Monday, August 31, 2015

Hold off a little longer, fall

Fall is hesitant to enter the scene. It is being pushed behind the curtains and it will remain there in the understudy role. On cue, autumn’s time is coming to shine brilliantly on stage and receive well-deserving applause. The play will be magnificent. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Dansville's landscape brightens with new gallery

     I have been part of many “firsts” in my lifetime, and in retrospect, each one is a thrilling experience. I never dreamed that I would be part of the only art gallery presently in a Livingston County town, though.
     Typically, spurts of initial activity followed by fizzling disinterest have deterred much happening from the grassroots. Dansville ArtWorks is an exception, and let me tell you why.
     Dansville ArtWorks Inc. is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to cultivate and enhance the visual, literary and performing arts opportunities in the greater Dansville community.
     As much as I take delight in art and look forward to browsing galleries and museums, I was as much of a skeptic as the next person when I went to my first Dansville ArtWorks meeting over a year ago. 
     Perhaps too many required work meetings and community exploratory committees over the years have taught me to be wary of start-up groups with BIG ideas that never seem to take off due to lack of vision, leadership, support, or all of the above.
     That said, I am proud that Dansville ArtWorks will be moving into its permanent location at 178 Main Street and will have an open house on September 5 with a grand reception from 10-12 p.m. The gallery will be open until 3 p.m. that day during the NYS Festival of Balloons.
     Dansville ArtWorks will create gallery, consignment, retail and workshop areas. Events showcasing musical and writing talents are planned. September hours will be Thursday, Friday and Saturday starting September 10.
    All our organizations desperately need commitment to their valuable causes. Women and men equally have more than enough excuses about not getting involved these days. “Let the younger folks take on some of the slack,” or “I am too busy raising my family, working out of town and trying to make ends meet without anything else on my plate.”
     Plus folks have a bad habit of running down their own community and not supporting local businesses and essential organizations. They don’t realize that part of living in a town is making connections and being part of a world outside their own bubble.
      Nurture a town and new people will be attracted to settle there.      
     I take a positive approach, and if it is possible, I will be part of the solution to a problem. I get tired of hearing, “It won’t work here. Where do you think you are living?”
     “Build it and they will come” is a valid statement, and in fact, that is what the Board of Directors for Dansville ArtWorks firmly believes. Salome Farraro, Treasurer, is not shy in saying it either.
      That phrase worked for Kevin Costner's character in Field of Dreams, but such advice can prove disastrous for a startup unless the initial vision of an idea is market-ready and poised for success.
      That's why entrepreneurs must fight the urge to simply put their heads down and build a product to completion without engaging community folks for vital feedback and guidance.
     All year I listened at meetings. Nicole Alioto, President, had an action plan and proved herself a capable leader. I was attracted  to what I heard in theory, but wanted to see what would happen in action. The proof is in the pudding.
     The pop-up gallery in December during Winter in the Village showed that there was more than curiosity from the community. A substantial sum of money was raised through purchases, too. Over 20 artists with excellent credentials were participants.
     I was pleased to see the highly creative work of Jeff Swift, Swift Custom Metals, a former student of mine, and now a nationally recognized craftsman.
     In the spring Art Cents, a penny social and auction, brought more notice to Dansville ArtWorks. Monthly mixers in downtown businesses, such as at Caffe Tazza and Tony’s Pizzeria, gathered artists together and made the group cohesive. The Dansville Chalkwalk Festival was an August family activity.
     At that point I made a decision confident I was doing the right thing: I asked to be on the Board of Directors. Already a lot of the foundational work was in place by a group of dedicated people and response from the community was positive.
     My interest in the arts comes as no surprise to anyone that knows a little about me.
     My mother was artistic in every sense of the word. My younger sister studied Fine Art at Syracuse and spent a lifetime painting themes mostly related to ballet. Of course, my husband’s interest lies in 3-D and taught many high school students in advanced classes. My daughter’s gallery in Chelsea represents well-known artists and has expanded in less than two years.
     The arts in the public schools expose students to cultural experiences and open young eyes beyond the four walls.
     Randy and Susan DeMuth have, for many years, operated Dansville Stationers from 178 Main Street. Their desire to consolidate their business into one building led to discussions with Dansville ArtWorks’ board. Mutual interests have resulted in collaboration between the two entities. The DeMuths will continue to operate Dansville Stationers and Dogwood Trading Company at 176 Main Street.
     It’s a perfect fit in all respects according to the Demuths, and it will bring foot traffic to Main Street for a diverse shopping experience.
     When all is said and done in life, you hope to leave your community a better place. Dansville ArtWorks and its Board of Directors passionately feel that sentiment. May the community and Livingston County agree, and likewise, keep the arts alive and well in the valley with their support.      


