The Adult As a Child in Summer     

Tomorrow is the first official day of summer, and yesterday happened to be the first muggy, hot day of this year.  So all of what summer is to me is on my mind and in my senses, despite my dread of the hot and humid weather ahead for the next twelve weeks or so.  Summer is my least favorite season because of how uncomfortable it gets here in Chicago and most of the midwest.  But a distain and intolerance for such weather has not always been the case for me.  As a girl, my brother and various boy cousins and I spent part of every long, childhood summer at my grandparents’ farm in rural Tennessee, which was without exception an experience of magic in each otherwise seeming dull and sometimes difficult rest of the year.     

I’m sure my childhood summers in the country account for a good portion of my love for and abiding interest in animals, gardening, and the natural world altogether.  As a child,  hot weather was not a hardship on my system in the unpleasant way it is now.  There was no air conditioning in the fifties and sixties south, and no public swimming pool to cool us down.  I  remember going out into the small yard that faced the very small road at the longest side of  my grandparents’ house in swimming trunks and bathing suit when the rain would come down hard after an especially hot day, and we were allowed to run and get a bar of soap and pass it around, lathering up and letting the rain rinse us off, laughing and squeeling and whooping, which also meant not having to line up for all our respective baths later on that night.  Up until I was nine or ten, though a toilet and modern plumbing had been installed in the bathroom, us kids were not at all reluctant to use the outhouse still standing out in the back of the house, not far from the smokehouse, and pumphouse, all three tiny buildings made of the same rough, splintered grey wood and somehow appealing to children as relics of what we called “olden days.”  It was somehow, for most of us, not at all an unwelcome adventure to make a trip to the outhouse, and we enjoyed playing just outside, or within, the other miniature houses in the back. 

Another thing we did to cool down in the middle of a long afternoon,  still some time before supper, was slice and eat a watermelon out on the large back porch, or on special occassions make homemade ice cream with fresh peaches,  cream and eggs, all eagerly sharing in the job of turning the crank on the ice cream maker.  As an adult, maybe fifteen years ago by now, I’ve tasted this same ice cream, made the same way, and it remains the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted. On that same back porch, a few days a week, even the boys loved to get in on the novelty action of my grandmother doing the laundry with her ringer washing machine.  I had, myself, a special facination with the bluing always added to a load of white clothes washing, and commandeered the act of dropping the dark blue cube into the water.  Every summer without fail, at least one of the boys, or I, would get part of his or her hand, even up to the arm, caught between the rollers the clothes were fed into to be wrung, though no one was ever seriously injured.  There would be some initial crying, with attendant group excitement and adult sympathy for a while, and then the chore of laundry being done for us all would again commence.  For some reason, the boys would disappear when it came time to hang the laundry on the great lengths of clothesline we’d put up in the back yard, and my grandmother and I would see to hanging with wood clothespins the fragrant wet clothes all along the lines to dry.   In the morning in her kitchen during most of July, my grandmother made a large pot of fresh jam from all the wild blackberries we had all spent several hours of several days picking in an overgrown wall of indistinguishable patches across the road in the woods, and we’d eat the jam piping hot over just-baked biscuits with fresh butter — all our mothers used margerine at home — filling up on seconds and thirds to our hearts’ content.     

On the smaller front porch, with its porch swing, of that small, four-bedroom house — the one our mothers or fathers grew up in as ten siblings somehow — we’d spend long hours shelling peas or beans while telling and listening to stories with both our grandparents, my grandfather sitting on the lowest edge rolling his cigarettes with Prince Albert tobacco once in a while and smoking. I guess some of my favorite memories of summer, too, are of being up at night, assembled in the living room, smelling of soap and in our summer, cotton pajamas.  Together as a troop of beloved grandchildren we’d put on talent shows for our always delighted and highly amused grandparents, performing solo or in concert, and then soon after, the fanfare over, we’d crawl into all the beds in the house where, once the lights were out, you could see out through the screens of fully open windows the moonlight shining on the smokehouse or back porch, on the larger, single fruit trees and then out over to and across the eerie looking pasture in the distance, depending on which room you were sleeping in.  Every one of these summer nights began with lightening bugs twinkling all around us as we outside until just before dark, and each night ended, finally, with the lull of crickets chirping, and bullfrogs croaking, as we fell to sleep.     

