Monday, November 30, 2009

Art Sinsabaugh

We moved to Chicago when I was six and my parents were both about twenty-seven. It was the first city I ever really remember, the first idea of a city I ever had, and it's still the city I compare other cities to. Paris is a little like Chicago, New York is different to Chicago, Prague is surprisingly similar to Chicago. Dublin isn't much like Chicago but Liverpool is...

I came across these photographs by accident once, and I showed them to my wife.
"Look at these, these are amazing."
"Oh, yeah," she nodded. "That's Elizabeth's dad."
"Elizabeth from work?"
"Yeah, I told you he was a photographer."
"You did?"
"You never listen."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sing it, Mother Maybelle...

The Lonesome Ballad of Private Noonan

Been re-reading Evan S. Connell's great book, "Son of the Morning Star" and came across a story you probably haven't heard...

"[Cavalry] laundresses turned up in a variety of shapes, colors, and dispositions. At Fort Conch, Texas, three were discharged because of 'utter worthlessness, drunkness and lewdness.' At Camp McDermit, Nevada, a certain Mrs. Cavanaugh threatened a lieutenant with a butcher knife because he had suspended her husband by the thumbs. At Fort Bascom in the moody southwest a Latin laundress vowed to cut out a soldier's tongue if he told one more lie about her - which he did - and she caught him in a drunken sleep and sliced off the tip of it.

"Then there was Mrs. Nash, who joined the Seventh in Kentucky and followed the regiment north to Fort Lincoln. Invariably she wore a veil, or a shawl pinned beneath her chin, and she is described as being rather peculiar looking. John Burkman, [General] Custer's orderly, said she was a good laundress, a good nurse, and a good midwife, always in demand to 'chase the rabbit' when a woman was expecting. Her next-to-last husband, a quartermaster clerk named Clifton, was known as a jolly fellow until he got married. After the ceremony, however, Clifton seldom laughed and a few days before his term of enlistment expired he deserted.

"Her last husband was a private named Noonan. They lived together in obvious bliss on Suds Row east of the Fort Lincoln parade grounds, but while he was away on a scouting mission she sickened and died. Just before graduating to a better world she asked her friends to bury her without the usual cleaning and dressing. They refused. They would not hear of such a thing. Lo and behold, when two of them set about this mournful task they perceived that the much-married laundress, seamstress, nurse, baker of delicious pies, and popular midwife was not female. Burkman and several other troopers were gathering flowers on the prairie so Elizabeth Custer could make a funeral wreath when a laundress hurried out of the Noonan quarters with this extraordinary bit of information. Said Burkman: 'We was flabbergasted.'

"Pvt. Noonan did not say much when he got back, but he turned pale and he twitched. he quit playing poker with the boys, and took long walks alone, he began to lose weight. One day when he entered the blacksmith shop a trooper remarked, 'Say, you and Mrs. Noonan never had no children, did you?'"

Which just goes to show, there's nothing new under the sun, Annie Proulx be damned. Well, I hate to tell you, but it only gets sadder from there. Noonan took his own life in one of the stables, and nobody much missed him in the 7th once he was gone. But I'm glad he and Mrs. Nash found each other, at least for a little while, and I sure would have liked to have tasted one of those pies.


Well, I guess we have to start somewhere...