Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A Memorial to our Muse, Cousin Willo.

Sisu. One of my mom's favorite words. Finnish for gutsy. She loves to weave it through her stories about our Finnish ancestors. Wonder if she got it from our cousin Willo? I remember when Mom first started researching Finnish customs for her book, Model-T Biscuits. She sent Willo a list of questions about their family stories and growing up on the S. Dakota homestead. This got Willo a'thinkin'. She, in turn, self-published a book about her father, Axel Sacrison, and his art. What a gift she left for her children. Mom and I were thrilled when she sent us a copy of her next book, Cave Hill Finns: They Had Sisu!

It is a treasure trove of old-timey photographs of our ancestors' homestead; Cave Hill Lutheran church; sheep wagons; the sisters decked up in their white Sunday dresses on horseback; Mumu weaving a rag rug on her loom; and Axel's wonderful painting of his mother in her puku (dress) and huivi (head scarf) walking past the homestead by the buttes. Inspired by their sisu, I pored over these family photographs as I adapted, Model-T Biscuits, into a screenplay.

One summer, all of us cousins stayed at Aunt Edna's house while attending the Finn Festival in Astoria. Since Willo had been such a help, Mom and I wanted to share, "Model-T Biscuits" with her and our other cousins. As the fragrance of fruit soup with cinnamon wafted in the air, we all sat around the kitchen table and read it out loud. I always felt a special kinship with Willo.  I was delighted to find another family member who was also into video production, so I sent her my short Western, "Desert Angel." Willo, Mom, and I share a love of all things Finnish and old-timey - themes we all wrote about on our blogs.

Cousin Willo and Aunt Edna at Cave Hills Lutheran Church

We love antique bottles: blue medicine bottles, ink wells, tinted with time, beautifully flawed, light filtering through, reminiscent of past lives. After seeing my Facebook post of glass bottles in a window cell, she started her own collection of blue glass that are posted on Willo's blog.

Reminiscing about Willo, I can almost feel her presence as the light streams through the antique glass in my kitchen window. Thank you, sweet cousin Willo, for sharing our family stories and the meaning of sisu. Lepää rauhassa.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Heritage Gardens (Healthy Traditions in the Making)

As Thanksgiving approaches, I reminisce about how, as a child, I was intrigued by the idea of living off the land like Native Americans. I loved climbing on the boulders in Apple Valley, California, (near Hesperia, where I grew up) to find holes worn in the rocks from grinding grains. On a recent visit to Tucson Botanical Garden, my boyfriend, Dan, and I were drawn to the Tohono O'odham heritage garden and the corn grinders.

(What fun! You can pay 25 cents for a handful of seeds to grind. Of course, being accustomed to modern conveniences, I opted for the corn that had been partially ground by the kid before me...)


Dan took pictures of their irrigation system as a guide for the heritage garden we will be growing as research for his humanitarian farming project, The Pineapple Project.

We cleared out backyard for a test garden...

I love this project! Aside from assisting subsistence farmers in third world countries, it gives Dan's endless curiosity free range to research sustainability and returning to local heritage plants. Yes, we have attended plenty of food lectures and documentaries. Our idea of a good time is perusing the Tohono O'odham heritage cook book, From I'itoi's Garden. This all suits Dan's life style of eating organic foods and baking his own bread. (Lucky me!) We enjoy experimenting with all kinds of indigenous grains - much healthier than processed white flour.

Amaranth: Weed or Food?

Dan is also interested in using local plants (we call weeds or pests) as sources of food. In his research, he found out that the Amaranth, that is growing wild in the utility road behind our house, is a heritage food and more healthy than quinoa! Unfortunately, it was too late in the season to be edible. Prior to that, Dan waited patiently for our huge prickly pear cactus to bear fruit, but it never did. He is looking forward to the Mesquite bean to be in season for picking. It's tough being a programmer/gatherer.

We are excited about the new restaurants inspired by Tohono O'odham ingredients. These restaurants represent more than just a culinary trend. The Desert Rain Cafe is educating this generation about the health benefits of eating traditional foods. (Chiolin, the cholla cactus flower buds that their ancestors harvested, balance the blood sugar which is good for diabetes, a growing concern of the tribe.) We plan to make a pilgrimage to Mission Gardens at the base of A Mountain in Tucson. (It's by the Mercado - if you wanna grab a bite while there.) We already made the trek to Native Seeds where we bought Tohono O'odham staples: tepary beans and mesquite flour.

