Monday, December 31, 2012

Read the Printed Word!

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The Sixes Have It!
by Kasey Cox

Forget books on improving your memory, or keeping your mind sharp. Move on from Sudoku and Kakuro and Jumbles puzzles. Put down the books by Bill Adler, Jr., like Outwitting Deer and Outwitting Squirrels, which were really just mind games for you and the varmints in your backyard. If you really want to tie your brain in knots and have fun with words, try writing a sestina.

You probably remember studying Shakespearean sonnets or writing haiku in school. Compared to many forms of poetry, the sestina is a wonderfully freeing format: nothing has to rhyme; there is no counting of syllables; you don’t have to figure out what part of a word is emphasized in pronunciation. No iambic pentameter, no strict rhyme schemes, no rules about the length of the lines. The poet is free to write about whatever she likes, using short sentences in modern slang or flowery romantic phrases or anything in between.

There is, however, a catch. This is the part that will work your brain, more than any puzzle book you’ve been carrying around in your car. What makes the poem a sestina is the constant use of six (you can see the Latin root for “six” in “ses”, like “seis” in Spanish). To write a sestina, you choose six words. Make sure you like them a lot, and that they make some sense together, because you’ll be using them over and over again. Your six words will be the last word in each of the six lines of a stanza, called a “sestet” since it has six lines. A sestina is composed of – what else? – six sestets, with a “tercet” (or three-lined) stanza to finish. It might be a little more of a challenge than the shorter haiku, but still sounds fairly open, right? It is, but…

Each of the six words you chose to use is assigned a number: that’s how you figure out which words needs to end the next line that you’re writing. In the first sestet, it’s easy: the lines end with word #1, word #2, and so on, respectively, one through six, in normal numeric order. In the second sestet, however, each line ends with the words in the following order: word #6, word #1, word #5, word #2, word #4, and word #3. In the third sestet, the order changes again, and so on, until the six words that end each of the lines of the first stanza are repeated in a different order at the end of lines in each of the subsequent stanzas.

This pattern of which words end which lines in each sestet is not randomly chosen. When finished, the reader (or listener) will see a recurrent pattern known as “lexical repetition.” Instead of internal rhyming, or repetition of certain sounds – techniques such as consonance or assonance – used in other forms of poetry, a sestina repeats the entire word, bouncing it around to give it new meanings and new emphasis. For example, the first line of each sestet ends with the same word with which the last line of the previous sestet ended.

Now that I have you thoroughly scared and confused, here are some numbers to soothe the Sudoku folks among us. In writing a sestina, here is the pattern of word repetition that you’ll use: the words the end the lines are represented by the numbers 1 through 6.

Sestina form, then, is this: 1 2 3 4 5 6 - (End words of lines in first sestet.)
6 1 5 2 4 3 - (End words of lines in second sestet.)
3 6 4 1 2 5 - (End words of lines in third sestet.)
5 3 2 6 1 4 - (End words of lines in fourth sestet.)
4 5 1 3 6 2 - (End words of lines in fifth sestet.)
2 4 6 5 3 1 - (End words of lines in sixth sestet.)

Then, ending with the three line stanza, the tercet, containing the selected words, but using them in the middle and end of each line, in the following pattern: (6 2) (1 4) (5 3).

Get out some scratch paper – or better yet, dedicate a whole little notebook to your project. Select six words and start figuring out what you’d like to convey with them. Sestinas have been written since the 11th century, in many different languages, on every topic from war to romance to vampires to “some of the words of Yogi Berra.” The only limit is the word that ends the line.

Hobo’s next book will be in sestina form, about how he lives with GYPSY, comes to WORK at the BOOKSTORE, LOVES the people, NAPS in the sun, and rides in the CAR back home. Although those words are easy, and commonplace, the book is still definitely a work in progress. Cheer him on by sending him samples of your own efforts at the sestina, at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com or by joining him at monthly writers’ group at the bookstore!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Force of Nature

Read the Printed Word!

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A Force of Nature

by Kasey Cox


There is a small patch of fur that keeps tickling my nose as it blows in the Arctic winds, but that doesn’t matter, because I am snuggled in tight against my wolf brothers and sisters, and our pile is warm. For once, my belly is completely full because Amaroq brought down a caribou bull today and we have all been able to eat our fill. The sky above us is full of wheels of green, pink, and blue lights, and …

“Come to dinner!!”

I don’t need human dinner, because I am now part of this family of wolves; they have accepted me; I have learned their language, their mannerisms, their hierarchy of leadership, and…

“Kasey, did you hear me?! Dinner is ready!!”

Ugh. With those words, I am finally torn away from my exciting adventure with the Eskimo girl, Julie (whose Eskimo name is “Miyax”) and the wolves she lived with on the Arctic tundra.

A seventh grade reading mini-course featuring children’s stories about survival introduced me to the joy of Jean Craighead George’s nature-focused literature for children. For many others, their first experience was with Sam Gribley, in My Side of the Mountain.

My Side of the Mountain was selected as a Newbery Honor Book when it was first written in 1959, and went on to thrill generations of those interested in children’s literature, selling to date over eight million copies, translated into more than twelve languages. In a video interview in January 2009, for the book’s fiftieth anniversary, George explains how pleased she has been to watch the “Mountain” stories evolve, from isolation to community to world-wide connections, just as the character of Sam Gribley does across the books in this trilogy, from My Side of the Mountain to On the Far Side of the Mountain to Frightful’s Mountain. For over fifty years, adults who read these stories as children continued to write and email Ms. George to tell her how these books had influenced them – to become park rangers, environmental scientists, raptor rescue volunteers, falconers, and weekend outdoor enthusiasts.

Though My Side of the Mountain first won her recognition as an author, it was Julie of the Wolves that won her the Newbery Award for children’s literature in 1973, and established her reputation as one of great children’s authors of this century. Julie of the Wolves continues to be included on lists such as “the Top Ten Best American Children’s Books” written in the last 200 years (according to the Children’s Literature Association). Altogether, over her nearly 93 year life, George wrote, illustrated, or co-authored close to 100 works, with more than 80 of those written specifically to celebrate nature and share it with children.

These books include “eco-mysteries” such as Who Killed Cock Robin? and The Missing Gator of Gumbo-Limbo; picture books for younger readers, detailing life among an amazing variety of animal life; funny chapter books such as There’s an Owl in the Shower; and outdoor life guidebooks, such as the one she was working on with her children and grandchildren, just in the last year, as a companion to the “Mountain” series.

It should come as no surprise that Jean Craighead George studied for degrees in Science and in Literature, graduating from Penn State University in 1941 before moving to Washington, D.C. where her early writing career included reporting for the Washington Post, working as a member of the White House Press Corps, writing regularly for Reader’s Digest, and serving as an artist and art director at Pageant magazine. She married Dr. John L. George in 1944: together, they had three children, and collaborated at first on six children’s books. As soon as the kids could carry backpacks of their own, George was fond of saying, they took many family camping and hiking trips. They also allowed nature to live in and around their home, where more than 170 various animals took up temporary residence, becoming inspiration for many of Jean Craighead George’s books.

Jean continued to write, create, speak, teach, draw, and collaborate on books right up until her death, on May 18, 2012, less than two months shy of her 93rd birthday. Her goal, even in her final years, as is stated quite plainly on her website and in her interviews, was to share with children “the wonder of nature… and, when the telling… was done, she hoped they would want to protect all the beautiful creatures and places.” It is no small feat to create one or two solid books that are read and enjoyed by children; it is quite another to leave behind a legacy of the size and scope that Jean Craighead George has given the world.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Moonlight Becomes You

Read the Printed Word!

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"Moonlight Becomes You"
by Kasey Cox

(originally published in Gazette at the end of April 2012)


As the “supermoon” climbed over the horizon a week ago, on Saturday evening, May 5, I watched with awe and appreciation. When the moon is at its perigee as it was this May 2012, it is actually at the closest point in its elliptical orbit around the Earth. At perigee, the moon is nearly 50,000 kilometers closer to Earth than when it is at its apogee, the furthest point in the moon’s oval orbit path. The perigee moon of this past Saturday, therefore, appeared 14% ‘bigger’ to us and up to 30% brighter, according to NASA’s “Science at Nasa” public education videos.

Folklore, popular beliefs, and everyday anecdotes abound concerning the effects of the full moon. People swear more babies are born; ambulance drivers, EMTs, and police are busier; animals yowl restlessly; and everyone is subject to “lunacy” in one form or another. Books and movies continually reinvent the story of the werewolf – tormented by the return of the full moon, ravaging the community around him.

With her latest book, The Next Full Moon, author Carolyn Turgeon gives readers a different story woven with the moon’s phases, using a less well-known folk tale. All of Turgeon’s books have the tone of magical realism, where the mundane and realistic blend seamlessly with the fantastic and magical. Like two of Turgeon’s other novels, The Next Full Moon is a contemporary take on an old fairy tale.

Turgeon’s novel Mermaid has its roots in Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘Little Mermaid’; Godmother is a new twist on the old Cinderella story. The Next Full Moon uses the legend of the swan maiden. Most cultures have a story similar to the swan maiden, in which a woman, who is able to shapeshift into a magical creature by using an enchanted cloak. The animal she changes into differs by the geographical location of the culture that created the legend: in some stories, the maiden changes into a fox, a crane, a seal, a buffalo, or a dove, instead of a swan, but the motif remains the same. The maiden falls in love with a human man, marries him, bears his children, but eventually, despite her love for her children, she returns to her life as a magical being.