So on occassions like tonight, in this big city, sounds of the el train two blocks over in the distance and quietened street traffic down below, when it’s hot but I haven’t yet installed the air conditioner and shut these sounds I’ve grown used to out, I do find my mind wandering towards these days that once made summer the best season of all.  I hold so close in my heart the way my grandmother would stop whatever she was doing, any time of day, putting away her scissors if she was sewing, or coming in from the garden and removing her hat, and making us in no time a batch of her teacakes I can only remember the taste and texture of in a dream.  When I’d wake sometimes on my mornings there, imagining seven AM was early and determined to really help my grandmother with chores — when she’d been up and working since four — I remember after mopping the kitchen floor or some other minor task, taking a brief rest to myself on the porch swing before washing for breakfast.  The Bob Whites would be calling, there’d be dew still sparkling on the grass and flowers, and then the sounds of pots and dishes coming from the kitchen window across the bed of shrub behind the swing, as if these reminders of activity were travelling in air as slow as the day was long.     

© Nell Hunt   June 20, 2009

The post below has been taken almost completely from an artist/ writers’ entry into the blog HudsonWrites, which there is a link to in this blog below, so you can go read this and other entries  for yourself.

In this entry, the artist discusses how the words of cartoonist/ author Lynda Barry, in a podcast discussion he hears her have with another artist, helps him understand, as an artist, “purpose in art” – purpose in his work as an artist.  I have given into copying almost the entireity of this post because it is all so valuable, I feel.  I find it very inspiring.


“January 20, 2009”

“I had the pleasure of listening to a dialog between the great cartoonists Lynda Barry &Alison Bechdel on a podcast called “Live Wire!” recently and Lynda in particular hit on something that I had been thinking upon a great deal lately. And that’s the idea of purpose behind art.

I struggle with art a lot of times because it feels like such a selfish endeavor. Many times it’s driven by pride or money or fame… particularly in the movie industry (although I imagine it’s true of all art, I just have less experience with other industries.) Even the idea of struggling artists who create art “just for themselves” really turns me off. I think anything done “just for yourself” is a bit of a waste. I think it’s why I am happiest when I’m creating in a collaborative environment, whether that be a comic book artist or a writing partner, where I’m forced to bump into people. I believe that we’re put here on this earth to touch people and change lives, through our friendships, through our giving, and certainly through our art.

Lynda spoke to this during the conversation with this brilliant story:

“You all know what phantom limb pain is? That’s that thing where you lose part of your limb but you still have the sensation that it’s still there. There was a guy who had a particularly intractable case of it. He had lost his hand from here down. But his sensation was that his hand not only there, but it was in a really painfully clenched fist. He was in misery, the pain was constant. His life was really deteriorating. They didn’t know what to do for him.

And there’s this brilliant neurologist named V.S. Ramachandran who has done a lot of amazing work with imagery on the brain. And he had this idea, and his idea was, well, let’s make a box and we’re going to put a mirror in that’s slanted this way and there’s a hole on this side so that the guy can put his hand into the hole on this side, and then when he looks down it’s going to be the illusion of seeing two hands. You follow me on that? And so the guy did it. So he sees two hands. And Ramachandran says, ‘Open your hand.’ And he did. And he saw the other one open. And the pain went away.

And I believe that’s what images do. That there’s something about – whether it’s in another book, or it’s something that we make – there’s something about seeing something – and I don’t mean literally, necessarily, although with art that’s true – there’s something about working with images that can unclench something that we have no other way to get to.”

I was listening to the program in my car and after hearing this, I literally cheered. It was exactly everything I had been thinking, put into a simple, beautiful illustration.

What got me thinking about all of this was a lunch with a very good friend of mine named John Ray. John’s son, Marcus, was one of my best friends growing up and he took his own life almost 10 years ago now. After the death of his son, John became a pastor. And he did this in part, I believe, in order to help the hurting. Here is a man who has been through the worst pain imaginable, who very easily could have turned all of that pain inward and slowly morph into a twisted bitter old man. But instead, he took that pain, as inexplicable as it is, and used it to help others. Myself included.

When I had lunch with John, I was really struggling with my place in life. I was broken, not sure of what I should be doing. Just burnt out on trying so hard to be successful, in life and in art. And John said to me with such clarity, “Hudson, what you should be doing is taking the gifts God has given you, and using those gifts to tell your story. To share with others the questioning and the brokenness and the hurt that you’ve been through in order to help those who are on similar paths.”

This, to me, is art. Art is personal. It’s vulnerable. Art is not teaching. Just like John, I have no more answers now than I did before the pain. A lot of times, there are no answers. But I do know how to come through to the other side.

After the above illustration, Lynda goes on to talk about how Alison’s fantastic graphic novel Fun Home “opened a lot of fists” with it’s auto-biographical portrayal of a girl dealing with the death of her father who was a closeted homosexual. It is a story exploring death and life and sexuality and father/daughter relationships in a way that is completely unique to Alison.