Last night we finally ate tepary bean stew with mesquite flour tortillas. (I say finally because it took 24 hours for these tiny beans to cook in the crock pot - even though we soaked the beans overnight.) But the stew was delicious. We found adding chipotle chilis gave it a nice smoked flavor. The homemade tortillas resembled Flintstone Frisbees. (Sorry, Dan. Your bread is yummy though! lol) To redeem himself, Dan just came in with a fresh, soft batch - thanks to the wonder of baking powder! Great with butter and prickly pear syrup!

UPDATE: Dan and I are excited to announce our new blog:

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Halloween at Leroy's Tombstone

Tombstone Territory Rendezvous Halloween Weekend

What better place to spend Halloween than in Tombstone with Western history buffs and researchers who unearth stories of the dead?

October 30, 2014. Appropriately, Dan and I started our Halloween weekend with a day trip with the TTR gang to Johnny Ringo's grave followed by a stop at Gleeson ghost town.

We all gathered around a tree believed to be the place Johnny's dead body had been discovered, while an intuitive cowgal seemed drawn to the fallen tree nearby. Was this really Johnny's tree? Or did she know something we didn't?

October 31, 2014 at rickety Schieffilin Hall reading the love letters of dead people.

I performed a dramatic reading of Mary Clum's last letter to her mother-in-law proclaiming how Tombstone and its weather agreed with her. "I've never felt so well in my I do now." And then I read her husband, John Clum's, letter sharing the sad news that his dear wife had gone to be an angel.

Can't say I channeled Mary or John Clum - although I did get a little teary-eyed reading his heart wrenching letter. Hope Mr. and Mrs. Clum were mighty pleased with my reading.

The rest of the afternoon was spent making the acquaintance of a few of Tombstone's deceased mayors via PowerPoint presentations. Then we were transported back to the 1880's through period music presented by Paul Johnson.

 Old timey saloon music

After spending the day hearing about dead people, Dan and I were in just the mood for a Halloween ghost tour at the infamous Bird Cage Theater.

From my first visit to Tombstone, I felt drawn to the Bird Cage Theater. For me there was a sense of nostalgia in the dusty air. Every time I came to town, I felt compelled to chat with Bird Cage manager, "Lightnin' Leroy." I would wait around in the lobby for him to finish his spiel about the longest running poker game (24 hours a day for 8 years, 5 months, and 3 days)  and how many bullet holes decorated the walls (over 140). Leroy would then spin yarns about winning quick shot competitions and the hotshot cowboys who challenged him on the streets, guns at the ready. Around this time, the Bird Cage was featured on Haunted History. But Leroy always seemed the skeptic when it came to ghosts - even as he shared the photo he kept behind the bar of the spooky orbs shot in the theater. But he admitted to feeling a cool breeze and a whiff of cigar smoke or perfume when he was closing the theater alone at night.

Leroy became the inspiration for a character in my comic screenplay, "Behind the OK Corral." While conducting research for it, I returned to the Birdcage with a group of psychics. Two of the ladies, at separate ends of the theater, simultaneously pointed up to the same crib and said, "See the big Madame in the green dress!"

Madame in green was in crib in back corner

This really struck me because of a similar incident on a previous visit...

I was in town to shoot my short film, "If the Dress Fits."

When I couldn't find a place to rehearse, Leroy generously offered the use of the Bird Cage stage. Suddenly my actress got ill. She cried out, "I have to get out of here!" I figured it was an allergy to all the dust. She later admitted to seeing someone she knew in the cribs, someone from a past life. A madame with a green dress!

It's been a while since I finished my screenplay, and I no longer feel the same draw to the Bird Cage. (Perhaps in the process of writing, I had resolved my issues.) Though I occasionally bring family and friends. Once I gave a tour to a descendant of Mabel Earp Cason (Wyatt's cousin who collaborated Sadie on the manuscript that would become, "I Married Wyatt Earp.")  But I ran into Leroy less and less. Then I heard the tragic news. This July, Leroy was shot down in front of his house by a local drunk.

It was weird going back to the Bird Cage with no "Lightnin' Leroy." But there we were on a ghost tour. The guide shows us the cribs in the balcony where the soiled doves (prostitutes) plied their trade. She informs us about the different kinds of paranormal phenomenon. She apparently boned up on the facts from "Ghost Hunters."

