Soon after I became a member of the Vachel Lindsay Repertory Group, I discovered a poem Vachel had written that delighted me with its humor and outlook. It was called “A Curse for the Saxophone.’ I shared the poem with Group leader Lee Nicholson (nice fellow!) who explained we could not read the poem for audiences because the Vachel Lindsay Association (VLA), which supported the Repertory Group (did at the time; status unknown now) did not approve of it. He didn’t say why, and I could not imagine why . . . and I have a pretty good imagination. Not long after that, for a reason that has nothing to do with the Group or VLA, I began reciting “A Curse ‘ ” as a solo reciter instead of a reader in a group of readers, and audiences responded enthusiastically to that poem and the almost 50 more I’ve memorized and continued to recite “at the drop of a hint,” since. Two or three times a year, I also recite Vachel’s “The Congo,” the only Vachel poem I know that is not permitted to be recited in his beautifully restored home. I have maintained my membership in the Association gladly. Early into my reciting around Springfield and surrounding area, as I attended VLA’s annual meeting held that year at the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, I congratulated my friend Lee Gurga, a world-famous haiku writer and expert whom had seen me recite Vachel’s poetry. I congratulated him for his new service as an Association board member and said someday, I would like to be so lucky. I’ve not forgotten the four words he said, smiling, when he replied.
“You’d be a natural.”
It’s been at least 10 years since that conversation, and time has demonstrated that I am far less a “natural” than Lee thought. But the fact that someone I respected (and others whom I’ve respected over the years) thought me worthy, gave me confidence I had not had before, an affirmation that I had more to offer to those who love the man, the legend and the family. In the meantime, I’ve maintained my membership in the Association, attended the annual meetings, photographed them, continued to recite Vachel’s poems and the story of his life. In 2011, I shared Vachel at Urbana University at Urbana, Ohio. This year I have been invited to share Vachel at the College of Complexes (a lecture series) in Chicago, the Knosh & Knowledge Club in Springfield and the P.E.O. Chapter E O, also in “Springpatch.” In Chicago, I was asked to speak for 45 minutes, and they didn’t ask me to cease for an hour and a half. They kept waving me on, but it was getting late, and the owner wanted to close the restaurant, and let his people go . . . . home. Every time I recite my poems at an open mic or party, I recite one or two of Vachel’s as well.
The P.E.O. Chapter meeting was an excellent example. A woman who had been in earshot when I recited at the Knosh club asked me to share “15 minutes” at her other club’s luncheon gathering in a private home on Springfield’s posh west side. At first, I agreed to arrive in time to recite and talk for 15 minutes, because I didn’t know I’d have a lot in common with the organization’s members as described to me by their contact liaison who had called and invited me. As the date drew closer I changed my mind and asked if I could enjoy the lunch as well. I was told “of course. We’d love to have you.”
I changed my mind because I realized I could talk a lot more about Vachel if I came for lunch, and it would give the ladies more time to get to know me, and I, them.
So I arrived on time: at noon sharp on a sunny April 12. Tables were set in two rooms, and at my table, I was asked to recite something light by Vachel, and I gladly did. The lunch was delicious and the ladies were attentive, smiling and gracious! The best thing I did that Thursday was enjoy lunch with them. My reciting was gravy, or icing on the cake; just as sweet.
They introduced me early, and as I jabbered past 25 minutes, not paying much attention to the time, they asked me to continue, and I did. Instead of presenting for 15 minutes, I presented (including question and answer time) for 45 minutes. We shared warm thoughts as I prepared to return to my employer, and as I began to pull away from the curb, a club member waved me down.
“We didn’t want you go get away without a check,” she said, smiling, and put the folded document into my hand.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said. “I had a fine time without it.”
“We insist,” she said as I put it into my shirt pocket, and shared a few departing “THANKS.”
I didn’t even look at the check until this morning. Things are ragged at my employer as they are half the time (I’m observing; not complaining. I know I’m lucky that anyone wants to employ me) and after an unexpected minor truck repair (putting new light bulbs into most of the rear lights and one in front) earlier this morning, I really needed some bucks for groceries. So I picked the check up from my dresser and looked at it. Here is what I saw . . .
Obviously, I can’t cash the check. I’m going to try to borrow some dollars from my employer, though I’d rather be paid. (It’s been two weeks. It’s TIME!) and even if he doesn’t there is enough soup and half a loaf of bread in the kitchen to carry me until Tuesday.
The check tells me something about how part of the innocently unknowing public at large perceive me as a part of the Vachel Lindsay legacy to our community. When I offered to share pictures I had taken over the years with the Association when I’m elected to serve on their board, the president accused me to trying to sell my cooperation. Pretty sad, really.I’ve shared pictures and more with them for more than 10 years, and they never had to ask. I wanted to make a point with the VLA president, and I did.
So the next time I visit the Vachel Lindsay Home State Historic Site at 603 S. Fifth Street, I will give site administrator the check and ask her to pass it onto the Association.
The affirmation, innocent though it was, by the public who knows nothing of the story “behind the seen” is worth the loss of a week’s worth of grocery money. There is another net gain . . .
I can recite “A Curse for the Saxophone” and “The Congo” any time anyone asks me to share them. Perhaps that is the greater gift from this interesting encounter.
Live long . . . . . . . . . . and proper.