15 Stories

15 Stories

Swanky Swig

Swanky Swigs - flowered glasses made by the Hazel Atlas Glass Company - frequently to hold processed Kraft cheese. We had a number of these at our vacation home in Maine and since this was the only place I saw them as a kid, they represented a very happy place and time for me. Over the years, the glasses disappeared one by one because no one thought they were very valuable. When I started finding them at antique stores in my 20s, I’d grab as many as I could. I’m very particular - only the glasses with flowers. One year, I gave my dad about 6 or 8 of them for his birthday. Until he started asking for the Wall Street Journal for his birthday and Christmas, he was a very difficult person to buy gifts for. But anything related to Maine and the cottage was bound to be a hit and these were. He used them until he went into the hospital. Now they are in my house and I think of him and a wonderful time in my childhood every time I use them.

B.B. Bustins Island- Casco Bay, Maine


Wooden Ruler

My grandpa Mike’s wooden ruler -

He always had it in his back pocket or on the back porch in his tool drawer ready for the next project.  We loved to sneak it our of his pocket or take it from the tool drawer and play with it.  It was dirty and worn from use but it had endless possibilities.  It folded up so neat and could be manipulated in so many ways.  It went from 7-72” with the unbending of the twelve sections. We would spell things by bending and unbending it into different letters.  We would stretch it to the limits using it as a fishing pole adding a spring and a magnet or a hook.  We would shape it into houses or any forms we could think of.  This 12 section bendable tool kept us occupied for hours and when grandpa and I would build things out of miscellaneous scraps (washers, scrap wood, screws, nails, washers etc) it would come in handy when measuring.  It had a mind of its own.   We didn’t have to hold it in place.  The sturdy construction made it easy to measure anything anywhere.  It was the perfect pointer for playing school.  We would defy its uses creating anything our hands and minds would let us.   Grandpa’s ruler was always the start of something fun, new and exciting.  


Chicago, Il

We lived near St. Ladislaus and Chopin Park.  We walked to school in the alley and sometimes stopped at the corner basement polish grocery store  on the corner of Roscoe and Lockwood, across from the Lockwood funeral home.  Awesome childhood.  Grandpa Mike lived above us in the attic turned apartment.

 I spent my years in graduate school studying the history of Alaska. An unusual choice for someone at a New England Ivy League school, but I always had a romantic fascination with a place that was so large, so remote, and so wild. I fell in love with Alaska before I even saw it, and I will remain in love with that place forever. My research brought me to Alaska numerous times, and my travels left me with the privilege of having seen some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America. Alaska is a unique and wondrous place to be.

Most of the summer I spent in libraries doing research, but I had planned a mid-summer break for myself. I was paying a large sum of my grant money to travel with a high-end ecotourism outfit up to the Kongakut River in the Arctic Refuge. I would be backpacking and rafting for two weeks, supposedly taking notes on the cultural politics of rich ecotourists.

The last day of the trip, our guide said he needed to go scout out a landing strip for the bush plane that would take us home the next day. We had been hiking for awhile, however, and I wasn’t sure how to get back to camp. He said I could find it. I told him I couldn’t even find my car in the parking lot most of the time. He pointed the way, wished me luck, and disappeared in the other direction. Now, compasses don’t work so well close to the pole, and the sun just travels in circles. I was terrified. I walked and walked and thought I was done for. I walked and walked and cursed and walked some more.

After an hour or so, I saw them. Dozens at first, then hundreds, then thousands. I knew there was a chance that we would see the migration of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, but the chance was pretty slim. We were leaving the next day. And then, there they were. Caribou after caribou after caribou. Suddenly I wasn’t alone. There were bucks and does and newborn fawns. There were strong ones and old ones and sick ones. There was the occasional wolf, trying to bring a sick one down. There were so, so many of them. I wasn’t alone. I wasn’t even scared anymore. I just kept walking toward them, mesmerized. I have never seen so many of anything in my life.