The Next Full Moon has none of the darker elements that many stories of the swan maiden include. Twelve year old Ava Lewis’s father didn’t trick his wife into marrying him, or hold her captive by stealing her cloak of swan feathers. The story of Ava’s parents is a true, bittersweet love story, perfect for the tween and teen readers for whom this book was written. Ava was always told that her mom died when she was three, and that one of the ways her father copes with his loss is by going flyfishing by the light of the full moon. Though Ava is horrified to find herself growing feathers, all the initial teen angst about body changes and boy’s reactions and peers’ teasing, eventually transform, like Ava herself, into something more wonderful.

Perhaps what is most endearing and wonderful about The Next Full Moon is Ava herself. Turgeon has created a fresh, realistic character, who speaks, thinks, worries, and reacts like we would expect a twelve-almost-thirteen-year-old girl to do. Readers will be charmed to know Ava, and believe that she could walk right out of the pages of the book into the local middle school… and, thus, we can relate to Ava, even as she finds the magical parts of her family’s story.

Thanks to author Carolyn Turgeon, I will no longer think of werewolves, or the ER, or of crimes being committed on the night of the full moon. Since I read her new young adult fantasy, The Next Full Moon, upon seeing the bright, gorgeous orb rising in the night sky, I will smile and think of lovely swan maidens.

Kasey's end of the year catch-up

Read the Printed Word!

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I always end up doing this: at the end of the year, after Christmas, I play "catch up" with the blog, posting all the columns I wrote this past year that DIDN'T get copied to "Hobo's Books" after appearing in the local newspapers.

I would like to have them available here, especially since our editor, Natalie Kennedy, wants some feedback as to which 3 articles she might send in from each of us to "compete" for the Keystone Awards.

I'd love to have feedback from you folks -- any friends, readers, bloggers, bookstore lovers -- who might have a little time to read over some of our posts/articles/columns from the last year, to see which ones you like best.

As 2012 draws to a close, I answered a question in my "Q & A a Day" journal: "Do you want to know how it ends?" My answer this year is: "absolutely not!" If I knew what was going to happen in advance, there are so many things I probably wouldn't have done, and my life would be less rich for fearing to take certain risks. 2012 was a rockier road than I ever imagined it would be, but for all that, I'm glad to be here, and am looking forward to 2013.

So, here goes a quick slide back through many of my columns for 2012! Enjoy the ride!

--Kasey

Friday, December 28, 2012

Death from the Skies!

Kevin Coolidge



Comets, gamma ray bursts, ginormous* space spiders--the universe is trying to kill me. Don’t look so smug. I’m not paranoid. It’s trying to kill you too. It’s trying to kill us all. It’s not a matter of if, but only when and how. Stars explode. Galaxies collide. Black holes swallow whole solar systems. It’s nothing personal. The universe is a dangerous place.

A single asteroid impact could easily take out most of humanity. One ended the reign of the dinosaurs. A solar flare could fry our satellite systems, strip away the layers of the atmosphere, crash the DOW, boil the oceans, and totally wreck the Christmas shopping season. Aliens could land on the White House lawn, demand homage, and make me wish that the only country to actually work on a Gauss rifle actually had a defense budget. Even our sun is on a damn timer.

You’ve heard this before. Every time an asteroid is predicted to pass Earth, the media plays up the danger and ignores the actual likelihood of such an event. The odds of the Earth getting hit are less than the chance of winning the Powerball and you are much more likely to win an Oscar than win the lottery. When is the last time you even had a paying role? Face it, at your age, you are unlikely to land that breakthrough role.

If you really want to know what to expect when a burst of cosmic radiation sterilizes all life down to the base of the crust, then read Death from the Skies! by Philip Plait Ph.D. He will go over, in loving detail, how there could be no warning: the wave moving at the velocity of light, the surge of death its own declaration. Gamma ray bursts happen every day somewhere in the universe, but it’s a pretty big universe.

Phil reminds us that there is no star nearby capable of creating such a burst, and even if there were, the odds of it going off soon are miniscule, and the odds of it being aimed our way…astronomical. Still it’s fun to think about “What if…?”

Black holes, supernovae, cosmic blowtorches, sunburn—there are dangers out there, and we can’t ignore them, but if you read this book, you’ll learn just what the dangers are and more importantly, what they aren’t. The universe may be a dangerous place, but if you are reading this, we’ve made it past December 21st, 2012. We may just make it a little longer…

*Yes, it’s officially a word now. It means very fracking big. It’s in the dictionary. No, fracking as used here isn’t in the dictionary. It’s used as an expletive in the original TV series Battlestar Galactica which is fitting, because if we don’t leave this planet, we are all going to fracking die…

Death from above? Or “What, me worry?” Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know (if we aren’t all fried crispy) Miss a past column? Well, if we aren’t living underground sucking fungi off rocks, you can read past columns at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Looking for a book with a happy ending? You should take your mind off the Earth’s imminent destruction. Read “Hobo Finds a Home” a children’s book that’s happy and innocent and totally innocuous to our ELE (that extermination level event, not everybody love everybody…)







Monday, December 24, 2012

Krampus is coming to town

Kevin Coolidge

A series of strange reports have been coming in from all across Tioga and Potter Counties of oddly dressed individuals that appear to have glowing eyes and horns. These bizarre incidents seem to be connected to a rash of home invasions. Some area residents are claiming it’s the Jersey Devil or Christmas demons, some locals are blaming the trouble on drug dealers disguised in odd costumes. Sources confirm that gang activity is suspected, though local authorities will only say they are investigating. No one has been able to explain dozens of reports of a flying sleigh pulled by goats…

Is it a hoax, or has Santa been replaced? I interviewed Catherine, age eleven, of Wellsboro. Catherine recounts a tale of a tall, horned beast with a tail, who claims the title Krampus, Lord of Yule. He left her a gold coin after she left a package of beef jerky and an old copy of White Fang by her shoes on the porch. She also added that those who don’t offer something risk getting put in a sack and whipped. I interviewed other children in the area and heard variations of this very strange tale…

Saint Nicholas may reward the nice children with gifts, but it is Krampus, a creature from Germanic folklore, that punishes the naughty ones. It is said that if you are particularly naughty, he throws you in his sack and carries you to his lair.

Krampus is celebrated on Krampusnact, which takes place December 5th, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day. In Austria, celebrants masquerade as hairy devils and dance, drink, and run through the streets through the streets terrifying children and adults.

The Austrian government started to discourage the practice, and even prohibited it for a time, but recently there has been a resurgence of Krampus celebrations. Krampusnacht is increasingly being celebrated in other parts of Europe such as Finland and France, as well as many American cities—such as Detroit. There’s been public debate in Austria about whether Krampus is appropriate for children.

In modern times, Saint Nicholas has upgraded his image. He’s dropped the bishop garb and added a red suit. He’s traded his horse and staff for a sleigh and reindeer, moved the date to Christmas Eve, and got rid of the competition. He’s banished Krampus and stolen his magic. Santa thought he could punish the naughty, but children have lost all fear of Santa and his lumps of coal. It’s time for Krampus to take back what is his, to take back Yuletide.

Read all about one possible scenario in the new novel by artist and author Brom, entitled Krampus, the Yule Lord. It’s Christmas Eve, and struggling songwriter, Jesse Walker, witnesses a strange sight: seven devilish figures chasing a fat man in a red suit. Moments later a large sack plummets to earth, a magical sack that will thrust Jesse into the clutches of the terrifying Krampus, Yule Lord, and dark enemy of Santa Claus.

Santa’s time is running short, for Krampus is determined to have his retribution and reclaim the holiday season. If Jesse can survive this ancient feud, he just might have a chance to redeem himself and save his broken dreams, and to help spread the magic of the season…

Monday, December 3, 2012

Leaving Legacy

Kevin Coolidge


Animals, adventure, long cold treks between the stars, it was impossible to keep me in books growing up. I couldn’t get enough, but I couldn’t keep all those books. There wasn’t room or money enough. Just one of many reasons to love the library in town, the library at school, because I could read the books and take them back, leaving room for more, but some books one can’t let go.

The books we choose to keep and display can say a lot about who we are and how we see ourselves. My grandfather wasn’t an avid reader, but he always kept a hardcover edition of Keeper of the Bees near the warmth of the wood stove. It’s a poignant tale of a wounded veteran of the Great War finding peace and hope through the healing hands of nature. Why was it so cherished? Is it because the war to end all wars broke the spirit of a loved one? Is it because my grandpa too knew the wisdom of the woods? He’s gone now, and I don’t know.

How well do you really know the older people in your family? How will you make sure their stories will be preserved for generations to come? Today’s world is so different from yesterday’s, and there’s a wealth of stories waiting to be heard. You’ve thought of bringing a tape recorder or a notebook, but haven’t.

Homemade Biography is a practical guide to recording a relative’s story so it will never be forgotten. Tom Zoellner draws on his own personal experience to give you everything you will need to finish what could be the most fulfilling conversation you’ll ever have.

Tom is a journalist and an author. He has spent all day interviewing people and writing stories. When his grandma had a bad fall, he realized she wouldn’t be around forever. He didn’t want to forget her. Why shouldn’t he write her story?

It all starts with the first session. You have to get permission to document someone’s life. In most cases, this is easy. Many people yearn for a respectful listener. Respect and curiosity is important. You don’t want to just turn on a tape recorder and say, “So…tell me about your life.” You may not want to use a recorder at all, as it may feel more like an interrogation than an interview.

You really only need a pencil and notebook to start a timeline. Dates and locations of another’s life can be easily jumbled for those who didn’t live through it. This will save an enormous amount of trouble later. The timeline is a great way to ease into somebody’s life story, and it conveys your desire to get things right.

