Posts Tagged ‘Marrowbone Creek Vagrants’

“The things you see when you don’t have a gun.”

April 10, 2013
First Spring Tulips in the Veggie Garden

First Spring Tulips in the Veggie Garden

This isn’t original to me. It’s part of a nun’s dialogue from “Call The Midwife”. My husband and I fell off the couch laughing when we heard a hard-bitten nun say this. It’s rather familiar to us, too, because my husband’s mother became a lay nun. And she had a gun…. though a .410 in the closet. A gun probably to shoot mice or small varmints, though in the middle of Miami, with the close housing, I would imagine it would be noticed.

Here in Atlanta? Nah. The local idiots have AK47s, other assault weapons, and not a hunter amongst them. They get liquored up during July 4th, New Year’s Eve and off they go. It seems like a tradition in the South, but bullets fly through the air and land in people’s skulls. When New Year’s Eve approaches, we don’t sleep under the skylights. Just a precaution.

I would not be in favor of any person having a gun, but living in Atlanta all these years…I don’t dare not have one. The police are slow, dead and swimming in the wrong direction (a bon mot by a doctor about a friend’s sperm count years ago…who went on to have two rotten boys…) and the guns we have are shotguns. They are for house defense, but in all these decades here we haven’t had to use them. I don’t even know where the shells are for them anymore, which is probably not a good thing. And even with a gun that can hit the proverbial barn door…..I am a rotten shot. Something about closing my eyes when I squeeze the trigger I’m told.

I used to hunt…or thought that was what I was doing. A couple of blog entries back I wrote about a wild turkey in neighbor’s back yard, but I didn’t think to write about my only attempt at turkey hunting three decades ago. Probably more.

Way before dawn, I went up to Lake Burton, shotgun at the ready, to hunt wild turkey. These are intelligent and wily birds, and I was told the best time is to hunt at dawn when they are picking up acorns, etc. I positioned myself under a big oak tree when it was still dark, and fell asleep. I woke up when the sun was high enough and no turkeys to be seen. I remember tripping and falling flat on my face when I was tired enough of this ‘no show’ by wily turkey and throwing the gun wide. Luckily, it didn’t go off.

When I was younger, I used to (try) to shoot pheasant in the soy bean fields behind our property in rural New Jersey. I got so excited (and scared) by these big birds that lumbered into the air in front of me, like B-24s, who wheeled into the sun and they blinded you by this flight, and I would get one shot off (always missing) and promptly throw on the safety. I am left-handed, and could never break myself from doing so. I was using my ‘best’ gun, an old Ithaca 12 gauge and every time I got off a shot I would pummel my left shoulder. The trick (besides being a good shot and I wasn’t) is to hold the shotgun tight into your shoulder BEFORE you let off a round. The kickback will kill and bruise your shoulder. Years later, off the back end of a boat, I shot skeet and the same thing happened. A black and blue shoulder and top of the breast doesn’t look good in a strapless gown.

Actually, I never killed an animal with my stupid hunting. I did kill two beautiful butterflies out of pure meanness and I remember with great regret doing so. I never picked up that gun again. In fact, I gave it away.

I do remember though, hunting with Doug Craig, a friend from Princeton who had come back from Viet Nam with pounds of shrapnel in his gut that was slowly removed by various surgeries. Doug was a great sport, and survived my attempt to get a rabbit. I was shooting at the rabbit as he ran in a zigzag and Doug was hopping around the field trying to avoid losing his feet and legs to my hunting lack o’ skill. I guess the shrapnel he had removed (mostly) from his gut was the main event so my attempts with buck or bird shot was small potatoes. Later, Doug got a young male pheasant. We were hunting on the Staats property. We stashed the fowl in the bushes and thought perhaps we should ask surly old man Staats IF we could hunt on his property. He said no, and we left. We ignored him because his questionable sons hunted on our land and shot a beautiful buck. Actually, they never killed it, they mortally wounded it and left the buck to die. I remember my father finding the buck, hearing it thrash in the grass in this beautiful wooded glen. He killed it and brought us out to see and learn that you never shoot an animal without making sure that it’s dead. It was a lesson I learned and he had some shocked children with him learning.

After WWII my father would not allow any hunting on his land. He became a pacifist, this beautiful and gentle man. I was very surprised when in the late 70’s when I was running away from a poisonous marriage he allowed me to bring a gun on the property. He understood something I didn’t.

Between us we had one wild rabbit and one pheasant. I can still see that rabbit head whirling in slow motion as I threw it into the ravine after skinning him. My father hadn’t eaten rabbit for many decades, and was pretty proud that his only daughter cooked it for him. The pheasant was not so good because there were too many pellets in it…teeth breakers. I threw the rabbit pelt onto the tin kitchen roof where it stayed for a couple of years.

