The Woodle Bird

(I wrote, but never published, this essay in January 1997.)

When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I used to pal around with two guys I went to school with. Klingaman and Kistler.

We were all a little different and although we didn’t know it at the time all headed for separate lives. But in those days we hung out together, drank together, hiked together. Whatever.

Kistler, whom we called "Bud," was a very good outdoorsman. He knew his way around the woods and used to joke that he was going to abandon me in the woods one day to see if I could find my way out.

I remember one day we were in the woods and I heard a bird. It sounded like "woodle, woodle."

"What’s that?" I asked.

"A woodle bird," Bud said.

I heard it again. I didn’t know birds from birds, but for the rest of the day I could always distinguish the sound of a woodle bird.

We split. Bud joined the Navy, then I joined the Navy. He got out, married, and moved to away. Klinks stayed in the old town. I eventually ended up at Penn State.

Saw Klinks a few times. Never saw Bud. I wrote to him once when his mother died. She was a second mother to us. Used to make fabulous venison dinners and stuff us with food.

In October, Bud’s wife was in the laundry room when she heard a noise in the family room. She discovered Bud on the floor. She knelt over him.

He smiled. He sighed. And then he died.

The woodle bird was gone.


Rejected :-)

As you know from an earlier post, A Budding Pixel Painter, I was hoping to take a painting class but instead of using paints, doing everything on my computer using my graphic tablet and Painter XI, a software program that mimics painting and comes with everything from acrylics to watercolors. Alas, my wife's painting instructor is as much a purist as my wife and turned me down. I shall continue my quest and let you know.


The Great Schism of 1970

(Several years ago I was asked by the editor of the newspaper at Penn State if I had any football memories to share with his readers. I submitted the following, which appeared in an edited form—the best line having been removed. I reprise it [slightly edited for a wider audience] for my blog because I’m reading a biography of Chaucer.)

As football seasons go, the 1970 season was not one to remember. Mind you, the team under fifth-year head coach Joe Paterno finished 7-3, which is decent, but compared with coming off back-to-back 11-0 seasons and Orange Bowl victories, 7-3 was so-so. In 1970, the Nittany Lions finished 18th in the Associated Press rankings and did not go to a bowl game. Jack Ham was named an All-American linebacker.

I looked up all of that information.

But, otherwise, I remember the fall of 1970 vividly.

It was my senior year at Penn State. My wife and I were new parents. I was a full-time student and working 4 p.m. to midnight as the city editor of a local morning newspaper, the Pennsylvania Mirror. I was an English major. I wrote short sentences and paragraphs by night and long ones by day.

With those hours, I didn’t have a lot of scheduling flexibility and thus ended up in an elective 400-level Chaucer course. Chaucer was fine, but the course met Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday (yes, we had Saturday classes then) at 8 a.m. Maybe it was 9:30, but when you work nights and don’t get to bed until 2 a.m., what’s the difference?

Not only that, we had to “learn” Middle English. You and I would write about April showers, but in Middle English, Chaucer opened “The Canterbury Tales” this way: “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote, The droghte of March hath perced to the roote …” Fortunately for us, Chaucer’s poems were heavily annotated, which helped us learn that “his” was “its,” “shoures soote” were really “showers sweet” and “droghte” was “drought.”

You may have heard that the stories in “The Canterbury Tales” are rather ribald. Only if you speak the language. There’s nothing sensual about annotated Middle English.

The instructor was Bruce A. Rosenberg, young, vigorous, serious about the subject. He worked with us diligently to help us understand the language, and my textbook is filled with my own annotations as we read “The Parlement of Foules” (with that great opening that needs no annotation: “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne”) and “Troilus and Criseyde” before tackling Chaucer’s most famous work, those ribald tales mentioned earlier. (Click on the graphic above to see a larger version of one of my annotated pages.)

As if struggling with Middle English wasn’t enough, we also had to write a term paper. I wrote about the great schism in the Roman Catholic Church. Finding the time to research such a paper proved to be a challenge and I did what a lot of townies do during a home football game—use the lull to run errands. I ran my errands in the stacks of Pattee Library. I had the place virtually to myself.

I sorted through the names of popes legal and illegal trying to figure out who was in charge of the Vatican during any given period between 1378 and 1455. My library sources consisted of “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Medieval Papacy,” “The History of the Popes,” “Medieval Panorama,” and “A Popular History of Priestcraft in All Ages and Nations.” Light reading all.

My Chaucer textbook survived several moves, but I don’t think I ever looked at it again until I started to write this essay. It stirred many memories of that fall in 1970, but my best memory was of the comment Professor Rosenberg wrote in red ink on my paper underneath the grade, an A:

“This is as clear a presentation as I’ve seen in an undergraduate paper; good job!”

I still have the paper. It was a memorable fall.


