Chapter 39 — Our Buddha in a Bathtub

February 16, 2012

Lorene Robertson decided to retire from the ASCS office after 33 years in that post (minus the three months she was “on leave” at the Farmers Bank in Fremont). During that time, she amassed 3,424 hours of unclaimed sick leave. She admits that after she had been on the job for a couple of months, she came down with a cold and took one day off. Ken Olin, the ASCS supervisor, said that he is trying to determine if that is a record for being on the job. At any rate, Lorene is going to get a nice little check for that unused leave. Congratulations, Lorene, but we will miss see in you in the office.

Hazel and Millie Bradford visited Ruth Stanford on Monday at Walnut Rest. Ruth had a minor fall on Saturday, but is doing fine. “Nothing broke, which at my age is saying a lot,” Ruth reports.

The St. Valentine’s Day Dance was great fun this year. We all celebrated the Dixieland Stompers’ addition of Melody Watkins to the group. The band played all the old standbys, but added several pieces that featured Melody on vocals and piano. We look forward to more concerts in the future.

Marie Combs reports that Grant was back at KU Med Center for some tests last Friday. He had a bad cold that he just couldn’t seem to shake and Marie was afraid that it would turn into pneumonia. We’re all hoping for a speedy return to city hall.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham took Jessica’s mother, Lillian, to Marysville on Saturday to play bingo at the VFW. It was the first time for Lillian and she won $6.

Susan Hall is trying out some new recipes at Bach’s Lunch. She invites the adventurous eaters in Walnut Shade to stop in and take a chance on something new. We know it will be good, Susan. You’ve never let us down.

Sally Oswald says that the Main Street/Pride committee decided to sponsor an all-town garage sale the weekend of April 6 and 7. “We thought that that being the weekend before taxes are due, we would help put a little money in peoples’ pockets.” We hope that’s true but we remember that Billy Thornton says that garage sales are just a way to move junk from one garage in town to another garage in town. Always the cynic, Billy.

Patsy Powers got a call on Sunday from her great aunt, Virginia O’Halloran, who moved with her husband, Pat, to Scottsdale, Arizona in November. Patsy reports that they are both doing great. Virginia’s arthritis is not causing her as much trouble, it seems, and Pat is playing golf every day in the Arizona sun.

Inez Harris had lunch with Cordelia Beck in Topeka on Monday. She then stopped by the Capitol to visit with Rep. Adams about funding for the arts in Kansas. It seems the Governor is determined to reduce that item in the budget and Inez is just as determined to not let that happen. My money is on Inez, so to speak

Glenda Singleton got the galleys of her book of poems last week and is busy proofing them. It should be on the shelves in April, if all goes well.

Jody Tyler flew to Minneapolis on Friday to be with her mother and father for a few days.

Tom Clemons received word that the documentary being done by the Australian film crew that was in town in October and again in December has been selected to have its first screening during the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Walnut Shade plays a prominent role in the film so perhaps we should all make plans to go to Toronto.

In the mean time, I’m just going to hang around town, but I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent


Anyone who has driven through the eastern or midwestern United States has probably come across what is affectionately known as “Mary in a bathtub” or “Mary on the half-shell,” that curious grotto that holds the Virgin Mary in what may or may not be an actual bathtub. Apparently, the shrine was invented by devout Catholic immigrants from the Azores. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica (yes, there still is such a thing and I’ve got the seventy-five pound set in my basement to prove it), they first showed up in New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts around 1950 but quickly spread to the upper Mississippi River valley as that part of the country had a large contingent of German, Polish and Irish Catholics. In the early ‘50s, people were beginning to remodel their homes and the clawfoot tubs were considered old-fashioned, so there were lots of used bathtubs around.

