Early Ro (four): Old Hickory

In my recent post about Ro’s “tree thing” I introduced the big shagbark hickory behind her childhood home and mentioned it was always her first choice as the “safe tree” when they played tag. Over time the kids referring to it as “the old hickory” evolved into an actual name: Old Hickory.

Well, there’s another story associated with Old Hickory that could certainly be understood as a precursor for who Ro grew up to be. First a little background…

Every Fourth of July Mike Delahanty hosts a big picnic / barbecue in his backyard; he works on it for days. There are always loads of family members, friends and neighbors, often three dozen or more. And at least a dozen are kids; Tuck’s and Ro’s cousins or neighborhood playmates.

One year, when Ro was eight and Tuck was ten, their cousin, Dick Junior, who was twelve, issued a challenge to see which one of the boys could climb the highest in Old Hickory. He even made a big deal that there were no girls allowed.

Of course, that was like throwing the gauntlet down in front of Ro, who immediately started up the tree, with Dick Junior right behind.

They climbed and climbed, and pretty soon most of the cousins were gathered around the base of the tree, most rooting for Dick, a few for Ro.

They climbed and climbed, getting really a long way up, maybe forty feet…

Which is when Dick Junior suddenly stopped, wrapped his arms around the trunk and held on for dear life, looking down at the other kids with this “Oh, shit!” expression.

By now Ro was a dozen feet higher than Dick, standing on a big branch at least fifty feet up, holding on to a limb over her head with her left hand and her right hand on her hip, looking down at Dick Junior with this expression of, “Well, come on. Aren’t you going to challenge me?”

Some of the kids down below were pretty merciless, yelling up at Dick about “not chickening out” and “don’t let that girl beat you!”

The kids yelling caught the parents’ attention, who came over and added their own brand of shouting – “Oh my god!” and “You get down here, now!” kind of stuff.

To figuratively rub salt in the wound, Ro climbed down on her own, getting lots of scolding stares from many of the adults, like somehow the challenge had been her fault, but also a few congratulatory slaps on the back from her brother and some of the cousins.

Two of the men had to climb up to coax Dick Junior down.

(C) 2017 Dave Lager

Early Ro (three): Her “tree thing”

In “The Berlin Riddle,” the second Ro Delahanty novel I’m working on, Frank Reyner, Ro’s boyfriend, finally asks her about her “thing for trees.” Ro does, indeed, have a “tree thing:”

– It may have started at some point when she was a small child and began to notice a big old shagbark hickory that dominated a grove of trees behind her childhood home that separated it from the city’s adjacent Meadows on Shadowbrook Golf Course. As a kid, Ro liked playing in those woods; the hickory in particular always ended up being her first choice as the “safe tree” when they played tag.
– Certainly her first visit while on a second grade field trip to Neshnala, a stately, several hundred year old white oak tree in Five Falls State Park, located in the southwestern part of Fort Armstrong County, probably accelerated any nascent affinity she might have had for trees. Named by the area’s Native Americans, Neshnala meant “Tree of Knowledge.” While her young schoolmates hadn’t seemed particularly impressed – it was just another old tree to them – its immense age and dignity touched her deeply. It was at that point that she began a lifelong habit of “paying her respects” to any older trees she encountered by slightly bowing her head or giving them a casual salute and muttering under her breath, “Respect.”
– As a teen and adult her favorite place to go for her several times a week runs was the network of trails that wound through the hundreds of acres of woodlands in the state park and the county’s adjacent Great River Forest Preserve. Whether it was the act of running itself, or having been “immersed” in the trees for an hour or so she never knew, but after one of her runs she always felt both peaceful and energized. Perhaps it was telling that she always thought of her runs as “getting her tree fix.”
– She even selected her apartment – or certainly at least partially selected it – because of its proximity to a semi-wild wooded area that included a majestic American elm that had survived the ravages of Dutch elm disease. She could see the great tree from both her bedroom and study.

(C) 2017 Dave Lager

Early Ro (two): Daddy’s girl

Even from infancy Ro had a noticeable tendency to be “daddy’s girl:”

– As a baby she clearly liked it better when Mike held her.
– When it was time for bed, it was Mike who usually carried her down to his den, where he would sit in his big recliner, put some Mozart or Vivaldi on his stereo and hold her until she fell asleep: Likely one of the roots of Ro’s love of classical music as an adult?
– As a toddler, on warmer evenings she liked to be with Mike out on the deck across the front of the house; they would sit and watch the comings and goings of neighborhood residents. One of Ro’s unconscious memories from that time was the regular – at least a couple times a week – visit to their cul-de-sac of a black and white Lee’s Landing police patrol car: Maybe an early source of her later aspiration to become a cop?
– And, perhaps surprisingly for an otherwise rambunctious toddler, she could sit quietly in her highchair in the kitchen and patiently watch Mike go about his cooking projects, a trait she did not inherit from her father as an adult.

