Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Pope-a-Potties

I had to do a video drive-by of the Pope-a-Potties. They are stacked 4
deep along this row. Thankfully I work for a guy who thinks this is as
hilarious as I do...

The Pope-a-Potties - Sapsis Rigging, Inc.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

My Great-Uncle's Recollection of the 1915 Hurricane in Texas

This is the recollection of my great-uncle Goob Newton about the hurricane of 1915. He was born Jan 3, 1898 and was 17 when it happened. Cote Plummer refers to Catish H. Plummer, a tugboat captain who received a gold medal for rescuing people from the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. By 1915 he had gotten pretty good at surviving hurricanes and his son Carlyle was also on the scene. Here is how my uncle told the story to my grandmother in 1988 or so…

I was there at the big hurricane at Sabine Pass in August 1915.

It was business as usual at the Ross Parson home on this early morning in August 1915. Mrs. Nina cooking breakfast, Ross still sleeping. I was milking the cow, Friday the Mexican co-worker was feeding the 8 mules. About 5 o’clock a passenger train come racing by at full speed with bells ringing and whistle tied down. Ross came out of the house and said get on the saddle horse and go see what all the excitement was about. I got on the saddle mare and raced up town and asked Mr. Adams  what was the train there for. He said tell Ross to get his bunch and get on the train for Port Arthur as there was a storm that would hit in less than two hours that would be worse than the Galveston storm of 1900.

I went back and told the news to Ross.  He said you and Friday get on the saddle horse and mule and take the stock to Big Hill. I told Ross I was working for him, but not anymore as I didn’t know the way to Big Hill and beside those people up  town were scared to death and I was too. He told Friday to go ahead and go to Big Hill. The last we saw Friday he went west.

About daylight Captain Cote Plummer came up in a big car and told Ross to get his bunch and load in as the storm was near.  We drove to Adam’s store where we picked up 4 axes, 2 brooms, and a roll of rope. On we went to Sabine where Captain Cote lived and it was across the street from the new schoolhouse that had just been completed. As we walked upon the porch someone said look across the prairie and there was waves that looked to be 6 to 8 feet high. We ran in the house and Captain Cote told me and Ross to help him scuttle the house.  I went in one room and saw a fine rug on the floor.  By the time I went to ask what to do about the rug Captain Cote and Ross had all the rooms scuttled. I went back and chopped my hole and rug too. By this time the pressure was so great from the Gulf that it was knocking the paper from the ceiling. We immediately went upstairs as the house was two stories and built on stilts about 10 feet off the ground and said to be put together with bolts instead of nails.

We carried axe, nails, rope and broom, which came in handy later. By nightfall the water had reached the second floor level. We were all in one room upstairs and about 9 o’clock that night a big crashing noise cam in the house and Captain Cote said it probably was a floating house come against our house. As he raised a window and called out that sea yell and sure enough a man answered him from the roof top.

He tied the rope around the bedstead and rolled it out the window. He said, “Newton, you being the youngest, follow that rope and see if you can find the man.”  Out I went, Captain Cote giving that long loud scream, the man answering him. I was able to get to the man and give him my rope.  We both made it back to the house. Just as we got back, the glass front door blew out. Someone grabbed a mattress and slats. The men held it up to the door while Captain Coteput the nails into the slats to hold the mattress in place. It was said later that the wind velocity was better than 100 miles per hour.
By daylight we were standing in about one foot of water, so Captain Cote told us all to get ready, we had to swim to the school house which was about 200 yards. He said, “I’ll carry the Ross baby and Newton will carry my poodle dog.” I had never swam in anything but White Oak Creek.  Why, a one-inch wave looked like a tidal wave to me. All went well till I hit my first 6 foot wave. Me and the poodle dog liked to have drowned. By the time I got my breath I had lost the dog and was sure I would lose my life, but I began to gain confidence as I saw the rest going on. After so long I made the trip.