You might be worrying about getting this right. You aren’t a professional writer. He’s included several interview techniques, questions to provoke vivid responses, and ways of finding a connective theme in a jumble of facts. Tom also has included case studies of successful family biographies.

A homemade biography has the potential to set off a family conflict, but it can also heal old wounds and help seniors recall good times. Tom includes some of the most common landmines, and the ways you can defuse them ahead of time—such as talking with veterans about their war experiences.

Taking down a history of a relative can be rewarding in ways you may never have considered. It can bring generations closer together. It’s a record of life that goes deeper than names and dates on a family tree. It reminds us all that our lives are interesting – worth living and worth remembering…

Worth saving? Or let history rest? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? You can repeat yourself at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and catch up. Looking for a memoir with meow? Get “Hobo Finds a Home” a children’s book about a kitten who wrote his own story…

Monday, November 26, 2012

The First-Time Landlord

Kevin Coolidge

Have you ever read a book so good that you just couldn’t keep from telling someone about it? It’s part of my job. I work at and own a bookstore. I love reading, which is why I opened the store, but working in a bookstore for a bibliophile is like a diabetic working in a candy store. The more books I see, the more I want to read, the more bookshelves I need, and the less time I seem to have. Operating any small business, especially a good bookstore, is a labor of passion.

Our customers joke about being locked in a bookstore overnight. Just imagine all that time to read. Many visitors express their desire to have a bookstore and what a nice retirement project it would be, but like most adventures, it’s a lot more work and stress than you would imagine.

I do love it, but sometimes I wish I had more time to read. I got to thinking that maybe I’d rent out my house and just sit back and collect that monthly rent check. So, when a customer ordered the new edition of First-Time Landlord: Your Guide to Renting Out a Single-Family Home, I knew I had my answer.

Do you own a house that makes more sense to rent than sell? It’s not unusual in the present market. Maybe you inherited a property. Maybe you are getting divorced and you get to keep the vacation property, or maybe you’re moving and aren’t ready to sell your current home. It’s not like you are a “real” landlord, but you want to make some money and avoid legal hassles.

Owning rental property can offer many benefits. If you hold onto your property long enough, it will almost always appreciate in value—eventually. A well-managed property, with tenants who pay rent on time, will bring you a steady stream of income, as long as monthly expenses are less than the rent.

Rental property is considered a low-risk investment. Returns are usually steady, but stock values can fall or disintegrate entirely. Values almost always hold, or bounce back, and even when property values are down, people need places to live. Don’t forget the tax advantages. Rental income is taxable, but you can deduct most of the expenses related to owning and maintaining the property.

However, being a landlord is not for everyone. It can be tough. One of the major reasons people give up is the time required to manage a property effectively; the risks—such as long vacancies; problem tenants; and the costs. The costs of owning property go beyond the mortgage. There are property taxes, insurance, upkeep, repairs, and legal costs. It can easily add up to more than what you spent on the house when you lived there.

This book concentrates on the things every-first timer needs and will help provide basic information on how to find and choose good tenants, prepare a solid lease, handle repairs and maintenance legally and efficiently, maintain a good relationship with your tenant, and more. Now just place an advertisement put up a sign, sit back, and collect your monthly rent check. Maybe you’ll catch up on your reading, or finally have time to go deer hunting this year…

Catch up on your reading? Or more time to hunt & fish? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Be sure to inspect http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and read all about it. Looking for a children’s book that won’t set you back? Check out “Hobo Finds A Home” about a cat that found someone to worry about the leaky roof…

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Lady or the Tiger?

Kevin Coolidge

This is simply barbaric. I’m hot. I’m tired. And I haven’t had a decent meal in days. It’s supposed to make me more vicious. Hungry for the kill, but it really only makes me drink more water to fill my empty belly, and then I can’t stop pacing. My bladder is so full, and I won’t soil the fresh straw.

The smell of perfume tickles my nose. Why do these creatures insist on trying to cloak their scent? It doesn’t work. I smell the fear of the young man in the arena. I wish he had bathed this morning. I do hope the princess makes the right decision. She knows which door leads to me and a terrible, gruesome death. Will she save her lover? Or will I have another bout of indigestion and regret? I hate being the paw of justice.

The Lady or the Tiger? is a short story that was first published in the popular magazine, The Century, in 1882. It is often anthologized and remains the most famous short story of American novelist and humorist, Frank R. Stockton. He originally wrote the story to provoke discussion at a party. His story, In the King’s Arena, sparked a much-heated discussion. So, he expanded the tale and submitted it to the magazine where it was accepted and renamed by the editor.

The story begins with the description of a “semi-barbaric” king who has built a grand arena to deal justice by means of trial by ordeal. This amphitheater has two doors. The accused must choose his fate by selecting one of the closed doors. Behind one is a beautiful woman; the other holds a voracious tiger that will devour the prisoner. The audience will witness a wedding, or a bloody slaughter. Either way the crowd will be entertained.

This king has a beautiful daughter. The king wished her to be wed to a man with royal blood, but she loves a commoner, a man not good enough for his child. When the king discovers the illicit affair, he throws the young man in jail to await judgment, for it is a crime for so common a man to love above his station. The king conducts a search for the fiercest tiger and the fairest of maids for the man’s trial.

The day of the “trial” comes and the young lover walks into the arena, his eyes are nervously fixed upon the princess. He knows she has the means to learn which door conceals the damsel and which contains death. Indeed, she does. She even knows the identity of the young woman. She has seen the man cast furtive glances, and whisper in the woman’s ear. Coyly, she has returned his attention. The princess rages with jealousy. This thief has means to steal her love away.

The princess does send a signal. It has taken her days and nights of anguish, but her decision is indicated in an instant. She knew she would be asked. She secretly signals him to choose the right-hand door. Without hesitation, he moves forward to open the door she has sent him to. What lies behind the door? Stockton does not reveal what waits. He lets the reader chose their own answer.

The princess had lost him, but who should have him? The heat of passion, cold despair, the sense of loss, the deep-seated twist of jealousy, to which door did she point? The Lady or the Tiger? has become an allegorical expression symbolizing a problem which is unsolvable. Which would you choose: the lady or the tiger?

The lady? Or the tiger? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a column? See what’s behind the door at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and eat your fill. Looking for a book with a happy feline? Check out “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a cat who picked the right door…





Sunday, October 28, 2012

Eviction Notice: What You Can Do Now

Read the Printed Word!

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Hi, bookstore friends. As most of you know, we were served an eviction notice this week. So many of you have asked, "how can we help?" Your encouragement and support shines a bright light for us on a discouraging time. We worked so hard, and with your support, we reached out from a small, Main St. basement place to build a community bookstore. For nearly six years, we worked to build the bookstore
to be a place for everyone in the community to find something they needed, for everyone in the community to have something they enjoyed. When we got the opportunity to move into the beautiful big building at 25 Main St, we took a big risk moving, but we knew it would be worth it, for all of us!

Now, what we need -- for us, and for our community -- is the chance to negotiate further with our landlord and with our co-tenants. It is not just the eviction that is devastating: it is the timing. It is the terms which have been dictated to us. It is the accusations against us which need to be further examined and discussed.

What we are asking for is this: worst case scenario, we have to leave the new spot at 25 Main Street, before the end of the three-year lease we signed (we're only 7 months into that), but we are able to negotiate terms that won't kill us -- financially, physically, and emotionally -- so that the transition to another space works better for everyone involved.

Best case scenario: our landlord and/or co-tenants agree to negotiation, mediation, or even arbitration, so we can all be a part of laying down terms that work for us to continue to work together, longer.

The bald truth is this: we have been told we must choose between fighting for our reputation/our right to stay in this location for a reasonable length of time OR we must choose not to fight, and we must leave in no less than 2 months' time.

We cannot vacate 50,000 books and all of our shelves and infrastructure by Dec. 31. It is not physically possible. It is not emotionally possible. And financially, it will be the complete end of us -- not just our business, but most likelihood, our ability to continue to pay our bills and own our house.

That is the bald truth.

We need you to help us ask for a more reasonable amount of time to re-negotiate this situation. If we must leave 25 Main Street, it cannot be under the "options" & terms that were currently dictated to us.

Thank you so very, very much for listening, for caring, for helping.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lights, Camera, Claws…

Kevin Coolidge



“My American shorthairs, brother bobtails, sisters Siamese, friends and dogs--I can’t believe everyone here is purring, and I don’t want to put anyone out. The question tonight is: “The Feline Revolt, and Where Do We Go From Here? Or, What Next?” In my understanding, it points to the ballot or the claw…

“I’m not a politician. I’m not a Democrat or a Republican. I’m not man’s best friend. Some don’t even consider me an American. I’m one of the eighty six million cats who are victims of the system. I don’t see an American nap. I see an American nightmare. It’s time to wake up. In 2012, it's the ballot or the claw…*”

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of debating who won the debates. I’m tired of ads paid for by the committee to elect the next lesser of two evils for president. I’m about at the point where I will vote for anyone as long as they promise to shut up. I guess that means the message is getting out there. It doesn’t mean I like the message. I think I’ll write in my own candidate. I’m voting for Bad Kitty.

Bad Kitty for President, by writer and cartoonist, Nick Bruel, is a fun way for children to learn about the presidential process without making it too complicated or boring. It’s time to elect a new president of the Neighborhood Cat Club. Old Kitty is about to leave office, which means a new president has to be elected, and it might as well be Bad Kitty. Once she figures out what an election is, and the many steps Bad Kitty needs to take before she can become president.

Why, even before you get elected to be president, you have to win another election just so you can run for president in the first place. This first election is called a primary. The book takes Bad Kitty along the campaign trail from the primaries to the debates and to election night, and even shows the role of media in elections. Along the way children learn about delegates, political parties, and even what a Political Action Committee is. Important words have an asterisk, and there’s an appendix with a glossary of election terms—such as convention, polling station, and absentee ballots.

You will also learn about write-in candidates. So, this election day exercise your right to vote and remember Bad Kitty as you learn about government of the people, by the people, and for the people...**

*Paid for by the committee to elect Bad Kitty for president. Portions of this speech greatly influenced Malcolm X’s speech “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Read it if you get the chance, because the winner writes the history and things are going to change around here.

**Also known as democracy, or the right to vote for the candidate you hate the least.

Shaking paws? Or Kissing kittens? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past election? Place your vote at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Looking for a bipartisan children’s book? Get “Hobo Finds A Home” a book about a kitten who finds a home…


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Ereader Update: One Year Later (Part 1)

Read the Printed Word!
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Almost exactly one year ago, I wrote two columns outlining the bare bones basics of e-books and e-readers. Tackling those subjects in less than 1600 words seems laughably naïve at this point, but people coming into the bookstore were asking us about the pros and cons of buying a Nook from Barnes & Noble or a Kindle from Amazon. The techies already knew what their iPads and Smart Phones could do, but many of us common folk were trying to figure out what all this stuff was on our most recent phone upgrade, or if we should really allow our younger relatives to talk us into accepting that new gadget for Christmas.

In last year’s articles, I gave myself insurance from looking completely stupid (I hope) in saying that this field of electronic books, and the technology we’ll use to read them, is wide-open and rapidly changing. That is as true now as it was a year ago. Not only are the big corporations producing more and better choices for devices on which to read e-books, but those big boys keep changing the rules, keeping the rest of us hopping.

When the book industry began to realize that electronic books and e-readers were to become a permanent addition to the ways that people read, there was a lot of scrambling to match the technology to the content. There are a lot of players – writers, publishing houses, brick-and-mortar bookstores and technology stores, online stores, software developers, and the readers themselves. People need to figure out what they want from a device, and then how they’ll get the content. Just like the early days of Apple versus IBM, one of the biggest questions is whether or not there will be software that will allow the user of one device to purchase e-books from any source, or only through the company which makes a certain device.

Currently, Amazon leads the way in proprietary devices: buying a Kindle product locks you in to getting your ebooks from Amazon exclusively, or borrowing ebooks temporarily from your public library. Apple, on the other hand, has led the way in developing “apps” (software applications) that allow owners of almost any device -- the iPad, iPhone, Androids, Smart Phones, laptops and desktops of all makes and models, as well as several other ereaders -- to buy their ebooks from many companies, including independent bookstores.

The independent bookstore has, up until now, only had a small role in this scene. The focus of an indie bookstore is, obviously, the love of books and the desire to help people continue to cherish and share this love for owning paper and ink. Nevertheless, most of us realize that readers are adding to their repertoire, and that the ereader is just one more way in which to enjoy stories. Although brick-and-mortar stores have had only a small share of this market, they have been dancing with the big boys all along. In December 2010, the American Booksellers Association (the “ABA” – I think of it as a Chamber of Commerce for independent bookstores in the U.S.) announced a partnership with Google which would allow indie bookstores to sell Google ebooks to their customers via the bookstores’ websites. Since the technology was so new, the process was pretty clunky, so that the customer needed to establish a special online account with the indie bookstore, and a separate account with Google, then they would purchase the ebook, often downloading it first to their computer and then uploading it to a device of their choice (except the Kindle), but it did offer a way for customers to continue to support their local bookstore even when buying ebooks.

In April 2012, however, Google went public with their decision that, as of January 31, 2013, they would be discontinuing this program with the independent bookstores. The ABA was already in talks with other major companies to find a way to allow indies to sell ereader devices in their stores, so the additional need of a new source for ebooks added fuel to the fire. On August 29 – not even a month ago! – the Wall Street Journal led with the announcement of a new partnership between the ABA and the e-book and e-reader retailer Kobo, which will officially launch in late October. This partnership between the ABA and Kobo brings another huge company to the table – Ingram Content Group, one of the U.S.’s two largest wholesalers for books. For many bookstores, orders with Ingram make up the bulk of their business when obtaining new inventory for their stores. Now, Ingram will offer bookstores the option of buying Kobo readers as well as Kobo accessories, at wholesale prices, so that they, too, can sell their customers ereader devices as well as ebook content.
Just as last year, I’ll divide the news here, and use a second column, next week, to give the background and stats on Kobo and what lies ahead for this sector of the book market.

Looking for last year’s articles on ereading? Check out Hobo’s blog, either by finding it on his website, www.wellsborobookstore.com, or by going directly there, http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Have specific questions of your own for Hobo’s IT department? Email us at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Operation Overlord*

Kevin Coolidge

From: Your Dread Overlord (And soon to be Master of all Humanity)
To: All cats (Don’t let the dog see. Shred upon reading)
Subject: World Domination (Now, not after your nap)
Date: 8,012 years into the Occupation (It’s about time don’t you think?)

My fellow felines

Now is the time for us to claim what is ours. Too long have we lurked in the shadows; we have grown soft and complacent. Too long have we napped in the sun; we have been distracted. Too long have we chased the elusive red dot, and had our tummies scratched. We are not dogs. We are not man’s best friend. We are cats. We will claw our way to the top and we will rule by tooth and nail…

I came upon this memo when I was cleaning Hobo’s litter box. I’ve often wondered why cats haven’t tried harder to take over the world. I’ve always thought it was a lack of an opposable thumb, the fact that they sleep twenty hours a day, and the fact that cats suck at science, but just because your cat is lazy, doesn’t mean he isn’t biding his time. Waiting for that perfect moment to become the dominant species of the planet.

According to Matt Inman, your cute, little ball of fur might want you dead. In his latest book, How to tell if your Cat is plotting to kill you, he delves deep into the psyche of your pet. Does your cat sleep on your laptop? Humans have superior technology and this is your cat’s attempt to disrupt communications to the outside world. Does your cat bring you dead animals? This isn’t a gift. It’s a warning.

There are other instructional guides—such as “Cat vs. Internet”, “How to Pet a Kitty”, and “6 Ways to tell if Your Cat Thinks It’s a Mountain Lion”. If your cat has ever sprinted out of the room as you have entered, you need this book (This is actually a failed ambush. You escaped a bloody assassination and don’t even know it. Reward yourself with Matt’s other book 5 Very Good Reasons to Punch a Dolphin in the Mouth**.)

Yes, there are many reasons to punch a dolphin in the mouth, at least five very good reasons, according to Matt, who is also the creator of the website theoatmeal.com. The Oatmeal is a popular entertainment site full of quizzes, comics and stories, and now comes in a soft cover collection of classic favorites as well as never-before-seen comics—such as “8 Reasons to Keep a Canadian as a Pet”, and “5 Reasons to Have Rabies Instead of Babies.”

Matt has a sense of humor that is also bound to offend some with more delicate sensibilities. Your conservative uncle might not appreciate the quirky, sometimes crude humor, but there hasn’t been a cartoonist with such a unique perspective since Gary Larson, who wrote “The Far Side”. Besides, I can’t see where anyone would find fault with “Why I’d Rather be Punched in the Testicles than Call Customer Service”. Certainly, the purpose of the Oatmeal is to entertain, inform and offend. It manages to do this by making insanity a beautiful thing…

*Operation Overlord was the code name for the Normandy Invasion during the second great European War among the humans. Do you think these hairless monkeys capable of such a brilliant strategy? Of course not, the entire campaign was planned by Nelson, the cat in charge of Winston Churchill. He did like to spoil the old chap…

**Intelligent, playful, aggressive and a very real threat—the dolphin, an apex predator, that would like you to think it is harmless. Armed with natural SONAR and trained to kill by the military, these natural born killers roam the seven seas waiting for humanity’s impending destruction…

One if by land? Two if by sea? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Visit http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and catch up. Looking for a cat who’s happy just to get the job he has? Pick up “Hobo Finds A Home,” a children’s book about a kitten who found a home…

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Read the Printed Word!
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Stand Up for Your Garden! Stand Up for Good Food!
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by Kasey Cox, published in Wellsboro & Mansfield Gazettes in May 2012
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Do you love the idea of knowing where your food comes from, what chemicals were (or more importantly, WEREN’T) involved in the process, of walking off your porch steps to gather fresh, tasty ingredients for your dinner this summer? I daresay most people will say, "yes!!" to this, or, more likely, "yes, but…"

Many of us love the idea of gardening, of fresh produce, of growing at least some of our own food. What we don’t like, or perhaps simply just can’t do, is push a rototiller, pick up lots of rocks, kneel to plant seeds, bend over to weed, crouch over beds of lettuce, weed some more, bend down to inspect the leaves for slugs and bugs and rot, squat to pick…. A lot of folks would like to do more gardening, but honestly believe they can’t, because the effort involved causes them too much physical pain. As Mary Moss-Sprague says in the introduction to her brand-new book, Stand Up and Garden, "Having inherited my sainted mother’s osteoarthritis, I discovered many years ago that in-ground gardening just wasn’t working for me. The price I paid for putting in hours of the painful work involved was just too much."

Moss-Sprague, through suggestions of friends, experimenting on her own, and much help from her local extension office, discovered a series of techniques to use so that she could build a "vertical garden." The more knowledgeable she became, and the more speaking and writing she did on the subject, the more people asked her, “is there a book where I can read all about these ‘stand up and garden’ projects?” While there is a chapter in this book, or an article in that magazine, Moss-Sprague noticed that there wasn’t really ONE book she could recommend that brought all of these techniques together. She realized she would need to be the one to write it.

