QandA : Stark Contrast

QandA : Stark Contrast

QandA is a weekly current affairs program on ABC TV in Australia          The 29 October 2019 broadcast focused on responses to the current ongoing, multi-year, devastating drought

Logo of QandA

QandA Panel

Sitting at one end a middle-aged water woman, assertive in a quiet, fact-based approach explaining the mismanagement of scarce water resources

Next to her a government minister, nothing to be proud of, prattling on, talking much, saying little

The government minister sandwiched between the water woman and an eloquent, emotional young farmer, her face bent to listen to other panelists, her responses always from her heart, faithful to the land

In the middle of the panel

The moderator, looking rather young, a half smile on his face, eyes open wide, trying to hold things together without losing his composure

Next to him

A blonde, curly-headed woman wearing an all green shirt (but she’s not a member of the Greens), the head of the Farmers Federation, talking, even interrupting the water woman, but with nothing much to say except pity the farmers, defending the status quo, offering no analysis, no vision, no future

And last but somewhat least the shadow minister for labor, talking about the poor farmers doing it tough, saying Australia needs a national drought plan without offering one

QandA Studio Audience

The QandA panel floating on a sea of climate change and drought, with the audience and farmers (in the studio and on video links) critical of the dismal performance of current governments

The audience and farmers acknowledging human-made climate change and the mismanagement of very scarce water resources

The audience applauding the eloquence, the heartfelt sentiments of two indigenous leaders – one on video, one in the audience – denouncing corporate greed and capitalism that has taken their water

In the audience – connections to the land, to reality, to caring in stark contrast to the empty words of three members of the panel

The Wrong Amazon

Talking with the delivery guy
about farming
He smells of cigarettes
I want to tell him
to stop smoking
But I don’t
I listen and find out
His was a farming family
Hard life
Father told him
Don’t be a farmer
So he’s a delivery person




Thinking about land
every day
The destruction
of Mother Earth
Thousands of hectares
every day
deforested in Australia
Trees cut down
Amazon burning
As one youth activist
quipped on a poster
The wrong Amazon is burning

I don’t even know
what a hectare is
I have never lived
on a farm
I have lived
in cities and towns
on six continents

Hiking in the bush
just outside town
I see parched earth
Erosion
like the deep cut
on my arm
But the cut was
sewed up
closed up
Now healed
Leaving only a slightly
pink and purple scar




How to heal the earth?
Some farmers know how
The earth can be renewed
But forcing the land
to yield immediate results
leads to
long-term destruction
Farmers becoming
delivery people







Oklahoma OK

Previous to this trip researching about my father’s life for my novel, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, I had never spent time in Oklahoma. Whenever I heard the word “Oklahoma”, I thought of the musical.

Oklahoma! is the first musical written by the well-known team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is set in Oklahoma Indian Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906. The original Broadway production of Oklahoma! opened on March 31, 1943 and was a box-office smash. (source: Wikipedia).

One summer during my childhood in Kansas City, Missouri, my parents bought season tickets to the Starlight Theatre in Swope Park. Starlight Theatre has an outdoor stage and seating. It has operated continuously since 1951. Having been renovated several times over the decades, Starlight currently has a capacity of about 8,000 people.  I saw Oklahoma!  at the Starlight Theatre.

https://www.kcstarlight.com

I consider myself tone deaf and have a poor memory for music. But somehow, even after many decades, I can still hear the lyrics of Oklahoma! somewhere inside my head.

The lyrics come bouncing back, instantaneously when anyone mentions the word Oklahoma.

Ohhhklahoma,
where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain
And the wavin’ wheat can sure smell sweet

When the wind comes right behind the rain.

But I only remember the opening lines (above) and the ending

You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K.

As a child, I never thought much about Oklahoma as being the birthplace of my father, W. Lon Hutchison, and the home of my grandmother, Letha Yates. She was occasionally mentioned and even visited us once in Kansas City. There was never any mention of any grandfather, aunts or uncles.

For me, Oklahoma was a mythic place, based on the musical, much as Kansas is considered by some to be mythical based on the book, The Wizard of Oz.

Having visited a small corner of northeast Oklahoma looking for information about my father and his family, do I think I “know” Oklahoma? Of course not. The words of the musical are indelibly linked in my mind and have not been erased or subsumed by my visit.

 

All the Lives and Virginia Woolf

Well I do know you, don’t I? Otherwise, why did you jump off the shelf in the Kingston public library in Canberra, Australia, into my hands? I took a quick look at the end flap on the front cover of the book All the Lives We Ever Lived. Then I put it on the automatic checkout machine and out the door the book went with me.

The tagline to the title of the book “Seeking solace in Virginia Woolf” did not speak to me. I read Virginia Woolf when I was young and determined to be an intellectual who had read all of the “important” books.  I vaguely remember reading A Room of One’s Own, by Virginia Woolf  which resonated with me because of its assertion of women’s equality. However, I don’t remember becoming attached to either the work or life of Virginia Woolf.

But this book, All the Lives We Ever Lived, sought me out. I knew nothing about it or about the writer. I saw it by chance sitting on the library shelf and brought it home. I started reading. And I kept on reading every day until I finished it. I felt a bit dissatisfied with the ending. I was hoping that the book never ended so I could continue our one-sided conversation with me listening while the author, Katharine Smyth kept talking. As a reader/listener I was never bored, nor did I skip paragraphs or pages. I read/listened diligently.