To my disappointment I found out that Captain Cote had located his poodle by his field glasses that he always carried on his shoulders. He said, “Boy, go get my dog.”  Off I went and after due time I came back with that poodle.

The two story building in the background is the schoolhouse.
The following day, which was Tuesday, a young man whose name was Johnson and I would go out of the schoolhouse and ride the horses and cattle to the fire escape and send them up into the auditorium. We had it full. By this time Captain Carlyle Plummer told us we had to put the cattle back out to sea as the floor was about to cave in and we all would drown. We immediately did it.  Captain Carlyle Plummer  was a son to Captain Cote Plummer and both were tugboat captains.  He had gone to the schoolhouse earlier along with about 140 other people.

Wednesday something happened that stayed with me these past 88 plus years. It made me a different person. A lady that I never saw before or afterwards came up to me and asked if I had anything to eat today. I told her I hadn’t had a bit  to eat since last Sunday. She went and got me a pork and bean sandwich and a glass of water. I inhaled that sandwich and that was all the food I had until the following Monday night when I got to Kirbyville.

Thursday Friday and Saturday was about the same, just twiddle your thumbs and watch the water recede. Sunday about noon Captain Cote said all that wanted to swim or wade to his tugboat he would try to get us to Port Arthur.  I couldn’t speak for the rest, but I was one quick volunteer. So the Parsons and myself along with many more got aboard. As we passed where Ross’ house stood, it was gone and a huge oil tanker was high and dry there. On to Port Arthur. We went only to find Procter Street knee-deep in water. We had to wade out to catch the Interurban (train) to Beaumont. To this day we don’t know who paid the fare as none of us had a red cent.

We arrived in Beaumont about 5 o’clock Sunday and registered at the Gowling Hotel. Ross said he would go to the bank Monday and get some money and pay me my wages. Monday morning Ross came by and gave me my monthly salary. That was the last time I ever saw the Parson family.

I checked out of the hotel, went across the street to [Bowser’s] Store and bought myself pants, shirt, socks, shoes – a complete set of clothing as I only had on a pair of short pants. Later that day I went to the Santa Fe Depot and caught the train to Kirbyville. After detouring to Kountze due to a washed out bridge, we got into Kirbyville at 9 o’clock that night.

Miss Woods, of whom I had lived with for the past three years, and said she had me some chicken and dumplings, my favorite dish. I went home with her and ate so much that they had to get the doctor to pump my stomach out. Remember I had nothing to eat the week before but a pork and bean sandwich. The next day I was O.K.

Thirty-six years later I took my wife Audie to show her the place I spent that horrible week.  I’ve never been back since. I like the high hill country of Newton County.

  --L.M. “Goob” Newton

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Software for Sarah - GoFundMe

Volunteering for community activities is incredibly rewarding and I love being able to donate my skills to my favorite groups. Occasionally, though, we have to ask those groups to support the volunteers, so that the burden of  expense is shared around. I'm in the nail-bitey position of asking for help with the purchase of some rather expensive software so I can continue doing some of the volunteer publishing work I've been doing. It's scary asking for help, but I clearly belong to a generous and giving community because I raised almost a quarter of what I need in just one day. 

Here is my first highlighted project:

Tuneadelphia! was one of my favorite editing, layout and design  projects. I compiled original tunes, illustrations and stories by  members of our open band SPUDs as a fundraiser for the group. I was also able to make T-Shirts featuring the cover illustration that were as popular than the book itself. We cleared over $1500 that went directly to supporting workshops and resources for our local musicians. Having  access to great software made this project manageable and fun.

Software for Sarah by Sarah Gowan - GoFundMe

Monday, December 15, 2014

Magic In the Dance Hall

This is the preface to the tune collection I compiled and edited in 2008 called Tuneadelphia. This week our Philadelphia area open band SPUDS will be celebrating its 30th anniversary. I've played with the band for 15 years and look forward to many more! Tuneadelphia is now out of print, but can be purchased as a PDF file here.  All proceeds benefit SPUDS and the development of traditional musicians in the Philadelphia dance community.

