Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tribute To A Friend



      Happy New Year! 2013! Wow! What a fine feeling! All those sweet old Christmas songs packed away to mellow for another year. All the New Year’s bells have rung and that ball successfully made its traditional descent in Times Square. The tree ornaments are back on the shelf. The new Christmas corduroys have been tailored to fit. The fruit cake just a dream and the now empty champagne jug in the waste can. All the thank you notes are written, and we have almost visited the scales to see how much weight all that good food has added. Well, I won’t go that far, but we are giving it some thought.

     I have special reason to be thankful to see 2013. In the first place it’s been quite a stretch from 1923 when I first came to this party. And secondly each year about this time I come down with the flu. This year was no exception and for three weeks my doctor was treating me with the elixirs and magic potions that traditionally got me well again.

     This time it didn’t work so he ordered a cat scan and discovered that I had been walking around with raging pneumonia! The next thing I knew I was in Room 1408 in the North Tower at Cedars of Lebanon being stuffed with antibiotics and steroids, having blood drawn, my wheezing chest listened to just about every time I drifted off to sleep, my vitals taken every six hours, and round the clock attention by some of the most attentive and considerate nurses I could imagine.

     I am home now, a little out of breath, dizzy in the head and weak in the knees and more flighty than usual in the brain, but I am definitely on the mend.

     All this has brought me to a realization that is long overdue; one I suppose more rational folks already live with at this advanced age. All these years I have gone merrily along my way, whistling in the dark, living as if there were no tomorrow, always assured that I am young in spirit, destined to live forever, and not subject to the wear and tear that go with "the golden years."
         WRONG!

     There in Room 1408 in the North Tower of Cedars of Lebanon the awful realization dawned on me that I am mortal, that in spite of the lies I keep telling mysef, it’s December at the party, not April any more. The reminder came in a line from a poem that kept repeating itself over and over in my mind.

                          "Then child, don heavy armor
                            Against the heart’s wild pain;
                            Try as I may, I cannot bring
                            Fair April back again."

      Listen to him! Carrying on like he is about to put on his funeral suit, order the casket and call Forest Lawn! Actually it was a good thing! Forced him to slow down. Smell the roses, and enjoy that extra glass of chardonnay even though you aren’t supposed to take it along with cumadin.

     The refrain that kept repeating itself in my mind was a stanza from a poem written by my late friend the poet, Muriel Miller Dressler and she will be the subject of this blog if I ever get around to it.

      In the meantime I introduce the following medical bulletin to your attention because it gives me an opportunity to boast.

      As you know from my previous blogs, last year I received a very high honor from the Library of Virginia. This year their generosity has brought another very great honor. On the 17th of January I was scheduled to attend a meeting of the Virginia Legislature where a proclamation was to have been read saying that I was a proud Virginia boy and that my writing had brought pleasure and pride to my fellow Virginians. There was then to have been a lunch at the Governor’s mansion and a reception that evening!

      Even though I was recovering from the pneumonia I was tempted to make the trip, but my doctor said it would be foolhardy to risk another respiratory event this early by getting on a plane and trying to attend all those fabulous functions that were planned in Richmond.

      As close to tears as a tough old rooster should come, I let the folks at the Library know. What incredible people! Somehow they have been able to reschedule most of the events and my family and I are already anticipating a visit home to Virginia on April 3rd! Some of these April events will be open to the public so if any of you in the Richmond area would be interested I will let you know as soon as I have all the facts.

    So finally we come to the end of this long winded introduction to my new blog. It tells of how I came to know a woman I still revere, the gifted West Virginia poet, Muriel Miller Dressler.

     When I was growing up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge during the great Depression of the Twenties and Thirties, the possibility that I might someday meet a real poet seemed remote, if not impossible. We were people of the back woods, and our daily lives were taken up with the business of living through harsh and hostile times.

     Yet, poetry was at hand. I recognized it first in the King James version of The Bible. Sometimes it was a passage I was obliged to memorize in Sunday school in order to receive a Gold
Star. Sometimes it was shouted at me by revival preachers set on persuading me to give up my sinful ways and to be saved. No matter how it was presented, I recognized the poetry in The Bible And I WAS saved.

     Later, a dedicated teacher at our local school introduced me to Edgar Allen Poe, John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, Steven Vincent Benet, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. We were required to memorize great hunks of "Thanatopsis," "The First Snowfall," and "Song of Myself," and I still remember them today.