Which is not to say she eschewed her mother’s attention by any means:

– On the evenings when she didn’t “hang out” with Mike, it was Kate who would read her books like Dr. Suess’ “Cat in the Hat” and Shel Silverstein’s “A Light in the Attic.”
– And it was Kate who would put her to bed and sing her to sleep in her clear second soprano voice with the traditional Irish lullaby “Turaluralura” or a schmaltzy love ballad like Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean?”
– As a baby and toddler Ro’s “day care center” was the office of her mother’s business, Kate Delahanty Design, and her “day care providers,” aside from her mother, were her mother’s three employees, who pretty much became her “adopted aunts.”

(C) 2017 Dave Lager

How Fort Armstrong County got its name

The county takes its name from Fort Armstrong, an actual fort established by the fledgling United States government in 1813 on the western shore of the Mississippi River (in what would later become Iowa) overlooking the narrows with Grand Island, over on the Illinois side of the river’s main channel.

While the fort was supposed to defend the Upper-Mississippi Valley from British attack – or, more precisely, from upper-Midwest Indian tribes allied with the British − during the War of 1812, ironically it was abandoned after only a little over two years and played virtually no role in the actual conduct of the war that unfolded pretty much well to the east.

While the fort itself didn’t last, the settlement that had started to grow up around it did, eventually becoming the city of Lee’s Landing, the county’s principal city and county seat.

The fort’s actual site is under a huge barge loading / unloading terminal along the city’s riverfront, however, the county maintains a Fort Armstrong Historic Center with models and other artifacts nearby on the river.

In the late 1830s, when several of the counties along Iowa’s eastern boundary were being chartered there were various factions both locally and in the state legislature that wanted to name the county after American historical figures, like Jefferson or Adams; after important early settlers of the area, like Hubbard or Neufeld; or wanted to acknowledge the locale’s Native American heritage in some way.

As is often the case in politics, though, while the historical reference to Fort Armstrong was never anyone’s first choice as a name for the county, it turned out to be the compromise that everyone could live with.

(C) 2017 Dave Lager

Thanks DPL!

A very big thank you to the Davenport Public Library for hosting the Local Indie Authors Day yesterday (Oct. 14) at the downtown main library. It was the library’s first effort of this kind and, as a newly published novelist it was my first event of this kind. I would very much encourage them to schedule another one next year; I’ll certainly sign-up.

From a writer’s perspective, it was a great success. There were nearly twenty writers participating, covering genres from horror to children’s books, from sci fi to mysteries, from local history to poetry.

Nancy and I manned a table at the book fair; we sold several copies of “Ro’s Handle” and got to chat with lots more perspective readers. I did a reading of a portion of a chapter from “Ro’s Handle,” and we got to network with other writers…

We especially enjoyed talking with Twila Belk, the author of devotional books, whose book fair table was right next to ours; to Jonathan Turner, who wrote a fascinating history of Downtown Davenport’s infamous Bucktown District; and to Lilly Setterdahl, who’s written both non-fiction and novels about Swedish immigrants in the U.S.

Early Ro (one): Portents

Ro was born on May 15, 1982, at Mercy Hospital in Lee’s Landing Iowa to Kate and Mike Delahanty. She was Kate and Mike’s second child; her older brother, Patrick, was a little over two when his sister arrived. It was a normal birth in all respects, except that Ro was twenty-one inches long, which turned out to be something of a portent of her just over five-ten height as an adult, a trait inherited from her six-four father.

As an infant she had trouble saying her brother’s name; instead of “Patrick” it came out “Tuck,” which turned into a special nickname only Ro used for her sibling throughout their childhood and into adulthood.
Ro was what most parents would consider “a good baby” in that she wasn’t hard to take care of. However, she did have her quirks that turned out to be auguries for her future:

– She liked being naked or at least only wearing her diaper, and tended to fuss when Kate or Mike wanted to put her in her onesie. As an adult she also liked being naked and favored casual, loose-fitting clothes.

– Although she went to bed by eight o’clock most nights, she often woke-up in the middle of the night, perhaps predicting her propensity to be a night person when she grew-up.