From the moment I first stepped into the dance hall I was enchanted. I loved the music and was delighted to find the dancing came easily to me. It quickly became apparent, though, that this wasn’t simply a fun way to pass an evening. I felt something inside had changed and knew that this place and experience would alter who I was and how I saw the world.

I’m not especially surprised to find that very often people talk about their first encounter with traditional music and dance as being magical. Magic, for me, is simply another way to describe transformation. In fairy tales the toad becomes a prince, and in a staged show the magician’s assistant is transported from a box to a tiger cage. Maybe the first passes the limitations of what we’re willing to believe. The second is an illusion where we could figure out the trick given enough time and the proper perspective. But spend enough time in a dance hall and witness how it transforms the folks who frequent it, and you can’t help but become a believer in real magic.

 Over the course of an evening, work-weary dancers discover a lightness and enthusiasm they didn’t know they possessed. New dancers arrive clumsy and confused and we see that gradually their bodies take on grace and confidence. The news on the car radio on the drive to the hall may have been the worst ever, and yet musicians never fail to pull joy and energy from their instruments. The callers shape the evening; cajoling, encouraging, singing us into moving and playing as one. Well, dang, if that ain’t magic, I don’t know what is.

For many musicians the open band is at the heart of their transformation within the traditional music and dance community. Many of us had our first experiences playing for dances in our community band, SPUDS. We were welcomed by experienced musicians and honed our developing musical skills in a safe and fun environment. Just as dancers are drawn onto the dance floor by the more experienced dancers, musicians often find their new musical home through the open bands.

They are encouraged by another musician to give playing a try and, once there, find themselves under the spell of the dance. Just like the clumsy dancer who learns to move with ease, the new musician often stumbles a bit in learning the skills needed for playing for dancers. The open band becomes a safety net with more experienced musicians acting as both guides and steadying framework. Some folks play quite happily in the open band for years, others branch out with their own, smaller, bands or other projects. The open band becomes a springboard for learning new styles of music, trying new instruments or, as is evidenced by this book, musical composition.

And as incredible as a good evening at the dance can be, I believe the greater magic comes in what we take away from the hall and carry into the rest of the world. Every evening spent in learning to dance and play together in the dance hall can empower us to move through the rest of our lives with more grace, confidence and light. Just as we learn to communicate with one another through music and dance, we can better learn how to connect creatively in all parts of our lives. I’ve watched shy, even awkward, bandmates blossom into active community members who encourage other new musicians. Folks who never thought they could write music, are suddenly turning out tunes. I am constantly in awe of just how much creativity one group can generate. What sends me right over the top is imagining how many other dances like ours exist in the world. And not just dances, but think of all the jams, community theaters, scout troops, jazz clubs, poetry readings, 4H mClubs, art galleries and any place where people gather to share in creative connection. And every time humans connect creatively, there is a moment where they are transformed for the better. Wonderful, everyday, anyone-can-do-it magic.

All of the contributors to this book have played at some point in time with SPUDS, the Philadelphia area contra dance open band. While there’s no doubt in my mind that much of this material represents the “best of the best”, more importantly it is a picture of the best of who we are right now. The artistic snapshot may look different in ten or twenty or a hundred years, but these are the stories, drawings and tunes that represent our collective creativity in this moment. As long as we continue to come together to experience the transformative power of music, dance, art and poetry, then we can believe in magic.

This book is dedicated to the magicians of the dance hall – all of you.
Sarah Gowan
January 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Today I give thanks for silhouettes.
Black lace against a sunset,
Cat in the snow-framed window,
Unapologetic and still.

Today I thank my scars.
Silver skin stretch marks mapping my journey,
The gold seam in a broken vase,
Tree bark and creases in the toes of my shoes.