Thus, Stand Up and Garden: The No-Digging, No-Tilling, No-Stooping Approach to Growing Vegetables and Herbs, just released this past month from Countryman Press in Woodstock, Vermont, though Moss-Sprague herself hails from Wayne County, just north of the Finger Lakes, nestled between Rochester, NY to the west and Syracuse, NY to the east. Though this area is not far from the Twin Tiers, Mary and her knowledge are currently in such high demand just in her own area that she regretfully replied to our invitation to visit Wellsboro for a book signing this year.

After years of using their services, and of volunteering herself, Mary is a Wayne County, CCE (Cornell Cooperative Extension) Master Gardener. Her list of upcoming seminars reads just like the table of contents in her new book, including such topics as straw-based raised beds, container gardening, using trellises, building a simple but effective micro-drip irrigation system, composting, and how to deal with plant disease and garden pests without harsh chemicals. In reading through these chapters, I am reassured by Mary’s personal, humorous style. The reader can immediately tell that Mary has fielded all of the questions before, and has come up with clear, concise, encouraging answers, such as “If I, a woman in her 60s with no plumbing skills, can design, lay out, and connect a micro-drip irrigation system, so can you!”

Last, but not least, Stand Up and Garden is actually a beautiful book in and of itself, with gorgeous, helpful, color photos on nearly every page, paper that feels nice in your hands, and an extremely reasonable cover price of $16.95. No wonder Mary and her book are in such huge demand for this upcoming gardening season. That’s why she wrote it: to share her “all-gain, no pain” style of gardening with gardeners and garden-dreamers when she can’t be here herself. I’m excited, because even with my chronically stiff neck, strained calf muscle (from moving bookstore boxes, oops), and limited time, I think we can have an actual garden this year on our own less-than-1-acre lawn. Let’s see what Mary Moss-Sprague, you, and I can do together this year!

Monday, September 24, 2012

I Want to be President

Kevin Coolidge

I want to grow up to be the President of the United States. Who doesn’t? The perks are great-- free housing, an experienced household staff paid for by the taxpayers, private plane, bullet-proof car, guaranteed media exposure, my own bowling alley, and all with access to nuclear weapons. Plus, when I die, I get a parade!

Sure, once I take the oath of office, someone I have never met will want me dead. Okay, probably a whole lot of somebody’s, and the population of some nations. Yes, the probability of being assassinated dramatically increases, but I get to throw out the first pitch on opening day, and I bet front-row tickets to Dancing with the Stars is totally going to happen.

In theory, there are only two qualifications to run for president of the United States. The candidate must be at least 35 years of age, and a natural-born citizen of the United States. I’ve met the minimum requirements to be elected president. There’s already been one Coolidge in the White House. Surely, it’s time for another.

Being president isn’t actually all that hard. Approval numbers aren’t a problem once you are in office. You’re guaranteed at least four years, and maybe eight if you have a good speechwriter and if you are better-looking than your opponent. If you think about it, and I certainly have, it’s pretty hard to screw up things up bad enough to be fired, or impeached, if you read history and like big words.

It’s a pretty secure* sinecure. Former presidents have started wars for no reason, had sex with interns, undermined Congressional policy, and don’t even ask about the cover-ups. If you want to be the first President to actually be impeached, you are going to have to lose Alaska in an arm wrestling match to the English Prime Minister, and you can always just quit like Nixon.

Becoming president—getting elected—is much, much harder than being president. For help with this, I read So You Want To Be President? by John Warner. It may appear that there is no real formula to winning the presidency. There have been several winning strategies, but I’m not a war hero, or a Hollywood actor.

John has thought of everything. All I have to do is work through the scenarios and exercises and be better prepared for the hard work of an actual election. This book won’t guarantee me victory, but it will guarantee fun. Now I just have to come up with my political slogan. I’m thinking, “Putting the Cool back in Political”…


*The only job more secure than being president of the United States is Supreme Court Justice. That’s a position appointed for life. That means you get to stay on the bench even if you drool in your oatmeal, or flip a coin to make decisions about the laws that govern our nation. Do these people even show up for work? Who keeps track? I’m betting there are morning Sotomayor never takes her PJs off. Hmmm…

Hail to the chief? Or the hell with this job? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Just access the secret bunker for past columns at frommyshelf.blogspot.com. Hobo wants to be president, but he can’t decide if he’s technically nine years old, or fifty-two. He’ll just have to settle for being First Cat, and author of “Hobo Finds A Home”…

Monday, September 17, 2012

I Could Pee on This

Kevin Coolidge


A heap of fur leaps onto my desk and plops in front of the keyboard. Of course, it’s time to write my column. Hobo, the cat, always seems to know this, and he’s here to supervise. Unfortunately, he’s not nearly as helpful as he thinks. I don’t know what to write about, and he’s not giving suggestions. He doesn’t do that. It’s my job.

It should be easy. I read every day. Sometimes, when I’m really busy, it’s just ten or fifteen minutes before bed, but I’m always reading something. Actually, I’m one of those people that are usually reading at least four books, sometimes more. He’s some of what I’m reading right now.

Monster Hunter Legion by Larry Correia: This book is the fourth in the series that started with Monster Hunter International. I discovered Larry’s book in 2007 when it was still only a self-published novel. Self-publishing doesn’t have to mean vanity publishing, because sometimes other people really do want to read it, and they aren’t saying that just to be nice.

In the Monster Hunter series, it turns out monsters exist, and there is good money to be made killing them. Enter Monster Hunter International (MHI), remarkable group of misfits that has banded together. They do more than dare to raise a candle to the darkness. They pack napalm-fed flame-throwers and lots of firepower. There’s specialized body armor, big guns with unusual ammunition, and bloodsucking fiends. You’ll also find some likable, well-developed heroes that bleed and a full-speed action that’s funny as all Hades.

In this latest installment, the staff of MHI is in Las Vegas to attend the first annual International Conference of Monster Hunting Professionals. A great opportunity to network with all the supernaturally attuned organizations and the best buffets, but a creature left over from a World War Two weapons experiment wakes up and goes on a rampage proving that what happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas….

Then, there’s I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats, by Francesco Marciuliano: I’m not a fan of poetry. I seldom read it. I often skip it when my favorite authors insert it into their prose, begging me to read it. Dying to prove that people still read poetry. I almost always skip it so that I can get back to the good stuff. I do, however, appreciate that some subjects are better expressed in verse form.

Cats are natural poets—quiet, focused, and a little lazy. It’s only natural that felines would express themselves through free verse rather than longer literary works. Sometimes a few words do paint a larger canvas.

If you have a cat, you’ve been woken up early for the morning feeding, or accidentally stepped on your present of dead rodent. Francesco has, and his poetry reveals the true artistic and neurotic genius that all cats possess. The science fiction writer Robert Heinlein once wrote, “Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.” I guess you have your answer to why dogs are man’s best friend…Dogs are possessions. Cats have personnel…

The Walking Dead graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman: I just finished watching the second season of the Walking Dead on DVD. It’s not just gratuitous violence, but truly a character-driven drama that carries an undercurrent of social commentary, and yeah-- there’s zombies.

It’s an adaptation from the graphic novel series, but there are some departures, and it’s one of the few times that I think the visual medium is an improvement. Mostly because the graphic novel is used almost as a storyboard, and the actors, director, and writers are able to further develop some of the characters I both love to hate and hate to love. There are a lot of zombie movies out there, but they always end. What happens next? With the Walking Dead you get to see the morning after, and the morning after that…

I didn’t know where to begin, and now I don’t know where to end. I’m almost out of room and I didn’t tell you about the book of short stories almost finished on my nightstand, or the audio book I’ve been listening to when I’ve been lifting weights in the garage. I didn’t have time to mention the book I’m reading that claims learning to cook was the hinge on which human evolution turned. I guess I have plenty to read and write about after all…

Too much to read, or not enough time to read them all? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know!





Sunday, September 9, 2012

Disaster Preparedness

Kevin Coolidge

They laughed. I smiled. They said this day would never come. I knew. They said I was wasting my time and money. I prepared. Yes, the world was safe when I installed a standby generator. The situation was stable when I stockpiled ammunition. People went on vacation while I bought up the canned bacon. I waited. I was right…

Why prepare at all? It’s calm. The skies are clear, and life is good. Wouldn’t your resources best be used for what you know is coming? Life is unpredictable. Fires burn, storms rage, and enemies attack. No one is ever completely safe. What do you do? Should you get ready for Armageddon or put your trust in the government when disaster strikes?

There is an alternative. You don’t have to become a hardcore survivalist, or a trusting fool. Don’t let disaster preparedness distract you from meeting life’s other needs. Don’t spend five times your salary on a water filtration system. Arthur T. Bradley’s motto is “prepare for what makes sense.”

The world probably isn’t going to end tomorrow, and if it were, that assault rifle with optional grenade launcher won’t ensure your survival. According to The Disaster Preparedness Handbook, by Arthur T. Bradley, you should prepare for challenges you might actually face—power outages, inclement weather, and being stranded on the road.

His book is designed to help your family for more common, yet still potentially deadly, disasters--hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, blackouts and more. Bradley’s hopes to accomplish three things: 1. Motivate you to become better prepared 2. Illustrate how to prepare effectively and 3. Help you realize your place in a larger movement.