Doug died in Philadelphia, mugged in 1992. He lay in the morgue for three weeks until his father, Dr. Donald Craig came and identified him. Both good men and both dead now. Dr. Craig was a vet in Princeton, a large animal vet, and his house was from 1740’s or earlier. He had two refrigerators and it was Russian Roulette you played when you went for a snack. He held autopsy samples in one and human food in another. Some times he mixed them up…hence the Roulette. It was always a surprise when you opened the door.

This entry has nothing to do with anything, (some days I get sick of poetry…) but I am still laughing at the title. Perhaps total gun control will save wildlife from people like me. But it will be hard to pry the guns from these fool’s hands in Atlanta. Now there is a bill to allow students on college campuses to carry guns in holsters. Mix booze (to say nothing of drugs) with guns and you got worse than the wild, wild West. Already some people carry guns in church around here.

Bibles and guns….a deadly mix.

Lady Nyo

“Memories of a Rotten Childhood”….Doug Craig.

October 31, 2010


English Countryside, jkohut-bartels, watercolor, 2007


Recently I started reading this collection of essays.  It has bloomed into possibly a book.   Then again, there are things so deep down in the mists of childhood, that any dragging  them up into the light seems endless.  Childhood seemed endless.

Doug Craig was a favored childhood friend.

Lady Nyo

Chapter from “Memories of a Rotten Childhood”  (Doug Craig)

We met one fall, now years ago, when we were no longer young.  I was running from a mean early marriage.  Doug was just running.

It was 3 years since the end of the Vietnam War, and Doug had plenty of ghosts to run from.  He was to be shipped out, and the night before his platoon, company, whatever it was called….was attacked.  Doug woke up to gunfire in his tent, and got shrapnel in his torso, mainly his stomach if I remember right.

Doug was a kid I grew up with in the wilds of New Jersey back in the 60’s.  His father was the large animal vet in Princeton.  It was always a chancy issue to open the two refrigerators in their 1740’s house on Stockton Road.  One held food, and the other specimens.  It was a fearful thing for a child unaware of which door held which.  I can still hear the booming voice of this Scottish man yelling at all of us.  We lived in terror of his voice, but he was one of the kindest and gentlest men we knew.  Clearly a case of his bark worse than his bite.

Doug’s mother was the picture of elegance:  two shelties on two matching settees in the sitting room, a glowering portrait of some infamous relative over the fireplace, and his mother warm and welcoming.  We all loved this family.  Doug came from good stock.  Too bad he was so crazy.

We had a bluegrass band back then, called Marrowbone Creek Vagrants, made up of neighborhood kids.  I believe this band, in some form…with different name changes, still is viable.  Sort of like a vampires convention when the kids come back to the stomping grounds of the New Jersey countryside.

Music wasn’t the only thing we had in common.  Motorcycles, and the attendant accidents, horrible, property destroying stunts,  and basically goofing off.  But music was the river that ran through us.  Today for many of these guys and gals…it still is.

I came home that fall day with two shotguns.  One a 20 gauge Mossberg, and the other one a 12 gauge Ithaca.  My father gave me a weird look when he picked me up from the airport.  He was a pacifist and wouldn’t have a gun on the property, except for a Benjamin Franklin air pistol, which shot rivets.  That he kept for shooting walnuts out of the crooks of walnut trees.  He was a marksman during WW11 and besides a bow, he would not have weapons near him.  Perhaps being in a B-24 for most of the war was deadly enough.

Doug and I decided to go hunting.  I just wanted a chance to shoot off those shotguns.  Living in urban Atlanta didn’t give me many chances.  And the woods where it was legal to shoot off guns were miles away.

We ‘hunted’ all over the back of my parent’s property.  Mostly cut down soybean fields, and what we were looking to kill, I didn’t really know.  I DID know that I was a failure when it came to birds.  We have those big pheasants up in New Jersey, the ones who come up low in front of you, and wheel into the sun so you can’t see or follow them well.  And I had the problem of automatically flipping the safety on the gun after every shot.  I never could break myself of this, and don’t know where it came from.

But hunted we did.  I should have realized Doug ‘hunted’ differently than any other person I knew. He crouched down, held the gun low and crept through the underbrush.  I didn’t realize then what I was looking at was a man who had just come back from the wars.  Apparently Doug was trained, now irreversibly, as a soldier.

He was a very brave man.  He hunted with me, a real nincompoop when it came to hunting.  We scared up a young rabbit, and I kept shooting at it as it jagged away.  Unfortunately, I was mostly shooting at Doug’s boots, and it is still a wonder that I didn’t add to his shrapnel wounds.  Doug got the rabbit.

Then we decided our luck would turn better if we trespassed on ol’ man Staats land.  Full of woods, and we were bound to find something.  Doug found a pheasant there, and bagged it on one shot.

