An Amputee’s Legs and a Steam Shovel’s Arms

(I wrote the following Guest Book Review for Professor Storytime, a blog by writer, reviewer, and teacher Karyn Tunks)

Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, written and illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton used to fill me with wonder and fuel my imagination. I thought I was over the book, you know, been there, done that, bought the T-shirt. I was wrong. Even now, the story brings back memories, conjures the imagination, and sparks my creativity.

One of the best parts of the book is the diagram of the steam shovel with her name, “Mary Anne,” emblazoned on the “boom.” The “dipper,” or bucket, is labeled from top to bottom as “teeth,” “dipper,” and “tongue.” Mike and Mary Anne are the best digging duo the city has ever seen. They scoop earth and “finish the corner neat and square.”

Mary Anne wears her personification on her dipper, with subtle human eyes, smiling mouth, big eyelashes, and even tears. Mary Anne’s dipper has fabulous facial expressions that match the action on the page, from grimaces and grins, to batting eyelashes, closed mouthfuls of dirt, and mouth agape as dirt drops in brown clouds to the ground.

Burton’s sweeping brush stroke illustrations, in the mind of a seven year old’s imagination, move on the page as the shifting boom billows white steam and the black puffs from the “smokestack” blot the sky.

As a congenital amputee, my prosthetic leg has characteristics similar to Mary Anne. The leg is a lever, or simple machine and built of manmade materials: metal, plastic, fiberglass, and wood. My motion with a prosthesis, while not machine-like, is certainly awkward, and my gait looked a lot like Mary Anne’s swinging arm.

Eventually, technology catches Mary Anne, and she and Mike are overtaken by more efficient gas and diesel shovels. So Mary Anne and Mike’s journey takes them from urban to rural areas, while my trip with Mom to Shriners Hospital took me in the opposite direction. Types of communities, according to my wife Susan, are still something second graders learn. (I’m writing this in her classroom, which has a copy of Mike Mulligan and More. She teaches at Daphne East Elementary, but this is summer, and she’s in a lesson planning meeting with her fellow second grade teachers.)

Mike and Mary Anne are challenged to complete a dig in less than a day in the town of Popperville. Once the digging begins, we read Burton’s onomatopoeia as her words match the sounds and motions of Mary Anne working at great speeds to meet the challenge. “Bing! Bang! Crash! Slam!” This reminded me of my mom and dad who told me “not to hop in the house,” and wear my leg or use my “sticks,” or crutches. “A herd of elephants,” is what dad said I sounded like when hopping around. He warned me, “One of these days you’re going to go through the floor!” The prosthesis made other noises, like Mary Anne’s shovel.  A screw loose “click,” a rubbing “squeak,” a weight bearing “clack,” all combined in a magical simple machine symphony.

Like the labeled parts of Mary Anne on the inside pages, it was also important for me to understand how things worked and to have labels, or definitions for my human and machine parts. How my prosthesis stayed on, and how my prosthetist used machines and materials to make a comfortable socket were things I wanted, and needed, to know.

Back then, prosthetists would often tell my mom and I that I didn’t need an artificial leg.

“He’d walk in a flower pot if we gave him one,” I heard Mr. Williams say more than once.

That’s where mom got the idea. I remember her threatening to make a flower pot or a planter out of an old leg that I had outgrown. She and I did a lot of brainstorminng about how to do it, but the foot always posed a problem, so we never made one.

Mike and Mary Anne do their jobs well. Too well, in fact, as they dig themselves a hole so deep they can’t get out. A classic dilemma, and one we’ve all experienced as children and adults. I am not a golfer, but  Mike Mulligan gets a mulligan, a do-over. He and his steam shovel get a second chance in Popperville.

The best authors engage our imaginations as we empathize and identify with their characters. I’m not Mike Mulligan, the little boy standing over the hole, or even Dickie Birkenbush, the author’s neighbor credited in the book with the solution to the problem.

I’m Mary Anne! Don’t let her name fool you. Mary Anne’s a girl who loves to get dirty digging in the dirt. She’s a boy’s girl. The kind of girl that would go outside and join a game of pickle, ride a bike through the middle of a deep puddle, talk Red Sox baseball, or “play cars” using real Matchboxes in my imaginary town beside the driveway on Nanumet Drive.

