Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hachiko Waits

by Kevin Coolidge

"Histories are more full of examples of the fidelity of dogs than of friends." - Alexander Pope

The faint smell of cherry blossoms floats through the air, as I sit on a wooden bench near the tracks. I'm growing impatient. Where is that train? I glance at my watch. It's almost three o'clock. I look up and see the statue of the faithful dog Hachikō, [and I remember the story of this loyal companion.]

Hachikō, known in Japanese as chūken Hachikō, was an Akita dog owned by Eizaburo Ueno who was a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo in the early 1920s. Every morning, the professor would walk to Shibuya station to catch his train. The loyal Hachikō would accompany him, and every afternoon, Hachikō was at the train station just before three o’clock to greet his beloved master.

The pair continued this daily routine for only one year, until May of 1925, when the professor suffered a fatal stroke at the university. Three o’clock came. The train arrived in the station without the professor, where Hachikō waited.

The professor, of course, never returned and Hachikō was given away after his master’s death, but he would continually escape to return to his former home. Eventually, he came to realize the professor was not living there, so he would return to look for his master at the train station where he had accompanied him so many times before.

Hachikō became a daily fixture at the train station, and he attracted the attention of commuters. Many of the people, including the station master, had seen Hachikō and the professor together each day. They would bring him food to help support him through his wait. This wait continued for ten years with Hachikō appearing only in the afternoon, precisely around the time the train was due at the station. Hachikō’s vigil continued until his death in March of 1935.

A former student of the professor saw the dog at the station and learned the history of Hachikō's life. Soon after, he published a story about Hachikō's unyielding loyalty. The article ran in Tokyo’s largest newspaper, and Hachikō became a national celebrity. This is when Hachi earned the honorific kō. This honorific is sometimes used for pets, and a great Japanese pun is to name a tri-colored cat Cally, which then becomes Cally-kō, that is calico. Hachikō's faithfulness to his master’s memory impressed the people of Japan, and today, a bronze statue of Hachikō sits in his waiting spot outside the Shibuya station in Japan as a permanent reminder of his devotion and love.

Several books have been written about this ever faithful Akita. The 2004 children's book named Hachikō: The True Story of a Loyal Dog, written by Pamela S. Turner and illustrated by Yan Nascimbene for ages 4 to 8. Another children’s book, Hachiko Waits written by Lesléa Newman is a short young adult novel for ages of 9 to 12. The author creates for Hachikō a young human friend named Yasuo, who over the span of ten years helps provide the dog with food and water. He later proposes to his future wife under the bronze statue of his canine friend.

The story of Hachikō teaches us to never give up. His vigil teaches us of loyalty, devotion, and the ability to care about something other than ourselves, but above all the story of Hachikō teaches us the true meaning of friendship…

Canines? Or Felines? Drop me an email at frommyshelf@epix.net Missed a past column? Visit the pound at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and get your fix. Hobo wants you to know he is the embodiment of Semper Feline. He will always be faithful, especially once he wins that Pulitzer. All Hobo the cat has to do is convince his friend Gypsy to nominate him…

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Small Town Monsters & "Nessie" of Wellsboro?

The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff, is everything that makes closet-novelists like me jealous, even while we’re happily lapping up the pages. What is there to Monsters that paints me green? Though several of her short stories have been published in well-known literary magazines, The Monsters of Templeton is Groff’s first novel. Right out of the gate, still in hardcover, Monsters garnered the attention of important headlines in the industry – chosen for the BookSense newsletter of the national independent bookstores’ association; voted as one of the Top 100 Books of 2008 at Amazon; lauded by newspaper columnists from The Denver Post to USA Today; featured as a “Staff Pick” at indie bookstores all across the nation.

Besides all the hoopla, which is certainly nice to receive on a debut novel, what is it about Groff’s book which makes me wish I wrote it? The story itself is not earth-shatteringly original, but Groff’s voice, and the structure of the novel, is clever, unusual, and engaging on many different levels. By turns history, romance, mystery, ghost story, family saga, the plotline makes it possible to shift through different characters’ voices and eras without confusing the reader. In Lauren Groff’s capable hands, and with protagonist Willie Upton’s determined journey into her family’s past, there is a method to the madness.

On the verge of finishing her Ph.D., Wilhemina “Willie” Upton has returned in shame to her hometown of Templeton, NY, (read “Cooperstown”) after having an affair with her dissertation advisor, and finding herself pregnant. She decides she’ll hide out with her hippie-turned-Baptist mother in the one place to which she’d sworn she’d never come back. Though proud of their heritage – being descendants of the founding father and the famous writer hometown son (read “James Fenimore Cooper”) – Vivienne always wanted more for Willie than her own lot. Now, Viv drops a bombshell in a confession of her own: Willie’s father was not some random man at a San Francisco commune, but is a prominent man in Templeton. Vivienne refuses to tell Willie who he is; Willie must figure this out for herself, with only the clue that her biological father was also a descendant of the founding Temple family, albeit through an illegitimate and secret link.

