Great Gatsby, oak apple galls and rainy-day minds

Cindy ArpOur Town Outdoors

For the last two weeks, my life has included an 1875 house, a desperate grocery store visit, oak tree boles and a party. What is the world coming to?

It all began last week while I was hiking with a group of fellow hiking enthusiasts. As we hiked, my friend JaneEllen picked up a ping-pong sized, fragile, brown ball. This was an oak apple gall, she explained, the product of a two-year oak wasp reproduction cycle. In the final phase of the cycle, fertilized wasp larvae are deposited on an oak tree leaf. The leaf then curls around the larvae, protecting it until it hatches. It is an amazing example of inner-species cooperation, communication which, if you think about it, can take you right down from the “I am a human, the ultimate representation of life” high horse. The world might be commenting.

Forward to the desperate grocery store visit. Last weekend, my Memphis-living sister, Judy, and her friend Debra hosted a surprise dance/ birthday party for their husbands, George and David. Dan and I were there. Determined to have fresh vegetable snacks for the party, Judy and I made a quick supplies dash to the grocery store. The checkout line was slow; an elderly woman in a handicapped cart didn’t have enough money to pay for all her purchases. The pile of items removed from purchase grew. Judy and I and a shopper behind us couldn’t stand it. We gathered what money we could, and Judy discreetly handed the money to the cashier. Food insecurity, the world was definitely commenting.

A side shot of a portion of the house

Now we come to the 1875 house. Recently purchased by co-host Debra’s married daughter and husband, the house was the surprise party’s location. A 20-room home sitting on 15 acres of grounds, the place needs a lot of work. But when you see the earliest home section built to resemble a medieval Germanic Castle, the 1880 pitched gable roof covering a single-story middle section, the 1890-1900 Italian villa addition, and the final addition, a two and a half story crenellated tower, you can see the magic.

The owners know the water supply is iffy, the roof needs repair, and there are structural issues, but they are bravely taking it all on. Holding their adorable Shirley Temple look-alike baby, the mom said, “Every morning I wake up and think, ‘We OWN this amazing place, and every night when I go to bed I think, oh dear, we own this place!” Once the absolute have-to-fix problems are in hand, the couple plan to camp out in the house. Magic and hope in the world.

Maxine Silverbird Strawder dancing to the Willy Bearden Band

Finally, we come to the party. One room contained a live band with a video playing on the wall beside them, another room contained a loaded hors d’oeuvres table and drinks, and the open portion of the lower floor of the house contained around 70 people either dancing or having amazing conversations. Maritza Davila, a Latin American artist, and poet/novelist friend Marilou Awaikta were speaking when they suddenly recognized each other. They had met at an art exhibition over 20 years ago.

Our 85-year-old professional dancer friend Maxine Silverbird Strawder was there, recognized by everyone, dignified and beautiful, as always. Theater folks showed up, an amateur photographer roamed about, undoubtedly taking interesting pictures. I felt like I was attending a Great Gatsby party. The world contains diversity.

When everyone left and we were cleaning up, I heard a noise and glanced outside. David, a party honoree and grandfather to the 2-year-old, was teaching her how to howl at the moon. Listening to them, I decided that in wolf language, moon howling means, “Hello world, we salute you. Should we ever feel a rainy-day mind coming on, we will remember your glory.”

Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell. And she goes hiking once a week – even in a forest fire.


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