     While their words became a part of my being, the poets themselves seemed remote. I fancied them to be God-like creatures, removed from the human race, quite possibly living in Grecian temples close by the Mediterranean where they wrote when inspiration moved them and subsisted on a little fruit and a lot of wine.

     But the Great Depression passed, and my life changed. I won a scholarship to the University of Richmond, I went to Europe and fought in a war, I came home to Virginia and then to the University of Cincinnati and finally to make a career and a new life in New York City.

     It was there I met my first "real" poet. I had written a book called "Fifty Roads to Town," and I desperately needed permission from a poet named Muriel Rukeyser to use two lines from a remarkable poem of hers called "Effort at Speech Between Two People." But how did one get in touch with a poet? I asked my editor at Random House, Belle Becker, and Belle replied, "Why don’t you look in the phone book?" I did and to my astonishment Miss Rukeyser lived only two blocks from my apartment, and most graciously consented to my using the lines I needed. I learned that poets were not only considerate, but that not all of them were off there by the Mediterranean sipping wine.

     Miss Rukeyser’s gift prepared me for generosity and graciousness. What I had not been prepared for was the knowledge that a poet could spring from the same earth I knew. And on a visit to Morris Harvey College (Now The University of Charleston) I met Muriel Miller Dressler, a fellow citizen of Appalachia.

     Muriel Dressler was born in Kanawha County, West Virginia on July 4th. 1918. Her family went back several generations in the area. She did not finish high school and her love of literature came, as she was fond of saying, "at the heels of my mother as we planted or hoed the garden."

     I met her in 1975 and with her permission used one of her poems as the theme for an episode of my series "Morning Star, Evening Star."

     William Plumley, the professor who introduced us, describes her as "Short, curvy, vain and hyperactive."  Dressler remained a popular speaker on the college circuit until the mid-1980’s when she suffered a massive heart attack. She spent much of the rest of her life away from the public spotlight.

     Using the same clay some of us have shaped into novels, Muriel made poems.

     Muriel spoke with first hand knowledge of the land of our birth. She knew and articulated the sounds of whippoorwills at night, the thud of earth coming to rest on a miner’s coffin, the restless love that calls a widow from her bed for dialogue at Midnight with spirits that are less dead than they seem.

     This is not to suggest that Muriel wrote of the macabre. On the contrary she could be witty and gay, raucous and gossipy, but always filled with the exaltation of living. Sometimes she would be wicked, as in her wry appraisal of "Old Iry Pleasants" who decided he was "jest retard" after "he’s been out of work his entire life."

     Much of Muriel Dressler’s work is in dialect, a dangerous form of expression. In unskilled hands it could reach a comic strip level, but Muriel knew what she was doing, and the sounds of Appalachian speech fell on her ear with accuracy and recognition. She’d been there. She knew what she was doing.

     Her signature work is a collection of poems titled "Appalachia." You can track it down on the Intenet and I recommend you look for it.

     What it all boils down to, I think, is that Muriel Dressler had heard the same sounds we all hear, known the same pain we each feel, watched the same sun cross the sky and set beyond some hilly horizon, but out of her own genius she produced work that while regional in character, is universal in its appeal and meaning.

     I know because one of her poems haunts me still.

                                  ELEGY FOR JODY    

                    O, wear a crimson shawl, my child
                    Put on a scarlet hood,
                    And make a point of being brave
                    When you explore the wood.

                    But when harsh winds denude the trees,
                    Fall leaves on cryptic ground
                   Will write your childhood’s prophecy
                    In syllables of brown.

                   When dark clouds scud against the sky
                   And greening trees are gone,
                   I’ll weave for you an ebon rug
                   For you to walk upon.

                  Then child, don heavy armor
                  Against the heart’s wild pain,
                  Try as I may, I cannot bring
                   Fair April back again.

                                 ---
Poem published with permission of Jacob Wither, Executor of the Estate of William Plumley.





30 comments:

  1. Happy New Year! I am glad to hear that you are feeling better. Also, thank you for introducing me to a poet that I was not familiar with. (Muriel Dressler). Elegy For Jody is indeed haunting and is very deep and beautiful.

    Arthur Tourot

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    1. Mr. Hamner,
      I'm looking forward to your visit to Richmond, Virginia on April 2nd. I hope to see you that evening at the Library of Virginia. I will be coming up from Newport News. I missed your trip to Richmond last October. At the age of 89, this visit may be your last and as a native Virginian myself, I want to meet you!