And suddenly I was back at camp. I had followed the caribou, and I had come back home. And for hours, I sat with my traveling companions and watched. For hours and hours and hours, we sat, nearly silent, and watched. “Did you see that wolf?” “Did he get him down?” “Oh, look at the mother trying to wean her baby. She won’t let him nurse.” “Oh my gosh see those bucks go at it.” There was so much drama. Unbelievable drama. Yes, it was amazing.

I kept a journal while I was in the refuge, but I wrote nothing on the day we saw the caribou. I think I must have subconsciously known that I would remember the event with absolute clarity, as I do now, as I probably will in twenty or thirty years. But I took some rocks from the shore of the Arctic Sea that day. It is illegal to remove anything from a National Wildlife Refuge, but I wanted to take something back with me—something physical, a real souvenir. As I suspected, most of my caribou pictures turned out to be a blur of brown and white and green, and they don’t really help me recapture the feeling of wonder in the same way that the rocks do. Seeing the caribou was an ethereal experience, yet it rests in a solid place within me. The herd was huge and magical and alive, pawing, fighting, feeding, moving, and moving on—just like Alaska, just like everywhere, just like everything does. The rocks know all of this, and when I forget, they remind me.


Arctic Refuge, Alaska


Red Votive Candle

When I was 4, my mother went into our little, 8-room hospital to have my baby sister. I had a very bad flu and ended up in a room down the hall, with an IV and some concern about whether I’d make it through the night. My grandmother stayed with me until very late. When she went home, she lit two votives and placed them into holy lights of red-pebbled glass. Each time I opened my eyes, I saw candlelight rounded red, refracted by Jack Frost forests, and reflected in night-mirror windowpanes, and I lived!


Chariton, Iowa


I made promises to people I couldn’t keep.  I harmed others who once were close to me beyond belief.  I triple­locked the door on love as if it was a criminal.

I spent the cold afternoon in the heart of Dublin buying gifts for family  members back at home. As I turned the corner of an ordinary gift shop within  Stephens Green Shopping Centre carrying the same shot glasses, necklaces, and t‐ shirts as all the other stores, my eyes landed on a beautiful Claddagh ring that  sparkled brighter than the rows of Christmas lights along Henry Street.

For roughly 20 Euros, I didn’t hesitate one bit. I bought the ring for me.

Before I had left home to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland, I had a horrifying  argument with a close friend who till this day hasn’t talked to me in four years after  being friends for ten. The plans had already been set for me to leave; my tickets  were already paid for and my application was accepted. I felt grateful, yet cowardly  to have somewhere to run after a demolishment of a friendship that came out of left  field leaving me bruised like a paintball player shot ten times in the heart.

But the Summer before Fall 2009 wasn’t all hazardous to my sanity, a week  before I had left for Dublin, I met a boy. To my surprise we spent 7 days together all  the way up to the morning of my departure. 1 plate of bacon and eggs with toast,  and 4 biscuits topped with gravy later, we said our goodbyes. A few hours later, I  was on a plane heading towards Dublin Airport feeling sad but happy, lonely but  content, happy but confused; a mix of emotions that put my stomach in knots and it  was time for another cup of Barry’s Tea thanks to the Aer Lingus flight attendants  who graciously walked up and down the aisle in green uniforms while pushing a  food and beverage cart.

After I left the battlefield I called home, I realized that no matter where you  run to, you always run into yourself. When I arrived in Dublin, I moved in with two  girls from the east coast into a small, quaint apartment on the campus of University  College Dublin. Petrified by how they would treat me, would they turn their back on  me just like my best friend did? I did my best to keep my distance. The problem was I  liked them. It was hard not to become close to them, but I was in no condition to be  involved in intimate friendships.