Monday, August 24, 2015

A longterm friendship

Two women of middle age have everything and nothing in common. They like each other and condemn each other without communicating their thoughts as if a spoken word would shatter the friendship. 

All of the woman’s housekeeping is perfection, and her guest observes it is quite evident that there are no dust balls in the corners of the living room and the pictures frames are spotless like looking glasses, except that she doesn’t pay the same attention to her own self. It’s hard to imagine that the woman's teeth are yellowed from years of cigarettes and she hasn’t spent the money to have them professionally whitened. Maybe she polishes her mirrors but doesn’t take the time to examine herself closely for a stray wisp of a hair coming from her chin or tiny hairs protruding from her nostrils. 

The guest is quite the opposite in nature, and is immaculately attired and spa-cleansed, yet her own apartment is a disaster in sanitation. She thinks nothing of living in her mess and clutter, and never wonders how the neat woman manages her visits without a remark.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

It's a lark

Occasionally when I focus on an object I fail to see all around it. It's an amatuerish mistake that I catch myself on every single time. When taking a second notice later, the soft blues and greens in the landscape make this picture a perfect image of the sloping shoreline of Lake Ontario in Canada on a late August afternoon. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

A summer to remember

 The young woman adjusted the brown barrette with an upsweep of her hand before stepping down from the train carefully clutching a cloth purse with its dangling red tassel and a brand new cardboard suitcase. She assuredly made her way along the platform moving quickly away before the train would continue eastward right on schedule. It was 1944 and a war was raging around the world. There were few younger people at the Riverhead station, certainly even less men with the majority off at war, and mostly older folks waiting for visitors or family. She was the exception and a stranger in their midst.

Several weeks before the she had answered an ad in the New York Herald-Tribune for a nanny: two active school age children require live-in nanny for the summer. Furnished room provided along with meals and one day off per week. References required.

The couple had come to Brooklyn to visit with her in person at her parents’ home in Bay Ridge and everything was in order. The business details all appeared straightforward and her parents gave her their blessing realizing it was time for their daughter to unfold her wings a bit. They kept to themselves a few minor misgivings about how much more would be expected of her than she was being told, and that daily childcare could prove overwhelming.

The young woman figured that a summer on Eastern Long Island would be marvelous, and a perfect situation before starting City College with a journalism major in the fall. All her high school friends were working little neighborhood part time jobs and swimming at the YMCA. They would be so jealous of her tales of beach life and her suburb tan in the ritzy Hamptons. Like many of her classmates, she was removed from the war except for a couple of guys in the Navy from church the minister lifted up in prayer each week and observing her mother ration out the staples with her government issued coupons at the corner grocery store.

The husband quickly came into sight as if it was an afterthought coming to the train station at all, and there was no wife or children in sight. His clothes were slightly rumpled and he appeared out of breath as he grabbed the suitcase and motioned towards the car in the parking lot across the street. All in a day’s work for him like picking up a loaf of bread at the corner store before going home, contrasting her excitement and enthusiasm, a freshness in her approaching a new challenge.

They drove for about five minutes with little conversation to a quiet ordinary residential street to a white Cape Cod house. This was Riverhead seven miles from the Sound and about thirteen miles from the Ocean noted for being the commercial center for the East End. The young woman knew where the town was located, but apparently she had let her imagination go wild to sprawling sandy shorelines, elegant celebrities and huge cottages along the water.

As she walked up the driveway she moved a red tricycle out of the way and began day one of her summer job. The world didn't know yet, but tomorrow would bring the landing of 155,000 Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy in France. It would be the largest amphibious military operation in history. She would have her own personal obstacles to overcome.

It would be a summer to remember for the rest of her life.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A neighborhood watch

A man with a salt and pepper beard and a black backpack walked on a country road at a moderate pace looking neither to his left or right as if his goal was getting more realistic by the minute.

He was a bit overdresses in a light sport shirt and jeans to be seriously hiking the young teenage girl noticed glad that she was safely behind her window and the screened door locked separating the two of them. She was home alone and a bit tentative. She continued stirring the peanut butter cookie dough with a wooden spoon in the chipped red Fiesta bowl and simultaneously texted her friend on the main road curious if she had seen the man with the black backpack, too.

