What is "the Hiatt Project"?

I began work on the project in the fall of 2009, when I went out west on sabbatical. I had already talked to my cousin Bette about collecting letters and journals of her father, Robert W. Hiatt, in order to write a biography of him. I took home 5 bins and began organizing by decade. Then I found a box of letters to and from my mother that I didn't know existed, under my son's bed where I stored her things after she died in 2001. Since I'm working chronologically, the bulk of what I've transcribed is to/from Betty. That is changing as I move forward through the years.

At time of posting this blog, I've transcribed letters from 1938-1944 (and one from LR to his 2-year-old daughter, when he was in Siberia, in 1921). Isabel has died. LR has remarried Oije Koltenbacher. Bob has married Lois Buvik and joined the army, and Bobbie Jr. is born. Betty and Bob have both graduated--she from Eastman School of Music, he from Optometry School in Chicago. Life looks good, and family tragedy has pulled them closer.

As someone experienced with family tragedy, having lost my youngest son in the fall of 2009, a mere month after I returned to Kentucky, I have discovered a new urgency in understanding who my family is, and "why." I may talk more about this, as it relates (perhaps more to the point is if and when death and loss will no longer "relate" to everything I do). --Jane Olmsted

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Philosophy of Life

I thought I'd share a little from the wonderful stack of letters I've just finished transcribing, written by Bob to Lois. They're love letters, war stories, and philosophies of life, all wrapped up together. I think the complete collection of their letters alone would make a fine publication.

Life and Monopoly

7/13/45:
"This morning I took out the monopoly set that Chaplain Connell gave me at Stoneman. And believe me, it started another new craze in our play pen. Some four games have been played all day. Some fun. Bob seems to be the hardest man to beat. That’s one game where the businessman-gambler beats the hell out of the intellectuals. A couple PhD’s are playing now, but Bob’ll make short work of them in the present final stage of the game."

7/15/45
"I’ve just returned from an invigorating shower, following perhaps the poorest played game of monopoly ever played. Did you use to play it much, sweetheart? Tonight while Bob, Ed (Crone, Capt, MAC, mess officer) and I tried our best to dicker for property with the old man (remember? An old army term of affection for the CO) who had an avenue or place of nearly every color, Joe Schubert (Capt, Su C) was just lucky enough to get one monopoly. That’s all he had, but it was more than any of the four of us others had. While the colonel continued to be unduly suspicious and reluctant about our proposed transactions, Joe built houses until his single monopoly sported three hotels. Each time we hit his piece, it socked us a $1000, and gradually we went bankrupt one by one as Joe cornered all the money. It seems the colonel was going to see to it that nobody was going to screw him. But he failed to bear in mind that “united we stand, divided we fall,” that when suspicion and bickering among the majority rules, the cautious, ever-alert, underdog minority will soon take charge once he gets a break. It’s actually amazing what one can learn by playing or even watching the game. You can fairly well analyze one’s character and sense of value, too. I learned to know several officers better during my days at the poker table, too. Thus my increasing knowledge of people carries on."

My own "monopoly" metaphor. Here's a version of a poem I wrote during one of Ken's and my poetry prompt sessions--which we haven't done for a long time and which we should resume, as I have about 4 that have turned into "real" poems.

Confession by Proxy


I arrive early, hands jangling pieces
from another game of Monopoly
I couldn’t bear to finish. I pull them out, familiar
as my failings, and line them up on the ledge
on my side of the confessional. Leading the way,
no surprise, the silver Scottie noses into places
he has no business going—
look, even when he’s lying down, stiff as a stiff . . .

Next, the iron thrusts that blunt chin,
frowning starchily . . . You clear your throat, though
your face is hidden and I can’t tell how much you see.
Hold on, I say, I think we’re getting somewhere—

Look, the sports car has screeched to a halt,
and the little plow pulls up with a wobble,
card-carrying member with a dirty little secret
about who does the real work
and who spends half a day covering his tracks.

You clear your throat again. It’s 10 o’clock in the morning
and I’ve been moving pieces around for 30 minutes.
Things are heating up as the line of penitents reaches
the outer door, or maybe they’re just sight-seers
tapping their hymnals against the backs of pews.
I think, maybe, we should talk
another time, I say, perhaps this evening

when the lilacs have closed and the crickets
begin their leg-rubbing—or do they go at it all day long?
Could we stroll around the cemetery where the old nuns
swing their rosaries, chanting in syllables so low
you’d think it was rocks in the creek tumbling toward the rapids—
I hear it takes one pebble 7 years to make its way from the bridge
at the big clock to the bend outside the window there,

where the red Jesus has lifted his hammer and stands ready
to let it fall into a pile of gold and blue lumber. I always liked
that window best, you know, the one where he’s working
with his hands not raising them over the children’s heads
or lowering them to someone’s feet, where he’s looking up
as if someone’s just called him to dinner, or he’s just
remembered something more urgent he needs to do.

Reflection

Was there ever a more capitalistic, self-aggrandizing game than Monopoly? Maybe Risk. Both of the take-over-the-world, king-of-the-mountain worldviews. And yet, how we used to love to play them. I remember a certain Risk game with my old friend Nancy Putnam. We'd pledged to each other only to attack the others, thus bonding like nations in a treaty agreement. When it was clear that we were near to running everyone else out of the game, I took my turn and attacked her. After she went down, she left the room, probably in tears. I felt terrible and still think of that as one of the betrayals that I would never live down and would try never to repeat again.

In my poem, the persona is sort of me and sort of not me, but I like the way the poem begins with monopoly (another game I couldn't bear to finish) and ends with a rumination on time, the movement of a pebble--how "inconsequential"--and the identification with Jesus, in the stained glass window, arrested in time, always wanting to answer that call.

2 comments:

  1. My goodness, what goodness. I read this and know for the first time the urgency of Rochester's "Jane, Jane, Jane." (Is that the fellow's name in JANE EYRE? When I was an 18yr old and new to British lit., the crescendo of that line was lost on me. As a woman reading your writing, the urgency of the line is clear.) Write on, Jane Olmsted. This is magical (the poem, the reflection)...and a salve for an aching head and heart.

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  2. You are fast becoming one of my very bffs, Cheryl. Thanks for saying that and for the reference to Rochester's call . . . AND Jane's hearing it. You are a good hear-er yourself, and you always manage to encourage me.

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