While traveling to London, Prague, and Amsterdam; at the same speed trying  my best to keep my grades up by visiting the James Joyce library from time to time, I  surprisingly kept in touch with the new boy, J, from home. Even though I spent my  weekends in European countries, I had been dying to come home to see him,  fantasizing where our future may lead. We kept in touch the whole 3 months I was in Dublin; emails, late night phone calls, Facebook, the whole bit. Little did I know  that not only was I visiting new places and learning new things; these next three  months I’d learn 3 things that would change my life for the better and be reminded  of them months after being back home: Friendship, Loyalty, and Love


It was hard for me to focus on the joy of being in a different country when I  was traveling with girls who I feared becoming close to. One of my roommates, lets  call her B, from Maine was studying Art History. B is a bubbly and sweet blond, but  she is sharp as a tack. Her corky habits and her giggle are absolutely her best  qualities. We had several classes together and when we traveled, we were  interested in seeing the same thing. I was the most thankful of her presence during  an episode in Amsterdam. It was me, my roommate, and another girl that none of us  really cared for. For the sake of the story, I’ll call her E.

I was disgusted with E the moment she had thrown her Tiffany’s necklace  sent via UPS from her mother on the floor.

“It’s not the one I wanted.” E cried. And I rolled my eyes at this selfish, rich  girl’s tackiness. Even though she didn’t share an apartment with us, she was a part  of our program’s group. It was only 3 months and we all had to learn to get along,  despite her self‐centered ignorance.

My roommate and I booked a trip to Amsterdam; Rijks, Van Gogh, Anne  Frank, Oh My! But unfortunately, E wanted to tag along. We had managed to stay  civil until the first morning we woke up in the Dutch city.

“We are in Amsterdam. And all you guys want to do is go to museums?” As if  museums are the equivalent to cemeteries.

B and I looked at each other disappointed. Here E was starting up already.

We tried our best to explain that we’re Art History students; we are here to see art.

“But I want to go to the zoo.” E exclaimed. Much like parents giving a child an  ultimatum, we simply told her that she could either stay at the hotel alone or come  along.

She decided to come with us.

Till this day, I don’t remember what the argument was, but I do remember  that at the end of that day with E and B, there was some sort of confrontation on the  bus heading back to our hotel. E was upset about something and it must have been  something I did. Perhaps it was the fact that when E and B took separate seats on  the bus, I had made the choice to sit next to B. But weren’t we all at least 21?  Shouldn’t we be past petty arguments like bus seat arrangements?

E wasn’t happy, but I clearly remember looking over at B smiling, thankful  that I had someone who had the same interests as me. If I had been stuck with a  plethora of “E” type girls, I would have been completely screwed. Amsterdam was a  dream come true for me. I used to think that I would never make it to the Van Gogh  Museum, eat waffles with ice cream by the I AMSTERDAM sculpture or even see  some of the most famous Vermeer paintings. B had truly saved my Amsterdam  dream. That was the moment I learned to let friendship in again.


3 months had past, 1 week before Christmas, which means it was time to  head home. My last night in Dublin, my friend S was finishing packing her bags  before swinging by to pick me up. S was a petite girl attending Fordham University  in New York. She was the peacemaker of the group, the sweet doll face everyone  loved to be around. Some of the boys in our program were having a farewell party at  their apartment. After S finished packing, we walked together to the other side of  campus for the farewell party. On the way there, we had a momentous conversation.

“I can’t believe this is the end.” I said.

“Shannon, it is not the end. It is only the beginning.”

“You think so?”

“Of course. It’s not as if we are all going back home to different countries. I’ll  only be two hours away.” She claimed.

“You’re right.” I felt a little bit uplifted. Her optimistic approach was  refreshing. Yet, it still didn’t convince me a hundred percent.

“Seriously, we will see each other again, I promise.”

A year later, a week before St Patrick’s Day, S sends me a Facebook message.  She was visiting Chicago to see her sister who was attending grad school at the  School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I was ecstatic for a chance to see my old study  abroad friend once again.

So on St Patrick’s Day, I took her to my favorite suburban pub, Ballydoyle. We  enjoyed pints of Bulmers and listened to live Irish folk music. It was like the old  times all over again.

S had kept her promise. It definitely taught me a thing or two about loyalty.  Standing in the middle of crowd in this busy suburban pub on St Patrick’s Day, I  looked down at my ring and smiled.