      Even though you haven't lived in Virginia for 60 years, it sounds like you will not be buried with your family in Schuyler. This is disappointing, but I understand. Continued improving health to you and your wife and family.

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    2. Mr. Hamner,

      It was delight to meet and speak with you on the evening of April 2nd at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. I also had the good fortune to meet your sister, Nancy, aka "Elizabeth" in the "Waltons" television series. It was good to see Mrs. Hamner and your two grown children. I even met one of your cousins!

      Allow me to say to you again that your are not only a treasure to our Commonwealth of Virginia, but a national treasure as well!

      When I introduced myself to you and the audience as formerly with the (Newport News) "Daily Press", you must have thought that I said (Charlottesville) "Daily Progress." I was genuinely amused when you asked if we attended school together and I said that I was "younger than I look" when the audienced erupted in laughter.

      This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which I would not have missed for the world!

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  2. Among those random events that sadden, gladden and clutter our days, there are moments and people that shape our lives in ways more providential than lucky. You, sir, are one such. So as you don your heavy armor for the trials and battles yet to come, please know that you have been a friendly voice to me. Thank you, Earl.

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  3. Dear Earl... First of all, I'm so glad you're feeling better -- and that you're out of the hospital and continuing to heal at home. That's WONDERFUL news!!! : ) Also, thank you for sharing your thoughts on life here with us... You continue to inspire me, and I can hear your voice through your words, across the miles... I'm still taking care of my mom back in Virginia, and your brilliant show, "The Waltons," continues to bring her (and me!) joy, insight, and reminders of what's important... Thank you for your gift of writing, not just your T.V. series, including this wonderful blog. I will share it... I miss stopping by to see you at your office, and will always appreciate and remember your encouragement and kindness. You truly are a "Gentleman from Virginia" -- which is a high honor in my book -- and I hope to see you and your family in Richmond in April! Keep using your amazing gift, Earl, as you touch hearts with your beautiful words! With a bunch of Blessings in Christ always, Sandy (Sandra Holcombe)

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  4. Nice piece, Earl, and here's my favorite part:
    "...but I am definitely on the mend."

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  5. What a pleasant read at breakfast. So glad your feeling somewhat better. Your writing and the characters you introduced to my family and me in the 70'a helped shape my own perspective on life and sharing it with others. Your Walton's Christmas album often comes to mind (though I no longer have it). I can still hear Grandpa's voice say..."the russet and gold of autumn..."
    Thank you for sharing with us. Have a wonderful 90th year!

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  6. Happy New Year! I am so glad to hear that you are feeling better!! Thank you for your many years of inspiration, kindness and also sharing your family with us. The Waltons has become sort of a family tradition. Growing up my family watched it, then in reruns my daughter and now my grandchildren watch. Thank for introducing me to Muriel Dressler I shall look for her works. Praying for your continued health. God bless you and your family.

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  7. Happy New Year and I will be looking forward to April I hope to see you! God Bless you from
    Floyd County Virginia

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  8. Hi Earl...this blog entry made me smile :) Glad to hear you've recovered :)

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  9. We're all grateful for the year 1923 and this world is richer for it. Keep typing Mr H and glad you have recovered.

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  10. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and wonderful stories -- and thanks for lying down at night to bleed so you can rise again, pick up your sword to fight again another day. I'm praying you continue to stay healthy. And please write more often. I also loved reading about the poet and your grilling steaks in the rain.

    Give us another story Earl--can't wait!

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  11. Our family - including daughter's Elizabeth 11 and Alexandra 10 - look forward to our nightly episode of the Walton's as I looked forward to weekly episodes during my childhood. We call it "Walton Therapy". Thank you for providing our family with such quality entertainment while teaching important life lessons. We are glad to hear that you are feeling better, and we look forward to your future stories and reflections. Happy New Year!

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  12. What a joy to read your penned thoughts for the New Year. We plan our own jaunt to Richmond in the coming weeks, living just two hours South in the rolling hills of North Carolina. Our weekend drives to the Blue Ridge always bring to mind your humble home and beginnings and what riches such a simplistic life could bring. I hope renewed strength and health find their way back to you and that you're rested and ready for your trip back to your Virginia home. All the best.