He was not one of the regulars in the area out for exercise like the older thin woman in the corner house who always wears a cap and black sunglasses in the summer no matter what the hour, or the couple in matching tan safari vests who walk their two Huskies after the dinner hour. The reply came soon enough from her friend, and yes, she had watched the man get out of a blue car along the side of the highway and wave to the driver before setting off.

There had been so many prison escapees and missing male persons lately that her mother had reminded her to be more cautious and use her head at all times. As she went to the far window in the living room to see his progress, the man trekked out of sight down a gradual slope blending into the landscape and obscured by the piercing rays late afternoon sun.

He turned on another road with the eyes of the entire area following his steps one house at a time. You can’t get away with much these days.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Readers help columnist find the right words

     Tell me what is the most overused word in the English language.
     I posted this statement on “Kay Thomas writer’s” page on Facebook a couple weeks ago.
     Readers, you’ve come to the rescue.
     I asked for help. I received a ton of suggestions from you that I pondered carefully before I had my first cuppa of morning wake-up brew. Two days later, there were even more ideas dribbling in with detailed explanations and examples.
     Together you and I are validating the strings and arrows of language misfortune.
     Consider this a collaborative column then. It’s a second for me. I tried one back in 2013, “Looking at Beauty in a Special Way,” and it had great insights from Facebook friends that went way beyond what I understood about the subject.
     This leads me to confirm what I already know: There are no linguistic slouches out there in Livingston County and beyond.
      I shook my head in shame over a few words you mentioned for I work hard to use better ones in their places. Still, I get caught up in comfy, familiar words, too, “like” — a hackneyed word for sure — the rest of you. That’s where the trusty thesaurus online gets pulled up, or I wander off doing something else to unload my mind. The next morning the perfect word takes the place of the fuzzy one instantly.
      Here’s what you told me, and honestly, I “love” – oops, an over engaged word — that we have established such a friendly relationship as writer and reader it is possible to participate in making a unique column, and ultimately, a better newspaper.
     “Experts” in journalism say that a couple years of writing a column is enough before ideas start getting recycled, and readers tire of you. Four years is the max. My editor tells me to keep on writing – I appreciate his faith in me — and I don’t see an end in sight as of this deadline. If it weren’t pure merrymaking with a toss of wisdom thrown in, I wouldn’t be doing it in the first place.
     I know. I know. A fundamental rule in the news world is that the most important information should go in the beginning of an article. I am teasing you a bit here, and dragging out the suspense.
     Drum roll, please.
     The 8 overused words, and in no particular order:


      Your” list shouldn’t be a revelation.
      One reader says that she does not appreciate “awesome” spoken so casually and feels it should be reserved for something truly spectacular. Overuse kills. The same thing goes for “love.” Let’s hold on to those two words dearly and save them for the deserving special occasions. Stretch your vocabulary and you will find a myriad of other impressive words for daily usage.
     “It was like this, or you know like that” is a pretty vague statement in another person’s opinion. Get to the point and give specific details to prove your point. Explain the situation at hand clearly and save your shorthand language for texting.
      In order to qualify as overused words, both “seriously” and “really” must have an upward tone of inflection, and those two words annoy certain folks. Think before you speak and pay attention to the silly words you use over and over. Anytime a sentence ends with a questioning tone, it conveys a sense of uncertainty.
     “OK” is personally a pet peeve of mine, and with Kay as a nickname, I am forever turning my head looking for someone calling to me. Mothers in a crowd know the exact feeling, and instinctively glance around when they hear, “mom.” Use the word sparingly and develop a few phrases to mix and match in its place.
     “Nice” is trite. There are so many subtle and pleasant replacements to add to your vocabulary. Kill the desire to use it in writing, too, and make your words project energy and enthusiasm. Variety is the spice of life, and should be, before you are perceived as dull and unimaginative. Those crossword puzzles work well for boosting your brainpower and filling your word bank.
     One reader commented she believes that “can’t” is an “excuse” that is mushrooming in our culture; however, she has no statistical research to substantiate her theory. It might be a word that is defining a generation. I’ll be listening, and so should you.
     A majority of you came down hard on the fact that words are used incorrectly- mangled, if you prefer - in sentence structure, and that bugged them enough to make the statement. Grammar is important, and nothing is more telling than less than fluent speech. It is still taught in school if you haven’t checked lately.
     A perceptive reader says that she can't write a “certain” word here since this is family rated column. She hears it way too often. “It seems to me that as a society, we are completely lacking in creativity and imagination when it comes to cursing.” I don’t know about you, but as for me, I prefer not to hear trashy language when I am walking down the street.
     Whether you agree or not, you have written this column.
      If you want to continue the dialogue, or suggest a new one for a column, seek me out on “Kay Thomas writer.”  Thanks to those of you who read my frequent musings on any number of subjects. (By the way, if you haven’t found me there, it wouldn’t hurt to give the page a try).





