For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to perform. As a kid, my love of horses took me to rodeos and horse shows, and maybe because I was female and females had pretty limited career paths in the middle of the last century, I aspired to be a trick-rider in the rodeo. (When Ringling Brothers came to town I also wondered how I might become the bareback rider in the circus).
I painted and drew pictures too, almost always of horses and cowboys, and early in my grade-school years was recommended for Saturday art lessons at the city art museum, but my parents and I both decided that Saturday’s hours were better spent outdoors. My classmate who did attend the museum classes became a successful painter.
My mother thought to correct my pigeon-toes – and maybe derail my tom-boy leanings – by enrolling me in dancing lessons. I took tap, ballet, “modern jazz”, and acrobatic for years, and they put me on the stage for the first time. The excitement of costumes, bright lights and applause fanned the fire deep within me.
Cowboys played guitars, so I managed to get one on loan and talked my mother into paying for lessons, then convinced my dancing teacher to let me perform a couple of numbers during the intermission of a dance recital. I was probably the oldest dancer in the recital that night, and although I still enjoyed tapping around the stage, the singing was what I would remember. The songs I chose were “Tall Paul” (which had been a hit by every girl’s favorite Mouseketeer, Annette Funicello) and a G-Em-C-D7 tune (you musicians recognize that as the chord progression used in about half of all early rock’n’roll “hits”) called “Hand in Hand.” No doubt I was awful, but I sang and played my heart out...and people applauded.
There was another music genre rising in the 1950s. The Kingston Trio took “folk” music in a new direction, their acoustic instruments and voices speaking to me in a more meaningful way than the dance music that was rock’n’roll or the traditional (and boring) subject matter of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” or “Frog Went a-Courting” (everyone’s first guitar songs), then one Saturday morning in 1962 a friend came to my house with an album entitled “Peter, Paul & Mary.” The hair on my arms rose as I listened, and on that day, unrecognized passions stored deep within me found a voice. By the next day I had learned every song on the record, and although I never thought about it, my rodeo or bareback riding career was a thing of the past. I have been a “folksinger” ever since.
So many things I’ve done have been for an audience of one kind or another: acting in a play or musical, displaying a photograph, doing a dramatic public reading of one of my husband’s poems; and now I’m blogging.
The need to create is a driving passion, an often urgent, aching need to express thoughts and emotions. It is a longing for connection, for the sharing of these passions with another human being. For me it is undoubtedly wrapped in complex, insecure egocentricity. My words, my photographs, the songs I sing and the roles I play give expression to an internal energy that aches to be released and recognized. I don’t fully understand why, and I have no choice: I am an artist.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Posted by Judy on Saturday, February 10, 2007
Friday, February 09, 2007
Note from the Wizened Wizard: The next few posts will be stories about life on one North Country farm. Although they are not in chronological order, it is probably best to read them in the order listed here. So far, the stories are:
......... Farmer Boy
....... A Black Hat and a Buggy.
......... Farm Therapy
......... Some Scenes from the "New Farm"
......... July 4th
Posted by Judy on Friday, February 09, 2007
Thursday, February 08, 2007
Elam and Mary attended the “picnic,” which they could not have done if it had been called a “party.” The line between English and Amish ways, however variable in its location, was ever-present and defined their lives, and being true to their culture, a certain amount of rationalization must have gone on before Elam set foot on the boat.
A “party boat” resembles the kind of raft or float often seen in the deep water swimming area at beaches or camps. It’s essentially a 20’ x 10’ fenced platform floating on aluminum pontoons, partially shaded by a light roof, and driven by a motor. These boats seem to be favored by people who like to drink a lot of beer and feed a few worms to the fish, but on July 4th, this boat-load of Spanish-speaking New Yorkers and one Pennsylvania Deutschman in a black, broad-brimmed hat were enthralled with the sights. To the west, the International Bridge arched above the water. In the shipping lane, huge freighters moved deceptively fast, hauling their cargoes to and from the Great Lakes. On all sides, speedboats and border patrol craft raced frenetically. The scene was sunny and glorious, and Elam later commented, “This is the best day of my life.”
“The Hammer! The Hammer!” roared the crowd, and the hoop-throw champion screamed with the delight of triumph when the final rubber ring caught the top of the post and circled it for the victory. Cuban Sensations, Italian Stallions, friends and neighbors cheered. “Wait until next year!” promised the defeated.
The crowd ate, then mingled and danced until all thoughts turned to the weekend finale: a fireworks extravaganza lasting nearly an hour.
