“Once Upon a December…” and Hello, 2012!
(Talk of the Town photo provided) Above, characteristically surprised (and probably annoyed by the camera) Susie reminisces with noted local historian Elmer Heinley. Below, the Sexton family stands together following Susie's recent Rotary program. From left is Roy Sexton, Susie Duncan Sexton and Don Sexton.
By Susie Duncan Sexton
Without one doubt whatsoever the final month of each successive year sends me into an absolute tailspin! December’s always super-special within our family, for several glorious reasons, and outdid itself in 2011!
Some new folks entered our lives. Darlene Wright, Teresa Dowell and Nelleen LaFever wrote beautiful letters of appreciation sent to our mailbox. Jerry Freewalt called with the most supportive words I may have ever heard from another living soul outside of Bob Wannberg and Paul Schrade. Mick Long sat beside us at Coldwater Crossing Theater Complex during our shared enraptured viewing of Stephen Spielberg’s incredibly moving new film “War Horse”, which all of us in attendance literally applauded even though “Joey” the cavalry horse onscreen could not hear our thunderous appreciation.
Cookie trays from neighbors sustained us. Our longtime pal Larry Wardlaw got dubbed Ft. Wayne’s Citizen of the Year! Noel Phegley shall ne’er be forgot. Susan Grabner Wilson ( the best cursive writer of all time), Melinda Boyer Kelly (who collected more Riverside Dairy milk bottle caps than I managed to squirrel away into my flip-top desk), and I revisited fourth grade and our West Ward days. Keith Kleespie presented us with a poignant photograph. Nicky and Ricky included us in their New Year’s celebration. The Langohrs and Bakers are such gracious folks, and we shall miss beautiful Jean.
Jane Uhlrich boosted my confidence as she exited Parkview Hospital on December 27th…we stood outside in the falling snow, she a released patient and I about to present a program to Rotarians.
Our son turned Jack Benny’s age right after Christmas, and in his new status escorted his ma to a Rotarian speaking gig at our new hospital. He practically had to drag me there although I am a seasoned speaker and thespian. Stage fright nearly carried me away for weeks on end before this appearance. My nervousness might be the culprit that caused me to mis-step upon our staircase one week prior to the holidays, nearly demolishing my tailbone as I thudded down, down, down. My mind seldom concentrated itself upon preparations for the manic season but rather dwelled upon a pronounced phobia of speaking in public – about my newly published e-book the topic of which is (drum-roll): my mildly candid observations of this community and my “coming of age” here.
Rotary once got circled on calendars as a Wednesday evening event in Columbia City, our own Grover’s Corners, and high school girls, assisting with the “Men Only” club’s weekly suppers at Grace Lutheran Church, used to quarrel over who would serve Mr. Roy Duncan, my exceptionally handsome young father. Lois Jean Adams Fahl confided this truism to me several times. I attended a total of two meetings as a child, once as a participant in “father/daughter” night and the other at the First Presbyterian Church, to hear a program presented by a seamstress/doll enthusiast who had fashioned inaugural ball gowns, dressing a series of tiny mannequins representing all “first ladies” ever, from Martha Washington through Mamie Eisenhower, the then-current President (General) Ike’s wife! Jacqueline Bouvier, my favorite, probably had recently accepted “Jack” Kennedy’s diamond ring and wedding proposal, so she had yet to join the miniature stationary/runway/red carpet extravaganza!
Thus, some 55 years later, here was I about to “speak formally” to Rotarians ranging from “young enough to be my children” to such stalwarts as Mr. Elmer Heinley and my very own grammar school principal Mr. Dale Pence as well as a quartet of “girls” I attended high school with during the sixties! Dr. John Meier, seated directly across from me while documenting -- in words and photographs -- my presentation, husband Don and son Roy flanking me, and Jim Banks introducing me … all unbeknownst to themselves … added considerably to my angst! Yet they were all very receptive and wonderfully attentive and smiling at me and often laughing at my jittery sense of humor???? Even Mike Rush behaved like a gentleman when I razzed him about his past and squealed (a reverse) “mic check” his direction several times. I feared he might be a potential heckler, so I headed him off – at the pass!
There I stood at the podium, breathless and nervously coughing as beads of sweat accumulated on my furrowed brow. I once appeared in stage plays and musicals and sang solos and delivered speeches at National Forensic League competitions, and I majored in Speech at Ball State. Hyperventilating to beat the band, I am delighted that I did not swoon and faint right there on that spot before God and everybody!
Remembering to thank members Jennifer Romano and Rick Kreps for their support and for publishing my monthly columns “Old Type…Writer” and “Homeward Angle” respectively, I proceeded to ad lib unleashed, like a house on fire, until reading aloud an excerpt from my e-book “Secrets of an Old Typewriter…Stories from a Smart and Sassy Small-town Girl” (NOT my title, but suggested by my editor-publisher located in Greece). Poised upon the podium a beautiful framed cover of my ethereal book, my life’s-work -- which only appears in its entirety on a Kindle or Nook or Computer screen—evoked my acknowledgment to an exquisitely talented Polish lady artist whose depiction of me as an inaccurately tiny-waisted silhouette thrills my soul beyond measure! (My sales are high in Germany so I do feel appropriately “international” these days, a citizen of the world!)
Now, after what seemed an interminable passage of time (to me -- let alone the club members no doubt), I concluded with a bit of a bow/curtsy. However, comical Al Anderson literally shouted, “Question!” Stunned, I silently prayed that his query would be gentle and inconsequential and easy to answer?
“How much do you cost?” he asked.
“Four bucks and 99 cents…” I replied. Then I added that I was “cheap”-- but that he might already have heard that theory around town.
What a fabulous and cordial audience; yet how delighted I felt that finally I could plop into a chair -- upon my very sore coccyx (or vestigial tail/tale) once again. “Resting on my laurels”, so to speak…chatting with old friends after the “show”!
On the ride back home, we laughed that I very nearly had replicated the “Shrine Scene” from our 1963 high school production of “Bye Bye Birdie” -- cavorting with fezzed male club members within a private banquet room, behind closed doors. (Math teacher Miss Berniece Carver, “back in the day”, almost succeeded in censoring that particular musical number.)
We recalled Mr. Heinley being photographed with me as he reminisced about shoveling snow for my dad at the Blue Bell parking lot, then rewarded with a steaming cherry pie fresh from Ft. Wayne’s Char-king -- for oodles of consecutive years about a half century ago.
John Meier’s very amiable and complimentary “Axle Grease” coverage appeared that same afternoon via e-mail. Camera-shy and for good reason, I marveled at my (bad-)side-view double chin and another snap-shot of me resembling Macaulay Culkin in the film “Home Alone” and a group photo of my family all lined against a wall similarly to the doomed Romanovs, me in the middle with the prissiest demeanor humanly imaginable! No fault of the gifted dentist!
However, reporter John likened me –in print-- to that former surveillance expert of all time, FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover—perhaps I agree somewhat regarding the resemblance? However, I most certainly never would have wiretapped phone calls of JFK or Dr. Martin Luther King, nor do I ever, ever wear dresses! (My book entitled “SECRETS OF AN OLD TYPEWRITER…Stories from a Smart and Sassy Small-Town Girl” can be accessed at my web-site www.susieduncansexton.com, and I am available for live readings and sharing of collective memories as far back as anyone can possibly remember – please leave your cameras at home though? I am very shy.)