here my youngest sister, Mary, looks just a little worried.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Prickly Garden Problems

I recently met Teri C., an online friend who loves cactus plants, and I wanted to draw a cactus for her.  This pen and ink and watercolor drawing isn't too bad, if you ignore the pot.  I looked up this cactus online, and I think it is a Mexican barrel cactus.  When I bought it, ages ago, it was about the size of a softball, but it has grown to the size of a cantaloupe, and has begun flowering in the summer.  It likes summering outside, though sometimes I have to be careful it doesn't get too much water. I repot it every year to two, and the spines are so lethal that I began using leather gloves to handle it.  Two days ago I moved it, carefully, to the side of the house that gets more sun, hoping to encourage it to bloom again.  

I also moved a big potted geranium that wasn't blooming because, I imagine, the maples have grown so much that a formerly sunny spot now is partly shady.  To my horror, only hours later I discovered that the geranium had become a magnet for iridescent green beetles, and they were earnestly chewing the leaves down to the veins.  Japanese beetles.  I had never seen them before.  Since then I have gone out to the plant with a saucepan of soapy water, and sent scads of the critters on a sea cruise.  I imagine the kindest thing would be to just send the geranium back to Baby Jesus, and take away the beetle magnet, but I paid a bundle for the plant and hate to give up so easily.  We shall see.  If I were dedicated I'd sketch a dead bug, but frankly I don't want to look at one that closely.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Odds and Ends and Jackalopes

I drew this odd critter from a photo I took on our recent trip to South Dakota.  I had heard of the elusive jackalope, a cross between a killer rabbit and an antelope (or deer, judging from these horns), but I had never seen a flying jackalope, which combines elements of the jack rabbit, antelope, and ring-necked pheasant.  But there in Wall Drug, stood the creature, and I felt compelled to draw it.  An internet search netted me many useful bits of information.  Its Latin name is Lepus Tempermentalus.  Its temperament is normally shy and elusive, though it can be fierce when threatened; watch out for those horns!  You can imagine how quickly one of these animals can move.  If one attacks, do not try to run.  Calmly lay on the ground and hum a non-threatening tune like Happy Trails to You.  

Other news from the home front included our thirty-third wedding anniversary this past weekend.  We drove to Mayville and spent part of a pleasant day bicycling on the Wild Goose Trail, which skirts the Horicon Marsh.  Then we stayed overnight at the historic Audubon Inn, which had a good restaurant attached.  I did real damage to myself with the Almond Joy pie I ate for dessert that night. 

Yesterday I had my final check up with the doctor who treated my detached retina in April. The news was that my eye has healed perfectly and I don't really need to think about it any more. Since we had to drive to Madison for the appointment, we spent the best part of the day going to lunch, shopping, and seeing Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3-D, complete with funky glasses.  I can't say it was great art, but it was lots of goofy fun.  

As for my talk at the historical society, nobody showed up to hear either me or the other women who dressed up and prepared talks.  We did have a good time telling each other about the notable women we researched, and we had a delicious box lunch.  Oh well.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Notes on a Strong Minded Woman

Last week a friend from the Rock County Historical Society asked me to join with several other people who would present the lives of some Janesville women who had made significant contributions to a group assembled for lunch. She asked me to prepare a short presentation about the life of Wisconsin's first female lawyer, Lavinia Goodell. I had not heard of her, but my husband had. In the courthouse where he used to work, there is a plaque dedicated to Goodell. So, I went to the Goodwill to get a black blouse and long black skirt, and to the library to information. My first version was too long, but I think now it's short enough to not put people to sleep. This is what I plan to present:

Despite a black skirt and blouse and my great grandmother’s cameo, nobody would ever mistake me for “Vinnie” Goodell. Rhoda Lavinia Goodell was tiny, barely 100 pounds. She wore her hair in ringlets, and had blue eyes. Despite our differences, I believe I can present you with a picture of this strong-minded woman, share some of her accomplishments. I will do what she did - I’ll read from prepared notes. She routinely read her speeches because, being a lawyer, she wanted to get her facts straight.