She takes us downstairs to the site of the longest continuously running poker game. We peek into the more expensive $25 dollar a night rooms. She goes over rules of how to treat the ghosts with respect. Apparently they don't like when you talk about Ouija boards or challenge them to prove they exist. They are here for the interaction. She makes an excuse that the ghosts seem less active on Halloween. (Hmph!) Perhaps it's their one night off. One of the tourists, my boyfriend, points out a bad smell that wasn't there before. I get whiff of a musty odor. Then it smells like something is rotting in one of the $25 rooms. The guide says she didn't notice it on the last tour. She will check for a dead rat in the morning.

The room with the rotting odor

We go upstairs to the backstage area and find seats around a wooden table. She points out all the lights already in the room, so we won't get a false experience. She places two gadgets on the table: one that senses paranormal energy and another that magnifies paranormal sounds on FM and AM channels. She encourages us to ask questions of the ghosts and goes to turn out the lights. Our ears peeled for the slightest ghost whisper or footstep, we wait in the dark. No lights are showing on the machine. We hear laughter. The guide says that's just partiers celebrating Halloween. Not the best night for ghosts. She taps on the table and asks the ghosts to tap back. Nothing. She tries again. "Do you hear that? Tapping on the stage?" Some tourists claim they hear rapping on wood. I hear nothing. She says, "Hear that? The clinking of poker chips downstairs?" No...(pout). I hear the young woman in our group giggling. Dan thinks he hears a little hand bell. The guide tries to talk to the ghosts, tries to guilt them into speaking to us. "Hey, guys. This is Halloween. You don't want to disappoint these people." One of the women says that someone touched her hair. The guide switches the receiver to AM. The woman asks the ghost who he is. Something garbled comes through the receiver. "Are you the one with the bad smell we smelled downstairs?" Ha! How rude! Someone thinks they feel a presence walking behind their chair. Another woman exclaims there's a hand on her head. The young woman cries out, "I'm scared!"

Location where I saw the light

Staring towards the stage, I think I see a light. Finally, the guide wraps it up. She admits that we heard more than the last group: the tap in response to hers, the voice on the spirit amplifier, and the woman's head being patted.

Wish I could say I saw Leroy, or even the Madame in green, but I didn't.  After the tour, I asked the guide if she knew Leroy. Leroy hired her and she was at the Bird Cage when his killer came downtown to brag about shooting Leroy. I asked, "You think Leroy ever drops by?" She shares how Leroy used to hate it when she was on her cell phone at work. Recently, her cell phone went flying off the display case. She believes it was Leroy pushing it off and that he occasionally stops by to check up on them.

Leroy Colomy

The Bird Cage sure isn't the same without ol' Lightnin' Leroy doin' his spiel. I wonder if Leroy is still a skeptic when it comes to ghosts. Wonder if he ever met up with a cigar-chomping miner or a soiled dove with a familiar fragrance of perfume.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Gleeson Ghost Town

On the way back from Ringo's grave, we stop in Gleeson. What fun!

The Gleeson Jailhouse has been restored and made into a museum. 

We spot the Schoolhouse in the distance.

We explore all around and inside the School House.

We see copper mines in the hills. Ah, an abandoned mining town.

Love the General Store. 

There are still old refrigerators and chairs in the building.

Dan captures this picture of the mural through the dirty window.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ringo's Grave

I feel like I'm coming full circle finally seeing Ringo's grave site. I had performed a dramatic reading of the pioneer journal of Johnny Ringo's Mama at Tombstone Territory Rendezvous in November of 2011.

Is this really Johnny Ringo's grave?

While everyone else crowds around one tree, Karen makes herself comfortable on a fallen tree.

Ron Woggon gives a speech on how Johnny Ringo's body was found sitting on this tree. There is a long standing debate on whether he killed himself or was shot, (In the movie, Tombstone," Doc shoots him) and whether he was moved here. There is a discussion about where the bullet holes entered his head. Everyone is a CSI expert these days! lol. At the time of Johnny's death, the coroner never even saw the body before writing the report that we scrutinize today.

The people in the nearby house, didn't even hear the gun shots.

Dan, being the brash newcomer, adamantly proclaims that this tree is too young to be the right tree.