Thursday, August 13, 2015

An afternoon walk along the river

A man of undetermined older age walked down to the river along the narrow dirt trail taking time to follow the flight path of the swallows into the freedom of the faded blue sky when he came upon an abandoned stone house once the home of his friend long passed on. He usually avoided this route and its myriad of painful memories piled high upon each other, and instead, took the paved sidewalk over the bridge without a single glance below. This walk though, he stopped in his tracks when he saw the wooden door slightly ajar and wondered if there were squatters living within, or just curious children exploring while on their bicycles roaming the public parks much like his friend and he did in their youthful pursuits. Never one to be superstitious or afraid of a little adventure, he barged into the house only finding that his battle was with cobwebs and not humans. No one appeared to be using the rent-free facilities, and the man felt somewhat relieved when he stepped back outside into the waning sunlight of late afternoon automatically looking to his left and right for any observer watching his movements.

The circumstances of his friend’s death are unclear, and even the man is not sure what led up to his demise. At seventeen he was well aware that his friend’s parents were rebels and kept a manual printing press in the attic. Once he was visiting and they snuck up there and saw several flyers announcing meetings left on the table. He didn’t know what that had to do with his sudden death one night while his parents were not home. Maybe it had everything to do with it. There was a lot of hushed talk and glances between his parents whenever he was in earshot, and he didn’t understand why there wasn’t more investigation into the crime. It was the righteous thing to do, although no one asked a question at school after the schoolmaster removed the empty desk from sight as if that was the expected answer. Things smoothed over relatively quickly, and the boy’s family moved away in the middle of one night a few months later never to be heard from again. Rumor had it that it was to America to stay with a cousin. Only the loss of his school friend left a huge hole in his heart and ruined the frivolity of his teen years, and forever the void would pierce to the surface and prick his thoughts no matter how hard he tried to erase their unpleasantness.

 The man's conclusion is that the politics of the country are always in an upheaval and some notions are best left to the privacy of his mind where they can be separated apart from the necessary tasks of daily life. It’s become his pattern, and in his final years that is all he requires.  


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Our adopted family member

The neighbor dog, a mixed breed of the Heinz ketchup variety, showed her unconditional love with a wide tooth grin stretching her lips to the gums. If you didn’t understand her gentle docile behavior and her jumpy playful nature, you would think that she possessed a furious temper. Lacking that snarl was the main dead giveaway that you were the recipient of plain old puppy love, and nothing more or less. Of the two of us, it took me longer to get comfortable with her in my presence since I didn’t grow up surrounded by dogs like my husband. And to top it off, I had been bitten on the leg by a dog further down our road one year, and it was a painful reminder of keeping my distance if at all possible.

Still, it was a little unnerving to people coming to visit and for the UPS driver delivering packages, for she had those protective qualities about her, too, and we were extended family after all. A car pulled in our driveway, and she started barking incessantly from her yard before quickly crossing the road inspecting the strangers. It was hard to make her quit, too, and it was embarrassing explaining off the “adopted” pet circling around nosing in. “Go home.” Off she’d trot with her head hanging to wait near the side of the road in case her services were needed immediately.

In warmer weather she bounded over to our yard when she heard one of us open the door and we trained her to sit patiently with her tail wagging while she received her doggie treat for the day. Two bones and off, became her normal routine that she kept up for over ten years. On Christmas morning her owners would let her out to receive her special Christmas bone from us, all the present that she would ever desire on such a fine holiday.

Often when I was walking alone down our back trails, I heard her bounding from across the road panting a mile a minute. The huffing got louder the closer she came catching up to be my hiking companion. A few pats on the head and a rubbing of her eyes as she kept pace with me was all she needed to be accepted. She stayed along beside me until a bird or chipmunk in the brush would distract her attention, and off she would go in pursuit. Sometimes I never saw her again until I returned back to the top of the hill where she would be waiting for me to catch up. Apparently, she knew the short cuts better than me. It was doggie treat time and I needed to step up my pace.

The family owned a smaller dog, a cat or two, and growing up as one of several others, she learned the art of give and take early on. She thought nothing of coming to our back porch and befriending our only cat, but alas, he was not a mixer and kept to himself going back inside through his magic door opening. She’d hang around for awhile before giving up and finding another activity, especially splashing in our pond and coming for a rub after shaking herself all over us that sheepish smile all over her face.