Today I am thankful for murmurs,
Whispered wishes and exaltations and
The skip, skip, skipping heartbeat
Singing love, loving, love.

Sarah Gowan
Thanksgiving 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Tangle Faeries - Releasing an Idea to the Wild

Back in 1997 I wrote a poem with my 3 year old in mind. I shared it with my family and a couple of friends and then put it away with the thought that I might do something with it some day. Maybe a children's book or a song, I wasn't sure, but I knew I wasn't finished with it. Several years later I discovered that a guy in Atlanta had written a children's book using my idea, though not my words. Recently another person made a blog post claiming her precocious 3 year old came up with the story.

My first reaction was "How dare they steal my idea! What do I do about this!?" I knew that a lawsuit would be a waste of time and just felt too ugly to think about. I know full well how ideas get disseminated and if I really wanted to keep the idea for myself, I should have kept it to myself. (In this case I shared it with a touring musician who talked about it on one of his tours.)  I don't think anyone plagiarized my work, I think they heard the concept and had to make something with it probably forgetting the source completely. But my ego is hollering for credit and, to be perfectly honest, I like my poem best. So my blessings on the creative minds that took the concept their own way, and here is Tangle Faeries as I wrote it on February 6, 1997.

The Tangle Faeries

"Sleep", says Mama, "Sweet dreams, sleep tight,
It's sleepytime, so say goodnight."
She whispers softly, singing low,
A lullaby most soft and slow,
Singing to the darkening air,
Of faeries dancing in your hair.

Jingle jangle, tingle tangle,
Faeries spin and dance and leap
Jingle jangle, tingle tangle,
With dreams a-billow, to your pillow
Weave night-magic while you sleep.

Flute and bell, drum and chime,
Dancing wildly arms entwined,
With moonlight and a twisty rhyme
They spin a spiral dream sublime
Turning round the slip of time,
A feather touch. Winds. Unwinds.

Some be frightful, some be wise,
Dreams of laughter and surprise,
Some flit away with day's first rise,
Morning stretch and open eyes.
Some stay a lifetime, dreamtime treasure,
Nighttime gifts of light and pleasure
Bell and flute, chime and drum,
Something magic this way comes!

Jingle jangle, tingle tangle,
Faeries spin and whirl and leap,
Jingle jangle, tingle tangle,
With dreams a-billow, to your pillow,
Weave night magic while you sleep.

"Good morning," says Mama, "Rise and shine,
The day's begun, it's wake-up time,"
Calling to the brightening air
A sparkling song, as with care,
She combs and brushes and laughs, "See there!
The Tangle Faeries danced in your hair!"

Sarah Gowan
Feb. 26, 1997

Friday, August 15, 2014

Depression for Regular People

Today was a Bad Day.

Today's Bad Day meant that I had to take the day off from work because I couldn't stop sobbing long enough to take a shower and get in the car. I kept right on weeping even when the postman tossed best present ever through my front door - a completely amazing Tiara of Happiness from my mom. From my MOM, who totally gets me, and makes me laugh, and sends me a Psychic Friends Tiara of Happiness at exactly the moment when I feel my lowest.

I spent the week wading through news articles about Robin Williams' depression and suicide. I read the powerful and heartbreaking notes from his family and friends. I raged at ignorant and idiotic declarations from the clueless. I felt relieved that my depression is relatively mild and manageable. Until today.

Robin Williams was a guy who had absolutely everything any of us could want - a genius intellect, brilliant talent, a beautiful family who loved him, work he loved, a huge heart full of compassion and kindness. When someone like him can't find his way from the abyss, in a strange way it gives the rest of us Regular People permission to claim our own feelings and legitimize our depression.