Just who are the “monsters” of Templeton? The day that Willie arrives home, the body of the lake monster who had only been a legend, surfaces on Lake Glimmerglass. The discovery of “Glimmy” thrusts the town into the spotlight, exponentially increasing the number of visitors over the usual baseball museum crowd. Discovering monsters, however, one needs to go below the surface, and not just of the lake. Reading through old journals, letters, novels and documents she finds at the historical museum and in her own family’s attic, Willie unearths murderers, adulterers, Virginia Woolf imitators, and antics galore. And while the reading of these histories amuses us, it touches a nerve, too. These are the secrets of small towns. This is the heart of the monster, and we recognize it. Like Willie, we must decide if we will claim it for our own.

This same story, by a different author, could easily be maudlin, weighty, and overblown. Instead, the narrative is infused with warmth. Ultimately, it is obvious how much Groff loves her characters, these people both historical and fictional, and how much she loves both her hometown of Cooperstown and her fictional village of Templeton.

I’d love to write a novel about Wellsboro, with such lovely prose, such sympathetic characters, who the reader ends up loving in all their glorious, lumpy, imperfect humanity. We need a novel where we dance in and out of our history, of settlers and writers gone before us, of local legends and unquiet ghosts. Lauren Groff found the right recipe for such a concoction. We need a cookbook of our own.

Hobo wants to dance to the music of the Endless Mountains, discover a “Nessie” of his own in Lake Nessmuk, and bring a spotlight to his hometown. Read Hobo’s first story of his home, in “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book set here. Check out other reflections on local discoveries at Hobo’s blog, http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Kevin Coolidge

Day by Day Armageddon

Screw Armageddon, this is Hell.—unknown survivor

September 29th
All Laurel Health System flu clinics have been canceled until further notice. What the? I can’t even turn on the TV without hearing some scary swine flu story. Ok, I get it. Flu shots are good; the flu is bad. But the “must have” accessory of the season, the flu shot, isn’t to be had anywhere. I’m assured that production is being ramped up. There is nothing to worry about…

October 23rd
I get a call from the Don Gill Elementary School. My nephew is running a fever and my sister can’t be reached. I pick him up and I find out that many children have become ill. Yes, this is a little unusual, but there is nothing to worry about…

October 25th
President Obama declares the swine flu outbreak a national emergency. We are assured that this is not a response to new developments. Illness is more prevalent than ever and production delays mount, but there is nothing to worry about…

October 27th
The hospital has canceled the local Halloween festivities. LHS is restricting anyone under the age of 19 from entering facilities. This is for the safety of the patients and employees. There is nothing to worry about…

October 28th
I begin reading Day by Day Armageddon written by J.L Bourne and published by Pocket Books. This apocalyptic, zombie novel is written in first person format as a journal. The narrator is an unnamed US Naval officer who starts the diary as a New Year’s resolution. As the days progress, It appears something is happening in China. News sources report a mysterious disease sweeping the Middle Kingdom.

The highly contagious influenza quickly spreads around the globe, and our chronicler is stranded in his home while on leave. He decides to remain barricaded in his home, improving his defenses, buying more ammo and stocking up on MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)while society quickly crumbles around him.

The government’s precautionary measures fail to contain the plague, and politicians and the remnants of the military retreat to hidden bunkers, leaving the civilian population to fend for themselves. Our protagonist teams up with his only surviving neighbor, and they trek the landscape, searching for a zombie-free zone. Along the way, our heroes encounter hordes of undead, rampaging rednecks, and realistic survival situations.

The author, J.L. Bourne, is an active duty naval officer, and his use of military jargon, accurate descriptions of weapons, as well as realistic survival strategies add a keen edge to the tale that many zombie stories ignore. In many ways, this book is as much an insightful look into the psyche of a skilled survivor, as it is a post-apocalyptic thriller. I did see, however, some lack of dramatic tension, as the characters were so well prepared for almost every scenario. I found the journal format a clever storytelling device, but the first person format does make it harder to give depth to the supporting characters. I also appreciated the addition of crossed off words, as well as coffee rings that gave this zombie survival journal verisimilitude and an authentic bite…

October 31st
It’s time to finish up my book review column and turn on the porch light. It’s Halloween night and soon children dressed as ghosts and ghouls will be banging on my door begging for treats. Here comes a group shambling along now. Wow, I swear the costumes get more realistic every year. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was the dead crawling from the grave, but it’s Halloween and there’s nothing to worry about…

Ghosts? Ghouls? Or brain-chomping zombies? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net Miss a past column? Visit the crypt at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and get your fill. Looking for a story with a happy ending? Check out “Hobo Finds a Home,” a children’s book soon to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. All Hobo had to do was promise to write a sequel…

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Eventful request


Demand Rachel Caine in Wellsboro, PA (16901)!
Rachel Caine in Wellsboro, PA (16901) - Learn more about this Eventful Demand

View all Wellsboro, PA (16901) events on Eventful