Thompson’s Literary Legacy honored at AHS: Writing His World—from 1932 to tomorrow!
At the AHS Writers Club end of year celebration yesterday the past met the present and moved right on into the future.
Faculty, students, friends, family, and colleagues joined together to honor the literary legacy of Erwin A. Thompson. We met in the James M. Bailey Library at Alton Senior High School. This is the new version of the school both my father and I earned our high school diplomas from...some three decades apart.
Pop graduated in 1933, but the year before he and some friends co-founded the AHS creative writng club and their literary magazine "Wings" (now re-christened "The Calliope"). Sorting papers over the winter Pop found a 1934 version of "Wings" that came to us from my aunt's estate and had received hard wear. In fact, the pages were so battered one could imagine a truck had run over them. Never the less, I took the document to our trusted copy shop where they resusitated it into a good-looking antique facsimile of the original.
Our original plan was to present this restored copy of "Wings" to the current creative writing club by hosting a tea at Evergreen Heights, my father's homestead since boyhood---where he raised his children and where he still resides. This plan morphed into a reception at the high school coinciding with the end of the year celebration for the literary club and my father and myself as the honored guests.
Aaron Carroll and Liz Edwards ("The Calliope" editor) were the student hosts for the literary club readings. At the end of the program we exchanged the old and new versions of the magazine...a new "Calliope" for a 1934 facsimile of "Wings." We also donated a copy of "Wings" to the AHS library and the Jersey County Historical Society (since Lois Locke was there and she's keen on family relationships and geneology).
I named our presentation "Writing His world: From 1932 to Tomorrow" because 1932 marked the founding of the club and "tomorrow" because I doubt my father will ever quit writing.
We'd tried to find Charlotte Beiser, editor of and contributor to the 1934 issue we'd restored. Her writing in the periodical is extraordinary for a person of any age, but particularly for a yound woman of perhaps 17. We'd searched for her, for her relatives, and for classmates. We invited Verna Hoffman, a classmate of Charlotte's, who, along with my father, is the only alumni of Randolph School still standing.
I loved the easy mix of generations. Sitting at the back table with my brother Gary Thompson, who'd driven down from Central Illinois for the day, were three older ladies, all star-bright octagenarians. These three women felt to me like The Three Graces: Genie Keller (a fine poet whose poem "Director" appeared on Riehlife), Lois Locke (an anchor of the Jersey County Historical Society), and Verna Hoffman (looking as radient as a prom queen).
Pop's grandaughter's family (husband and two great grandaughters) provided the lower end of the age range from 8 to 92. Our friend Patty Swain was there with her daughter Nicole and our other neighbor and cookie lady Susan Corey. My friend from the St. Louis Writers Guild---publisher, performer, and author--Annette Crymes drove over the water to gather with us.
Since it was VE Day Pop wanted me to make a little history quiz for the students. He wondered if any of the younger generation would know that May 8, 1945 was the day Germany surrendered to the Allied Troupes. (As it happened, my father passed through Reims, France, on the day the treath was signed but none of them knew the significance of the hub-bub until the following day.)
To completely introduce my father would have taken us until the cows came home. Arts Across Illinois rightly named him as a folk treasure. (Click here for audio/video clips of Pop reading his poem "Water Under the Bridge. If you listen closely, you'll hear my sister Julia's high clear voice singing in the background on one of the songs there.)
Pop is a composer, fiddler, squaredance caller, whittler, a lifelong author, and the master of connection (just as I was saying this, he was out working the crowd trying to coax the little girls to come join us up front but they were too shy).
I felt that the best way to introduce my father was to read my poem "Scribbler" from his section "Slim" in "Sightlines: A Poet's Diary." "Scribbler" tells the story of how Pop combined writing, fatherhood, and working for wages...and forever influenced my life as a writer.
Pop then gave his talk...standing the entire time, lightly supported with one hand on a chair.
The reception time was good social time. We'd brought a vase of mother's lavendar irises from her garden so she could be there in spirit. She glowed for this type of thing and would be so proud of us all...and is so present in our lives in these small gestures of remembrance.
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