Then we got stupid and decided to go ask Staats if we could hunt on his land.  He thought about it a moment, and said ‘no’.  Fine with us, we had bagged that pheasant on his turf, stowed it behind a tree, and besides, we were tired of hunting.  It was turning colder, and we were hungry.

We went home, Doug to his house on River Road.  He was living with other varmints and it was an old farm house, looking none the better for Doug living there.

I remember skinning the rabbit.  I had read something about this, so at least I knew what to do. Mostly.  I do remember cutting off the rabbit head, and throwing it out over the ravine.  It slowly revolved in the air, looking at me reproachfully, with every revolution.   Thirty some years later and I still remember that stare.

I cooked the rabbit for my father.  My mother wouldn’t have a thing to do with my rabbit stew.  My father said he hadn’t had rabbit in thirty years, and pronounced it ‘good’.  The pheasant was another issue.  I plucked the feathers, saving the tail for some future decoration, and draped bacon over the back of it.  Problem was this:  pheasant was full of birdshot and dried up quickly.  Eating it was a problem, so I threw it into the ravine for the raccoons.

I threw the rabbit pelt up on the copper kitchen roof.  Why, I don’t know.  I do know that my mother bitched about it for about a year until my father or someone retrieved it.  Should have been well cured by then.

Doug and I didn’t see each other again until my father lay in the hospital with a stroke twelve years later.  Doug would take me late at night to visit him, and spent hours just talking.  I was there for a week, but it took my father nine months of recovery to die.

Doug was a good friend.  We both were running from ghosts, many kinds of ghosts.  He had an old Seth Thomas clock I bought from him.  He carefully packed it up and shipped it months later.  Doug was also a very fine Kentucky rifle maker.  He was going to make me a gun. Doug, once he focused his scattered and fried, mind could excel in anything.

Two years after my father died, Doug died on the streets of Philly one night.  He was mugged and lay in the morgue until identification was possible and Dr. Craig was contacted.

I think Doug was our first childhood friend to die.  Perhaps there were others claimed by the war.  But I don’t remember.  I do remember that all of us were in shock: Doug, though living and behaving always on the edge, seemed invincible.  Didn’t he survive Vietnam?  How could something like this take him?

If it could take him, it could take the rest of us.  Life has no guarantees, obviously.

I think all of us have a Doug Craig in our lives, somewhere.  They are the people we miss the most because they have lived the fullest of lives.  We know they are part crazy, but that was also part of the times, and lots of their charm.

We live through them at times because they are braver than us.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2010

Violins and Head-Wound Hannah.

May 11, 2009

To those who don’t know me well, I was SUPPOSED to be a violinist. To those who know me well, and there are only a few who would claim that….they know why I’m not.

Jerry Steele is one who knows me very well, as  we go back to high school dozens of decades ago.  We are so old now and though we aren’t immortal, perhaps we are vampires or the undead in some important way.  At least it seems  to me to be so as we rack up life experiences and some of them very dangerous, yet we still puff along.  There has to be some explanation for all of this.  I’m remembering  motorcycles (him) horses and flying hockey pucks and misplaced hardballs……some nasty headwounds.

Jerry and my brothers are true musicians.  Anything they can get in their mouths, or under their fingers, they can play.  These guys even made their own instruments.  Jerry knows this to be true, because he was one of the early (I’m talking ’60’s) members of the myriad groups my brothers and others formed in Princeton High School.

Marrowbone Creek Vagrants was one of the earliest bluegrass bands.  They were incredible. Guitars, an old bass fiddle  (Jerry), mandolins, banjos, violins, dobro playing, foot stomping, errie harmony, rib sticking music.   Did you know that American Standard, who makes toilets also makes Bass Fiddles??   Just a ‘for your information’ piece of trivia.  (I’ve known this for decades, but just remembering makes me laugh…and it’s a good ‘out’ Jerry, for all that lousy toilet playing bass fiddle stuff….well, I’d lean on that genesis of the bass fiddle.  Hard instrument to play…almost as hard as enamel.)

But I was supposed to be a violinist.  My father tried hard to make his only daughter and first child one.  He bought me a lovely lionheaded Steiner somewhere, and it couldn’t have been cheap.  That violin was a 3/4 violin, and permanently messed up my fingering.  Or that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

No, I am fishing around for any excuse I can find, because from 5th grade, I was the very worse violin student you could ever find.  My poor teachers (all men) dis pared of me even showing up for lessons, and my father made sure that I did.  As I remember, 5 days a week in school, because that was back when the curriculum of elementary school had arts and music.  Arts might be paste and construction paper, but music was a mainstay.

