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Archive for April, 2015

Unopened Letters

In 1992, I welcomed my father back to Springfield. Since leaving the family in 1967 to work in management for a clothing store up north in Rockford,  he had done exceptionally well for himself, but he was recently retired, living alone and wanted to come back to be close to his first son. My younger brother Bill was divorced two or three times and living way south in Florida, and my older sister Dorothy had not spoken with him since about 1965 — totally written him out of her life. I had always felt some modest pride in being named after him, and though our relationship had suffered over the years, I welcomed him back, visited him often in a house he rented less than three blocks from the house where he and my mother raised our family. This post is about unopened letters, beginning with one I wrote to him after he moved back.

I had an opportunity to buy a duplex house where I thought I would enjoy living, but I had some concerns about the neighborhood. Since Dad had some real history in Springfield, I wanted his feedback to my concerns. We drove by the house, got out, showed him the nice front porch. He would live on the ground floor and I’d live upstairs. We’d build a ramp to the porch because he was getting older, and wouldn’t want to deal with the four steps leading up to it. I explained that his thinking about my purchase of the house would determine my buying it or forgetting the idea. Dad didn’t respond. A few months later I bought the duplex but continued living next door to Dad, visiting him every day, making sure he was okay. There were no problems with my purchase. About a year later, over coffee in his kitchen I asked him what he thought about my purchase of the other duplex. He responded with “Job, I never read the letter you gave me. You told me what it  was about. I just didn’t read it because I thought your purchasing of that house was the stupidest idea I had ever heard of. The whole neighborhood was declining. It was obvious. I didn’t even bother opening the letter!” His reaction disappointed me horribly.  Our relationship continued under heavy tension until he died December 12, 1994 and I saw the world without family for the first time in my life. My sister Dorothy had disowned me, wouldn’t speak to me because of my support of our father. Brother Bill and I were occasional callers over the phone, but he remained anguishingly remote.  Less than a year before he died, he called me on my birthday, and we reconciled. I called him on his next birthday, and soon after he was gone.

A few years later, I had a major disagreement with a person I served with on a historical Society board. In my letter of resignation from that board, I explained why I was resigning, citing my conflict with the root of the problem: Nancy C.  and never returned to the board or attended a historical society event. I’m still a life member. Nancy wrote a letter back to me. I never opened it. I still have it.

One of my best friends and I met after I put on a program at Vachel Lindsay’s restored historical house in Springfield. He invited me to Chicago, and I visited twice over weekends via AmTrack in the following two years. He and his terrific wife hosted me in a guest bedroom. It was wonderful. Pete arranged for me to speak to a terrific “thinking persons’ club” in his city where I talked about Springfield poet Vachel Lindsay, recited several of his poems. Also recited some of my poems and with my guitar, sang some of my songs. Pete visited me twice over weekends, happy to sleep in a sleeping bag given to me by a visiting friend from Kings Cliffe, England some years ago. Here I did the driving and showed him a lot of MY city. I LOVED/LOVE Chicago. But I began having some challenging circumstances in Springfield, and our friendship suffered. Over the course of the last year, Pete wrote me three letters. The first was very encouraging. Pete thought I could have really done something with poetry and song up there. But I’ve not opened the following two letters he sen, though I’ve not thrown them away. They’re around here someplace. I have had no time to spare in my life since I began developing an aviation museum at the local airport. I’ve lost almost ALL contact with some wonderful people in the local visual and poetic and songwriting/performing arts community.

Last summer my best friend in the poetry community and her paramour, also a talented poet , disappointed me MAJORLY at two poetry events, and I’ve not spoken a word to either since. When I suffered a very minor stroke, she emailed  me offering to help me during my subsequent recovery from a brief stay in a local hospital.  I was totally surprised, heart-warmed, flattered by the email but early last December, anticipating a very lonely Christmas after a very lonely Thanksgiving and a very lonely rest of my life, instead of thanking her for her concern, I brainlessly, BITTERLY responded with a note saying how disappointed I was over what happened last summer. I should have thanked her and moved forward with her generous interest in helping.  She responded to my e with one of my her own that began with something like “just like you to look for reasons for everything. . . .” — I never read the rest of it, but I SAVED her email. It’s still here.