Thank you for allowing me to speak to you today. It gratifies me to know that in the 128 years since my death, community spirit and a desire to help people lives on in Janesville.

I was born in Utica, New York in 1839. When I was a child my parents instilled in me a strong sense of human rights. Our family dinner plates had quotations from the Declaration of Independence inscribed upon them, so that even as a small girl I learned by heart the principals of equal rights as I ate my daily bread. Our family’s meals included neither wine nor beer, since those strong drinks so often led to poverty and violence in families.

As a teenager I began to dream of being a lawyer. I wrote to my older sister that I thought the study of law would be pleasant. Maria was not supportive however. She called my goal “vain.” Later on I learned that my sister was not alone in this view.

I had other jobs before I became a lawyer. I helped edit my father’s abolitionist newspaper, I wrote articles about social issues for the new magazine Harper’s Bazaar, and I tried teaching. None of these jobs proved to be my real life’s work.

In 1871, my parents moved West to Janesville to join my sister, who by then had married. The following year when I was 32 I joined them . In 1871 Janesville had only been settled for thirty years. There were 8,700 residents, and the city was prosperous. Stores and businesses lined the Rock River and there was a fine new courthouse on the hill. There were twenty lawyers in town - all male. Twenty lawyers, and at least as many saloons.

At first I spent my time helping my parents, I attended church and taught Sunday School, and I went to Temperance meetings with my friend, Dorcas Beale. At that time while many Janesville residents felt that alcohol brought social evils, others were not opposed to strong drink. Once Dorcas and I were involved in organizing a large women’s temperance meeting to convince the city council that we needed to limit the number of alcohol licenses issued. Two hundred ladies met at the Opera house and organized a petition drive. When the the council met the next night we presented the results - 1,250 ladies’ signatures opposing new licenses. We did not sway the council. “If those 1,250 ladies’ names had represented 1,250 ballots, I reckon those licenses would not have been granted.”

Henry David Thoreau said that if one dreams a castle in the air, one is obliged to build a foundation under it. I realized that I needed to do more than sign petitions and attend meetings. I began to study law on my own.

I started going to the courthouse to watch trials. No doubt people thought this a strange behavior for a woman, but since I had no alarming eccentricities, other than a taste for legal studies, and since I wore fashionable clothes, attended church, had a class in Sunday School, since I made cakes and preserves like other women, I was tolerated.

Back then, lawyers often hired boys as clerks, but when I applied for similar positions I was turned down. Until I met Pliney Norcross. Pliney took a chance on me, after he decided that I was serious. His partner, A.A. Jackson was less supportive. While I was a clerk in that law office I decided I wanted to take the bar examination. A potential lawyer needed to be sponsored, and with some trepidation, Pliney Norcross sponsored me. He arranged for Judge Conger to oversee my exam. Conger was not sure it was legal for a woman to be a lawyer, but he was a friend of my family, so he allowed me to try. I was grilled for over an hour by three lawyers, and required to write out a legal paper. I passed the examination- at last I was a lawyer!

Father offered to pay my license fees, but Mother was less enthusiastic. She encouraged me not to start my own law practice. I opened an office, though I refused to furnish it with a spittoon.

My practice grew, and I found myself representing people other lawyers would not help, especially married women, whom the law treated poorly.

A turning point in my career came in 1874 when I represented a doctor’s widow, a Mrs. Burrington, against Sara Lu Tyler. Tyler had been raised by the doctor’s family. When he died, Tyler sued the estate, saying she had been essentially a servant in the household, and deserved payment for years of work. Mrs. Burrington insisted that the girl had been raised as a daughter, asked to do no more in than any daughter might be asked to do. The jury found in favor of Miss Tyler, probably because she was pretty and young. When Mrs. Burrington appealed, I expected to represent her Supreme Court in Madison.

