Wednesday, November 25, 2015


Right now...

Dee has taken our annual First Congo wreath,
removed the plastic red bow
and replaced it temporarily with
a royal blue ribbon for the approaching
first Sunday of Advent:

while we practice our words for the next issue
by working last Sunday's NYTimes crossword:

Enjoy your day of thanks tomorrow




this just in from my brother Les in North Carolina

It's a gift to be simple, a gift to be free...

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Ingrid, Casablanca and France; It's going to be OK; Foot warming, bread baking; More on mowers; Rory

By my lights

A week ago tonight
- we sit here presently on Thursday at 0300 hrs 11-19-15  -
we finished the last Sat.'s Raccoon piece
A Mowing I Would Not Forget.

It was the night before tragedy was to strike

We didn't know what was to occur
in today's world of barbary
that next night, Friday.

We heard the news as the world did
late Friday night,
the day before the issuance of the Raccoon.

We already had that issue together
- 'Put to bed' -
and we had been pleased with it, a light-hearted
manifestation from the Raccoon archives office
at the Odd Fellows in the Five Points,

where light floods in by day through a big skylight,
passing through blown-glass globes and stained glass.

When we rose obstensibly  to push the Send button
launching the SRN our wife said from bed, as she always does:
"Is it Raccoon time?"

"Yes," we responded in the lightening bedroom
 via its own skylight beginning to turn into the new day
"But - we said - "We don't think we can go
with the lawnmower thing we've written
in light of these horrendous shootings in Paris."

Dee said from her not fully awakened state
that she thought we should go with it.
We/I thought about it hard
and opted to.

By our lights
(see above photo)
we thought it would be okay.

Long before our health bout of 2005
we've sometimes labored under the influence 
of a sometimes off-track and trammeled mind.

The continued usage of the wheel chair
is symbolic of that.
We find it a good reminder of where we've been,
- the year-long road back -
 AND the height is just right for the old sewing machine
 we use for a desk.  It is comfortable, and facile too.

During the past week's unfoldings following the killings,
having to do with hard realities of French presidential
statements of resolve, world reaction
and the ongoing manhunts and ensuing dispatches,

it leads us to start off this Sat. Raccoon today
with an apology for our inappropriateness
as it turns out to have been.

Nobody has told us that, but it is my opinion.


When I was in 8th grade
living in Wash. DC with my dad
I took French in school.
It was a fine school and I drew my best grades ever.

I wish I could remember the excellent French teacher's name.

She taught us the French national anthem,
The Marseillaise
Allons Enfants De La Patrie
- "Arise you children of the fatherland" -
a stirring anthem I can still sing in French
to this very late day.

That memory has been running through my mind
as I filter the magnitude of this dangerous time
and how to cope with my predilections
of what should happen with this ISIS affrontery to the world.

And I think of the indelible live-forever movie
starring Ingrid Bergman and
Humphrey Bogart and
Claude Raines and Paul Henreid
as Victor Lazlo the hero

Especially the scene played below
of the defiant French night club one-up-manship
between the Nazi soldier/singers with their German drinking songs
and the French customers answering defiantly
with the Marseillaise, their national anthem.


In 1950 
five years after my divorced father had served
in the US Army as a Judge Advocate General
soldier and officer

thoughts of the French liberation in which he participated
following D Day were still vivid in his mind.
Dad told of the happy, crying and cheering French
when his Jeep columns rolled into the village
more on this next week

so it isn't hard for me now in 2015
to imagine another United States
"coming to the aid of" scenario.


"It's going to be OK"


Odd Fellows foot warming by the stove

Dee brings fresh bread from the oven
I use the 'painting' setting on the LVD II memorial Nikon that are fortunate to have


Raccoonist Rev. Leroy
sends picture of mower
in his shed on Overlook Lane, Waukesha.
The simple machine is still used.

Some intrepid measures
were taken by a few inventive types

This is what it was like for me with Surely

Some readers wrote in with comments
on last week's Surely piece, ex.:

Hi David,

     I have a "Surely" hanging in my garage.  Am always praying it won't fall on my car.   The mower hasn't been used
in probably 40 years.  Before buying my new gas mower last year I considered getting one like Ben's but I wanted
to try one out to be sure I could use it.   Ben is an inspiration to me.  Maybe when I retire I'll look for a used one.

