My Writing Companions

Grandmothers and grandfathers and…

they poke at me and tug my sleeve.

Listen to us; our voices are real.

These things did happen.

Tell our stories, learn from our lives.

Keep our words with you…  (adapted from a poem by Pauline Brunette Danforth)

This photograph was discovered during the journey that has led me to write personal essays about homeland, family and myself.  The picture shows my maternal grandmother Christine Lebline [Rapp] in 1910, at age 21, about the time she graduated from Indiana University.  That was a year before she fulfilled a longstanding dream of traveling alone to Europe, which was unusual for single women to do at that time.  I found the picture during a visit to my mother’s home four years ago.  I don’t recall ever having seen it before, and since that time, it has served as one of my important companions during my explorations through writing of my life and times.

The assured expression on my grandmother’s face in this photo offers me a sense of her presence, encouragement and inspiration during my writing process.  There are times when I even feel as if she is writing these stories with me.   My grandmother was a busy woman during her adult life and she never took time to tell much of her story, let alone write it.  Now, it seems, she has chosen to write her story through me–and I do not object.

There are other sources of inspiration within my writing space too–my Grandfather Lee Simmons’ pocket watch and a recently-discovered photograph of him holding my father as an infant.  There is a photo of my great-great-Grandfather John Lebline, along with his walnut writing desk, as well as photos of some special places I have been, some of which I am writing about in my essays.  There are pictures of my three daughters, Jill, Lara and Dawn, and my grandson, Samuel, along with a quotation by Emily Dickinson:  I dwell in Possibility.  There is a photo of the 90 year-old oil painting of my mother by long-ago Brown County (Indiana) artist Ada Shulz, which served as inspiration for the esssay “Biography of a Portrait.”  There are glacial stones, prehistoric artifacts and fossils–each with stories to tell.  And, of course, there is a picture of my wife of 43-plus years, Mary Ann, who has been with me every step of the way throughout this writing journey. 

Such symbolic companions form a fabric into which I weave myself each day when I write in my space.  It is a sacred journey.

This piece was written by Steve Robert Simmons in 2011.  All rights reserved.

About steverobert

Husband, father and grandfather, retired professor, X-country skier, bicycle rider, and writer.
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20 Responses to My Writing Companions

  1. Warren Malhiot says:

    Hey, Squirrel –

    Isn’t it interesting how at this stage in our lives we begin to take an interest in our ancestry? A year ago last October Sheron and I took a trip with another couple with whom we have become friends (the wife is the music teacher at Providence where Sheron teaches) to New Orleans. In addition to eating some fabulous foodand going to the D-Day Museum, we went to Madewood Plantation, which was built by my great, great, great grandfather, Thomas Pugh, in Napoleonville, LA. It is now a bed and breakfast. I will e-mail a few pics of Madewood to you. We also visited the little Episcopal church (Christ’s Church) in the same town. A number of my relatives are buried there. Anyway, I have subsequently made contact with several of my cousins in Louisiana that are decendents of the Pugh family. It has been most interesting. I will visit your blog frequently and am looking forward to your future essays.

    – Warren

    • steverobert says:

      Interesting to know about your quest to connect with your ancestry, Warren. Yes, I will look forward to seeing the photos you took at Madewood. As Episcopalians these days, Mary Ann and I would also appreciate a look at that little church too. 🙂

  2. Beth Waterhouse says:

    Hi Steve! / Your grandmother’s gaze is strong, straightforward, and leads me to believe she knew the photographer and liked him! I believe that our ancestors sometimes do use us to speak again or to teach from their base of knowing. We go back to the old values seldom enough, and need to be reminded of them. So– good for Christine and good for you for listening! / If this works on my old eMac, then I look forward to coming back to your site and responding now and then. Stay warm!

    • steverobert says:

      Your thought about my grandmother’s connection with the studio photographer who took that picture is an interesting one, Beth. I have no idea the context of the photo other than it probably being taken to commemorate her graduation from Indiana University. But there’s no doubting that her gaze is a powerful force for me now in my writing. I hope to have another essay or two posted by later this week.

  3. Mary Ann Simmons says:

    It’s so good to see this up and running.

  4. Melanie Diedrich says:

    So much of what you said about your grandmother stirs reality within me — that is, during those busy years at the height of our lives, so much is going on, we are involved in DOING so much, that the introspective has to take a backseat. Haha! I find that, here I am at 55 STILL embarking on so much that I STILL have little time for introspection! But, truly, I’m enjoying every minute! Live life with zeal, with all you’ve got. Make mistakes, but make correction and move on! I just hope that someday my own kids or grandkids will look back on my lifetime and take inspiration; what a legacy!