In 1875, any male lawyer who was allowed to practice in a local court was also allowed to practice before the Supreme Court. But there was a problem. Chief Justice Edward Ryan strenuously objected to “strong-minded women.” Justice Ryan was well-respected, and one of the men who wrote the state constitution. But he believed that God and nature made men and women for different jobs, and that a woman’s place was to care for her home and children. I considered him to be an old fogy. The supreme court held a hearing, and a Madison attorney presented my arguments. First, the law did not say that a woman could NOT be a lawyer; the law said a PERSON when referring to lawyers. Second, it was a matter of fairness. The courts were created to bring justice and fairness to all citizens. Could women expect fairness from a court that excluded them? My final argument was that other states already permitted women to practice law at every level. Missouri, Iowa, Michigan and Maine, even the District of Columbia gave unmarried women the right to practice law

My hopes were high, but six weeks later the judges ruled that women could NOT practice law before the supreme court. Judge Ryan wrote that the use of the word “persons” implied that women could be lawyers. If the state’s laws were interpreted in that way, then women could vote, could be elected to office, and could pursue all of the businesses men were allowed to persue. He said that women should raise their families and work at home, and anything else would “tempt them from the proper duties of their sex.” Furthermore, the courtroom was not a fit place for women, because trials often deal with subjects that are “coarse, and brutal, repulsive and obscene.” Finally Judge Ryan said that if progress would naturally lead to more opportunities for women, “we will take no voluntary part in bringing them about.”

After the supreme court denied my petition, I was heartsick. Judge Conger, assured me that I could practice law here, so I threw myself into my work. I continued to write articles, to give speeches on temperance and on women’s rights, and to defend women, winning and losing some cases. I also did what I could for the men in our prisons and jails, and I believe I helped some of them to live better lives. The letters of gratitude they wrote to me gave me the encouragement I needed at this difficult time.

In 1877 I introduced eight bills for new laws to the Wisconsin Assembly, including one that allowed women to practice law before every court in the state, including the supreme court. I asked Assemblyman John Cassody, a Janesville lawyer, and speaker of the assembly to introduce my bill. I circulated petitions, wrote letters and met with several members of the Judiciary Committee. Some of the lawmakers privately told me they supported my cause but feared that if my bill was passed it might harm Judge Ryan’s health, perhaps even kill him.

On March 12th the bill passed; Chief Justice Ryan survived.

The next two years were difficult. I was sick, in constant pain, told by doctors in New York that I had an ovarian tumor that must be removed. But I could not take the time for myself. Both Father and Mother were very sick. Mother began to act so strangely that we finally had to admit her to a mental hospital, and not long after that Father passed away.

But at last I allowed myself to to travel to New York City have surgery. It was very difficult. I spent weeks recovering, and at one point weighed no more than 88 pounds. All this, and then Mother passed away.

Slowly I regained my strength. I attended the Woman’s Congress in Providence, Rhode Island, and gave speeches supporting women’s suffrage.

When I returned to Janesville, I settled my parents’ estate, and resumed my work. While I had been away my friend Kate Kane had become Wisconsin’s second woman lawyer, and soon after that Angie King became the third. I invited King to join me, and we became the first all-female law firm in the state.

In 1878 we took on an case involving a Janesville man who had often been in trouble. Tom Ingalls was accused of stealing from a tailor’s shop. The tailor had locked up for the night, and someone used a razor to cut a hole in the glass of the shop window, just large enough for a man to put his arm through. The burglar opened the window and stole about a hundred dollars worth of clothing. Tom claimed he had spent the night of the burglary drinking, too inebriated to cut such neat hole. I argued that Ingalls was too physically and mentally impaired to have committed the act as it was done. The jury disagreed and Ingalls was convicted by Judge Conger. We appealed the case to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

I applied once again for the right to practice before the supreme court. This time I had Wisconsin law on my side. On June 18th I was finally admitted to practice . The court’s vote was 2-1, with Justice Ryan objecting. All summer and that fall we worked on the case, and in the end the court overturned Judge Conger’s decision. Victory was sweet.