    Dorothy-

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  13. I feel a need to share something with Mr. Hamner, which up to this point in time I feel my lack of courage has outweighed my desire to do so. I share the following not for sympathy, for I'm reminded on a daily basis of those in this world dealing with true suffering, but rather to (in my own inept way) try to convey how your immense talents have served me for many years now, and how very much I have appreciated them. So fellow bloggers, please forgive my rambling, but I know of no other way to convey the following. When I was not so very old my parents became disabled from one of a plethera of ailments. They were older parents to begin with (my daddy was 45 when I was born) and the problems with their health restricted their physical involvement in our lives. I learned early on that they needed out of neccesity my help in whatever way possible. I didn't mind this then, nor now, for the Bible tells us to honor our parents. Among many things, I took care of daddy at home while he was dying from lung cancer. What an education! After a few years I met what I thought was an absolutely wonderful man. We married, my momma lived with us until she passed away at home as well. We had two precious children, my Kathryn and my Jonathan - my best friends I'm happy to say. After being married for 16 years, dealing with his alcoholism, drug abuse, multiple suicide attempts and horrible depression, the truth was finally shared with me when out of the blue he wanted a divorce. Seems he had a wife he wasn't too terribly divorced from and three children he felt needed him more than we did. For them he got his stuff together (in more than one way)and he left. Three years later stupid here met another wonderful man. After verbal abuse, refusing to work and heavy use of prescription drugs (without my realizing - dumb!) And after he got a good job with the post office (because of my footwork) he went to work one morning and never came back. Some concellation is to know the one he left for was smarter than I was and he got the boot quite quickly. I lost my home in the country because of this - not necessarilly the fanciest of homes - but it was in the country, that's what mattered the most. I have a brother and twin sister who thinks I look down upon them because of the paths they have chosen in life, i.e. Drug abuse, alcoholism, etc., when all I want is a relationship with them (especially my twin sis) completely without judgement. I love them so much. I'm not better than, just different from. I was diagnosis with cirrosis recently (never drank any alcohol. Dad was an alcoholic and it always scared me), depression most of my life, severe fibromyalgia and have now been told they are sure I have cancer and need to find out where (personally, with all the tests they have given me I feel if they don't find something soon they'll just give it to me in order to be correct!). My house burned a few days before Christmas and lost most everything, including my Jack Russell Olivia. Oliver (her husband, though we never had a formal ceremony) has been sick since with what the vet tells me is from depression and I pray I don't lose him as well. Anyway, there's a lot I've not mentioned here, but this is the jist of it all. I have watched The Waltons for many many years now. I was so thankful when the show came out on dvd and I could purchase some of them. Your show (and all the others that brought it to life) has been a soothing salve and escape for me throughout so much. No one can hurt me when I'm visiting the Waltons. You and your talents continue to be an absolute blessing - especially as our world is getting more and more difficult to live in. I know our Father is still in control, and what a sweetheart he gave us with you to help us along. Thank you so very much Mr. Hamner. You remain in my prayers for a healthy, happy (and selfishly for all of us) a productive new year. God bless you and those you love.

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    1. blessings!you are a survivor!

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    2. You certainly have had a very inspiring life, Susan! You need to create your own blog and share your stories with people who need to hear them.

      I hope things really start looking up for you, and I'll be keeping you in my prayers, love, and positive thoughts!

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  14. Happy New Year, Earl! So glad you are out of the hospital and feeling better!

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  15. Thankful you are on the mend and aiming toward visiting Virginia in April. I look forward to attending during your visit.

    Praying for you and your family!

    Blessings,
    Andrea Bowling Perdue

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  16. I am so blessed to be part of your living history Earl Jr. So far Ive been lazy but on forward with my first publishing with Westbow. I'm also getting ready to incorp myself as an actor as there are film with my name out there! Much wiser yet that unknown and leaving everything to God is very powerful! Things look much brighter and Im learning to start appreciating each well day. I have been enjoying my passion of simulation technology. Anyways enough about me. My prayers are on you always for a healthier year and the chance to see you soon! Blessings! Richard

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    1. Richard! Best wishes in all you do! I'm currently stepping up my online presence with a website I'm composing of blogs. I just love Blogger. It's a treasure trove of interesting people doing interesting things! I'm going over to check you out now!

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    2. Just dropped over your way! I see that you're under wraps at this time as if you're about to burst forth from an egg or a cocoon when the time is right! I'm doing a little fixing up myself, so I can understand this!

