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April 17, 2014

Who woulda thunk it? A Literary-Historian and an old friend visit our neighborhood

By Susie Duncan Sexton
 

Beautiful sunny April afternoons never ought to be spent listening to indoor lectures -- while sitting on uncomfortable folding chairs.  However, IF some particular orator bears credentials of a Fulbright Scholar, a professorship, a Ph.D, a near Pulitzer prize, a notable recognition from TIME Magazine, and several stunning novels as well as a much loved poetry anthology, just such an opportunity qualifies as one not to be missed.  Alerted (by a very special gentleman named Terry) to William Heath's Columbia City appearance located just around the corner one unseasonably temperate Saturday recently, Don and I strolled a couple of blocks to soon become enraptured by a very fast-paced 90 minutes of scintillating 'local color" stories as related by Dr. Heath.  This Ohio "Buck-Eye", currently a Maryland resident, discussed a Hoosier native son called William Wells, a.k.a. "Blacksnake", who got himself kidnapped/adopted by the Miami Indians -- at age 14 -- and embraced  the cultures of both the white man and the Native American while becoming quite legendary playing both ends against the middle not unlike the young Revolutionary War hero/spy Abraham Woodhull featured in the current AMC Sunday evening televised series entitled "Turn", to which we are hopelessly addicted.  Wells/ "Blacksnake", who no doubt frequented Whitley County's stomping grounds, became the son-in-law of our very own Chief Little Turtle.  Frank Bergeron writes that " 'Blacksnake's Path' tells the remarkable story of William Wells, an Indian captive turned Indian fighter-scout-spy-translator-agent, in a way that alters our sense of American Indian history."
 

Having freshly acquired a personal, autographed collection of the professor's novels which blend history with fiction and have earned praise from "The Washington Post", "Publishers Weekly", "Kirkus Review", Bob Leuci, Joyce Carol Oates, and James A. McPherson, I've got some serious reading ahead of me!  In 2002, TIME magazine online named "The Children Bob Moses Led -- A Novel of Freedom Summer" (focusing on the civil rights movement in Mississippi) as one of the eleven best novels of the African American experience.  A pending novel entitled "William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest" is to be published by the University of Oklahoma Press in 2015.  I cannot wait to read the amiable professor's suspense novel "Devil Dancer" -- which seems destined to become a PBS Masterpiece Theater event in my estimation -- as it  transports the reader to the Kentucky Bluegrass region via the dark, intriguing tale of a prize stallion and the pursuit of the thoroughbred's murderer.  One reviewer deems this story "an edgy un-put-downable novel" (which sounds like something I would say!), and from the back cover:  "While contemporary in its sensibility, 'Devil Dancer' draws upon some of the oldest literary traditions of all:  people swapping stories to sustain each other and a mortal man's confrontation with the mystery of life."
 

Speaking of my unabashed reverence for each and every species of the animal kingdom, the original and specific reason for our attendance at the recent week-end presentation by Dr. Heath involved reuniting  with a pal from over 30 years ago whom we have admired since attending his "Theatre for Ideas" (New Television for a New Decade) in 1981 to say "Hey" to "Garfield" comic strip artist and college chum Jim Davis in the 1970s!  Thus, the last time we chatted with Terry Doran who recommended the Heath program to us, we -- Don, Susie, "little" Roy, Jim and Terry --  all stood together laughing and joking in a small room of the Allen County Library…tempus fugit!   We endured Columbia City's rigid folding chairs JUST to reacquaint ourselves with this special person hailing from Ft. Wayne where he contributes "must-read" stunning uplifting editorial/op ed pieces to the NEWS-SENTINEL on a regular basis.  I print them all for my files.  Each one is laced with kindness, intelligence, common sense, fairness, a love of humanity, a respect for all sentient beings and repeated themes of the necessity for peace.  My favorite of his essays assumed the format of an open letter of apology to Marius, the unfortunate year-old Danish giraffe slaughtered by the misguided director of a Copenhagen zoo in Denmark.  Startled school children observed the execution as well as the detailed butchering of Marius who got fed to the establishment's lions as the attendees watched.  Terry decidedly upgraded this heinous, unnecessary tragedy into a poignant, thought-provoking, cautionary plea for manKIND to mend its ways.  Unforgettable. Inspirational.  Truthful.  Healing.
 

Terry's conclusion to his essay entitled  "Letter to 'Euthanized' Giraffe Serves to Help Me Understand Why He Died":

"You, the most gentle of creatures who was eating out of a kid's hand not long before you died.  That's how much humans could trust you.  Totally.  What then , was the reason, the real reason, not the honorable excuse?  Was it revenge?  Jealousy?  Power?  What?   ….No other animal is capable or desires to kill on the scale of humans….   So, Marius, I say to you, were I in charge for a day I would free all the animals in all the zoos, all the circuses, all the aquariums, all the slaughterhouses and shut them all down.  And I would put you, your gentle soul and loving nature, in charge of it all…"
 

Quite a satisfactory Saturday outing…populated by a renowned professorial historian/novelist, Native Americans, a famous Hoosier named William Wells, Chief Little Turtle, young Civil Rights activists circa 1964, terrific animals including a comic strip cat called "Garfield" and racehorse "Devil Dancer" and a martyred gentle giraffe known as Marius -- all gathered in one small sunlit room.  Thanks, Terry Doran, for the invitation and for valuable lessons learned and for friendships renewed during a very informative 90 minutes during this Easter season, 2014!
 

Hosea 2:18
“In that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the creatures that move along the ground. Bow and sword and battle I will abolish from the land, so that all may lie down in safety.”

Isaiah 11:6-7
“The wolf shall
 live with the lamb,
 the leopard shall
 lie down with the kid,
 the calf and the lion
 and the fatling together,
 and a little child
 shall lead them.
 The cow and the bear shall
 graze, their young shall
 lie down together;
 and the lion shall
 eat straw like the ox…"

"For somewhere within us our hearts are always broken over the knowledge of our inevitable ending -- oh, let them be broken over life not death!"  - Rick Doran, "Searching the Empty Places";   "The independent mind is becoming increasingly rare." -Malcolm Muggeridge;  "The greatest education comes from action…the greatest action is struggle for justice." - Myles Horton (Quotations discovered in the 1981 Program THEATRE FOR IDEAS created by Terry Doran, Producer & Moderator)


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