But sometimes even sweet things can turn sour. Angela King and I dissolved our law partnership, and my cancer returned. I wanted to continue on, but finally no spa visit or nursing care could relieve my pain. On March 31, 1880, when I was forty years old, I was released from this life.

At the time I wished God had granted me more time, because there was much I still wanted to accomplish. Articles to write, lawsuits to run, and a world to generally straighten out. But none of us can say when our time on earth will end. Looking at what has been accomplished since 1880, I see that my efforts to change the way prisoners are treated, my articles and speeches and letter writing on behalf of women and the poor, all contributed to reform. I know that my fight to practice law before the supreme court effectively opened up the legal profession to Wisconsin women. For all these reasons, today I feel satisfied by my efforts.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Regarding Goats

graphite, colored pencil

I took myself to the recent Rock County 4-H fair, armed with an appetite and my camera. I'm a sucker for nasty fair food: fresh squeezed lemonade, deep fried cheese curds, cream puffs. I try to mitigate the effects of eating this sort of junk by parking the car blocks away and walking, but I know I'd have to park in, say, Beloit, to work off the effects of one cream puff. Still, I only indulge once (or twice) a year. I like to tour the midway, watching the children on the rides, take a low walk through the 4-H project barns to see the home sewn outfits and wood projects. But mostly I like walking through the animal barns, watching the 4-H kids washing and blow-drying their animals for the ring, or lounging in folding chairs playing cards.

I like the animals too, especially the goats. We didn't have goats when I lived on the farm as a girl. Dad raised purebred holsteins, and we had the usual complement of barn cats and a couple dogs. For a few years we had a nasty Shetland/Welsh pony. But no goats. I'm not sure why they appeal to me so much. Their weird eyes, pale, with pupils that slit horizontally? Their petite size? Or maybe it's just that they seem to love attention, rubbing up against their pens, bleating, leaning into it when I bend to scratch them behind their ears. Anyway, I sketched from a couple photos I took that day, and I can't resist finding a poem to go along with the sketch.

Carl Rakosi

Am I the only one
my neighbour’s
frolicksome goat,
tied to a pecan tree?
All morning
it has been examining
an empty bushel basket
and has lifted
one leg delicately
like a circus horse
as if to roll it,
but whether to do that
or to butt it
with its small horns,
that is the question.
Not of great moment,
no signing of the Charter,
but like air music,
quickest of the elements.
Towards which I leaped!

In form
its own grace,
as it passed
in retrospect, classical.

The real goat stayed,
the body solid
as a four-square loom
and delivered me
from abstraction.
His coloring,
greyish-soft shades,
their dark and light
passing into each other
as in an antique rubbing.

I now found myself
sitting so near,
my shade,
as in the Inferno,
sensed his,
but he gave no sign
of my presence,
even when I stroked him
and my heart leaped
at the gentle fleece,
too fine for a hard life.
He continued nibbling
on a dry bush.

I would not have believed
could bolster the man in me
and be so enduring.
Sic transit, not caring
whether it is recognized,
The Divine
(from another age).

He was poking
into the underbush now
and reached across my head
for the small spiny twigs.

At that the phase
and a sensuous trembling
hung in the air,
as when a bee is about
to descend
on blossoming clover,
and I
felt myself being pulled
as by a line
from the invisible
other side
to enter goathood,
deeper than sight.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

New Sketches

pen and ink, watercolor pencil

In June I drove to Algoma to see my aunt and attend the doll show.  While I was there I went down to the harbor and took more reference photos.  I've loved the harbor on Lake Michigan since I was a child, but little by little the old fishing shanties that once lined the Anapee River where it enters Lake Michigan have been replaced with more modern buildings.  I might not object so much if the new buildings were as low as the shanties they replaced, but these tall pole buildings and condos really lack charm.  I mean to do a painting from my old photos and some historical photos I found, but maybe I don't know enough to make them really right.  I certainly don't know much about boats.