The months before S made her appearance in Chicago, I was living like a  hermit in my fantasy world with J, a guy I barely knew. We died faster than a  celebrity relationship. It left me vulnerable to the memories of my past. I realized  quickly that I hid behind J as a scapegoat instead of facing reality on my own. I was  unable to hide within an unknown city or dive into a blissful relationship in order to  pretend that everything is okay. It was depressing to know that I spent hours on the  phone with him while I was living in Dublin. I wrote him long emails instead of  visiting with my roommates. I had wasted hours working on a relationship that  never was. I was too busy thinking about life after Dublin rather than living in the  present.

After J and I broke up, I drowned myself in my studies; making the effort to  finish my undergrad the best I could without falling apart emotionally. School was  my new distraction, a healthier one, but still a distraction. Scared about where I  would go after college, the fear of becoming close to anyone, and the insecurities that had taken over my soul, I was a bomb waiting to explode. I held it all in, in order  to finish alive.

I held on to my mother who unfortunately had to carry much of my weight. I  served tables just to make ends meet, but coming home to ball my eyes out not  wanting to live this life anymore. I had a dark cloud that followed my every step. It  was raining everywhere I went, and there were times I wasn’t too sure how much  longer I was going to last.

In May 2011, I graduated thinking it was going to be one of the happiest days  of my life; accomplishing something that I never knew I could do, but it made things  worse. I couldn’t hide behind books and Art History essays anymore, I had to face  the real world alone.

Then one night after drinking a tad too much, I lost my Claddagh ring. It was  gone as if the promises I had made to myself were broken and the learning  experience in Dublin about friendship and loyalty were tarnished.

Losing that ring made it clear that I was off track again. Learning to live a  better life doesn’t always mean smooth roads; there will always be speed bumps  and construction on the way. I couldn’t let myself dwell on the past or give up when  times were tough. I had to learn to take care of me, myself, and I as selfish or cliché  as that may sound.

Ever since I lost my Claddagh ring, I reminded my soul to continue to love  within in order to create change. I had to learn to love me before I could love  anything or anyone else.


So where am I now? Well I decided to apply for grad school. I told myself that  it’s never to late to continue learning. I have great friends who I keep very close to  me. I am single, but I’m very much okay with it. I finally learned what it means to  love myself without using bumpers. No matter how distracted I keep myself or who  I’m with, or who my friends are, or how much money I have in the bank, I must love  who I am or everything will crumble and I will eventually be left with nothing.

A few months ago from today, I was feeling very good about the changes I  was making; reflecting back on where I used to be and how far I’ve come. I was  heading to Grahams 318 to order a soy latte and work on my book. As I was walking  down the block, something compelling pulled my eyes towards the Irish store, Irish  Sisters. I walked in without hesitation and walked out 5 minutes later with a new,  shiny, authentic Claddagh ring with its crown facing towards my wrist representing  marital status, single.

In three weeks, I’m visiting New York City for the first time. I wonder what  item or personal object from my upcoming trip will inspire me? Dublin, Ireland  taught me to love, establish new friendships, and the true meaning behind loyalty.

The question on my mind now is, will NYC teach me a thing or two about  independence and freedom? We’ll have to see.

I make promises to myself that I can keep.  I take good care of myself as if I was a new born.  I let love in no matter how scary, how risky, or how much it sometimes hurts.


Dublin, Ireland


This is one of my great childhood memories. This cookie jar was my Grandmas, she wasn’t much of a baker but it was always filled with Archway cookies! I spent a lot of time with her growing up, and would always eyeball this cookie jar when visiting. When she died I asked my mom if I could have it. I don’t have many memories like this one from my childhood, but I treasure this.


Rockford, IL


My mother’s gravy boat. Looks the same on the other side.  It was on Mom’s table for as long as I can remember, every holiday. She gave it to me a few years ago (she’s alive and well), and now it’s on my table, every holiday. To be honest, the kids use it for cereal, too, when the dishes are dirty and they can’t find a clean bowl. That’s my cue to get my butt in gear and get them done, lol!


Glens Falls, New York


This is the last piece my mother ever knit. We found the baby blanket in progress on her kitchen table, by the bird watching window, the day after she unexpectedly died 12 years ago. She had already made a sweater and hat to match it. I was 6 months pregnant with my first child, Ada, at the time.  Recently we discovered the stash of yarn used for this blanket and Ada is now knitting a baby blanket with the remaining yarn.


