Not every small town has a railroad depot, but those you encounter along the KATY Trail, the lengthy “rails-to-trails” gravel trail that bisects Missouri, are often showcases for these unique and almost immediately identifiable structures.
I cycled a portion of the Rock Island spur of the KATY Trail yesterday morning and came across this old Ford pickup truck. It was languishing on the perimeter of a bizarre junkyard-like collection of haphazardly arranged and incredibly disparate odds and ends. In an odd sort of way, the place felt ceremonial with a Lord of the Flies vibe. Strings and ropes are elaborately draped over things. There’s no apparent rhyme or reason, yet there’s an underlying purposefulness. At the heart of this collection appeared to be a house, and only after having stood and studied the unusual scene for a while did I notice an old guy slumped comfortably in the midst of the yard of stuff, camped out on a lawn chair in the shade of a large pile of crates and sheet metal and automotive discardia. He appeared to be watching me with amusement.
I have truly, shockingly, fundamentally missed the scribbled line of faces and figures, the dancing, overlapping scrawl. I love solid blacks contrasted against areas of untouched white, and I love lines that are imperfect, edges that feather, marks that express personality in the way they transition from very thin to blobby thickness. The farmer’s market, an event I love to search out in whatever town I happen to find myself, nearly always presents a wonderfully rich opportunity to make sketches of people. Sometimes I’ll try to illustrate a scene, an encounter, a conversation. Other times, like here, it’s simply about the caricature of those around me. Scribbled lines are simply the best.
He’s been gone for a while now, my dad. I pulled out some of his stuff this morning – badges, patches, medals, photos, ID cards, etc. Each is a different slice of a life lived well beyond the small town he – and eventually I – grew up in. I was surprised to see his Coast Guard ID showed his birthdate a year earlier than the actual date. It was World War II and I know he followed his two older brothers into service. Uncle George was in the Pacific Theatre and Uncle Ralph was a Marine captain who landed on Omaha Beach and lived to tell about it, although he never did. Dad went to the Coast Guard, then the Army for two years. Later, as a member of the Merchant Marine, he was in both the Atlantic and Pacific during wartime. Until I read those ribbon award cards, I didn’t realize that.
As a young man he had a roving spirit, and the Merchant Marine took him to ports all around the world. His earlier service in the Army found him in England, where he learned code and was in Communications. Both experiences were things he frequently talked about, and his stories were often so fantastical that they bordered on total bullshit. In fact, the stories tended to change with every telling, but that’s who my Dad was: a storyteller. When I began to travel, he shared his acquired wisdom of how to order a beer and a burger, and ask for the loo in various languages. He told me how to keep my wallet safe by burying it in my pocket, separated from the outside world by fishing hooks tied to my jeans, apparently a deterrent against pickpockets! My brother and I recall many tales of his Bengal Tiger, won as a cub in a poker game. The animal eventually grew too large to stay on board ship.
I think he must have preferred the life of the Merchant seaman because he stayed enlisted for about a decade before finally settling down, bringing a wife – my mom – over from England. To my recollection, he never traveled abroad again, although we drove all over the continental United States, four kids and a dog piled into the back of a station wagon among the suitcases. To the end, he regaled us with ever more elaborate stories of exotic ports of call, and I wonder if he was disappointed never to revisit those places.
Here in Missouri, he stayed put for a while, built a house and joined the fire department. He taught us how to distinguish between the sound of a police siren, an ambulance, and the lower wail of a fire engine – something I eventually passed along to my kids as well. I remember when he was on the evening news, having landed in the hospital, old enough to realize they were talking about my dad but too young to realize the gravity of a fireman involved in an accident. But all turned out well, and he advanced in rank to Driver, then to Captain.
We moved often as he approached retirement. To Arkansas for exactly one year. To a Southwest Missouri farm. And eventually returning to his hometown, where my brother, sisters, and I all graduated from high school.
I’m happy my kids got to know him, but there’s a palpable sadness they have already forgotten a lot, that they never got to see the guy my brother and I knew when we were kids.
Summer has arrived. The back streets of the city are hot and empty. I’m out in search of interesting graphic shapes, overlapping stuff, playful interactions between foreground and background. Grittiness. Grunge.
I decide one pen is making lines that are too clean, too perfect looking and switch to something dirtier.
I’ve missed the grittiness of the industrial areas, the “used” look of downtown alleys and bridges, signs, telephone poles, and chewed up streets. My pens and I have journeyed forth in search of grunge this past week.
Life moves pretty slowly on the lake, and revolves around the boat dock. My father-in-law still puts out crawdad traps, and we still boil up several dozen and stand around a table cracking them open, dipping the meat into butter, and then chasing it down with a sip from ice cold bottles of beer.
Annabelle would probably be more than happy to stay at the lake house full time. The most activity we see out of her is when the catfish fry gets going, and then she trots down the ramp to where we are cooking, there to beg for slices of fried potato. As is probably evident, she leads a terrible life.
It’s been a good run, this little series, but this will probably be the last for a while. I’m missing my pens a lot, and I’d like to wander around and maybe sketch a downtown alley or something grungy with a lot of contrast between foreground, middle ground, and background.
Coming home from a short bike ride in the country I saw this barn in the middle of a field. The shape and contrast stoked my imagination, and I began to play around with colors to see what would happen.