ball point pen, watercolor

I enjoy drawing in airports.  People there are usually oblivious to me drawing them.  They're immersed in a paperback, asleep, on the telephone, or busy with other personal electronics.  I never figured out what device this man was so busy working on. 

pen and ink, watercolor pencil

This heifer was hot and tired at the recent  Rock County 4-H fair.  Most of the cattle were resting the afternoon I wandered through their barn, though the goats were on their feet, begging for attention.  I enjoy drawing animals, love their shapes and angles. One of the things I noticed at the fair was how many animals come in black and white.  Cattle, of course, but also rabbits, chickens, pigs, and even goats.  At home my "tuxedo" cat is always formally attired in black and white, so I guess that color combination calls out to me.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


pen and ink, watercolor, finished while chatting with online friend, Teri, this week

July is history, and we're heading into August.  The weeds are winning out in my flower beds, and I water the potted plants with less enthusiasm than I did in June.  Since it it dry (flood waters having receded leaving lines of scum and acres of dead grass) the mosquitoes are marginally less evident than a few weeks go.  The cicadas have begun their electric thrumming, but there are fewer fireflies lighting the back yard than there formerly were. The wasps are winning the contest with the hummingbirds for the bottled sugar water in the hanging feeders.  Note to self - buy some of those bee traps for the deck.

We're heading into a month I used to enter with mixed feelings.  August always means our county fair, though the past few years I've gone and not recognized a soul.  It's the month of my husband's birthday and our anniversary.  It also used to be the month when I had to try to ignore back to school advertising, and begin thinking of my return to the classroom.  No more. Summer can last for me until frost kills my flower beds.  It's not over until the last blossom drops, and that won't be in August.  As for the heat, I decided years ago that I would only complain about one season, and I picked winter.  

It has been a while since I posted a poem, so today I offer Sunflakes.

by Frank Asch

If sunlight fell like snowflakes,
gleaming yellow and so bright,
We could build a sunman,
we could have a sunball fight, 
we could watch the sunflakes
drifting in the sky.
We could go sleighing
in the middle of July
through sundrifts and sunbanks,
we could ride a sunmobile,
and we could touch sunflakes--
I wonder how they'd feel.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Meeting Another Old Friend for the First Time

I'm on the left, and Teri C. is on the right.

To me, summer has been about having fun.  This week I had great fun meeting an online friend who I met through the Everyday Matters Yahoo group and Flickr.  Teri, who spends part of the year in Arizona, part here in Wisconsin, is a gregarious person who fills notebooks with delightful pen and ink drawings, enhanced with watercolor washes.  Her pages are filled with images of the parts of her life that bring her joy.  We emailed each other and decided to meet for lunch in Delafield.  She reported her granddaughters were alarmed. They had wisely been cautioned against online acquaintances, and were worried she might be doing something rash in meeting me.  Still, we found each other easily and talked as old friends for the best part of the afternoon.  We even sat and sketched, though my conversations with her were better than my drawing of a church across the street.  She took me on my first sketch crawl!

Despite dire newspaper warnings about meeting people in person whom you met online, I have had all good experiences.  Since about 1997 when I started being active in online book discussions, I've met people in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, Louisville, Nashville and Charlotte.  We've always met in public places, and I've always announced my plans to my husband, who apparently has never worried much about me.  Twice he has joined me for these meetings, and they have always gone well. Once, the in the Charlotte NC airport, and online friend came to meet us on a layover.  Though we had never laid eyes upon one another before we knew much about one another, our families, lives, likes and dislikes.  After she left a puzzled onlooker asked me about our conversation.  It was clear that we knew each other, but had never met.  I explained, saying it was like being pen pals, old friends meeting for the first time. One online book buddy ended up moving to within a half hour of where I live, and we have gone from being virtual friends to actual ones.  Each of the people I have met in person after having met online as been as charming in person as I knew they would be.  We already knew lots about each other, have seen each other interact with other people.  And who couldn't like person who loves to read or create art?  It's a wonderful world where we have the chance to meet people who share our enthusiasms and interests.