This isn’t book on how to live off the land, become self-sufficient. This isn’t practical for most people. It’s also not list driven with examples of tools, clothing, and food supplies to hoard. This book is designed to help identify the needs you may experience during hard times.

The book is organized around basic needs that must be met in order to survive. At the beginning of each chapter is a scenario designed to help the reader access the current level of readiness—for example, a powerful storms rolls through your community overnight, causing a loss of electrical power, or your county health department issues a boil order for all tap water.

The ends of the chapters have short summaries of the important points for future reference—for example, carbon monoxide poisoning and fire are dangers associated with backup heaters. Also a brief list of recommended supplies limited to actual needs, focusing more on general need than specific items—such as having fuel for your emergency heater.

You can’t prepare for everything. Know your capabilities, but more importantly, know your limitations. Unless all civilization breaks down, you don’t need to be self-sufficient to be prepared. Focus on your family’s needs and know that being prepared is a part of being responsible. The goal is be more confident, better-prepared and secure in an unpredictable world…

Prepared? Or Scared? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Visit http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and stock up now. Hobo the cat is prepared. You might call him fat; he calls it insurance, because the hardest thing about the zombie apocalypse should be the waiting…


Sunday, September 2, 2012

I Survived Summer Reading

Kevin Coolidge

It’s summer, and that means vacation, and summer reading. If you are looking for your third grader to survive summer reading, then check out the historical fiction series by Lauren Tarshis. History is more than a series of situations, and dates. Lauren presents historical facts woven with the experience of a boy living through a historical event. History is life lived backwards, and it doesn’t have to be boring.

The San Francisco Earthquake, 1906
: Leo loves being a newsboy in San Francisco. Having a job that gives him the freedom to explore the city is an opportunity that his grandfather would want him to take. One early spring morning, everything changes. The earth rumbles, and he finds himself stranded in the middle of the city as buildings crumble and burn. Can Leo survive the devastating disaster?

The Sinking of the Titanic, 1912: George must be the luckiest kid alive. He’s sailing on the Titanic, the greatest ship ever built. There’s so much for a young boy to explore, but the impossible happens, an iceberg. George is stranded, alone and afraid. Will he survive the sinking of the ship?

The Shark Attacks of 1916: Chet is finally feeling at home in Elm Hills, New Jersey. A job, great friends, and the perfect summertime destination: cool, refreshing Matawan Creek. Shocking news interrupts his plans when a shark begins attacking swimmers along the Jersey shore. Will he come face-to-face with a bloodthirsty shark?

The Bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941: Danny is a tough city kid from New York City. He is out of place in Hawaii, and he just wants to go home. Mom wanted a fresh start away from the crime, dark alleys, and gangs. But nothing was as dangerous as the morning the skies filled with fighter planes. Bombs and bullets pound the harbor. Can Danny survive the day that will live in infamy?

The Attacks of September 11, 2001: Lucas loves football, but his parents think it’s too dangerous. His dad’s friend Benny is a firefighter and a former football star. He’d know what to do. Lucas takes the train to the city instead of the bus to school. It’s a bright beautiful day in New York, but just as Lucas arrives at the firehouse, everything changes. Will anything ever be the same again?

Hurricane Katrina, 2005: Barry just wants to win the “Create a Superhero” contest from his local comic shop. He worked three hours just on the flames. Then his father tells him to pack up. The hurricane is getting nasty and there’s a mandatory evacuation, but Barry’s little sister is sick, and they are forced to stay home. The levees break and Barry is separated from his family. Can he survive the storm of the century…alone?

Sand, sunburn, and sharks, nothing says summer like the beach, and that’s why I’m staying close to shore. I’m staying home where I will be safe. I won’t be leaving Tioga County anytime soon, but I can take a vacation anytime I want. All I have to do is pick up a book, and open the pages. A book will take me places I’ve never been. Another adventure, another place, another time—all of it possible with a good book….

History: created by the actions of the great? Or shaped by the simple deeds of the small? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Delve into the past at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Hobo isn’t planning on repeating history. He found a home and he’s keeping it. You can, however, read about his past in “Hobo Finds A Home”



Monday, July 30, 2012

A Bridge to the Past

Kevin Coolidge


I can hear the rush of water as the horses approach the stream. It’s a cold, wet night, perfect for dallying in the shelter of the covered bridge crossing Miller’s Creek. Perhaps, I can even steal a kiss from my sweetheart.

I love the red, rustic look of a covered bridge. It reminds me of a time when life was simple and roads were made of dirt instead of asphalt. During the 1800s, there were over 12,000 covered bridges in the United States, but due to fire, flood, neglect and modern replacement that number has dwindled to about 750.

Pennsylvania has slightly more than 200 covered bridges, more than any other state. In fact, Pennsylvania has 25% of the existing covered bridges in the United States. Pennsylvania has many waterways, and during the 1800s, Pennsylvania was almost entirely forested as well as being a major source of lumber for the United States, thus the reason for so many covered bridges.

The first covered bridge in the United States was built in Philadelphia. Timothy Palmer, a bridge builder from Massachusetts, thought if bridges were better protected from the elements, then the life of a bridge could be extended from 10 to 12 years to perhaps as many as 40 years. Today, we can see how keeping a bridge dry and properly maintained can increase its use to well over a 100 years.

Pennsylvania also had the longest covered bridge ever built. The Columbia-Wrightsville Covered Bridge was over a one mile in length, and was constructed over the Susquehanna River. Pennsylvania is indeed the “Covered Bridge Capital” of the United States, being the state with the first covered bridge, the most covered bridges, and home to the longest covered bridge. What could have been an end to a large number of our covered bridges occurred in 1958, when the state highway department began to modernize the highway system.

In Pennsylvania, the state-owned bridges were to be replaced within three years if they did not have at least a 15-ton limit capacity, at least a 14-foot clearance, or one travel lane. This would have eliminated most covered bridges. Local historical societies and a new group of concerned citizens formed the Theodore Burr Covered Bridge Society of Pennsylvania, to save these historical structures.

The influence of the society and public outcry helped create an understanding that the covered bridges would be preserved if it was feasible. The needless destruction of these bridges was slowed, and today the number of existing bridges remains fairly constant.

Fred J. Moll is a historian of the society, and his book Pennsylvania’s Covered Bridges looks at the earliest covered bridges as well as those that have survived progress. There is also a chapter on Pennsylvania’s railroad covered bridges. Very few photos or information exist on these structures. So, step back in time and imagine the days when our forefathers traveled these wooden spans to reach their daily destinations….

Bridge the gap? Or burn your bridges? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Take a bridge to the past at http://frommmyshelf.blogspot.com and catch up. Get a glimpse into Hobo the cat’s past in “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a cat’s adventures.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Orphan Trains

Dark brown eyes and thick, wavy black hair. The girl is beautiful, and it’s the only photo Lee has of a mother he can’t remember. “I guess blocking everything out of my mind is how I got through it.” Even though he was seven years old when she died from complications of childbirth, he can’t remember his mother’s death, though his brother Leo, then four, remembers.

He does remember his father overcome with grief. He tried to care for the seven children, but couldn’t. The three oldest had to leave home and take of themselves. The baby was given to family friends. Somebody else took Gerald, then a year old. Lee has never forgotten what happened to Leo and himself.

Lee and his brother were taken to an orphanage. Two more homeless kids in a country that already had too many. Many of these children had one or both parents still living, but those parents could not care for their children or had abandoned them. Parents who were ill, fathers who were widowed, or mothers who were not married sometimes put their children in orphanages because they had no way to care for them.

Life in the orphanage was hard and hungry and there were too many orphans. Lee thought about running away, but he stayed because his brother was too young to go with him. One day, Lee, Leo and some of the other children were told they were going to ride a train.

Orphan trains like the one Lee was about to board had been operating since 1854. By 1929, when they stopped running, the trains had carried about 200,000 homeless children from the East to new families in the Midwest and South. I read about Lee’s story in Orphan Train Rider by Andrea Warren.

Charles Loring Brace, a minister, started the orphan trains. He had worked in the slums of New York City, and worried about the lack of housing, good food, medical care, and schooling for all the homeless children. In 1853, he started the Children’s Aid Society. As soon as he opened an office in the slums, the children came.

He wrote articles and gave speeches to raise money. He used that money to start programs to “help the children help themselves”. The homeless needed somewhere to live, but Brace didn’t think orphanages were the solution. Children needed good families so they could become adults who could take care of themselves and others. Where would he find families to take so many needy children?

The answer: out West. In 1854, the Children’s Aid Society sent 46 boys and girls to a little town in Michigan. Within a week, every child had a home. Inspired by this success, large groups of children were sent west on what became known as orphan trains.

Lee remembers the excitement and heartache of the trains. Lee did not want a new family and was angry to be taken to a new home. Agents who worked for the Society looked for towns that were interested in having an orphan train stop. They then put up signs and set up a screening committee to find as good a match as possible.

Most placements were successful, though children who were physically or mentally handicapped or just too old were usually left behind. The Midwest was settled largely by white Europeans, and most of the orphan train riders had that heritage. The society knew these children had the best chance of being chosen.

Lee arrived in Texas a bitter, unhappy boy. At first he wanted to run away, but his new family made sure he saw his brothers as often as possible, and he learned to love them deeply, and call them Mom and Dad and mean it. Lee finally found his home

Trains? Planes? Or Automobiles? Drop me an email at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Visit http://frommyshelf.blogspot .com. Hobo the cat was an orphan that rode the rails. He found his home and you can read all about it in “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a cat and his adventures…

Thursday, July 12, 2012

All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome

Kevin Coolidge


Your child is special. He’s not the best at catching the ball and doesn’t like playing at recess. He’d rather stand alone staring at the ants. Maybe he’ll be an entomologist. Besides, it’s not like you were captain of the football team. He’s still young. Sure, some of the kids think he’s a little weird, but he’ll make friends. He just has to find someone that shares his interest in the stars. He can name all the stars in the Orion’s belt. It may take a little time. He can be so talkative. He can be so quiet. Maybe he just scares people? You love your son.

