Miss Davenport is surprised

Chapter 12

All the news from Walnut Shade
August 18, 2011

The heat wave continues, with the average high reaching 97 degrees this last week.  The forecast is for a cool front coming in next week, with a chance of rain or thunderstorms.  A break in the weather would be appreciated by everyone, I know (and everyone I know).

Miss Cecilia Davenport was surprised with a birthday party as part of her book signing on Saturday.  She quoted Eubie Blake: “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.”  Miss Davenport, we all hope we are in as good health as you are when we are 95.

Marie and Grant Combs spent Saturday with Grant’s brother Allen and sister-in-law Jane planning their trip to Santa Fe in October.  They usually attend the Indian Market in August, but Grant has been busy this month with Walnut Shade business.

The Town Council held a public hearing on Monday to discuss the increase in fees for the Volunteer Fire Department.  The current fee, which has not been raised since 1997, is $25 per year; the proposed new fee is $35 per year.  A show of hands from those attending indicated that the fee increase was acceptable.  The Town Council will hold a final vote on the measure at its September meeting and the new fee will go into effect on October 1.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham played bingo with Jessica’s sister and brother-in-law on Saturday night at the VFW hall in Marysville.

Al Higgs, Jim Filmore and Clarke Wick had a “gig” at the American Legion Saturday night.  Al says that they are looking for a bass player to add to the group, which plays Dixieland jazz.

Ilene Wick, Lori Mendenhall, and Sheila Miller played Mahjong on Tuesday with Ruth Stanford.    Anna Brady usually is the fourth in the group, but she was in Lincoln, Nebraska visiting her nephew and his wife, who are students at the University of Nebraska.  Anna graduated from NU in 1959 and is a loyal Cornhusker even though she wasn’t happy with the team’s move to the Big 10.

Don Norman is feeling much better, according to Dorothy.  She says that she and Don have decided to go back to their regular diet since Dr. Oswald thought Don might be getting too much protein on the vegan diet they have been on.  Don says that brown rice and beans at every meal might, indeed, be too much.

Stuart Goddard says that his company, Prairie Solutions, is getting ready to roll out a new product.  It’s an on-line game in which players create “Sims-type” games that compete against each other for domination of the overall Sim simulation.

Barb and Bruce Wilson, Frank and Sarah Brown, and Mike and Elaine Brown met Marshall and Marie Green at the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City for brunch on Sunday.  Marie was in Overland Park attending the Kansas County Commissioners conference Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Lorene Robertson resigned as bookkeeper at the Farmers Bank in Fremont and went back to her job as office manager at the ASCS office.  She said that she missed seeing her old friends every day.

The building that served as St.Brendan’s Convent until 1972 has been sold to Harry Singleton and his partner Jason Glenn.  They plan to open a bed and breakfast and restaurant once renovations are complete, sometime before Christmas.  The Convent has been used by the Catholic diocese as a retreat facility for the last thirty years, but recent financial considerations made its sale desirable.

Sue, Jim and Jason Brady went to Chillicothe, Missouri, on Sunday to visit Sue’s mother, Doris Mays, and aunt, Allene Richards.  Sue’s mom is planning a reunion for the Mays family for sometime in the spring.

Sherri Brown says that she has been getting some interesting books suggestions for “Walnut Shade Reads,” including Moby Dick (Melville), PrairyErth (William Least Heat Moon), Picasso at the Lapin Agile and Other Plays (Steve Martin), At Home in the Phog (Bill Self), Team of Rivals (Doris Kearns Godwin), The Hidden Reality:  Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos (Brian Greene) and The Bible.  The final selection will be made in about a week.

Staying inside where it’s cool…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

I ran into Stuart, Leslie and Miles Goddard at Shirley’s on Tuesday and when I asked how the software business was going, Miles started explaining their newest product, Sim-Sim.  After about fifteen solid minutes of computer-geek speak, he took a breath and dug into his lemon meringue pie.  Miles is eleven and knows more about computers and digital technology than anyone of any age ought to know.  Even though he has a degree in software engineering, Stuart is the business manager and Miles is the techno-brains of the operation.  While not involved in the business, Leslie is no computer slouch either; she has a PhD in Philosophy and teaches two courses at Purdue and one at Rice entirely on-line.  When I think that I ran the statistical analysis for my Master’s thesis on a computer that used punch-cards and wrote the whole thing on a manual typewriter, I wonder how I survived.  I suppose each generation marvels at the progress the succeeding generation is the beneficiary of (and I’m especially glad that Miss Davenport isn’t critiquing this sentence!).

Speaking of Miss Davenport (as far as I can tell, no one in town has ever called her anything else, even though she was married for forty-seven years to Harry Marks, who died on his 99th birthday, four years ago; Harry and Miss Davenport got married when he was 52 and she was 48 after a whirlwind courtship that apparently started at the high school graduation ceremony when he and she were given the task of handing out the diplomas; after teaching together for fifteen years, it was a case of love at sort-of first sight), her surprise party was quite an event.  Somehow, it was all kept from her right up to the time she walked into the library and about fifty people yelled “Happy Birthday.”  In addition to the cake in the shape of a bust of John Donne, Mayor Combs gave her a key to the city and resolution from the town council declaring Saturday as “Miss Cecilia Davenport Day.”  Ever the composed and practical person, she “shed not a tear” and said that she hoped that most people had come to buy a copy of her book and not just for the cake.  Whether they had so intended or not, most everyone left with a copy signed in her elegant long-hand.