The greatest desire all of us have in life is to know we’re not alone. It’s these unique, personal stories that speak to the hearts of the lonely.

We create, not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others. To share beauty and to ask questions… to challenge minds and to warm hearts.

Tell your story through your art. You never know whose fist you might be opening.”


I’ll just say that “finding purpose in art” seems also like finding meaning in any work and the importance of that.  This seems on one hand like Marxist philosophy – not to be alienated from ones work.  But then it also seems like the common sense of wanting to enjoy your work so you can do well at it – and  vise versa.

We  have the stereotypes in the U.S. of the artist as either someone who doesn’t want to work or work hard- or as a crazy person whose work calls on the psyche and an imagination.  There is also the whole set-up to see artists as representing eccentricity or over-sensitivity – I guess it’s  a stereotype of a marginal person, which we know can either be accepted as a neutral tendancy, or romanticized as a requirement or expectation.  So it  seems understandable that artists would find it easy to feel guilty about being artists when they have to fight these cliches.

I just wanted to say that even as a promoter and admirer of  the arts and artists of all kinds, I still hold fast to a quote by Thomas Mann when I think of brats and a few intolerable tendancies of people I knew in art school.  “Art is an excuse for nothing.”

Hudson and Lynda go way beyond this superficiality; they find the values of well-being and self-knowledge just as important as they do comradery and community in their identity as workers.

In Chicago’s public school system, I know a lot of  schools have lost most of their arts programming like theatre, music facilities, and course offerings in the visual arts.  Part of this is because funding for urban education is not as good as in most smaller scale communities, or more specifically, well-to-do communities like white suburbs or private school systems anywhere.  Funding always abandons the arts first.

I guess most kids have to be self-taught to stay actively engaged in nurturing artistic talent on their own until they get a little older and can maybe find opportunities for arts-specific education that helps them direct their talent.  I guess there are still some programs for young educators in the arts to offer special learning opportunities in cities or in verious locations for disadvantaged kids.  I just don’t think the overall environment for the arts flourishing  is very good in the U.S. now.

Maybe art education and the chances of becomming an artist of some kind are better in the U.S. than they are in Bulgaria or the Yukon, I don’t know – I kinda doubt it.

I guess I can extend my inquiry here.   With the exception of something like the WPA during the Great Dression, has the U.S. been, and remained to now, a fertile ground for art compared to other western nations, or is the U.S. as backwards in supporting the arts as it is  in supporting healthcare,  education, workers rights, and the legal status of a an individual compared to that of a business’ legal status?

Ok, I guess I’m a bit guilty of morphing this from a story of inspiration and encouragement into one that might be too fraught with negative perspectives and maybe a tiresome political tirade.

Thank you, Hudson, for all you’ve shared …. thanks everyone for reading and any comments you might have.

Link to Hudson’s article, above:

I just happened to come upon a lovely memorial post for a 30-yr-old man who was an untrained, so-called “outsider artist” and also a member of the blues music community.  I urge you to visit the memorial directly, which provides personal details and even a photo of the artist and musician of the New England area.

Here’s the link:

Meanwhile, I can’t help but be bowled over by the beauty of so many of his paintings documented here, and wanted to post some of them in case anyone has interest in art and doubts the contribution of  so-called outsider artists – self trained artists –  to the arts the world over.

This is a painting of the artist’s girlfriend:

Mississippi John Hurt, 2005

Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Willie McTell, 2005


Helicopter Flowers

(I love the painting above.)

(This is one amazing painting.)

This painting is painted over a picture of Jesus, and all area but the eyes are painted over:  so what you see are Jesus’ eyes here in the painting.    What the artist was doing was giving the blind musician he was painting Jesus’  eyes to see with …. it was a private joke, local humor, which the artist is said to not have had any lack of.

Please check out the original memorial page to Charles Harrison a.k.a. Charles Frank, that has been assembled at the following site:

RIP Charles Harrison ….

Here is a funny bumper sticker the artist made:

There should now be a link on my other blogs to “nell’s writing,” which is also the writing part of dark age days.

To go to the writing blog of dark age days please click on this link and find whatever I’m working on there. Eventually, I want to share a writing blog with other writers – fiction, personal essays, or memoir. That could be another part of this current blog, the “writing” part of dark age days, and the main part could be for progressive politics, and another part could be for art, photography, philosophy. I dunno …. Ideas?

Bear with me as I learn html and how to interconnect things so as to find and participate in a community of  folk who write about many things. Thanks for your interest.

Many thanks to my lovely friend J0n, who helps me figure out how to post and work things here – one day it will make sense to me!.