I spend a huge chunk of my energy allotment on recognizing how much I have to be grateful for in my life. I have a partner who loves and understands me. I have a mother, stepfather, brother and children who love and understand me. I have a whole posse of friends who love and understand me. I own a great little house, just my size, that I share with my amazing understanding partner and three cats. I earn a living wage, have health insurance, eat pretty much whatever I want. For crying out loud, I am so well appointed I pee in my own private bathroom in a toilet flushed with water clean enough to drink. There are people in this world fighting for access to clean drinking water and my daily toilet water is more pure than they will ever see in their lifetime. I get it - I have no reason to be depressed.

And yet I'm crying, not because I'm ungrateful, but because my body chemistry is out of kilter and my brain tells me I am sad, even though I have every reason to be happy. Yup, Depression for Regular People. So today I'm going to binge-watch Grey's Anatomy and have vicarious soap-opera feelings. I'm also going to have that extra shot of whiskey and eat the popcorn with real butter. Tomorrow I hope to be less sad and have a salad, but maybe I'll have cheesecake instead.

This is what depression for regular people looks like - Exhaustion. Gratitude. Coping. Moving On. Every day we circle the Abyss, thankful we aren't in it, and grateful for the angels who help keep us out of it. Every day we recognize our good fortune and still fight the 10 ton weight on our chest. And for every crappy feeling today, tomorrow there is a Sparkly Tiara of Happiness from our own personal angel.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Mowing the Lawn Ahead of the Rain

Mowing the lawn ahead of the rain
The sole of my favorite shoes gave way.
Thwappiting  underfoot,
The tattered rubber taunted me
With the news that these shoes were older than my grown child.

My palms blistered as I raced the storm
Fussing that they were once
Painter’s hands
And that a handshake from the fresh faced girl
I was long ago
Made the boys wide-eyed at the callous and muscle and bone.
These hands worked hard.

When did I buy these shoes?
Sometime after my first was born, facing the wrong way up,
Sauntering into this world after 44 hours
Trying to make up his mind.
Before my second, though, who never did anything before he was ready
Bursting out and into my arms after an hour and a half.
Two days or an hour, a labor of love.
This body worked hard.

Guess I don’t need these raggedy shoes
I’ll garden bare-foot and fearless
My fingers calloused for strings
Playing my own lullaby as the mother-me sleeps
(at last!)
And the crone roars awake.

Sarah Gowan - July 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Don't Eat the Grape

My mom raised us to believe that even the smallest of acts can have powerful results. For instance, our family supported the United Farmworkers Grape Boycott in the late 1960's. This was no small act of defiance in our fairly conservative church community. I remember picking the lone grape out of my canned fruit cocktail at Girl Scout camp and trying to explain to the bewildered troop leader why it was important to honor the boycott because the migrant workers need our help. I was away at camp - who would know any different? But mom had raised us with the understanding that our actions do matter and I knew deep down that not eating a single grape at sleep-away camp does indeed make a difference.

What an incredible lesson for a kid. When the United Farmworkers declared their non-violent strike a success with the signing of union contracts, I knew that my small choice to not eat grapes had helped to change the lives of thousands of migrant workers in a big way.

So today the news is full of corporations that want to control women’s health care choices, corporations that want to control our food, corporations that want us to go to war for oil, all driven by a grinchy 1% who simply wants all the things and will stop at nothing to get them. I’m overwhelmed with the tidal wave of injustice, insanity and imbalance and can’t imagine how we could slow it down, much less stop it.

Except we do know how.

Don’t eat the grape.

In other words, make your small actions count.

Boycott. Choose to not spend your money with corporations who are in opposition to your fundamental beliefs and buy from companies who support your vision of the world.

Vote. If you are lucky, you can vote for the politicians who think the way you do. At the very least vote for the one who is the least offensive.

Speak. Tell people why you are making these choices and encourage people to spend their money and their votes wisely.

None of us can hope to stop the flood of greed, fear and injustice alone, but a million careful choices add up to a mighty strong wall. Not to mention delicious grapes for everyone someday.