Thanks for all the good articles,
Beth Lawson
more next week

Erin Dix
uses her mower (with Ben co-sharing, taking his turn)
in Appleton. WI  within walking distance to Lawrence University
where they both work.


New Cat In Town

Erin and Ben just adopted this kitty 
from the Appleton Humane Society.
They named her RORY.

Rory had been up for adoption
for six months.  She is 11.
When soulful looks were exchanged
all around
Ben and Erin elegantly selected her.

Rory loves her new owners
and the home they have provided for her.
She is inundated with love herself.



Saturday, November 14, 2015

A mowing I would never forget

Surely the Push Reel Lawnmower

(Reprinted from VULCAN WEATHERVANES 1980)


Our centerfold for the month of August
in this our maiden issue
is an old friend of mine,
Surely the Push Reel Lawnmover.

She was recently discovered
in the cob-webby basement stairwell
of our old family home
where I grew up on Waukesha's Arcadian Avenue
and to which I've returned to live
earlier this year.

Surely and I went around together
in my youth when it was my job
to mow my grandmother's lawn.

I always had a lot of respect for Surely,
although there were moments of antagonism
when I was forced to take her out
against my will.

That was before I felt old enough for her.

I came upon her in the basement hide-away not long ago
  and we struck up an immediate conversation,
even though it had been years since we'd seen
each other,

in fact years since Surely had seen anyone
due to the advent of the easy and fast
gasoline-powered younger models out there.

I was up-front with her right away
and owned that I too had taken to the grasses
with these brash and noisy sirens
but I also told her that there had always
been something missing.

It was just going through the motions with them.
I never had the feeling  that I was in control
of anything, walking along subserviently,
havng little input and more than once 
actually getting hurt.

Surely never threw anything at me in her life.

As we talked I began to fantasize
what it would be like 
to take Surely out again.

Granted, we both had some years behind us
since we tried anything together,
but I still felt capable of making her go.
Also, I mulled not merely euphemistically -

the grass wasn't getting any shorter out there.

"Listen," I began uncertainly,
"you wouldn't want to, you know,
it's been a long time and everything,
but how's chances of you and me, well,
you know...  Whadda you say?"

She got my drift immediately.

"Dave!  Wouldn't that be fun!
I could be a little rusty...
but I don't think so.
If you don't mind how I look,
Let's roll!"

I felt a wave of confidence come over me
at her enthusiasm.
That was something else I liked about Surely.
She was always ready,

not like some others I could mention
who have to be gassed up before they will do anything,
and then their exhalations make it downright unpleasant
to walk even behind them.

As uncomplimentary a term as 'cheap date' may be,
it goes far toward describing Surely.
A couple drops of machine oil 
was all she ever asked for

and if I didn't mind her squeaking a little
she didn't even ask for that.
Why did I ever let her get away?
Fuelish fuelish me.

I rolled her from her unworthy repository
beneath the basement stairs
and listened for the old purring whir-r-r.
It was still there.

Surely had few moving parts
but from where I stand today
the clip-clip-clip of Surely's blades
as they slide over the stationary cutter
is far and away more inspiring

in its simplicity and predictability
than a complicated mystery machine
you have to have a manual to understand.

A I lifted Surely gently in my arms
for the trip up to the waiting
and lush greenery beyond the door I imagined
that she began to croon 'Seems Like Old Times'.

The stairway seemed surreal and endless
as I carried Surely.
She may have put on a little dusty weight
but it didn't matter.

I couldn't wait to get her into the long  grass.

I knew I was in for a mowing
I would never forget.


[This Raccoon is dedicated
to daughter Erin and her Ben
who recently eschewed a power mower
choosing a simpler push reel mower
to use on their recently-acquired lawn.]

Ben Willard of Appleton WI
with his mower (Fnu/Lnu)


Young man likes his reel mower so much
that he takes to the grasses
even when his lawn is only dead-leafy

Or maybe in his kindness
he acquiesces to filling our request
for a Raccoon illustration
 though the day is blustery.

Because that's the kind of guy he is.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Wizard of Waukesha; Were you pulled by the 400?; By candle light; Adios Halloween for this year

Waukesha's own Les Paul


Were You Pulled By The 400?