Today, Burton’s Mary Anne is an inspiration to readers and writers and an example of our human ingenuity. When people have something that no longer works as it was intended, it can be repurposed to make something new. It’s called upcycling, but I like to think of it as a work of art, just like my favorite children’s book, written in 1939.

I take Mary Anne down from the shelf every once in a while. Susan and I are child free, but we still read children’s books, often aloud, to each other. (The Plot Chickens, by Mary Jane and Herm Auch is the latest we recommend.) There is no higher praise for literature then putting it into new hands, so I gave the book to my co-worker Laura to add to her baby’s library. Rereading it again to write this review, I found some wonderful memories of dad, mom, Mary Anne, and myself. I’m continually amazed at how reading fills our imaginations, inspires learning, and shapes our identity no matter our age.

This is not the end, check out my upcycled leg!

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(Be sure and and click on the link below to check out Karyn’s post, which includes illustrations from the book and an animated video, adapted and narrated by Robert Klein.)

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What Makes a Public Library Great?

I spent four hours, on my day off, in the Fairhope Publlic Library with a group of local bloggers I belong to called, Southern Bloggers Jubilee. The seven of us met in the library to socialize, learn, and hopefully have a few laughs, all before we head to lunch.

We had our regular monthly meeting, and there was a shwag bag, which included an application for a Fairhope Library card, stickers, coupons, and a welcome flyer. Tamara, the director, and I led the group on a tour to show off the wonderful space, architecture, art, books, programs, classes, and study rooms.

During the tour, the bloggers took photos and made notes. Along the way, Tamara and I said hello to patrons and introduced staff members to the group. Everyone blogged about how wonderful the library is in Fairhope, and they conveyed it so well in words and pictures. Please visit their blogs to see and read everything they discovered.

We Are: Clamco

Lorraine had a wonderful photo of Worldbook, a set of encyclopedias now rarely used. She reminisced about a set of encyclopedias in her childhood home. In our conversation at lunch, Lorraine talked about how a friend of hers in Jersey, an amputee, married his prosthetist. I found it fascinating for two reasons. There are not many female prosthestists, though the number continues to rise. Secondly, pyschologists say amputees marry their caregivers. I’ve researched this all the way back to America’ s first amputee, Peter Stuyvesant. He lost his leg to a cannonball, and when he returned to the Netherlands to recuperate, he married his nurse.

 Cozinest

Kim learned about our genealogy collection and even signed up for a class. It was on her Macbook that the group hovered around to learn how to use Picmonkey, an online program to format photographs for your blog, specifally your header, the image at the top of the page. She took a great photograph of our head-dressed staffer Megrez.

 Crafty Hope

When I introduced all these women to Tamara, I got a little ahead of myself and almost introduced Hope, as  Kim. I corrected myself and said Hope makes  jewelry from found items, like washers, brass, copper, glass, metal from file holders, etc.  She makes crafty, creative, and one-of-a-kind bracelets, necklaces, and earings, which she sells on her Etsy site. Also, her husband is coming to our next meeting to talk about HTML. She cautioned us that he doesn’t know much about blogs and confessed, “he doesn’t even read mine,” which I didn’t believe for a second. Even if it were true, she has a real following with us, the Southern Bloggers Jubilee.

Flower Child Designs

Deborah arrived late, but was eager to contribute to the discussion. Many of us complimented Deborah on how well her painted hardwood floors turned out. She talked about the success of her “linky parties,” and I laughed because it sounded funny to me. I learned that “linking parties” are a way for similarly themed bloggers, like fashion art, and jewelry, to connect.

Fairhope Supply

During her tour of the youth services department, Leslie Anne was verklempt. (Talk amongst yourselves. The topic: Is a jubilee a lagniappe?) She got emotional as the memories turned the pages of her mind to her son’s time in the library. She also snapped a photo, the first I believe, of me in shorts in the library, showing off my sleek carbon fiber and titanium prosthesis. Did you see it? She also had me take a photo with the newest Florida State graduate. Tamara just graduated from FSU with a Master’s in Library and Information Science.

Professor Storytime

Karyn, who welcomes guest book reviews on her blog for Throwback Thursdays, was enamoured with the children’s department. Her own children’s book, Jubilee, is wonderful, and you should check it out. On her blog, Karyn has a great photo of a mom and her son reading in a window seat. During the meeting, Karyn said my blog needed a new header, and a sidebar. She also suggested I use three photos in the header. Everyone at the meeting who saw my recent post, told me to use the coffee shop photo in the header.