    • steverobert says:

      Thanks for sharing your perspectives about reflective writing and memoir, Melanie. I think it’s true that most of us introverts like to taking time for introspection, and there is evidence that it is probably good for anyone, introvert or not. I recently read an excerpt from “The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain.” The author, Gene Cohen, states that later life is often a “summing up” time for people where one seeks larger meaning in one’s life story. He contents that the urge to engage in reflective writing about life in mid-later life is fueled both by increased awarenes of one’s mortality, as well as physiological changes in the brain itself. He contends that a person with a “mature mind” is more adept at using both the left and right sides of their brain resulting in enhanced convergence of both rational and emotional elements, and more so than she or he experienced in earlier life. As a result, reflecting on and writing about one’s life stories can be a very rich experience for many people in mid-life and later–and especially when it can result in some form of written outcome. Cohen encourages readers to engage in review and reflection about their lives using various kinds of creative expression such as writing, artwork, photography, and other forms.

  5. Orval and Bernell Moren says:

    Hi Steve: Thanks for your writing, and for helping all of us in our Memoirs Group become better writers. It is amazing how a picture can jar loose memories, and make us go deeper where we need to mine for new gems. Keep digging my friend. And, blessings, too

    • steverobert says:

      Yes, Orval, a picture truly is worth a thousand words–and sometimes words that we’ve never known before. Hoping to get back with the writing group one of these months, although at least not until November this fall due to prior commitments. Trust that your writing is going well. 🙂

  6. james p hurd says:

    I like your mention of all the objects that inspire you and evoke memories. We need a stimulus to shake our muse loose. Jim

    • steverobert says:

      Thanks for taking time to respond to my essay, Jim. I have found objects, and especially photographs and artwork, to be powerful catalysts for my writing. The new essay, “Still Life,” is a case in point. I’m enjoying your writings too, Jim. Your latest essay was especially compelling for me.

  7. Ivan D. Lancaster says:

    Hello, Steve. I am one of your many Step Cousins.
    I have just discovered your sight and will spend time reading.
    I am interested in copies of what Matilda shared with you and you wrote up. I copied one that Woody loaned me. It was prob. the first one or second. I will look it up and let you know.
    I was in Christine’s home many times and several times, Grandmother (Henrietta Lebline Lancaster picked her up and we attended Organ Recitals at various churches in Seymour.
    Woody was very fortunate to be able to go back home, even after it was out of the family.
    I well remember Ruth and her African Violets. One time she made an arrange of flowers in a crawdad hole for the fair. I visited Seymour this last Tues. Noticed that Matilda’s home is still there and saw the sign for Enos Road. Visited the cem. and drove by the Lebline Plot and visited in Riverview Abby.
    Appreciated seeing the picture of Christine.
    Cousin Ivan D. Lancaster of Trafalgar

    • steverobert says:

      Thanks for your comment. I am traveling now, but let’s correspond further and I can get you a copy
      Of Matilda’s other memoir. Tell me the title of the one you’ve seen. Steve

      • Ivan D. Lancaster says:

        I have stages a search for the part that I have and cannot find. Are there copies in the Library in Seymour. I forgot to ask/look when I was there a few weeks ago. Or in the Genealogy Society’s Building/Library in Brownstown??

        I have certain enjoyed your writing that relate to Seymour and Nashville.
        Can you tell me more about the Cabin in Brown County. Is it still there? I have found that prob. first Will Vawter lived S. of Nashville on Town Hill. He must have then moved to the house/cottage just N. of the NEW Libr. in Nashville, which is North and Eastish of the County Court House.
        When I visited Seymour, I stopped at Riverview cem. Drove past the Lebline lot and visited in Riverview Abby. Drove in the Rockford area. Saw that Matilda’s house is still there, as are John Knott’s and Mary Wagner’s home. Certainly the Rapp house is there.

        All the fires are interesting. I lay them at Meady Shields door during his life time or his ghost in more recent times. Two Lebline houses, the old Rapp house, and the Lancaster House.
        Cousin Ivan D. Lancaster of Trafalgar

      • steverobert says:

        Good to hear from you, Cousin Ivan. Christine’s cabin was torn down a number of years ago. She sold it in the early 1060s and I don’t know how much longer it remained in place, although I think the foundation may still be visible. You are right; Will Vawter moved into Nashville from his Town Hill home after he divorced Mary c1920.

        Your observation about arsen in Rockford is interesting. The Reno boys certainly did a number on the town in their day and don’t know if Meedy Shields was behind them or not. I’m pretty sure that both the old Rapp house fire in 1919 and the Lebline house fire in the ’30s were accidental, not arsen. Can’t speak to the Lancaster House fire, but since the house was unoccupied by the time it burned, I guess it’s possible that it was torched by someone. I’ll leave the “Meedy Shield’s ghost” possibility for you to prove… 😉

  8. Enjoyed reading this and several other essays so far. Like you I have received a lot of inspiration from my grandparents, particularly on my mother’s side. They were all born in the 19th century. Maybe one reason I found them so interesting. Also they were kind and enjoyed sharing their stories. Never found my mother or father nearly so willing to share themselves in that way. Thanks, Steve.

  9. Angela Cursey says:

    I am enjoying your writings and photos so much. I can feel the great affection you’ve put into this and love how you’ve created an almost tangible experience, even for someone like myself who has no connection to the people, places and times you’re telling stories about. Thank you.

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