The 400 was the Chicago and Northwestern's
First mile-a-minute
Steam-operated streamliner
Regularly scheduled to operate
Over a distance of 200 miles
Its name came from its unheard-of ability
To pull a train 400 miles
In less than 400 minutes
And the name suggested the future
The next decade

The 400 was introduced on January 2, 1935
And in 1936
It got the first oscillating headlamp
A safety feature for high-speed trains
People and animals weren't used to such swiftly-approaching

Here comes the 400
Waukesha kids would shout
Those of us lucky enough to live
Near the tracks in the 1940s

We would run down through Silurian Park
Then source of still-coveted Waukesha water
To the other train depot on Williams Street
to see the 400
Hoping it would stop
In its mighty glory
Sometimes it even had an American flag
Flying above the oscillating safety lamp

I walk that way now
Water debunked
A legend gone plain
Flags out of style among the hip
That war is over
Trains rusty drones
Competing with trucks
The good buddies of the roadway
In our way
Maybe sporting flag decals
Next to permit decals on their window glass
Beating out the iron rails
Not quite yet - no, never

In the 40s the 400 ruled
Among the regular high smoke-stacked
Black as coal
Steam engines
Pausing to take on water at the Waukesha depots
Give entertainment to TV-less children
And get their giant wheels oiled

By trainmen in bib overalls
Their bucket oil cans with specially long spouts
And their watch chains guarding
Marvelous timepieces tucked in
Those upper blue and gray striped pockets
Watches that were cherished possessions
Setting those men apart
Amidst the bursts of steam trackside
Like dry-ice effects on a stage

Times were hard and my mother and grandmother
Would warn me at dusk
Don't go down there
There are tramps down there
And there were sometimes
But I never saw one that meant
Me any harm
Come on

Like the 400 and the other plainer trains
The tramps were transitory
Unlike today's homeless
They were said to hole up briefly
In camps outside of town
Sometimes they would beg door-to-door
And leave a secret mark
Where they were treated kindly

I featured them cooking stews in old tin cans
Staying away, embarrassed
But I never truly met a tramp to find out
They didn't seem to want to know us
And we didn't seem to want to know them
   in the 1940s

My church was and is just on the other side
Of those train tracks
And I don't remember them teaching us
To worry about these homeless people
Like they encourage us to do now
But they might have done so
I was little; I wondered

The mighty 400 flew through town
Sometimes without stopping
It's oscillating headlamp showing
Like Diogenes' lantern -
It might have been looking for an honest man
An honest boy
An honest tramp

It was an elite train bent on getting
Where it was going
It's trainmen a cut-above
Their denims seemed starched
Their watches looked even better
The uncluttered lines of this engine
Showed little of what was going on

A thing of wonder in the change of the age
I saw men stopped at railroad crossings
Interrupted by the coursing 400
Not cursing their bad luck
But getting out of their cars and doffing their hats
At the swiftly arriving and disappearing
on the non-stops
Engineer who would wave

An eddy of wind left behind
Might swirl a newspaper and dust up into the air
And in a moment the 400 was gone
What happened?

There are still pictures of the 400 in the museum here
And a local tavern across from the depot
Still bears its name
Reliquaries hold the engines remaining now

We would put our small feet on the tracks
To feel the power of the still-out-of-sight
Incredible behemoth 400
Horn blaring its look out
No old-fashioned bell 'dinging'
Look out for the swinging beam

So connected;
We felt
We were going somewhere

And the tramps rode the rails
A mile a minute sometimes
If they were pulled by the 400

[David Dix]

Gym at redone renamed Les Paul Middle School, Waukesha

Justin Max Shoepke, metal sculptor,
last I heard now in CA,
used to live across the street from  us on Colton St.
He sometimes displayed, before he went on, with 
the West Main Street artists.

At that early period of his life I bought this candle holder
he'd fashioned from a fireplace andiron.

It is still in service at here at the Odd Fellows hall.
He was working  from his studio in the garage
across the street from us, back then.

What a lucky thing to have!

(Justin is the son of  Waukesha Realtor Sally Schoepke
and mortgage originator Steve Schoepke.)


Halloween is a thing of the past 
for this year.

We've put away
the plastic jack-o-lantern
but there was a day
on Arcadian Ave
- our family homestead -
when this end of Halloween time
was observed
but there wa

 flat pumpkin