The Library

During our bloggers meeting we discussed SEOs, Hootsuite, how to insert the Southern Bloggers Jubilee and Bloglovin’ “buttons” into our blogs, Instagram, and gave praise for things we are doing well, and offered suggestions for ways to improve.

It’s only now, weeks after the meeting, tour, and having read everyone’s blog posts, that I’m beginning to catch what the Southern Bloggers Jubilee netted. The value of our library is in the building, architecture, art, books, and DVDs, and the beauty of our library lives in the hearts and minds of the  people who populate this memorable place.

 

Why Oregon?

That was the response from family, coworkers, and friends when I told them Sue and I were going to Oregon for vacation. I told them all the state had to offer and mentioned a few must dos, which we did.

Now that I’ve been back for a week, I asked myself the question again. Here’s a few of the moments that made my vacation such a fun, amazing, and unique experience.

City

Portland’s downtown library is a historic landmark. It was buzzing with activity the day I went. I happened upon a skateboarding exhibit on the third floor by Cal Skate, a local skateboarding shop that’s been in business since the early 1970s.

After going through the history of skateboards and checking out the old decks, trucks, and wheels, I wandered into the Literature and History Room and walked up to the information desk. I complimented the two library guys on the library and the exhibit, and followed up with a question.

“How did Portland get the nickname Stumptown?”

“I don’t know,” was the reply by the man my age. It didn’t seem to me like a difficult question. However, this is often a reactionary response. I say it too sometimes because, even though people come to the reference desk for information, no one likes a know-it-all. Perhaps we were just annoying out of towners, but providing answers or at least attempting to find answers to questions is what makes librarians librarians. I waited for the librarian to say more, like, “let me research that for you.” He didn’t. It was the first time since starting my blog that a librarian didn’t know, and was satisfied with not finding out.

I Stumped the Librarian!

Still burning for an answer, I joined a walking tour, Secrets of Portlandia, a free tour not including tip, led by a guy named Travis. He was a wealth of information on the culture and history of Portland, even though he told some really corny jokes along the way.

The city got its infamous nickname during the mid 19th century. Portland was built for it’s timber and proximity to the river. However, when they took these massive trees down, they left the stumps in the ground. And there they stayed, for decades, rotting away, slowly. Leaders in other frontier cities lured settlers away by giving the city the derogatory moniker Stumptown.

During that time, one Portlandian said, “Portland has more stumps than people.”

“We embrace the nickname now,” Travis told his group of ten tourists.

One company has cashed in on it.

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Mountain

Aside from my own, I didn’t see any stumps in Stumptown. I even checked the Japanese Tea Gardens, International Rose Garden, and Forest Park. I took a day trip and a hike to Mirror Lake, which offers a reflected view of Mt. Hood on its surface. According to a Timberline Lodge volunteer I chatted with on the hike, the older trees were “notched” along the base of the trunk so platforms or scaffolding could be built around the tree. This created a level surface for two loggers to stand on while they cut down the tree using a two man handsaw.  The stumps with notches are over 100 years old, according to our volunteer.

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Sea

Just like Lincoln City’s motto, I did “try something new.” I made a glass starfish at Jennifer Sears Glass Art. This hands on experience is a must do for any artist or tourist. (Also don’t miss a whale watch on a Zodiac boat)

Each step is hands on, from heating, shaping, cupping, pulling, and cutting.

After I finished my starfish, a flat-topped man in the audience (I didn’t know I had one while I was making my starfish) stopped me and said, “I like how you customized your starfish. Is that carbon fiber?” He was pointing to my prosthesis.

“Thanks, and yes it is,” I said.

“A friend of mine back home has a carbon fiber prosthesis too. His AR 15 has a carbon fiber barrel.”

“That must make for a cool Facebook photo,” I told him and he waxed on about guns.

“He’s modified it so there is no recoil when you fire it.” He spoke with the experience still fresh in mind, his hands cradling the make believe rifle.

“Sounds like you’ve got rifle envy,” I said.

“Yeah, I do, but hey, I’m gonna tell my friend about your starfish. That’s an original there.”

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