Tuesday, October 11, 2011

(Wait…how many words did they tell us at the writers retreat we should use for a short story?)   Heheheh...

Unearthing Legacies

Recently I’ve written on Barlow Lake and my memories there with my sisters.  There are 9 of us girls still living … and the older we get, that number becomes more important, as our only brother died 2 years ago.  Mike was 63 years old (scrolldown for his tribute.)
He was the only one in the world, who could have talked 9 sisters into joining the "Mike Smolenski Fan Club" and, yes, we actually paid him dues.  Now that’s a brilliant brother.  We loved him and his great sense of humor.  He always had some stupid way of making me laugh in the midst of crying over his illness.  I didn’t like that he would use laughter to brush off my sadness …  he didn’t like seeing anyone grieve him while he was in the midst of living.  
My mother is the girl on the left

It was his dream to own our Grampa's property and homestead on Barlow Lake where my mother and her sister’s were raised.  We too, spent all of our summers there and the place is rife with memories spanning generations.  His dream came true and the home remains in his family.
Recently, as some of my sisters and I were visiting there, my manly brother in law from Minnesota took off into the woods with a shovel (yes, we have indoor plumbing) to investigate the whereabouts of our Gramma’s cellar.  Grampa had built it into the side of a hill sometime in the late 1920’s and we had long since forgotten about it.  But when we heard the sound of the shovel digging, we had to go look.  Sure enough, he had found it.  I grabbed my camera.  He cleared bushes and branches away for the rest of the day, slowly "reclaiming the earth-bermed cellar.“  

The outer,  Dorothy Door (think Dorothy and Auntie Em’s slanted cellar door,) “was rotted and gone from its original position and all that remained were the long iron hinges and latch lurking under the leaves and dirt.”  After finding the hinges, and the excitement of discovering an air vent pipe still protruding from the forest floor at the top of the hill, it became an official archeological dig.  

So, the manly Minnesotan started digging, like any manly Minnesotan would.   He dug and flung shovels of dirt and leaves most of the day.   As he was clearing the stairway leading down to the main door, he could see it was standing slightly ajar. 

That's when I had to leave for home, so I’ll let my sister, Minnesota Meg, tell the rest of the story … (all the other quotes are hers too).

"Inside was a small room walled with cinder blocks.  Thin, frayed, brittle electrical  wires gave proof of a room once occupied by light.  The vaulted, concrete ceiling was supported by a steel beam."

(But, wait!  No photos of the inside??? I am toooootally going back out there and get the pictures of the inside. Never send the Artist Meg to do the job of Picture Pat. ; ) ok, go on...)

"In the middle of the room, on a sand floor, standing upright about 3 feet high… was a sprinkler head pipe"….just like all the other sprinkler heads that still remain standing, hidden among the trees and overgrown bushes, all over the grounds of Grampa’s estate.  Lake water once surged from his handmade pump house throughout his self-designed underground system of pipes to quench his lawn that remained forever green through the driest of summers… a still-standing legacy of his ingenuity, creativity, and foresight.  
Minnesota Meg the artist

 “Aaaaaaannnnnyway.....here comes the fun part." 

 (ok, wait a minute... my part was fun...)

"Over in the corner of the cellar were great big chunks of what we thought might be clay because of the sound it made when Ken clunked it with the shovel..... Kathy (Mike's wife) came over and said that Gram used to keep her clay in there. 

Whaaaat?  We knew Grammie was a potter, but her own clay cellar?  Mystery solved!  That explained the sprinkler head that would spray the clay and keep it moist. Any excess water drained off through the super thick sand floor.  Also, lying there on the sand, next to the clay, was a crow bar which we figured Grammie used to break off chunks of clay. I mean, that was cool...thinking of her in there, the last one to use that tool. We bagged some big chunks of clay (enough for two buckets full) and brought it home.

I guess that little underground cellar was always a mystery to us kids growing up." (Yeah, I always thought it was a scary storm shelter.)  "If Mom were here she'd know where that clay was taken from...the lake?  It's quite dark gray, very grainy, but definitely clay.  It will be fun to see what happens to it in the kiln and with glazes, etc.  We have reconstituted  the clay and are now preparing to take it up to the Art Center where our membership allows us to work in the pottery studio."  
I can’t wait to see what she makes me, I told her. (I'm partial to those blue, green glazes... ahem.)
(l - r):  Martha, Roberta, Patricia, Meg at Barlow
Legacies…  Grampa the entrepreneur, builder, inventor.  Grammie the artist, potter and avid bird watcher.  Mom, the wise, lover of children.  Dad, the strict Judge who could laugh at himself.  Mike the dreamer, U.S. Marine, funny family man.  Anne, the distant one.  Mary, the smart survivor.  Laura, the loving worker.  Jane, the singer. Sara, the generous Judge. Patricia, lover of God and monarchs.  Martha, the maker of all things and funny. 

Click here to visit Meg the artist, potter. 

or Click here to visit Roberta, the hand warming creator, re-inventor..

Legacies... they last.  

(click here to listen to Nicole Nordeman ... very fitting... Legacy.)
Patricia Spreng


  1. Oh my stars, Patricia! So many stories there. Yes, write it all down, take pictures, hold onto these stories. (I don't care how many words you have to use to do it)

  2. Pat, this is an amazing weaving of the past and present! I love the playful banter you include between you and your sister. What a gift to make such a discovery! YOu best head back there with your camera, girl! And I want to see those pictures.

  3. Picture Pat.

    I love this story. And I can't tell you how much I love that they found the clay.

    (I'm going to chuckle all night long about you paying dues to your brother, by the way. Just so you know.)

  4. lovely,

    check out poets rally and join us if you could, a free verse is welcome.

  5. What an adventure. What a great find!

  6. Where's Geraldo when you need him? I would have loved to see a video of the great find.

    To dig up treasures from the Past is always interesting -- not always good -- but interesting.


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