We were all surprised to hear that St. Brendan’s Convent had been sold, especially for another B&B and restaurant.  Sally Oswald, the chair of the Main Street/PRIDE committee, said that she had had a discussion with Harry Singleton about six months ago about the prospects for a new business in Walnut Shade, but at the time, she thought that he might be thinking about opening a home decor shop next door to his sister Glenda’s antique store.   Sally said she thought that he had also talked to Michelle and Tom Clemons, but that that was more to find out about the market for decorator items since they display a few things for sale at Holly House.

On my late evening walk with Jerry, I wandered by Holly House and saw Tom sitting on the front porch with his dog, Sabetha.  Jerry and Sabetha are good friends, having been in dog training class a few years before, so I decided to stop and see if I could find out what Tom knew about the new B&B.

“Michelle and I visited with Harry over a year ago about the potential for another bed and breakfast in town.  Since we only have four rooms, which are full most of the time, we told him we thought there was an opportunity here.  We had no idea that he would think about the Convent,” Tom declared.

The Convent is not a huge facility, but it should at least double the number of rooms Holly House has.

“You aren’t afraid that Harry might take away some of your business, are you?”  I asked.

“Not a bit.  In fact, we’d like to lower our occupancy a bit.  We’ve been working pretty much none stop for the last year and a break every now and then would be great.”

The next morning, I stopped at Bach’s Lunch to see what Susan Hall thought about any potential competition from the proposed restaurant.

“Harry and Jason came in last week and chatted about what they have in mind.  From what I understand, they only plan to serve breakfast to their guests and dinner by reservation, so that won’t affect my business much.  It will be good to have a nice restaurant in town again.”  Susan remembers Mozart’s, which closed about five years ago.  A family-owned restaurant that specialized in Eastern European cuisine and had regular customers from St. Joe, Manhattan, and Atchison, it closed when Theresa Wolfe and her husband Karl decided to retire.  Their daughter, Daphne, thought about taking it over, but decided that her health was not up to the challenge.  It was a real blow to the town then, but the prospect, now, of a new evening dining venue is exciting and it should increase the tourist trade.


For the twentieth year in a row, Judy has tried to get me to be a judge of the exhibits at the Miller County Fair and for the nineteenth year in a row, I’ve resisted.  The first time she asked, I agreed and I count it as one of the major mistakes of my life.  For one thing, I had no understanding of the rules of the game and for another, I was not prepared for the consequences of not knowing the rules of the game.  Here’s how it goes:  kids enter a variety of categories for which they are either required to produce something, raise something or perform something.  For example, one exhibitor might take a photograph.  Another exhibitor might raise a rabbit or a heifer; another might give a speech.  In recognition of their work and depending upon the quality of the work, the exhibitor may earn a ribbon, blue being the highest honor, red the next highest, and white the last, but still honorific.  Seems like a pretty sensible system to me.  

So, in approaching my judging duties in the home baked goods category (why I was chosen to judge this I’ll never know, but I suspect it was some sort of challenge devised by the gods to test my honesty and character), I was told to considered things like appearance and presentation for the breads and rolls that were place on the table before me.  I wasn’t allowed to taste the items, so I don’t know if they were edible, but some were visually more appealing than other.  

One inviolable criterion for the awarding of a ribbon of any color is that the item must be produced by the person who presents it as his or her own.  In most instances, it was easy to tell that a loaf of bread or a pan of cloverleaf rolls was the work of the young lady or gentleman who approached my judging realm; the smiles on their faces and obvious pride in their workmanship was a dead give-away.  The only question was whether they should get a blue or red ribbon.  Blues were the norm and I generally complied with that.  But there were a few kids who came in with loaves of bread that had to have been purchased at the grocery store and then wrapped in plastic wrap at home.  When I questioned them about this, at first they were evasive and then they admitted that they had been too busy to bake the bread themselves.  

“But I bought the nicest one I could find,” one miscreant said.  

“No ribbon,” I said.  

Had I slapped the kid, I wouldn’t have had quite the wrath called down on my head as the simple act of not awarding even a white ribbon.  Susie (not here real name, obviously) walked over to her mother, whispered something and then turned around and pointed at me.  The next thing I knew, Susie’s mother was headed in my direction at what I judged to be just under the speed of sound.

“Why didn’t my daughter get a blue ribbon?” she asked, only a couple of shades away from that color herself.

“Blue?” I asked incredulously.  “She didn’t even bake the bread herself.  Why should she get any ribbon at all?”

“You don’t understand.  Everyone gets a blue ribbon.  That’s the way it has always been.  She made an effort, didn’t she?”

Ah, yes, an award for effort.  That’s what we all aspire to and believe we deserve.  Excellence in execution is secondary.  The critical question is:  did we try?  From now on, all the teams in baseball will be co-World Series Champions because they tried; all teams in the NFL will be co-Super Bowl Champs because they tried; everyone, anywhere, who plays tennis will be declared co-Wimbledon winners and greeted by the Queen because they tried.

I later found out that Susie’s mother was one of a very small handful of parents who made everyone’s life miserable at the Fair, not just mine that day.  Fortunately, over the years, the attitude that just showing up earns the highest honors has been, little by little, eradicated, replaced by the understanding that excellence is rewarded and effort alone is given its due, but no blue ribbon.  One major outcome of the controversy is that, even though repeatedly asked, I have not, in the end, had to be a judge again, since every year I threaten to give everyone a white ribbon, whether they’ve earned it or not.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
This entry was posted in Art, Dada, Observations, Serendipity, Small Town Life and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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