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  17. I'm so glad you are out of the hospital and have written your usual inspiring post. Those wonderful people in Richmond couldn't go on without you! I'm a writer, of sorts...nothing compared to you. I want to share a dedication in one of my "Rose Series" books if I may.
    "This book is dedicated not to one person but to the indominable spirit present in the natives of the Appalachian Mountains.It is this stubborn persistence that has given this country the energy to heat and cool our homes, run our factories and power to light the night.There resides in the peoples of the mountains a spirit of independence and determination which thrives in adversity.Some have been called stand offish and aloof. That may be true as there are always exceptions, but in my experience I have found their innate qualities make them friends for a lifetime.They will guard and nurture that friendship as tenaciously as a mother bear protects her cubs.From this stubborn persistence has come teachers,preachers, writers,scientists, entreprneurs, miners,farmers, muscicians, and just salt-of-the-earth citizens.
    I felt it a privilege to have grown up in those mountains with the rich heritage of their peoples. I have tried to capture just a little of that spirit in the "Rose Series."
    (From "Rose's Song" by Nan Turner, 2009)

    The best new year ever to you and your family,
    Darlene Eichler/Nan Turner

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    1. Definitely very favorably impressed!!! :-)

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  18. dear mr. hamner

    so enjoyed this post. such eloquent writing! i too wish you would write here more often. thank you for "the waltons" and spencer's mountain. i read the novel hoping to find real facts about you and your family. god's blessings to you and good health.

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  19. WOW!!!

    So glad that I just happened to be thinking of you today and came over here to read this!!!

    I think of you even more often than that and wonder how you're doing!

    You certainly sound like a tough, old bird, so I hope you're one of the people who--like Bob Hope, George Burns, The Delaney Sisters, and my fourth-grade teacher (Mrs. Florence Moore)--end up knowing what it feels like to have three digits describing your age!!!

    My own mom (born April 6, 1922) is, currently, in a nursing home, and several of her neighbors are either very close to, at, or over 100. Hopefully, she will be, too, one of these days (all three preferred). Hope you do, too!

    You have an autographed copy of my book reserved for you, even though I haven't finished writing it yet. You're in it--all good, of course!!!

    I'll never forget how nice you were back in 1974 when I called you at home, we talked, and you asked me to send you some of my poems. You were so nice to take the time to read them, tell me which ones were your favorites, and to make suggestions about their placement.

    Sadly, I ended up losing your address and phone number in the shuffle of moving back home from college, so I'm thankful for the Internet to reconnect us!!!

    My book probably won't be finished for a few more months.

    However, I'm going to have a nice surprise ready for you sometime during the next few days!!!

    You take VERY good care of yourself!!!

    xoxoxoxoxoxoxox

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  20. Dear Mr Hamner: Since I probably will never get the chance to meet you in person I wanted to thank you for sharing your life and talents with us. You have reminded us that the real life the world presents us is not frantic and jaded and help us focus on whats truly real. God bless. Betty

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  21. dear mr. hamner

    i was recently watching reruns of the 2nd season of "the waltons" with my sister (who has down's syndrome). she told me that she wants to go to the waltons. she so enjoys the warmth of the show that she wants to live there with the family. what a tribute to your creation of that show! i wanted to tell you this as i thought it may make you feel good; you even reach people with limited capabilities - they experience wonderful emotions from your talent.

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  22. I found your blog through Google, looking up Abner Sideman. My husband, Walter Ward, was profiled by Abner Sideman in Look Magazine when he was only 4 - learning to walk again after Polio. We live in the rural Midwest, but your two entries about life in the "big city" are very interesting, especially to me.
    My parents moved from Newark to South Bend, IN in 1946 and my mother, a real big city girl, was in tears for years. Gradually she came to realize that her children had a better chance to succeed here than in the east. Several of us have now returned to cities ourselves, but we have never forgotten our small town roots. Jane Ward

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  23. I don't know if you still check this blog, but I just learned we are relatives, Mr. Hamner.

    As a little kid, I watched "The Twilight Zone" and our favorite episode was "The Hunt." We also loved "Spencer's Mountain" and later on, "The Waltons." They are all part of the family "mythology" we believe in, you might say.

    My mom's grandma (my great grandma, I am almost 53 now) was Mary Elizabeth Hamner. I knew her as a little kid and we visited her at her house in Bellflower, California. She was a remarkable seamstress.


    His name is Earl Hamner Jr. and is 89 years old. He is a distant relative of ours through Grandma Head (Mom's Grandma, the mother of Ava Lee, my mother's mother) whose maiden name was Hamner. According to the family tree, you are her nephew, so you are a great uncle I never met. That is really amazing to me. To like your work so much, and then find out this. Purely amazing. We live in Montana, though my mom sadly passed away two years ago.

    Lance Foster

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