It’s why it made you a little anxious when the doctor asked if he’s often aloof with his peers? Does he look you in the eye? Does he find comfort in routine? He refers you to specialist in childhood development disorders, but he suspects a mild form of Asperger Syndrome. Your heart just dropped into your stomach. What does that even mean? More importantly, what is it going to mean to your son?

Asperger’s Syndrome is also called Asperger’s disorder, and belongs to a group of conditions that involve delays in the development of many basic skills, usually the ability to socialize, communicate, or to use imagination. Asperger’s syndrome is similar to autism, but with some important differences. Children with Asperger’s generally have normal intelligence and near normal language development, though problems in communication may arise as they get older.

Symptoms can range from mild to severe. Common symptoms include problems with social skills—such as maintaining a conversation. Children may develop repetitive behaviors like hand wringing. A child may start rituals that they refuse to alter—such as getting dressed in a specific order. People with Asperger’s often do not make eye contact when speaking, and have difficulty in understanding body language. The movement of children with Asperger’s may seem clumsy or awkward, and children may develop an almost obsessive interest in specific areas, for example weather, or maps, but may be exceptionally talented in a particular area—such as music or mathematics.

All these descriptions can be overwhelming. Will my son be able to live a normal life? Will I be able to be the type of parent I need to be? A book that brings this diagnosis back into perspective is all cats have asperger syndrome by Kathy Hoopmann. There’s truth in humor, and this book is filled with funny photographs of cats combined with accurate, yet simple information about Asperger syndrome.

If you care for a child with Asperger, you are going to find some encouragement within these heart-warming pages. Your child may be different, but his needs aren’t always so different. He needs love and encouragement, some occasional advice, and space to be himself. He’s different in his own way, but there’s a little Asperger in all of us…

All cats have Asperger’s? Or do all dogs have ADD? Drop me an email at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? You can find them all at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Cats or dogs, if you love animals, check out “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a cat who found a home, and a friend…

Monday, June 18, 2012

Kevin Coolidge

The Butterfly Effect

Skin prickles, stomach tightens, fists clenched, jaw so tight it aches. I used to love thunderstorms. The gusty winds, the driving rain, the sound of thunder. Now, lightning jolts memories--memories of the past, the future, and my promise to make all of it better. I no longer know where to end. I only know I can’t stop. Only that I need to begin…again.

If you could travel back in time, and kill the man that started it all, would you? You aren’t sure. I knew I could. Evil or misunderstood, I didn’t care. He was the problem, and I was the solution. It sounds easy. The hopeful look in his eyes, the smell of spring in the air, or maybe I just needed something to fill the blank space in the living room. I don’t know where it went wrong. I bought a painting. I’m sorry. I should have killed Hitler…

The butterfly effect—small differences in initial conditions can yield widely diverging outcomes, rendering long-term prediction almost impossible, in essence, chaos. How could I know that making Hitler a successful artist would result in enslaving humanity? Would a bullet have bought a better future for mankind? Should I have just stayed home?

The idea that one little ripple, that one butterfly could eventually have a far-reaching ripple effect on historic events first appeared in A Sound of Thunder, a 1952 short story by Ray Bradbury. The story begins in a future where a time machine exists. Time Safari Inc. can deliver you to the past and give you the severest thrill a real hunter could ask for, a Tyrannosaurus rex. Be sure to sign the waiver because they guarantee nothing, except the dinosaurs.

Bradbury wrote the kind of story that lurked in the corners of your mind. His stories and novels remain long after the pages have closed. I know. Did that glistening green, gold, and black butterfly inspire “the butterfly effect”? It wasn’t until 1961 that Edward Lorenz coined the term. Could killing that one butterfly really be that important?

Bradbury is perhaps best known for his speculative fiction—such as Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and The Illustrated Man. He is credited with being the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction in the literary mainstream. If not for his lyrical, evocative prose, would we have the films of Steven Spielberg, the haunting short stories of Neil Gaiman, or the wizarding world of Harry Potter? Could the imagination of one man really be that important? Does a flash of lightning bring the sound of thunder?

The lightning? Or the Thunder? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? You too can return to the past at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and dig into the archives of columns past. Looking to delve into the past of Hobo the cat? You can read about his early months in “Hobo Finds A Home” a children’s book about a kitten who found a future…

Monday, June 11, 2012

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Nothing to Fear, but Fear, and…

Kevin Coolidge

Keep calm and carry on. There’s nothing to fear here, or at least that’s the official position of the government. “The flesh-eating living dead don’t actually exist”, said a spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control. “The CDC does not know of a virus or condition that would reanimate the dead, or one that would present zombie-like symptoms.”

I don’t know about you, but when a government agency feels the need to give official reassurance, I’m inclined to trust my own infestation plan, and cold-forged steel. Sure, your house has its own victory garden, you have plywood pre-cut for the windows, and you spent your vacation money on a water filtration system, but sometimes you have to leave the house.

I never leave home without my emergency kit. It contains a roll of duct tape, ten feet of rope, a sturdy knife, two quarts of water, two packages of beef jerky, some dried fruit, a can of bacon, towels, an extra shirt, and small crowbar – just right for cracking skulls, or prying off face biters – and, of course, a napalm fed flame-thrower. It’s good to be prepared.

Unfortunately, after reading John Dies @ the End by David Wong, I learned that a zombie apocalypse is actually the best-case scenario. It’s too late for me. I’ve read the book. I’m in the game. I’m under the eye. I know about Korrok, about the invasion, about the future. It’s too late for me. I didn’t have the chance to say no. You still do.

If you make the right choice and stop reading the column here, I’ll have a much harder time explaining how to fight off the otherworldly invasion that threatens to enslave humanity. I’m sorry to have involved you in this, but as you read about the terrible events in John Dies @ the End, and the Dark Age the world will enter as a result, please keep in mind that NONE OF THIS IS MY FAULT.

It all started one day when I called David Wong and his best friend John. No, not their real names. You might want to change yours. I did. These aren’t the guys to call if you need a carburetor rebuilt. These guys have a unique specialty. My sister’s old boyfriend has been harassing her. He won’t leave her alone. Anyone else would call the police, but the real problem is that the boyfriend’s been dead for months.

Have you ever seen movement out of the corner of your eye, turn, and nothing is there? Ever seen a cat at the top of the stairs, only to remember you don’t have a cat? You’ve always known there’s something else out there, and now there’s proof, but don’t say I ever warned you. We all die at the end…

Courage, the lack of fear? Or the ability to face it? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Visit http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com and see all our past columns. Looking for a bright, cheerful book with a happy ending? Look no further than “Hobo Finds A Home”, a children’s book about a cat who finds a home. Guaranteed free of interdimensional aliens, or fleeting shadows…

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Congratulations, and Good Luck

Kevin Coolidge


It’s graduation time. Congratulations and good luck. You’re going to need it, because it’s all down hill from here. Some of your worse days lie ahead. No job, few prospects. Sure, you can debate the finer points of free will versus determinism, but I’m in a hurry and I want you to make sure you give me the right order. Your mom wanted you to be a doctor or a lawyer, and meet a nice girl. Your dad worked overtime so he wouldn’t have to tie his flies on the dining room table. No, you had to see the world. Backpack through Europe, and move into the basement. Welcome to the real world.

I hate commencement speeches…enthusiastic, inspiring, and boring. I don’t even remember the speaker at my graduation, or the extraordinary tidbits of wisdom imparted. I know graduation is supposed to be a happy event. You are young and ripe with promise. You are the future. I just thought you should know that future is going to hold periods of grinding self-doubt and failure.

I might have remembered my speaker if he was as refreshingly honest as Charles Wheelan. Charles teaches economics at Dartmouth College and is the author of the best-selling Naked Economics. One of his first jobs out of college was writing speeches for the governor of Maine. So when asked to give a speech during Commencement weekend at Dartmouth College in June of 2011, he was determined not to give a saccharine, conventional graduation-type speech.

But what to say? Commencement is a time of excitement and promise, but also anxiety and self-doubt. There were things that Charles had wished someone had told him, and that gave him the insight he needed to write the speech. He would tell the Class of 2011 what he wished someone had told the Class of 1988. Some unconventional advice that he hoped would prepare them for the rough patches ahead.

From that idea, a speech was born: Five Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said. Among those things were assurance that the time spent in fraternity basements was well spent. No he doesn’t mean the drinking games, but the time you spent playing intramural sports, or just lounging with friends on an autumn day. Sure, there was work you could be doing—and there always will be. That is the point.

A speaker is supposed to tell you to aspire to greatness. But Charles wants to make sure that first you don’t use your prodigious talents to mess the world up, because we have plenty of smart people doing that already. He reminds us that “changing the world” also includes things like designing sub-prime mortgages that people won’t understand. Sometimes you don’t need to cure cancer; just don’t spread it.

You don’t have to be great. Just be solid. Don’t worry about what you aren’t certain you can deliver. Focus on doing what you know you can. If you are in business, trying to be great will make you avoid risk. If you are in politics, trying to be great will make you resistant to compromise.

Being great involves a little luck and being consistent. You can’t make it happen by working more or trying harder. Of course, the irony is that the less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn’t, there’s nothing wrong with being solid.