Until recently, Walnut Shade had its own bathtub Mary. It was in the yard of Doris and Ralph Wright. You might remember that the Wright’s house burned in 2007 and they moved to Colorado rather than stay in town and rebuild. It was not an unexpected decision as their daughter and son-in-law live in Boulder. Doris said at the time that she was hoping to be closer to grandchildren. For some reason, though, they hung onto the lot and it wasn’t until last August that it was sold to Norm and Jeannette Oh who were living in a rental next door. The Oh’s are in the midst of building a new house on the lot.

Well, about that bathtub Mary. When the house burned, the lot was cleared of everything except that shrine. No one really knows why. The Wrights weren’t Catholic, so it didn’t have religious significance or sentimental value for them. It had been installed by the people who had owned the house prior to the Wrights. The Hastings had moved to Walnut Shade in the 1940s from Kentucky, from an area where bathtub Marys were quite common. Now some of these shrines are not really bathtubs, but are commercially-produced versions with scalloped edges or other decorations. The one in the Wright’s yard, though, was a real, live bathtub sunk in the ground. Those old cast iron tubs weighted a ton, so maybe that’s why it was never removed, either by the Hastings or the Wrights.

So, for five years, Mary was alone in the yard, waiting for someone to either move her or for new owners to appreciate her. Then, one morning, she was gone. Jeannette Oh first noticed it when she walked next door to check on the progress of the construction of her house.

“It was a beautiful November morning, the 1st, as a matter of fact. I was stopping in to meet the electrician who was finishing up the installation of the service panel when I sensed something in the front yard was different,” Jeannette related. “I’m not sure what made me glance at Mary, but there it was, an empty bathtub. Since it was the night after Halloween, I just figured that some of the kids in town had decided to move Mary somewhere like they do Mr. Baker’s outhouse. But when she didn’t turn up a couple days later, we decided something else had happened to her. We asked around town, but no one had any clues. I hope whoever took her will be good to her.”

As I’ve mentioned, despite having three churches, Walnut Shade is a town of free thinkers and variously-spiritual people. At one time, there was a fairly large Theosophical Society in town, during the late 1800s. Before that, Richard David Owen began a Transcendental Society here, which lasted until the 1930s. At various times, we have had Unitarian churches, Eastern Orthodox Catholic groups, a brief spell of Mormons, Scientologists, Christian Scientists, Sufis and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were several Children of God living on a farm outside town in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but they moved to Japan to witness like the Hari Krishnas in airports. The Masons were an important part of the town until their temple burned in the downtown fire in 1920 and the chapter moved to Fremont. Most of the members that lived here are long since passed. The Quakers played a big role in the lead-up to the Civil War and chances are there are more atheists here per capita than in any town in Kansas. Besides Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and Hindus, the one group that hasn’t been numbered among the burghers of Walnut Shades has been Buddhists. Until Norm and Jeannette Oh moved here last summer.

Norm teaches comparative religion and sociology at Washburn University in Topeka and Jeannette owns a holistic health center there. They moved to Walnut Shade from Boulder where they got to know Doris and Ralph Wright.

“It was a chance meeting,” Jeannette says. “Doris came into the shop I ran there looking for some herbs to ease a pain in her back. Her chiropractor had suggested she give some a try and we got to talking about where she was from. She mentioned that she and Ralph owned a piece of property in Walnut Shade that they were thinking about selling. Norm had just been offered a position at Washburn and we decided to give Walnut Shade a look. Being so close to Topeka made it a real possibility, so we rented the house from Frank and Anna Mae Bundy and bought the lot from the Wrights.”

Ok, but what about Mary in the bathtub? Or Mary that wasn’t in the bathtub?

“Norm and I are Zen Buddhists and when Mary disappeared, it seems like a good time to create our own shrine, so on December 8, which was Bodhi Day, or the day that the Buddha attained enlightenment, we installed a likeness of him in the place previously occupied by Mary. We didn’t think she would mind since she was an enlightened one, also.”

So that is how Walnut Shade got its own Buddha in a bathtub. We think he fits in very nicely in this free-thinking town that celebrates diversity and enlightenment, and so far, Buddha seems to agree.

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
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