Posted by Judy on Thursday, February 08, 2007
Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Some Scenes from the "New" Farm
Ooops... an unflattering view of Shiela. As she was being herded back inside, she went down. It took three men to get her inside, right-side-up and returned to her to her destination. When that was accomplished, it was time to set new fenceposts along one of the pastures.
Posted by Judy on Wednesday, February 07, 2007
She died in April. He remembered that the lilacs had been in bloom. He remembered her laughter; he remembered his helplessness. He could still smell a trace of her perfume when he entered her room, as he did too often. He could still see her in her place at the table; his daily wanderings through the house put him in confrontation with a hundred ghosts of her.
Raymond swung onto the ramp and piloted the RV northward. It was a straight shot from Allentown to New York’s North Country, and except for navigating the perpetual summer reconstruction of Rte 81 through the Poconos, the drive was mindless. Her face came to him again and he let it: the athlete, the scholar, the apple of his eye, the perfect daughter.
A few days earlier, Pierce called from the farm and asked for his help. Now that Matt had finished Penn State and left the farm for good, an extra hand would be a godsend during haying. “We just need somebody who can drive one of the tractors,” Pierce had said. Both knew the real need was Raymond’s, but neither cousin spoke of that.
You can’t be too self-absorbed and bring in hay. It’s hard work: hot, dusty, sweaty and exhausting, and Pierce’s crew approached it in good humor. They also approached it with care and caution, mindful of safety and efficiency, so for Raymond there was little time to dwell on his personal sorrow.
As the day’s heat began to abate and the sun was sinking, one of Sarah’s meals waited. Like so many farm wives these days, she worked off the farm as well as on it. She was a teacher and had summers off, the pay was pretty good (by North Country standards) and the health insurance, retirement and other benefits she earned removed a further burden from Pierce. She could milk the herd when needed (in fact, she and Pierce used to do all of the milking), and she sure could cook. There’s nothing finer after a day of hard work than a good meal seasoned with laughter and a sharing of the day’s events. Raymond felt comfortable at Pierce and Sarah’s table, sated by good food and the knowledge that he had been of use.
At the end of the week, the hayloft held 12,000 bales, the food that would sustain the cows who in turn would fill the bulk tank milking after milking through the long North Country winter. In a world where it’s sometimes hard to see how you can make a difference, 12,000 bales from the field to the loft is a significant bit of work. The experience filled Raymond’s thoughts as he headed south. It wasn’t until he neared home that her memory painfully reasserted itself in his consciousness.
Posted by Judy on Wednesday, February 07, 2007
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Posted by Judy on Sunday, February 04, 2007
A Black Hat and a Buggy - part 2 of a story of life on one North Country farm
Amish buggies in the village of Heuvelton, NY ~ Kathy Liebler photo
Elam Miller reached marrying age and the elders paired him up with Mary. She had “a funny eye” (she would cheerfully point out) that looked to her right and toward the heavens, and she was from a family of good gardeners (Elam would cheerfully point that out). The Amish accept whatever God gives them for looks, and in a culture that eats what it grows, the second quality was held in high esteem. Both Elam and Mary considered themselves fortunate.
Real estate goes pretty cheap in the North Country, but the price of a good farm is out of the reach of a young couple starting life together. A hundred and fifty years ago, an elder son might stand to inherit the family farm, but the younger sons would have hugged their mother, shaken their dad’s hand, and headed west. Today, west of anywhere is already bought and settled. Fledgling sons and daughters in the Amish community have to find new solutions to the problem of getting their own farm, and some have decided to hire out to established “English” farmers. The farmer provides a house of some sort and garden space; the Amish couple milks cows and does other farm chores for reasonable wages. So it was that Pierce met Elam and Mary... but not before being inspected.
The elders visited Pierce’s farm, hopeful that a working arrangement could be reached, yet holding firm to their principles: there are some things Amish people do not do, and many of those things have to do with modern machinery. The “stick-steered” motorized feeder in the barn drew close inspection. Shoulders were shrugged, stones were kicked around, and jokes and concerns were swapped as three men in black hats and one in a baseball cap grappled with the conflict between internal combustion and internal conviction. In the end, the elders approved of Elam being taken on provided he not drive anything with a steering wheel – thereby okaying the stick-steered device so necessary to the farm’s barn work. When it came to rules and limits in their sect, the elders confided, it wasn’t so much where the line was drawn but that there was a line. Pierce converted his garage into an apartment, and soon the hired help wore black and drove horses.
Note: Because of their religions beliefs, the Amish do not want to be photographed. I have generally respected this, passing up many opportunities that would have produced wonderful pictures. The above photo was taken in a local hardware store parking lot.
Posted by Judy on Sunday, February 04, 2007