Ray and Rudy

When I was in high school, I was one of the student managers for the high school basketball team. As a senior, I had rank and privilege, and that meant that after the games, instead of cleaning up the locker room and making sure the towels got to the laundry and the orange peels got to the trash, I got to call the area newspapers and report the game results. That’s how I came to know Ray Saul and Rudy Bednar, both of whom died earlier this year. Both were 82.

This was 1960-61 and I would call Rudy at the Lansford office of the Allentown Morning Call. For Ray, I would call the Hazleton Speaker’s office, although I didn’t always speak to Ray. Their newspapers were both regional morning papers and, in my world, exotic creatures. All I knew was the afternoon Evening Courier, which is where I ultimately began my professional journalism career (see One Man’s Newspaper History in the February section of this blog).

In my two years as the sportswriter at the Courier, I got to know Rudy and Ray much better. Both men were good mentors for me and willing to help me as needed. In fact, Ray hired me to take boxscores over the phone in 1967-68 when I was a freshman at the Hazleton campus of Penn State. It was the other side of my job as the high school senior basketball manager.

I don’t remember the last time I saw Rudy. I joined the Navy in September 1963 and I am pretty sure I never saw him after I was discharged and went to college. I was surprised to read in his obituary that he was not only a Navy veteran, but, like me, a radioman. So we would have had much to discuss.

His obituary reminded me that he not only wrote, but also took photographs. Today more and more editors expect reporters not only to take notes and write stories, but do the photography as well. With digital, that’s a lot easier than it used to be. Rudy’s work was more complicated because he was shooting in the days of bulky speed graphics with flashbulbs.

But I never heard him complain once about work. He loved it, which is what made him such a good mentor. He spent his entire career at the Morning Call, moving to Lehighton when the Lansford office was closed. His obituary said he worked at the Call for 40 years.

Ray Saul also loved his job and spent his entire career at one newspaper, which eventually merged with its afternoon sister, the Plain Speaker, and became the Standard-Speaker. Ray went from sports editor to editor and I was pleased to be able to attend his retirement fete at the Conyngham Valley Country Club.

One of the best stories I can tell about Ray is the time we were covering a Tamaqua-Hazleton High game at Hazleton and the mosquitoes were so bad he gave each one of us in the pressbox a cigar, urged us to light up and smoke the annoyances into oblivion. I don’t recall if it worked, but I do remember that it was a pretty good cigar. Ray liked good cigars, as you can see in the photo above, which is Ray on his last day of work. (Well, his last day as editor; he kept writing for the paper and his last column was published after he died.)

Ray also served in the Navy and the Naval Reserve as an officer. He was also a Penn State journalism graduate and very loyal to the university. Every time we met during my tenure as a faculty member, the conversation covered the Navy and Penn State.
He used to joke that people could never figure out his ethnicity because his first name was Spanish (Ramon) and his surname was Jewish. But he was really Italian and Albanian, my Hazleton-based fact-checker tells me.

One of the things that jumped out at me in the obituaries of both of these men was their devotion to their church and their community. Even after they retired, they were active, and frequently worked in activities that helped young people. They understood giving back and serving as mentors.

But, then, I knew that.


A Budding Pixel Painter?

“You ought to take a painting course,” my wife said to me one day as I debriefed her on what had gone on in her three-hour course that morning at Santa Fe Community College. She said she was learning more about colors, and I mentioned that my InDesign instructor had suggested that her students take the media arts course in color.

I was intrigued by my wife’s idea and suggested I might do it IF I could paint in class on my laptop computer rather than using brushes and paints, etc. A painter puritan, she was aghast.

“It’s not the same,” she argued. Well, yes, I agreed, but I pointed out that what I really wanted to learn was how to paint on my graphic tablet (and my touch-screen laptop).

She came back with all of the arguments: You don’t work with real paint; the paper’s not the same—ah, but you can imitate papers on a computer; and so forth.

We agreed that when we went to her instructor’s home for an open house, I could lobby the instructor and see if she’d let me in her course using modern tools rather than ancient ones.

In the meantime, we spent 14 days babysitting one of our granddaughters and that gave me some time to, well, not exactly paint, but doodle. Part of our duties included selling books at our granddaughter’s elementary school, and when I noticed that one mother had purchased a book on drawing, I found the mother lode and bought all four.

Inspired, I spent a little time doing a few of the lessons, although in some cases I would say they were too complex for someone in elementary school. I did best recreating Hello Kitty characters, which essentially are outlines of shapes and somewhat easy to draw, and had a difficult time recreating Avatar The Last Airbender because the lessons started me drawing an internal outline from which I worked my way out to the final result. It was just too many lines to keep track of. (We did watch him on television, but that didn’t help.)

Back in Santa Fe, I “painted” the above drawing just for this blog. You can view it two ways: I should stick to writing or I could learn a lot in a painting class. At least I didn’t sign it.

I leave you with the question I more or less posed at the beginning: Why can’t I be a pixel painter in a class of brush painters?

(I’ll let you know what my wife’s instructor says.)