Lest this sound too sentimental, may I add my kids have always used the blanket for their dolls, our cat Minnow used to sleep in the doll bed, and one day Minnow peed all over the blanket.


East Calais, Vermont


It’s a knife that my parents have had since before I was born. In my first memories of it, it was probably already well worn, but at least twice as long as it is today. 40 years of sharpening have reduced it to a mere sliver of its previous form. The original bakelite handle has also been replaced by a wooden one of my dad’s making. It’s still in use!! Every time I go home this knife makes me smile. 


NYC, New York


The toy telephone made by my grandfather for my father and uncle to play with.reminds me of my Grandpa’s creativity, an example of the tinkering he did when not repairing watches and delivering mail.  Details like the handle that turns and the bells which ring remind me of his meticulous patience.  Another reason this is so special to me is the memory of the day  I found the phone when Grandma and I were poking around in their cluttered attic.  Since my husband had been working for Indiana Bell, I had collected toy phones.  I will never forget the incredulous look on Grandma’s face when  I grabbed this toy and asked with excitement, “Could I have this?”  It never would have occurred to her what a gift this was to her 40-year-old granddaughter and how it has reminded me of their love and country home.


Crawfordsvile, IN


Shogi is a Japanese chess like game Datong back about 800 years.  I grew up in Japan playing it with my friends.  There a few important difference between Shogi and chess.  It is a nine by nine square board (chess is 8 by 8).  Once a piece is captured it can be played on to the board as a move.  The pieces are clear wood with Japanese characters carved into each side.  You can tell whose piece it is simply by the way it was facing.  I have heard that the common practice of using mercenaries in battle made this very rational.  As a piece comes into the opponents territory it is turned over and become more powerful.  Finally, the Japanese have a keen sense or respect for the king.  A foot soldier would not be able to put the  king in check mate as this would  be a breach or protocol and an embarrassment to the army.


A few years ago I returned to Japan to spend time with my dad who lived in Japan over a span of 58 years.  During the day I would often go to the public library to read. There a group of older Japanese men sat on their feet on a raised matted area playing Shogi everyday.  In America I would have joined right in and asked if I could play.  In Japan such presumption from a foreigner would not be right however.  So I sat close by and just watched for about two weeks.  Finally one of the men motioned for me to come over and asked it I wanted to play.   It was the beginning of many games together and start of new friendships.


Kanazawa  Japan


  This is the steering wheel I pulled off of Felix’ old Renault Le Car before it got hauled off for scrap by a guy who saw it as he was driving by my house.  It had been sitting there for 15 years, had trees growing through it.  I intend to install it on my balcony, like a ships wheel.  Maybe take the place for a drive someday…..


Bridport ,Vermont

This necklace is one of a few I’ve made out of the black and white rocks that grow on the beach at _______.  But this one is particularly symbolic to me of my struggle to work through regrets and anger toward ___ and replace negative feelings with positive ones and allow me to experience men who were givers, not just takers. During the process, even though I didn’t get the intended results, I got an adventure, and some healing and proof that not all men suck. So when I found this rock with this design in it, I sculpted it into a necklace to commemorate an important time in this long life journey I’m groping my way through.  

Oh, and I also dropped it  on the cement and it chipped a chunk off and my whole body hurt when it happened, proving that if an object represents something meaningful, the object itself is meaningful to us.  

But then I got some black super glue, and now you cant even tell it was wounded, which is perhaps the best symbolism of all!


Seattle, Washington


The yellow straw hat that now hangs in a place of honor on our hatrack was worn  by Grandpa with his bib overalls as he literally walked miles mowing his Indiana barnyard and lawn.   The Farmall label is missing but since it was worn daily in the 1940s and 1950s, that is understandable and is part of why it is a treasure


Waynetown, IN

I was away from painting for many years, and it was a one-day outdoor painting workshop that clicked on the lightbulb for me. When I picked up my first pastel stick, I knew that I wanted to go back to painting in very serious way. 


Ramah, New Mexico

Old School Gallery