I love my baby!

Karen feels drawn to the fallen tree and starts digging around for the rock that was at the base of the tree.

On Angel Wings and a Prayer

It is night time before we finally hit the road for Tombstone - too dark to read in the car. Instead of practicing for my reading, I sing the songs for my musical theater showcase at Live Theater Workshop (the day after my Tombstone reading.) Dan is so patient as I sing, "Into the Woods!" for the ga-zillionth time.

At Tombstone Territory Rendezvous...

Thursday: After a lovely day trip to Ringo's grave and Gleeson Ghost town, we head to Schieffilin Hall for lectures. The first one is a powerpoint of John Clum based on Gary Ledoux's book! And there are our photographs from Special Collections. The photos we were using in our presentation! The photo of the Clums' white house! Only the caption says it is the home of John and his second wife. This drives us crazy, because in our fervor as new researchers, we are sure that it is John and Mary's house! 

Friday:  My performance is this afternoon. We skip the field trip to the old baseball field so I can practice. But The Tombstone Epitaph is just across the street from our hotel.

We stop in just to ask if they have a copy of the paper about the Townsite issue. Nope. Or if they know the location of the Clums' house...Nope. Maybe Woodie Clum's book has the address... Nope. They explain that, "Apache Agent: The Story of John P. Clum," by Woodworth Clum is out of print. 

Caught up in the search, we stop at the visitor center and ask to look at a plat map, a surveyors map of all the lots in Tombstone. They give us a historical town map, but the Clums' house isn't listed. 

We stop at every book store in search of the elusive book. We use the wifi at Wyatt's Coffee Shop so Dan can download new photographs for the presentation, while I worked on my bio and introduction.

Two hours left until my presentation! I leave Dan at the courthouse bookstore and rush back to our room.  And I still have to put my hair up in a bun and dress up in my "school marm" outfit." One thing good came out of our research...Since we didn't find the article about the townsite issue, I concentrate on telling John and Mary's story. I manage to read three letters out loud. Can't wrap my mouth around the word "seraphic." (John says his wife has become an angel...) Didn't have time to practice the eulogy at all. 

Passed some friends on the way to Shieffilin Hall and they looked pleased that I was in full period wear.

I have 15 minutes to practice at the podium, but people come into the hall to escape the hot lobby. I end up practicing in the hot lobby. Still can't pronounce "seraphic." 

Eric Eardman (a descendant of Wyatt Earp) introduces me, I take off my black bonnet at the podium and say a silent prayer.

I set the stage by reading an excerpt of John's love letter, "My Dear Darling, Precious little sweetheart. My pretty dear. My beloved little wife. I am sorry I can't kiss you tonight." My hand shakes a little as I read the first letter that Mary wrote to her new mother-in-law describing their wedding. Then I read her last letter to her mother-in-law detailing their daily life including the Townsite issue. I rave about the weather and how I have never felt so well in my life. I gush as I describe little Woodie's doings and sayings.

I fold my hands as I read, "At night he says his prayers so cute. Now I lay me, etc - crossing his little hands - then kisses me, papa and Grandmama. He wanted dolly to say hers so he said the entire prayer and remarked "dolly said at." Finally, I tear up a bit as I read John's letter sharing the news of his dear departed wife going to Heaven to become an angel. My mouth is dry, so I still can't pronounce "seraphic."  I say, "Sorry," and take a sip of water. 

All in all, it turned out to be a really rewarding experience. As I head back to my seat, a twenty-something man says, "Thank you."

It was a good thing that I included the Townsite issue. Bob Palmquist elaborated on it in his lecture. He referred to my presentation three times. He seemed to really appreciate that I had shared the Clum's letters. My friend Soni later responded on facebook, "Thank you for SUCH a great and informative performance last weekend! I learned a lot and will never look at the Clums the same way again! lol"  Thanks, Soni! 

That night we celebrate with a stroll down Safford Street scouting out the Clum's house.

This is NOT the house.

According to Parsons, it was supposed to be "down the street from a church." We find St. Paul's Episcopal Church. (It was actually the wrong church.) Town lot researcher Nancy Sosa explains that the house is no longer on that lot. She laughs at the thought of us looking for a house "down the street" from the church. In a small town like Tombstone, every lot is just down the street.

On the last day we find Woodies' book behind glass at the Epitaph office.