– To get her to go back to sleep Kate and/or Mike would take her for a ride in the car, always out in the country. They could see her in the rearview mirror cooing and giggling at the stars and the moon and passing farmstead lights before she would finally drift off to sleep. As a grown-up, third-shift deputy sheriff, Ro loved patrolling the county’s roads and byways.

– On her second birthday her Aunt Eileen gave her a three-foot panda bear that Ro immediately named Peter Panda; it slept in her bed with her until she was nearly six. However, subsequent gifts from Aunt Eileen of lots of Barbies and Barbie accessories – Eileen was absolutely sure every little girl just loved playing with dolls − all ended up in Ro’s closet, mostly unopened. Ro definitely did not grow-up to become a “girly-girl.”

(C) 2017 Dave Lager

Celebrate my first novel

You’re invited to join me to celebrate the official launch of my first novel, “Ro’s Handle,” on Thursday, Oct. 26, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Rozz-Tox Coffee House, 2108 3rd Ave., Rock Island.

“Ro’s Handle” was recently published by World Castle and is available from Amazon.

It is the first in a projected series of Ro Delahanty novels about the exploits of a female deputy sheriff in a fictional county that locals will find bears lots of resemblance to the QC area.

We’ll have refreshments and, of course, copies of “Ro’s Handle” available for signing.

A “real” writer, finally?

We live in two worlds: The intellectual world and the emotional world, always walking a tightrope between the two.

On the intellectual level I can very much appreciate – in fact, I feel quite fortunate about – the fact that for most of my adult life I have pretty much been able to make my living as a “writer” in one form or another.

For many years it was as a journalist, writing news reports, feature stories and editorials. Then for more years it was as a free-lance marketing / public relations person, writing news releases and marketing proposals for my clients, and authoring several non-fiction how-to books on small business marketing.

I wouldn’t want to even try to estimate the countless hours I’ve spent at the typewriter – and yes, I used bang away on a big old manual Smith-Corona – or tapping on my computer keyboard.

But…

When I look over at a corner of my desk and see an actual copy of Ro’s Handle sitting there…

When I recall that that just published book is the fulfillment of a dream that goes clear back to my junior high school days…

A dream that even though it got put on hold many times over the years – yes, there have been several efforts to write a novel in the past, except life kept getting in the way − still never left me…

The dream to be a novelist, to create a story from scratch …

Well, that child-side, that emotional-side, can’t help but have some feelings that with the publication of my novel – my novel! − that I’ve now finally become a “real” writer.

 

How Lee’s Landing got its name

Lee’s Landing is the principal city in the Ro Delahanty novels − and, yes, it is named for the famous Civil War general Robert E. Lee, but not because of his military prowess.

The county seat of Fort Armstrong County, it is located on the north shore of the Mississippi River – and yes, the Mississippi River runs roughly northeast to southwest in the area − in east central Iowa: its population was 106,400 in 2010.

In the late 1700s and early 1800s there were a scattering of cabins, trading posts and small settlements along the Iowa shore, which was then part of the Wisconsin Territory. By the middle of the 1830s there was a village of three or four dozen cabins, a trading post and general store, a log cabin Catholic church, two saloons and an inn on the site.

As steamboats were increasingly making their way upriver, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sent a young engineer, Lt. Robert E. Lee – yes, the same Lee that would decades later lead the Confederate Army − to survey the several miles of rapids between the Iowa shore and Grand Island, which was adjacent to the Illinois side of the river, in search of a navigable channel upriver.

Lee’s survey report concluded there was no existing channel except during spring high water. However, he suggested a navigable channel could be dredged with sufficient blasting.

As an alternative, on his maps he marked the Iowa shore just below the base of the rapids with a notation “Good Steamboat Landing,” indicating that steamboats could land there, off-load their cargo and cartage it overland around the rapids. Steamboat captains quickly began calling the area Lee’s Landing, and the name stuck when the city was incorporated in the early 1850s, soon after Iowa became a state.

(C) 2017 Dave Lager

Indie Author Day

I’m thrilled to be among 20 local writers who will be participating in the first ever Indie Author Day Saturday, Oct. 14 at the Main Davenport Public Library, 321 Main St., downtown Davenport.

The event is meant to celebrate local authors with readings, books signings, book sales, and panel discussions on the writing process. The event runs from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and is free and open to the public. I hope to see you there.

http://indieauthorday.davenportlibrary.com

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