I’ve been meaning to become more involved with the local arts community which I almost totally walked away from so I could pour my SOUL into the aviation museum. I’ve been intending since March to write a Honey & Quinine post about unopened letters. On April 18, I returned to Vachel Lindsay’s historic home for the first time since walking away from IT in 2013 following a disappointment with the site director. The Lindsay house is suffering from reduced state funding, the former director of the site retired and hasn’t been replaced, open hours have been almost totally cut. The house was open the 18th for a special reception for a talented local artist whose illustrations accompany a new book of Vachel Lindsay poems intended — they say — for children. When I announced my intention to attend the event on Facebook, a friend — the rare kind: someone who still interfaces with me regularly — responded to the post, approvingly. I attended with camera, bought the new books by my visual artist acquaintance, and will post a Honey &  Quinine review of the event  later this week.

After I close this post, I’m going to return to the email from my poet friend and READ all of her response to my bitter note. I need to do that because I respect her talent, and our long friendship has benefitted me GREATLY over the years. No one I know (who’s alive today) has been nicer to me. If she tells me to go to hell, I will live with that. I will try to put it all behind me. . . . . . I need to show her the same respect and appreciation she showed me over the years. If I can digest what she said and take her words as a big pill I must swallow to digest  and continue healing from this past winter of horrible anguish, I will do that.

Thanks for reading this post.

Live long . . . . . . and proper.

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I’m giving away a lot of books starting April 5, 2015. Because I don’t want to make trips to the post office and mess with stamps, all the books will be kept at my aviation museum at the Springfield, Illinois’ Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport to look them over and take them away.

I’m not planning to die soon; not gazing wistfully at tall buildings or deep water.

Included in the give away are anthologies of poems, particularly the great  poems, the volumes in which my poems do not appear, though I’m happy that mine have appeared in a few, and those few will be sent to the area dumpster, and no one who enters my house will know my poems are in those few because I expect that no one who enters my house when they have to will so much as glance at a title or open a book, not even a chap book. But you never know . . . . someone might.

Among the books they will find in my home are books by and about my favorite nationally-known writers: Woody Allen,Carl Bernstein,  H.W. Brands, Randy Brooks, Billy Collins,  Robert Frost, Lee Gurga,  X.J. Kennedy,  John Knoepfle, Anne Morrow Lindbergh,  Vachel Lindsay, David McCullough, Robert Pinsky, Sylvia Plath, Ron Powers, Carl Sandburg, Robert Service, Anne Sexton, Hunter Thompson, Bob Woodward. Yevgeny Yevtushenko, William Butler Yeats . Also, on a special shelf, are books by talented writers (besides me, Job Conger) whom YOU deserve to know: David Bishop, Thea Chesley, sam B. davis, Corrine Frisch, Siobhan Johnson, Jim Osborn, Joseph Kozma and “Kit” Stokes. The visiting strangers will see anthologies from American Tanka Scciety and Haiku Society of America, the locally produced Brew’s Muse. The “lessers,” based entirely on my objective perspective of memorable poetry as I understand it,  will go to the free room April 5. Curious to see who they are? Come out to AeroKnow Museum, take the tour and then be welcomed to the free literature collection.

In the course of the daylight hours today, I have worked diligently, non-stop to do what I should have done since 2009. I know “diligently” because my back hurts. Though I’ve sipped a few cups of coffee while sharing a few things on Facebook  I’ve not eaten a think since last night except prescription medicine. Now that it’s been sundown for awhile, I’m going to eat a salad from the grocery store and drink some instant iced tea. (Ahhhhh the GOOD life!). Poetry, and other aspects of my life as a creative hummin’ bean, have been sacred to me.

The books strangers find in my home after I die will be the books I want them to find. I delivered all my pornography videos, some classics that I will miss, to a dumpster last week. All I can say is “Thank you, internet!” I’ve not touched a Playboy since 1992 or something like that.

An unexpected benefit to this day: I discovered some books by poets that I’ve purchased over the years, but never taken the time to READ: James Whitcomb Riley, Edward Arlington Robinson and Wallace Stevens and a few others. I’ve found some poetry anthologies that merit  my writing if I ever slow down again, including Contemporary Poetry (published by The MacMillan Company in 1930, one year before Vachel Lindsay’s death) edited by Marguerite Wilkinson. In intend to write a little about that in a future blog. Included were three poems by Robert Frost, Vachel and Yeats had four each, and Sara Teasdale had SIX! I also intend to write about the first issue of the magazine Poetry edited by Harriet Monroe. We know that that issue put Vachel truly “on the literary map.” What about the other poets in that issue: believe you will be surprised.

I will be jabbering more about those topics AND in a series of posts here at Honey & Quinine called Vachel Lindsay Rambles #1 — #50.  Look for it, aye?

Thanks for reading this post.

Live long . . . . . . . . . and proper.

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