Tag Archives: Chicago

Stefon From SNL Was a No-Show for My Book Talk

Circling twice around McQuixote Books & Coffee before spotting it, I was convinced,  Stefon from Saturday Night Live would show up to review my book talk and signing. I did not expect Stefon to be a no-show.

The Portland Arts District of Louisville, Kentucky is precisely the kind of environment to turn Stefon giddy – an old manufacturing and warehouse district; surrounded by decrepit homes in need of preservation, reconstruction, or demolition; surprises around every corner; and not a sign in sight to tell you where to go or what to do.

Here’s where “it” happens. Bring imagination. Something will come of it.

I thrived in this kind of place when I was a boy. A district just like this lay between my home in the projects and the stench of the Chicago Stockyards. Among derelict castles of industrial commerce long gone, Kenny Grail and I imagined ourselves as medieval warriors, battling demons of destruction. Our creative innocence slayed dragons that darkened every corner. We became heroes of our imagination. Today, Chicago is revitalizing our abandoned playground with art galleries, trendy coffee houses, and performance spaces, as is Portland’s district.

My host at McQuixote was Trevor DeCuir, one of its three owners. In no time at all, we were talking Ecuadorian coffee beans, business, books, and art. Mmmmm. Was it the coffee that was making me feel rather youthful?

Once around age 11 or 12, I left Chicago with the only possession I thought worth taking – my typewriter. I was headed for Greenwich Village in New York to become a Beat writer like Jack Kerouac. I was going to read my poems in basement coffee houses and live off the brew. I never got the chance, though. A young kid from Minnesota kept showing up with his guitar. He sang his poems. They never let Bobby Zimmerman off the stage. I never got on.

Finally now, at McQuixote Books & Coffee, my time was here and now. Like back then, my set up was simple. I was ready to talk about my writing and listen to the finger snaps of appreciation. And where are you now, Bobby? You’re secluded in your house in Malibu, releasing old tapes from your basement. I’m here in Portland, sipping coffee, waiting for Stefon, about to talk about my book in front of a live audience. Take that, Bob Dylan!

Having arrived an hour early, Trevor invited me to have a look around. Beyond the book & coffee shop, I discovered a warren of artist studios. I peaked in some windows. A lot going on.

A child whizzed past me on a scooter. I followed the child and heard the voice of an artist, at work, talking to their creation.

The child whizzed past me again, leading me down a small gallery into a large gallery space. Art was hanging everywhere. I stopped at each one, taking it all in. The quality of the art was good, if not exceptional. Everything was affordable.

A wall mural caught my eye, reminding me of my acting days, when a photographer posed me beside a wall mural in California at Venice Beach. Graffiti art has come a long way since. The murals here, you can step inside of them, it seemed.

In the theater space, I met Tim Faulkner. I told him his place reminded me of when I used to work at Andy Warhol’s weekend nightclub, the Exploding Plastic Inevitable. Tim’s space is a catch-all for all types of events, too, from performances to weddings. A film crew was outside, working on a documentary, like Andy used to do with his camera while Lou Reed, Nico, and Velvet Underground droned under my strobe light. The adorable child on the scooter whizzed by again.

Back in the coffee shop, my audience assembled. We didn’t wait for Stefon to arrive. This was not going to be a sterile book lecture. Like a couple of book talks I’ve had in private homes, we all sat around casually. I began talking, but soon all of us dissolved into conversation, following the flow of everyone’s interest with my material.

Author Eric F. James with Jack Francis

At times, I found myself more interested in the theatrical work Jack Francis from my audience was doing with the young people of Louisville. He was taken enough by the show business types from the Jesse James family, enough to take home a book.

Stefon was a no-show, but I was thrilled when Trevor posted on McQuixote’s Facebook page, “Eric F. James was a treat to have at the shop and we’ll be hosting him again soon, to be sure!” I can’t wait to return. I left some authorgraphed books behind for anyone who missed our event.

I may be as old as Don Quixote, but I found no one at Portland’s McQuixote Books & Coffee tilting at windmills. For anyone with a future in their eyes, this is a place to do and be.

Do you read me, Stefon?

Margaret Helen James Remembered by Her Granddaughter Kerri Squires

Margaret Helen James-Squires 1926-2009

My grandma, Margaret Helen James, was born in Fort Benton, Montana on January 30, 1926. Dr. Kaulback was the attending physician, and she would see him many times throughout her life. Dr. Kaulback moved to Spokane, and during the last years of his life Grandma went to see him several times.