There came the time when we didn’t see her as frequently. It became clearer when a couple weeks before she passed away of old age and mixed health problems, one of her family members came over to tell us that she would be leaving this world soon. They knew how much we loved her, too, and they wanted to share the sadness. With tears and hugs, the teenager daughter and us chatted about all the lovely memories we would hold onto.

The neighbors don’t own a large dog that roams unleashed anymore. We miss our Harley Girl.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The lighting of the world

The small white plastic cross statue glowed in the dark while resting on the blond dresser the whole of her childhood as if it had the power to perform miracles of one sort of another the likes of which would impress any naive girl or boy in need of such comfort. She had received it from memorizing a set number of Bible verses in summer camp, and it came into her possession as a token of appreciation from her counselors. Some would refer to it as a cheap trinket, only four inches high and purchased by the dozens from supply stores like bookmarks, pens and posters for rewards and prizes to worthy youth.

She was way beyond it soon enough as statues and icons made no impression upon her, and the dust collected, yet never dimming the light, though, which held forth endlessly. There was something inside her that kept drawing her attention to the meaning beyond the piece itself. She wouldn’t hear the word, symbolism, until her English teacher in Junior High made every piece of literature, like The Yearling, interpreted with meaning beyond the printed page.

At night when she was falling asleep after one last chapter in a Bobbsey Twins’ mystery, she would observe the glow from the cross perched on its rounded black base increasing as it got darker and darker outside her upstairs window. Its reflection appeared on the ceiling enlarged out of proportion waving from side to side like a shadow puppet on a stick performing a Punch and Judy show. She didn’t draw any unusual serenity from the cross, other than it was one of the familiar objects in her bedroom pretty much like her ivory comb and brush set on the dresser table, her pink dotted chenille bedspread and her collection of Shinnecock Indian dolls set in a tableau surrounded by tepees and war drums.

Some of her friends worshipped the Virgin Mary and carried medals of her in their plastic purses as sacred reminders of their faith. They told her that they were going to heaven because the nuns said so, and they were worried that their cross didn’t look like the plain one in her bedroom. She was not of that persuasion, although she waited obediently outside the church doors when her friends went to confession before they all took off on their bikes laughing a mile a minute to the soda fountain.

Once she put the statue in the desktop drawer out of sight not willing to toss it in the trash in case there was something that she didn’t understand, and it stayed put for a long time until she guilted herself into placing out in full view again on top of a collection of library books.

It was much later that she figured out that it was more of a symbol to her than anything else, and the tiny cross statue grew larger as her personal beliefs gained strength and momentum outside the confines of any religious institution. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

A few thoughts on weddings

Eggshell robin blue was the color of her wedding suit, and perhaps, it was a foreshadowing of how the marriage would be in real time like a teetering tightrope walk high above a cliff until one or the other falls off in shame and defeat.

“Here comes the bride; all dressed in white.” That’s not always the case and the myth of wedded bliss along with it.

You don’t know any of this when you are young, vulnerable and think yourself into believing fairytale love is forever. Too many expectations from society taint the truth about life’s realistic give and takes. All the white tulle, floral bouquets and wedding processionals of the grandest of affairs are a sham without a deep, mature commitment from both parties.

It’s a priceless union if it is meant to be, or it can be a disastrous state of affairs, when there are lies and deceit between two selfish people.

The simple ceremony in a wooden country church on a back road where family and close friends pull up their cars onto the grass and celebrate the union of a couple is just as magnificent as the city wedding in a cathedral where several hundred acquaintances awkwardly sit guilty of their holy sins welcoming the newlyweds in fashionable designer outfits. The bride rides in on horseback, or she comes on the subway, is immaterial to her attitude and the groundwork she has established in her relationship with her partner.

Like the marriage that went bad, she hung the eggshell robin blue wedding suit up in a sterile plastic garment bag out of sight, and moved it from place to place for several years, until finally one day it got tossed into the Salvation Army bin devoid of any sentiment. It was time to be prepared for the proper husband to enter into her life. 

“Marching to thee; Sweet love united for eternity.”

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

New book released

 Order your copy from Amazon

I’ll Be Honest with You is a collection of essays about everything under the sun including the kitchen sink – seriously. Thomas takes on a new challenge writing minimally leaving readers to piece together what they want from brief “flashes,” or eruptions of ideas. It’s a book to be picked up and read over and over for snippets of truth sprinkled with a good portion of playfulness.