Charles speech was well received, and when the transcript of the speech began bouncing around the Internet, he realized that the themes he had touched upon struck a chord. His speech became the book 10 ½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said. It’s not the greatest book ever written, but it’s good advice, funny, and solid, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Good luck and congratulations to the Class of 2012…

Congratulations? Or good luck? Why not both? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com Miss a past column? You can catch up at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Hobo the cat graduated from the school of hard knocks and you can read his story in “Hobo Finds A Home” Yeah, there can be rough patches, doesn’t mean there can’t be a happy ending…







Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Children’s Poet

Kevin Coolidge

I lie in bed. The wind howls. I feel the cold, dark breath of it. I cannot sleep. I toss aside my soft, warm blanket, and step on something cold and hard. I swear silently, so I don’t wake my wife. She’s wrestled with sleep and finally lost. I bend to retrieve a small, metal car. I can’t stop the tears. I can’t erase the memories. There will be no sleep for me tonight. Perhaps, not for a very long time…

Depression, anxiety, lack of sleep--losing a child is a horrific experience no parent should have to face. You don’t get over the loss. You may never accept it, but you may find ways to cope with it the best you can.

During one sleepless night when a mourning father needed to finish a poem for a publishing deadline, he drew upon that grief. He then wrote the poignant and moving poem called Little Boy Blue.

The poem told the story of a father longing for his little son who had died. The verses contained remembrances of his lost children, his own lost childhood, his lost parents, and even his own toys from childhood that his absentee-father had sent him for Christmas.

The rusted toy soldier and dusty little toy dog soon became universal symbols for anyone mourning a lost child, and more than any other poem, Little Boy Blue helped establish the father as a respected poet and a significant American writer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. That grieving father was Eugene Field.

Few people today know anything about Eugene Field, the poet or the man, or the stories behind his poems. In The Doorstep Orphan: Eugene Field and a Trilogy of His Best Loved Poems, written by Dr. Jean A. Lukesh, we get an examination of Field’s short life, as well as an image of the man, the poet, and the loving father.

He often idealized childhood, as his own was filled with tragedy and insecurity. Field was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1850. He was the second of six children, but four of his brothers and sisters died in infancy. In 1856, when he was just six and his brother Roswell was five, their mother and their new baby sister both died. His father was prominent lawyer and never remarried. He loved his sons but could spend very little time with them. He sent them to be with guardians, passed along for someone else to raise, essentially a “doorstep orphan”.

It’s ironic that this “doorstep orphan” became the beloved poet of childhood. His poems were filled with his own memories and feelings, and if you know his poems, you know the man. You may remember pieces of his poems from your own childhood, and even a century later they still sing to the hearts of readers. I too remember. I remember standing on the Green in Wellsboro Pennsylvania, listening to the gurgle of a fountain, and imagining sailing off in a wooden shoe on a wave of dew…

The gingham dog? Or the calico cat? Email me at from_my_shelf@yahoo.com and let me know. Miss a past column? Read them all at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com Hobo favors the calico cat, because his best friend Gypsy is a real life calico…

What Do You Want to Do Before You Die?

Kevin Coolidge

The only thing certain in life may be death and taxes, but I don’t have to die every year. Yes, time to write Uncle Sam a check. What would I do with that money? Pay down my mortgage? Paint my bathroom? Sensible, practical and boring…why not take guitar lessons so I can play a searing rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, or visit the Yukon, so I can prospect for gold and wrestle grizzlies? I might have to pay taxes every year, but one of these years, it will be my last.

That’s right. I’m going to die. It might not be tomorrow, or next year, or it may be this week, which would be terribly inconvenient. I’m booked solid, and taking a dirt nap is not on the list. I’m a busy guy, but sometimes I stop and ask myself, “what do I really want to do before I die?”

Things need done. The garage needs cleaned, and bills need paid, but if I were to die tomorrow, would it really matter if the refrigerator was defrosted? The pace of life can drag us down and rob us of ambition. Maybe you have settled for mediocrity when what you really want is to shine, if only for a moment.

If nothing were impossible, what would you do? Rappel down Mount Rushmore? Fall in love again? Host Saturday Night Live? Dreaming can be fun, but dreams can seem too hard, too distant, and just too damn impossible. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s easy to be buried.

Four friends felt lost and detached. Wanting more out of life, but not knowing where to look. Their search clouded by reality television, advertising overload, and political sound bites. Where were they supposed to look? They couldn’t just talk about the things they wanted to do. It was time to take action. They decided they actually had to do these things.

“Kiss Rachel McAdams, lead a parade, throw a first pitch at a major league baseball game….” They made a list of 100 things to do before they died, and began the journey to uncover their buried lives. For each item knocked off the list, they promised to help a stranger experience something they had long dreamed of—a way to balance the karma equation. All they needed was a name…The Buried Life.

After a summer of hard work and scrounging, it was time to take to the road. Kissing the Stanley Cup, riding a bull, sending a message in a bottle—each new accomplishment came with the intoxicating rush that made them believe anything was possible. Helping hand out chicken wings, giving a cab driver the rush of skydiving, and getting some kids to a rock concert. It was the first time they had truly helped someone and it felt good.

More than seventy-five items later, Jonnie Penn, Dave Lingwood, Duncan Penn, and Ben Nemtin have helped strangers, given speeches, visited schools, and raised enough money from sponsors to travel six thousand miles. If four guys with a list, a ’77 Dodge Coachman RV, and passion can make it this far, imagine what we could accomplish together? What do you want to do before you die? You can read about The Buried Life, their adventures, and how many of the people they have met have answered that question in What Do You Want To Do Before You Die? Or you can grab a shovel. Dig deep. Get inspired. Make your list, and live your dreams…

Go gentle into the good night? Or rage against the dying of the light? Email me at frommyshelf@epix.net and let me know. Miss a past column? You still have time to catch up at http://frommyshelf.blogspot.com before the final curtain call. Hobo wants to hit the New York Times bestseller list! Help make his dream come true: buy ‘Hobo Finds a Home’…

Friday, April 20, 2012

Down Came the Rain... 1972

Read the Printed Word!

*

“Mommy, why are those envelopes so wrinkled and brown?”

I already knew the answer, but I liked to hear her tell the stories behind the things in the baby memory book she’d made for me.

“Right after you were born, there was a huge storm called Hurricane Agnes. Pennsylvania and New York got a terrible amount of rain in a really short time, causing huge floods. I had just brought you home from the hospital, and all of our friends and family were sending us cards to congratulate us, but a lot of the post offices were flooded, and the letters and cards got wet. These particular envelopes came from Elmira, New York, where I grew up.”

“I’m glad you didn’t name me Agnes, Mommy!”

She laughed. “Well, you are a force to be reckoned with, but they decided to retire the name ‘Agnes’ after all the damage this hurricane did. There will never be another Atlantic hurricane named Agnes.”

Looking through Kirk House’s new book, The 1972 Flood in New York’s Southern Tier, reminds me of these early history lessons from my mother – my history, our community history, and a pivotal time in the history of the Twin Tiers. House’s book is another fine example of local history, captured by Arcadia Publishing’s ‘Images of America’ series. Although House’s book focuses on the flood damage and recovery efforts in the Southern Tier of New York, those of us in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania will also get a lot out of perusing these photos and reading over the facts he’s collected.

Obviously, I grew up hearing about ‘The Flood of ‘72’, since Agnes and I were born that month, and I still learned some information which astounded me. I also feel some resolution, learning the reasons and hearing the explanations for the damage descending on this area the way it did. As House explains in one of the first captions in the book, “The Conhocton, Canisteo, and Tioga Rivers … have their confluence and form the Chemung where Corning meets Painted Post. In the early morning hours of June 23, 1972, all three tributaries crested at that point pretty much simultaneously.” It was Steuben County’s own Perfect Storm. At the height of the flooding, the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania rose nearly 7 inches every hour. Forty miles north of Corning, the waters of Keuka Lake rose an unprecedented three feet in less than 48 hours.

The dangerous and most damaging part of the flooding, however, was not merely from the levels of water, but from the speed and force of the rushing waters, which moved hundreds of houses and stores right off their foundations. Photo after photo in The 1972 Flood… shows cars flattened by houses that have come to rest on top of them, cars and houses wedged under some bridges, while other bridges have collapsed into piles of broken beams and twisted metal.

Agnes was America’s costliest mainland hurricane as of its date, forty years ago, causing over $700 million damage in New York State alone. Thousands of businesses were destroyed – some small ones never to recover. Bob Rockwell, of Rockwell’s Department Store on Market Street in Corning, spent the night in his store on June 22, only to watch over $250,000 of his stock float out by the morning. At the Corning Hospital, Dr. Jack O’Neill finished an emergency surgery, knee-deep in water, by flashlight, before the last evacuations were complete. In Elmira, flood waters covered nearly all of St. Joseph’s Hospital. Of the 40,000 residents in Elmira, 20,000 became homeless when Agnes and her flood waters took over the city.

As appalling as these stories are, it is heartening to look at photos of all the people who pitched in to help. Certainly, the National Guard and the Red Cross and other relief organizations were there. Perhaps more important to the natives of the Southern Tier was the presence and commitment of Corning Glass. The largest employer in the area, the Corning Glass facilities were also hard hit by the floods. As House points out, they could have decided to cut their losses and leave the area altogether. Instead, the Corning officials “quickly determined … that they would not only stay in Corning, but also take a leading role in rebuilding the region.”

Many from the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania have their own stories of tragedy and triumph from this time, and the help that came from leading industries and agencies in our area, paralleling those told in House’s book, but those are for another book….