Grandma was the last of 4 children – two older sisters and a brother – Eleanor, Agnes and Dudley. They all went to a one room schoolhouse in the country.

Grandma was 3 years old when the Great Depression hit in 1929. Although money was very scarce for a few years, her family always grew a garden and bottled lots of fruits, vegetables, and meat. She said she was always the one who had to wash the jars because she was the youngest, and her hands were the smallest and could get into the jars. Grandma said: “I want you to know that I did not like that because there was always dirt and dead spiders in them.”

When Grandma was about four, her brother Dudley came home with a clever way to make a stove which some of the school children had taught him. Grandma and her brother were never allowed to play with matches; so they went out of sight to do this experimenting. And, where did they go? Yes, they picked a stack of beautiful newly mown hay as a shelter for their work—the stack only being about thirty feet or so from their big red barn. They set up a few bricks or rocks, then took a rubber hose probably from a car to use for a chimney and ran the chimney up on the wire which bound the prairie hay. After lighting a match, they believed they had an excellent stove – until to their astonishment, the flames went right up the chimney with the smoke; and before they could realize what was taking place, the hay was ablaze. It was summer and her sister Agnes was coming to milk the cows. Grandma and her brother ran, hoping that Agnes would have water in the milk bucket, but to no avail. One of the neighbors, Mr. Weibel, and the rest of Grandma’s family worked until 3:00 am, fighting the fire so it would not start-up again and spread and burn the barn. A chastisement was in order, but Mr. Weibel calmed down Grandma’s father. Of course, Grandma and Dudley were put to bed and told to stay there which was worse punishment than a spanking; the kids would like to have seen the finish of what “they” had started. This was one of many lessons in obedience – DON’T PLAY WITH MATCHES!

Their family owned sheep, pigs, cattle and horses. Grandma and Dudley used to go out in the outhouse at night and sing cowboy songs: Little Joe the Wrangler, Home on the Range, Strawberry Roan, and Red River Valley. Probably all the neighbors could hear them.

When Grandma was 5, she had an accident which she never forgot throughout her life as she carried the scars on her right hand. The family had an old 10 gallon ice cream freezer which her father had tipped over. Grandma’s father told his children never to play with it or they would get hurt. Grandma, her brother Dudley, and a neighbor boy must have gotten the old freezer upright and were trying to grind corn cobs into chicken feed by pushing corn cobs into the iron cogs with their hands. While someone turned the handle, Grandma’s small hand slipped into the cogs and was badly mangled. Grandma had to be taken into Fort Benton to Dr. Kaulback where he cleaned and dressed her hand, and later every day for a week to have it redressed. After a while, Grandma was really worried as he had wrapped two of her fingers together; so she asked her Mother if her fingers were going to grow together. She set her mind at ease and told Grandma that the Doctor had put a splint between her fingers before wrapping them together. Part of the end of her thumb was cut off, her forefinger was nicked and her middle finger was badly mangled. This was her second great lesson on the merits of “obedience.”

William Dudley James & Ida Mae Kenner, Parents of Margaret Helen James

Grandma had a riding horse named Dandy with a big scar on his face – they used to say he was an Indian pony. Grandma always rode on the back of the horse and Dudley in the front. Once Dudley was going under the clothesline, so he ducked his head; unfortunately, Grandma didn’t duck, and she quickly plummeted to the ground.

Grandma said that she never knew how poor her family was until they moved to town. There, in town, they had electricity, running water in their home, central heating, and indoor bathrooms. Their first toilet had the pull-chains for flushing. For Grandma, this life seemed like heaven. Living in the country, Grandma was convinced, molded their lives and then they moved to town for polishing. This was the very best of two worlds, Grandma believed.

Grandma was given a little white kitten. One day she was running to the barn and this cat “Snowball” jumped up on her face clawing it until she was pretty bloody. She never asked, but, when she was a little wiser, she was sure that her dad probably got rid of that cat, as she never saw it again. Grandma always had two marks above her lip from that incident.

When Grandma was 12 she was out on the lawn playing ball with her dad when a fellow by the name of Keith Squires came looking for a place to live – he roomed and boarded with Grandma’s family while he was barbering in town. Little did they know that they would eventually marry.
Grandma was a good student and very smart. In high school she took Algebra, geometry, Biology, World History, typing, Shorthand and was in the 4-H Club.

Grandma’s cooking was unmatchable! She loved holidays when the family gathered in her home for memorable meals and time together. Many will remember carving the turkey 2 years before she passed—to find the inside was incredibly GREEN! Every meal she prepared was presented with meticulous perfection. It would be impossible to praise it too much. For example, at age 15 her cooking won a trip to Chicago for her to judge jellies and other foods. She was on the train coming home when they got word that Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor – December 7, 1941.

In addition to her unparalleled cooking, Grandma was a talented seamstress. For example, at the age of 16, grandma made a wool dress for the 4-H club for which she won a red ribbon in the national competition, held in Chicago. Her sister, Eleanor, gave her a wine velvet dress to wear to nice affairs like this from which she later made a little dress worn by her daughters and granddaughters.

Grandma was President of her senior class. She took chemistry, more typing, shorthand and bookkeeping. She used these skills later in life as she always kept the books for whatever business dad was in.

Grandma graduated from Fort Benton High School in 1943, receiving an honorary diploma. She worked in the Soil Conservation office and for the County Attorney. These positions earned her enough money to both attend college at Montana State, and buy an upright “Kimball” piano which stayed in the family for years

Grandma moved to Spokane to work, where she met Grandpa who was being treated at the Veterans Hospital. They courted and were married shortly afterwards on November 4, 1945. Mom wore her sister Eleanor’s $100 wedding dress, which would later be worn by two of their daughters and a granddaughter.

Grandma’s children had a parakeet. When it learned to whistle,
Grandma decided that we could teach it to talk also. She taught it to whistle and say, “See the pretty girls”, “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers” and “Hi, Keith, did you sell a house?”

Grandma, as many of you are well aware of, possessed the brilliant talent of quilting. I think we all have a flannel quilt or two that she made. She also made a purple and lavender one with the applique of a ring of flowers in the center.

Grandpa bought her a 1950 Ford. She was driving down Sprague one day and came to the Pines intersection in Opportunity. Much to her surprise, but luckily not to her misfortune, the steering wheel came off. Fortunately, she ended up in the corner service station with her hands still firmly grasped to the detached steering wheel. She didn’t like that one bit.

She had a great sense of humor too. One time she was taking a trip to visit her family in Montana. The kids were playing a game in the car when Bill said, “Everyone close your eyes.” After driving down the road for a few miles, Grandma asked, “When can I open my eyes?”

Grandma was very talented. She spent many hours making all the drapes in her homes. She bought 200 yards of material to make the drapes in just one of her homes. Grandma also made many clothes for herself, her children, and her mother. She made beautiful dresses for the Gold and Green Balls they had at church. She also made many blankets for the grandkids.

Grandma and Grandpa went on a mission for the church in 1988 to Manchester England, and of course it was a genealogy mission. Her religion became a way of life. She remained firm in the faith, committed to her covenants, and her life was a sermon of what she believed.
Grandma held many church positions including: Primary President, Relief Society President, Relief Society teacher, and visiting teacher. She has spent most of her life doing genealogy and working in the genealogy library. She will have many jewels in her crown for the many, many hours she has spent doing temple work for her deceased ancestors.
Grandma had many experiences, some fun, some happy, some sad, some spiritual, and some very wonderful. These experiences shaped Grandma’s remarkable character and provided her with priceless insights about life.

We will miss the fun times and all the good food at Grandma’s house. She will be greatly missed by her children and grandchildren, her many friends, and all who knew her.

RELATED STORIES

The Ancestry of Margaret Helen James-Squires

STRAY LEAVES encourages James family members and their in-law families to document their reminiscences and biographies. Submissions for publication can be emailed to the Leaf Blower at ericjames@ericjames.org

HISTORIC TINTYPE of RHODA MAY-JAMES

Rhoda May-James

RHODA MAY (1806-1889) is the stalwart spouse of the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joseph Martin James (1791-1848).

Rhoda withstood all transgressions, indignities, & social ostracism that her husband created with admirable Teutonic stoicism.

When acute alcoholism took Joe’s life at age fifty-seven, Rhoda became a forty-two year old widow, left alone to raise nine children.

For the next forty-one years of her life, Rhoda May James resolutely carried the social burden of her husband’s disgrace. She watched as the Civil War divided her children and tore apart her family. She never remarried.

Home of Rhoda May & Joseph Martin James, built circa 1854

Thanks to Gwen Smith-Gershwin, who is a fourth great granddaughter of Rev. Joseph Martin James & Martha  McAlister, Joe’s first wife, this tintype image of Rhoda May now can be appreciated.

The original tintype was handed down in the family through Rhoda Alice Owens-Cole-Dowell, Rhoda May’s granddaughter & namesake.

Rhoda May

Prior to the contribution of this tintype image to The James Preservation Trust, the only known image of Rhoda May was a framed oval colored photograph. This colored image still hangs in the home of Nelva Anne Herrin, a great granddaughter of Joe Martin & Rhoda May James. Nelva Anne’s contemporary home, built by her father Lem Garland Herrin, sits opposite the decayed ruin of the home built & occupied by her great grandparents Joseph Allen Herrin & Susan Harriet James on the original settlement lands of John M. James at Shopville in Pulaski County, Kentucky. Susan Harriet James is a daughter of Joe Martin James & Rhoda May.

SOME CHILDREN OF RHODA MAY-JAMES

Edward Perry James & his family. Namesake Rhoda May James sitting at her father's knee.

EDWARD PERRY JAMES (1847-1931) was only a year old when his father died. He grew up in his father’s stone house in Shopville, married Elizabeth Langford, & raised a family of nine children in the same house. His youngest child, he named Rhoda May James, after his beloved mother. Progressively selling off his land holdings in Shopville, he removed his family to a new home he built in Berea, Kentucky, where he died.

Susan Harriet James-Herrin

SUSAN HARRIET JAMES (1843-1920) was five years old when Joseph Martin James died. She was thirty years old when she married Joseph Allen Herrin, a Union veteran of the Civil War.

In a diary Herrin kept during the war, he noted the wounding of Susan Harriet’s brother, Andrew James.

Home of Susan Harriet James & Allen Custer Herrin

Herrin was returned from the war for almost a decade, when he and Susan Harriet married in the home of Rhoda May.

On the land of Susan Harriet’s grandfather, John M. James, in Shopville, the couple built themselves a new home. The home remained occupied by her descendants until about 1947, when the couple’s grandson, Lem Garland Herrin, built his bride, Thelma Hayes, a new home directly opposite the lane of the old home.

Mary Harriet James-Owens

MARY HARRIET JAMES (1842-1935), nicknamed Mary Jane, was age ten when her father died. Left alone with Rhoda May to defend the family home during the Battle of Mill Springs, she successfully retained hold of the single horse they owned against marauding soldiers, by claiming half her family fought on one side while the other half fought on the other. Shortly after the war, she married Union veteran Daniel J. Owens, who had been imprisoned during the conflict. She was mother to ten children.  At age ninety, she flew in an airplane for the first time. Flying over five states, she sang “Glory, Glory Halleluiah” and exited the airplane singing “Nearer My God to Thee.”

Rev. Martin Nall James

Rev. MARTIN NALL JAMES (1833-1911) was fifteen when Joe Martin James died. He became a Baptist preacher, but not one like his father. At twenty-five he married Susannah Elizabeth Matthews. The couple elected themselves Baptist missionaries & migrated into Missouri. During the war, he fought on the Confederate side. The couple bore eight children.

Rhoda Ann James, granddaughter & namesake of Rhoda May

CYRENIUS WAITE JAMES (1831-1911) was age seventeen at the time of his father’s death He was Rhoda’s second eldest child. Cy bore witness to much of the abuse suffered by his mother. He and his other siblings also suffered the social stigma brought upon their family by their father’s bigamous third marriage to the youthful Permelia Estepp. Though his half-siblings with Permelia lived in plain view across Flat Lick Creek, the two families remained completely estranged from each other. Cy fought for the Union in the war and was taken prisoner. In prison in Georgia, he awoke to a nightmare of his daughter dying, at the same time she choked to death on some corn In Illinois. Prior to the war he removed his family there. Afterward, he walked them to Texas, where his descendants live today. No picture of Cy is known to exist.  His daughter, Rhoda Ann James, named for his mother and shown here, operated his bank in Rhone, Texas.

A NEPHEW OF RHODA MAY-JAMES

John Smith May, nephew of Rhoda May. Courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society

JOHN SMITH MAY (1835-Aft. 1891) was a farmer and a teacher before the Civil War started. Shortly after joining the Confederate Army he was captured & imprisoned in Ohio. After the Battle of Chancellorsville, he was exchanged. He joined John Hunt Morgan in Sparta, Tennessee, but was captured later again with Morgan, David Hunt James, & Richard Skinner James. He was secondly incarcerated at Camp Douglas in Chicago, but later sent to Virginia. He surrendered with Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox. Afterwards he returned to Kentucky to resume teaching. By Elizabeth McQueary he had ten children and by Sallie Thurmond two more. In Pulaski County, he became Superintendent of Schools, the Court Clerk for the county, and was elected to the lower house of the Kentucky State Legislature. He and Rhoda May-James died within a few years of one another.