Throughout the book, Virginia Woolf was present but not dominant. She added an extra dimension to the memoir Katharine Smyth wrote about her life, her father, her family and her attraction to Woolf’s book, To The Lighthouse.

Her relationship to her father was very unlike mine to my father. She was close to her father and shared many activities, including sailing, with him. My father was distant and controlling.  I never really knew him, although I should have.

I am researching and writing a novel Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time based on events in his life. All the Lives We Ever Lived offers no guidance to the work I am trying to write. Nor should it. For my family, the title might be All the Lives We Never Lived.

Katharine Smyth glories in the written word and the production of art. “Art may not give us the unequivocal truths that we desire from our world, but it can provide a stay against its chaos and confusion.” p. 186.

She speaks to me in my ongoing need to read, read, read, to find myself and to be myself, whoever that may be. “And is not the sight of ourselves laid bare on the page – endlessly complex, and yet not singular at all – one of reading’s humblest, most delightful rewards?” p. 243.

Thank you, Katharine. I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.

 

The Ramp


Rounding a corner

from a gallery exhibition

Walking up a ramp

with no destination

Black tiled floor

Grey cement walls

Polished silver handrails

Blinking white floor lights

Triangular window

looking down on fern palms

in a secret garden below

No paintings or people visible

in the crowded museum

Silence

only my own footsteps

and the distant click clack

of someone’s high heels

 “Little Italy” Krebs, Oklahoma

In Tulsa Oklahoma in the 1925 probate records of my grandfather, E.S. Hutchison (the murdered “Love Pirate”), I discovered that W. Lon Hutchison, my father, the firstborn child, had been disinherited by his father. Many decades later, my father did the same to his firstborn child – me. In this family history, I found a pattern of revenge and rejection that I want to change.

That’s why I went on this journey – to uncover the mysteries of my father’s life as a basis for reconciliation. The journey has an end point: writing a novel, Tracking the Human: nobody’s a long time, based on events in my father’s life.

Continuing my search for information, I left Tulsa, Oklahoma and drove to Krebs. I could hardly tell where the larger town of McAlester Oklahoma ended and the tiny town of Krebs began, except for a sign, The City of Krebs welcomes you.

My father was born in Krebs in 1907, when Oklahoma was still Indian Territory. Today Krebs is a very small town in what was once coal country.

The population of Krebs is about 2,000. Because of several restaurants and a specialized grocery story, Krebs has chosen the nickname “Little Italy”.

According to Wikipedia, Krebs was founded in the late 1800s. The first post office was established in 1886. The town began as a coal-mining camp, housing European immigrants who came to work in the mines.

Street scene, Krebs, Oklahoma

On January 7, 1892, an explosion in the Osage Coal & Mining Company’s No. 11 mine killed 100 workers and injured another 150.

Here’s a photo of the memorial to that explosion listing all those killed in the coal mine explosion.

I visited the Krebs Heritage Museum, a hodgepodge of stuff from peoples’ attics. I found a record of the birth of the Gilpin girls – my grandma’s maiden name, but nothing more. I bought a tee shirt of the Krebs Heritage Museum and went to look for a cheap motel to spend the night.

 

The next day I left Krebs to drive back to Vinita to find out if the woman at the Forensic Center had found any records relating to my dad… She hadn’t.

Weary of travel and digging for information, feeling somewhat frustrated, I drove back to my friends’ home, outside Lawrence, Kansas.

Talking to the Dead

I had gone to the Tulsa County Court House to try to find out more about my grandfather’s killer. Instead at an annex, I found probate records of my grandfather’s estate. I was surprised by the size of my grandfather’s estate, (over $200,000, a sizable fortune in 1925) and that he had disinherited his first born child, my father.

Disappointed that I hadn’t been able to find out more about my grandfather’s killer, my next stop was nearby – the Roseville Cemetery.

Through online records I found out that my father had been buried at the Roseville Cemetery. I got there while the cemetery was open, but the office was closed. In the very extensive grounds, I could not find my family’s burial plot. There was no guiding information posted. It would have to wait for the next day.

Hutchison plot, Roseville Cemetery, Tulsa, Oklahoma

The next morning, the office was open and I got directions to my family’s burial plot. With some difficulty, I eventually found the Hutchison family plot. The Hutchison plot was  right next to the Purdy family plot, which was the surname of my grandfather’s killer.

I avoid cemeteries and have never attended a funeral, but I stayed awhile, talking out loud with everyone who is buried there, including my dad. There were gravestones for my grandfather, grandmother, great uncle, uncle, aunt and my father.

Gravestone of my grandfather, the murdered “Love Pirate”

I went from grave to grave, greeting each person. I spoke with each of them and shared what I was doing. I told them I was researching my father’s history to understand the man I didn’t know and that I was writing a novel, Tracking the Human, based on events in his life. I explained to them that my project was a work in progress for reconciliation for all of us.

Gravestone of my father

Driving out of the Rosehill Cemetery, I noticed a gun shop and firing range directly across the street.

Gun shop across the street from Roseville Cemetery

My next stop would be Krebs, Oklahoma, a very small town just outside McAlester Oklahoma, where my father was born in 1907. I had no particular leads, but thought I would go and take a look at his birthplace.