Mr. ____ (I can’t remember the name of this very gentle and kind man) in elementary school would look crestfallen when I appeared because he knew as my lack of proficiency grew with the violin, so did the excuses and my stubbornness.  I would drag the case down the hall, down steps, and knew by this trick that the violin would be out of tune by the time I reached him.  That would take up 5 minutes of a 40 minute lesson.  I complained about the rosin that made my teeth clench, I complained about the possibility of a string breaking and hitting me in the face, I complained about how the violin made my chin and shoulder sore.  This issue of the violin strings breaking was real, because I experienced them popping suddenly (and not when I was playing hard and fast) and slapping me across the face…and almost taking out an eye.

There were a lot of head wounds in childhood, and the violin just contributed to this.  I wanted to play the bugle, something that my father, a French Horn player…a serious musician, brought home for us kids, but he threw a hard ball to his only daughter who insisted that she knew how to catch it, (and placed the mitt right in front of her face) and it went through the mitt (and I don’t think it even hit the leather) and badly bruised the left of my face,  including my mouth.  The swelling for a week stopped my bugle career because my mother was a nurse and thought I would permanently damage my face if I continued.  Who knows?  She probably was right, and considering other handicaps, perhaps I would never get married?  A major concern of mothers back then with tomboy daughters…

The four years of high school for violin playing got no better.  I remember vaguely being in orchestra, so I must have learned something. I remember my violin teacher, a lovely hard pressed man who was orchestra and band teacher, on the floor, picking up my foot, and pressing it down, trying to make me play some sort of rhythm, with me on top playing the stupid, rosin flying violin and STILL not getting the rhythm.

I remember the ‘etudes’….some Polish or Frenchman who was determined to kill school violinists by these practice pieces.  I can still play them in my sleep, and actually they weren’t too bad…musically.  They were actual music.  I must have practiced them because I still have dreams of the fingering, and that is why I am writing this blog entry because I was having a nightmare about the Violin.

In college….Westminster Choir College, I was a violin minor. Very minor if you ask me.  I had one of the finest violinists around the NE, Nicholas Harashonyi…a fellow Hungarian of my father’s friendship who was head of the string department there.  He wanted me to give up voice (major) and ‘apply myself’ to violin, but no going.

I knew my limits.  I  hated the violin much more than he loved it.

Years later I actually picked up the same Steiner (which was never returned by a ‘friend’ because his daughters had fallen in ‘love’ with it..) and played bluegrass on radio with a band.  A couple of times, but I really still hated that violin.

But karma has something to do with our lives in some sneaky way, and I haven’t been able to shake the damn instrument.  Just when I thought it safe to go back into the water, my brother, who plays every instrument made…including the oud and lute…and does so professionally, bought me a full sized violin from China.  That was about 4 years ago.  I played it once outside on the patio at my mother’s in Savannah, and then packed it back in the nice case.  It actually was not a bad fiddle.   We were very surprised…because we had been such snobs about instruments, and apparently China has churned out some excellent fiddles lately.

I forget that I come from fiddle players.  My paternal grandfather was a Hungarian fiddle player, first somewhere in Budapest, and then founded the first Hungarian Folk Band in the US in the early part of the 20th century.  For years his lovely fake Strad. propped open an attic window.  I remember my father carefully driving to NYC to have it appraised by a famous fiddle maker.  It was lovingly wrapped in a blanket and placed on the front seat of his VW.  On the trip back it was in the back seat, so I guess the fiddle wasn’t a Strad.  But the label inside said it was…..Cremona something….17th century.  My brothers I HOPE still have  that fiddle.  Never know…most kids traded baseball cards, my brothers traded lots of instruments.

About  4 years ago, Jerry Steele put down the guitar and his bass fiddle and picked up a violin.  Jerry is one man who will punish himself with hard work, and picking up the violin at our age is torture.  But he soldiered on.  He actually learned to play this devilish instrument.  I remember him calling once a week and cursing the damn instrument. We had plans for us to do a duet (we had a very long history in HS with music together….folk bands, etc…and a bit after if I remember well…but Jerry was really the musician…I just sang and hung out) but I dropped my end of it.  I still hated the violin with great passion.

Perhaps it didn’t help  we picked “The Maiden’s Lament” or some such song….I even got a cd of it, but it was fruitlooped because it got really complex in the middle of the piece, and Jerry, who heard it over the phone said: What the fuck was that??? and kinda killed it right there.

Well, Jerry, I know you try to read this blog every day…mostly…something about RSS bottomfeeders or something like will be ‘happy’ to know  the violin is back.  I had a terrible time finding the ‘d’ on the damn thing to tune….because the ‘d’ on my old baby grand has popped….lol! and for some reason, the violin wasn’t cooperating at all.  Must have been the rosin again.

But!  “The Maiden is Lamenting” again and the cats are scattering and the dogs look like they are going to howl, and THIS time, I’m going to again meet you in NYC with the violin tucked under my chin and we can play that damn duet.

In about 3 years.  I even cut off my fingernails.  See? I’m serious this time.  And the rosin doesn’t bother me anymore, either.

Lady Nyo

%d bloggers like this: