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Saturday, August 5, 2017

(3) "GOOD HEAVENS! A DOWNPOUR OF CATS!"

December 18, 2005
        I've had fairies on the brain every since Humanics sent me the proofs of my new book based on Mom’s poems.  The editor said he had issues with the online artwork, and oh my goodness, so did I.  The fairy illustrating “The Bargain” looked like a man in drag with a sneer on his face.   So much for Ernestine’s pretty fantasy. 
                                                  Leo Harrington
      I asked for a publication extension for this book that has been in the works for a year, while I’ve been wondering if I’d live to see it in print. Editor Chris and publisher Gary generously said I could take as long as I needed to find an artist.  I put up posters in several libraries and soon heard from my first applicant.  Leo Harrington didn’t see the poster at his library because the bulletin board was located around the corner from the main room.  He did see copies of Mom’s "The Bargain" on the desk, took one home with him, and illustrated it.
     Ernestine herself had discovered the artist for her poems.
      
One day, when strolling slowly (I am rather roly-poly)
Something happened—the most magical of things!
I met a tiny creature with a most amazing feature—
An attractive pair of polka-dotted wings. 
With a gasp we couldn’t smother, we stood staring at each other
And I noticed that she seemed to like my hat.
“Deary me!” I heard her mutter, “I would surely cause a flutter
If the fairies ever saw me wearing that!”

Her look was wistful, very, so I murmured to the fairy
Who observed me with so envious a stare:
“I can see you like my bonnet. Since your heart is set upon it,
I will trade it for the pretty wings you wear!”
Response was never prompter! She tried my hat. It swamped her!
My, oh my, the cunning picture that she made!
My bonnet made her stagger, but she staggered with a swagger,
So I knew she was delighted with the trade.

With her wings upon my shoulder, “Well, goodbye,” I softly told her,
And I waited till she vanished in the sun.
Then not the least bit fearful, but quite confident and cheerful,
I flew homeward to astonish everyone!
                                  
1-29-06
Dear Leo,                   
      I woke up this morning with a dazzling insight. I don’t have to wait to send my publisher the entire book, illustrations and all. I can send him the text along with the first two or three illustrated poems.  The editors can then be reviewing the introduction and the exercises, with plenty of time to have it ready for fall publication.  This takes away a lot of pressure I’ve been feeling, and I can stop pressuring my poor artist.  I’ll send groups of illustrations along to the publisher when you have completed them.  I still won’t send the originals until the last one is finished, so take good care of them.  No floods or tsunamis allowed.  
       It will be hard to wait until Friday to see you have accomplished.  I’ll be readying my smiles and giggles.
2-15-06
     Kathie, the following is more or less what I said to Leo's machine:  “It has been 12 days since I last heard from you.  Do you remember telling me you would call me once a week?   I'm not comfortable with the way things are going..”
     A friend saw Leo at the art center, working on a bear.  I said he should be working on the illustrations for the poems.  With only eight weeks left until the middle of April and with around fifty more sketches to be completed, I should be seeing at least half a dozen a week.
     Late this afternoon Leo called and said,” What's the matter?”
     I told him.  He said he had several to show me.  I'm going to see them at eleven on Friday.
     Okay, I know you're feeling sorry for Leo, my dear kind-hearted daughter, but the situation was not good for my health, especially my blood pressure.  Maybe now he means it when he says he'll put aside everything else in order to produce sketches every week.
Kathie responded:
hi, mom. i'm glad you called leo and he called back. nothing is more important than your health. i hope the bee you put in his bonnet (i bet he could draw that!) will keep him buzzing along busily til he finishes well within the time limit.       
2-18-06
To Leo [Unsent]
       When I went to your house, I assumed you were going to show me a number of full-page sketches.  Instead you showed me your latest collection of elaborate Alphabet Animals.  My heart sank.  Time was going by and you had barely touched the surface of the poems requiring illustrations.  I said for about the third time that I needed drawings for the first few poems, so I could mail them to my publisher.
    Conferred with Ted.  He thinks I should not send a negative message like this but simply tell Leo I’ll give him more time so he can return to illustrating the poems.
2-20-06
To editor Humanics Learning
Dear Chris,
        A funny thing happened when your best customer suggested that the poems should have shorter versions for the Pre-Schoolers section.  My first reaction was:  no way could I or would I tamper with Mom's work.  Then her sub-conscious assistant, whom she called Jeeves, paid an overnight visit and helped me achieve this daunting task.   
      When I send you the next group, which will include Johnny Appleseed, you will see that the artist has chosen to portray him in his youth, whistling as he scatters seeds.  Leo considered putting a cross on the book under his arm, then decided not to because of church/state sensitivities.  I, in turn, changed a question  about what Johnny had tucked under his arm to a question about what kind of hat he was wearing.

JOHNNY APPLESEED
                           His shirt was an apple sack, ragged, at that,
And he wore in all weather a saucepan for hat!
A battered old Bible tucked under his arm
Was all his defense against danger and harm,

So friendly and merry, and simple in needs,
He walked through the countryside, scattering seeds
Which grew into orchards whose summery blooms
Still give us their treasure of fruits and perfumes.

Everyone hearing his whistle or song
Said, "That's Johnny Appleseed coming along!"
Dear Johnny Appleseed, gentle of fame,
His children, the orchards, still whisper his name.
March 17, 2006
Dear Leo,
            Before I settle down to inserting your delightful new sketches, I want to try to reach an understanding about our arrangement.  At our first meeting, we both took notes on how many poems would need your illustrations.  There were 27, and as I explained, that number would be doubled because the publisher’s best customer thought  pre-schoolers should have shorter versions. This brought the figure to fifty-four. 
           At about the time you were going to begin the assignment, I asked you to sketch some animals for each letter of the alphabet, 26 letters equaling 26 poems.  I pictured these as being small, line drawings that would fit in the lower corner of an exercise page.  I didn’t realize the importance you attached to the request until I began seeing your detailed portrayals.  They were charming and funny, but when, I wondered, was I going to start seeing all those illustrations for the poems?  I began to get antsy, since I couldn’t imagine how you’d get everything done by mid-April.
            The last time I came to your house, you looked at the Contents pages and said you didn’t remember all those poems and didn’t realize you were supposed to come up with so many sketches.  You said you could do it, but not with the customary detail.  
I called my son and told him you and I were having a problem. You had spent a lot of time on the alphabet animals, which I had thought could be drawn in a few hours or days.  Ted listened without interrupting my rather frantic account, then said, “This sort of thing happens all the time when two people are working together.  You and Leo misunderstood each other.  All right, a mistake was made, but Leo is entitled to be paid for the time he spent.” 
After being calmed down by my son’s good sense, I called you and said I was now convinced you should receive an extra $500. 
Ted referred to the Alphabet Animals as a mistake, which I thought they were at the time, but what a wonderful mistake they turned out to be.  You inspired me to design a special exercise page for first- and second-graders, based on those animals. 
I also want to thank you for adding a few more ethnic faces.  Schools have become multi-cultural so due attention should be given to that fact.                                                
3-18-06
Hi Leo,
I e-mailed Kathie that I wished the African-American boy to the left of the Happy Haberdasher had a more intelligent look on his face, then wondered if I was being too sensitive on the issue.  Her reply is below.  I’m enclosing your original sketch in hopes that you will be able to do what Kathie suggests.
From Kathie
Hi, Mom. I definitely don't think you are being overly sensitive in your concerns.  The little boy is definitely not as attractive as the two adults. I think work on his mouth could help but it would be even better if Leo could partially cover him with a very cute African-American girl with little pigtails and an excited/happy expression on her face. 

Leo skillfully made the revision.
                               
THE HAPPY HABADASHER

A man whose name was Simon Shore
Once owned a clothing shop,
But at his quaint, old‑fashioned door
No customer would stop.

The dust collected on his suits,
Which made old Simon sigh;
And mildew dimmed his rows of boots
As people passed him by.

At last, because he couldn't sell
The things on any shelf.
He shrugged and sighed and said, "Oh well,
I'll wear them all myself!"
Deciding this was best to do,
He donned two suits in haste,
And several ties of gaudy hue
That chanced to please his taste.

He added boots as big as boats
And mufflers, two or three,
And also several overcoats
As splendid as could be.


He next put on three fine cravats,
(One blue, one green, one red),
And last, a chimney made of hats
He set upon his head.


Then out he went to take a stroll
Along the Avenue.
His neighbors cried:  "Upon my soul!
He blots the town from view!"


From far and wide the curious came.
Their wagons choked the road,
As awed, they gazed upon the frame
That bore so grand a load.

'Twas thus he turned bad luck about
And gained a just renown,
Because he was, without a doubt,
The most‑dressed man in town!

3-29-06
Dear Leo,
     We have a new problem (groan, groan), but I think you can easily fix it.  I asked Kathie about the blimp-sized figure of the kitten, and she said you had probably pictured the yeast making Bella swell up like a huge balloon.  If a cook adds yeast to bread dough, it does expand but not to such an enormous degree.
     She agrees that Ernestine would have expected a portrait of the kitten to be small, the yeast making her somewhat puffy and light enough to start floating around the kitchen and out the window.  Your Bella has a delightful expression and is the cutest kitten you’ve ever done, but she really should have a somewhat alarmed expression.  I’ll bet you never thought words like that would come out of my mouth or, in this case, keyboard.  The poet says Bella has a terrified look as she falls earthward, but I’d be glad to settle for alarmed. 
     Since Bella lands on the umbrella of the man below, Kathie explains, she should be more in proportion with the two figures, the cook leaning out of the window and the man, who protests, “Good heavens!  A downpour of cats!” It should be clear that it’s raining heavily and Bella is heading straight for the umbrella.  The poet tells us the man is wearing spats.  Can you give him spats?  Kathie is betting you can revise the sketch with the same ease  and skill you have achieved in similar cases.
                                                                    
Bella, the Flying Kitten

Bella, the kitten, had thoughtful blue eyes,
But she wasn't, I guess, too remarkably wise,
And that is the reason that, wanting a feast,
She swallowed, one morning, a tidbit of yeast.

The cook who had dropped it looked on with a frown
As Bella delightedly gobbled it down;
But the kitten was scared when along about noon
She began to swell up like a circus balloon.


Growing lighter and lighter, she rose to the ceiling
Where, filled with a pleasantly jittery feeling,
She coasted the room without shiver or shudder—
Skillfully using her tail as a rudder.

Growing more brave, and more air-travel smitten,
Out of the window went flying that kitten,
And followed by cries of incredulous people,
She circled a treetop, avoiding a steeple,
And mounted the sky until, happy and proud,
She came to a stop on the edge of a cloud!

Should she try to get down?  Bella doubted she could!
Well then (she thought), she would stay here, she would!
She'd never grow hungry (she thought with a purr),
The Milky Way being so handy to her.

`Twas just at that moment a rumble of thunder
Caused her to leap in amazement and wonder.
Next, to her sorrow, the cloud where she sat
Dissolved into raindrops in two seconds flat.

With a terrified look in her pretty blue eye,
Head over tail, Bella skidded the sky.
She tumbled and fell 'til at last little Bella
Landed kerplunk! on a big black umbrella
Whose owner, surprised, almost leapt from his spats.
"Good heavens!" he muttered.  "A downpour of cats!"

When Bella grew up, as all kittens will do,
She told her own kittens the tale I've told you.
"Milk," she would say, "makes an elegant feast—
But stay away, dears, from a package of yeast!"

Autograph for Paige Cody's copy of Read Me a Rhyme, Please
May 7, 2006  
        In 1970, at the tender age of seven, you recognized a magical quality in a poem called “The Laughing Willow.”  It was around this time, two years before her death, that Mother said to me, “I know my poetry will live on after I’m gone.”  Thank you, dear Paige, for honoring Ernestine Cobern Beyer in your inspiring blog:
http://rhapsodyenbleuclair.blogspot.com.]
                                                                      
                                               The Laughing Willow
                               
                                         Beside a pool within a wood
                                         A family of willows stood.   
                                      All they did was weep and weep.
                                    Indeed, they wept, this leafy clan,
                        As they have wept since time began.
                
                                Imagine, then, the pain and grief
                                 That shocked the willows, root and leaf,
                      When suddenly beside the pool
                                 The Youngest Willow broke the rule!

                                A woodsy laughter, small and thinned,
                                Fell lightly on the summer wind.
                                "Weep!" exclaimed the willow crowd.
                     "To laugh is simply not allowed!"
                     
                 But though they showed him what to do
                             And gave him Sobbing Lessons, too . . .
                             "It's hard," explained the little tree
                             In shy and shamed apology,
                             "It's hard to act forlorn and sad
                            When one is feeling young and glad!" 
                             The others wept; but small and daft,


                          The Youngest Willow laughed and laughed!


2 comments:

  1. =D

    You're very welcome, Barbara!

    It was very exciting all those years ago when you said your friend Margo (a FINE artist, btw=) found the post about your mother's poem on my blog. AND HOW KIND OF YOU to give me permission to post - not only The Laughing Willow, which I have kept for over forty years now - but so many others!

    Thanks again to you, dear friend, for your generosity!

    Love n *K*s always,

    Paige

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  2. Looks as if some of this conversation is missing. At any rate, I am still grateful to Paige for being one of Mom's most faithful fans.

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