Silver Lining Appears Before Clouds

1StrawberriesCoverWooden-&-Me-cover-mock-upFor a Personalized Autographed copy of STRAWBERRIES IN WINTERTIME” or “WOODEN & ME” mail a check for $25 to:

Woody Woodburn

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Silver Lining Appears Before Flying Into Clouds

First in a four-column series chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the FDR Presidential Library & Museum in Hyde Park, NY, and more.

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“People don’t take trips,” John Steinbeck observed in “Travels with Charley: In Search of America”– “trips take people.”

My previous visit to see my son in New York City was less than 24 hours underway when the trip took me to urgent care for 16 stitches after a subway door mugged my right index finger.

My most recent trip to Manhattan, last week, took even less time to get off track. Again it was transportation related – my shuttle to LAX got caught in late-morning traffic that was worse than usual, meaning it was horrific.

Fortunately, I am of the ilk that likes to get to the departure gate two hours early. This has served me well in books read and never missing a flight.

Unfortunately, this time I had brain freeze doing the simple math of subtracting four hours – two hours for the shuttle ride, one hour to get my boarding pass and pass through security, and a safety cushion to read “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders – from my flight’s boarding time.1scarequote

I did not realize my muddleheaded error until Sky Way nearing LAX became a virtual parking lot. The slower the shuttle crept, the faster my heart raced.

Adding to my panic, I was flying out of distant Terminal 7.

“I could run faster than this shuttle is moving,” I thought as we crawled to Terminals 1, 3, Tom Bradley International, and 4.

And so that is what I did. Even pulling a rolling suitcase and weaving between pedestrians, I left the shuttle in my rearview mirror, so to speak, as I raced to Terminal 7.

Reaching my airline, the long line inside brought to mind this famous line from Dante’s Inferno: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

Directly ahead of me was a family of four, plus two dogs and luggage enough for the Queen of England. I asked when their flight left and the father answered, “Three o’clock.” This was more than two hours hence, so I desperately explained mine began boarding in ten minutes, adding: “Can I please cut ahead of you?”

“No. Can’t you see we have two dogs?” came the unsympathetic, and nonsensical, reply.

My FastPass forward, one family by one couple by one lone traveler at a time, was thwarted before it began.

Ten minutes passed and the line advanced only two spots while the number of agents working diminished by one. I texted my son telling him I was going to miss my flight.

No sooner had I hit “Send” when I received a bolt of inspiration out of the ether in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”

Asking strangers for special privileges, especially because the fix I found myself in was of my own making and dull-headedness, is a dozen ZIP Codes outside my comfort zone.

No matter. The introvert in me swallowed hard, stood up tall, and announced bravely but politely: “I’m going to miss my flight to see my son – would any of you mind if I took cuts in front of you?”

The family directly in front of me notwithstanding, everyone else said “Yes!” or “Sure!” or “Of course!” or raised an affirmative waving hand. Words fail to describe the surge of warmth their kindness gave me.

With my boarding pass in hand and my suitcase out of my hands, I apologized once more to my traveling altruists and offered another sincere “Thank you,” only to receive more kindness.

“Good luck!” one told me.

“Hurry!” said another.

“Have a great time with your son!” shouted a third.

Good luck was unexpectedly having TSA Precheck and sailing through security.

Hurry I did, running through the terminal to my gate and onto the plane as the final passenger to board.

Have a great time with your son – thanks to friendly strangers, and an assist from Eleanor Roosevelt, doing so began at the original ETA.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

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Visiting Poe’s Home Upon a Midday Dreary

This is the first in a four-column series chronicling my recent father-son road trip to the homes of two Founding Fathers and more.

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Monticello, the Virginia estate of Thomas Jefferson, is nearly 350 miles as the crow flies from my son’s shoebox-sized apartment in lower Manhattan.

Make that as “The Raven” flies, because to break up our drive we stopped midway at the Edgar Allen Poe House Museum in Baltimore.

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Edgar Allen Poe

“Once upon a midnight dreary” begins the poem that launched Poe’s fame, and this certainly describes the midday of our visit two Saturdays past. Stepping out of the drizzle and inside the claustrophobic three-story brick home, a docent asked us how we learned about the museum. She seemed almost surprised to have visitors.

As if trying to ensure that we bought tickets, the docent told us we had arrived on an auspicious day because this date – October 8 – was the 167th anniversary of Poe’s funeral. She further explained, her voice dripping with drama, it had been a similarly rainy day.

My initial reaction was that the docent made this eerie claim every day for effect. However, a placard in the museum documented her claim: Poe died at age 40 on October 7, 1849, and his burial took place a day later at the nearby Westminster Burying Ground. Furthermore, so few people showed up because of the rain that the reverend decided not to bother with a sermon.

Poe lived at 203 North Amity Street only briefly, from 1833 to 1835 while in his mid-20s, yet he wrote voluminously during this span. The home was saved from demolition in 1941 and is now a National Historic Landmark that is nearly as hidden in plain sight as “The Purloined Letter.” I am glad we found it.

The narrow winding stairway leading up to Poe’s bedroom had a foreboding “rapping, rapping at my chamber door” feel. Artifacts on display include Poe’s chair and lap desk.

Poe’s legacy as a writer is remarkable; he invented the detective story and advanced the genres of horror and science fiction. And, of course, he penned a poem so great that an NFL team is named in its honor.

1poe-graveSerendipity smiled further on our side trip when the docent informed us that a anniversary ceremony commemorating Poe’s funeral was to be held at the Westminster Burying Ground, little more than a mile a way, starting in about five minutes.

Normally we would have walked, even in the rain, but for time’s sake we decided to drive. Confusing one-way streets and a dearth of parking spaces turned this into a bad decision. We finally made it to the church 10 minutes after the appointed 3 p.m. start.

Poe’s grave was easy to find by the size of its 7-foot tall marble monument, not by the size of the crowd gathered, because there was no one else present.

We hurried inside the beautiful gothic church, thinking the special observance for the great writer must be going on there instead of in the rain, but again we were alone.

Back into the drizzle we ventured to pay respects at the gravesite – the first of a handful of graves my son and I would visit, and be moved by, on our four-day journey.

Leaving the grounds, we finally encountered another person, an employee at the church. I inquired about the Poe ceremony, saying it must have been quite brief and we were sorry to have missed it.

It turns out that because of the dreary weather no one showed up and the planned sermon was cancelled. How eerily fitting.

In truth, the quaint museum had been a tad disappointing. But the mysticism of Poe having lived – and written – inside its walls, and the auspicious date of our visit, had magnified the magic.

Leaving the museum, the church, and a lunch of Maryland crab cakes at Lexington Market that dates back to 1763, we were accosted each time by panhandlers, one unnervingly aggressive. All in all, one visit to Poe’s city had been enough.

“Quoth the Raven, ‘Balti-nevermore.’ ”

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

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Column: At Home in Ireland

Feeling Home in Distant Land

This is the final of four columns in a series on my recent travels to Ireland.

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In 1792, at age 14 – while claiming to be 18 in order to board a ship bound for America – James Dallas sailed out of Ireland’s Cork Harbor seeking a new life, likely never again to see his Old World loved ones.

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A billboard honoring poets in lovely downtown Cork.

Nearly two and a quarter centuries later, I marvel at my great-great-great-grandfather’s hardihood.

James Dallas is the earliest documented branch of my family tree. Visiting his homeland has long beckoned me.

My roots grow deep in the fertile soil near Ohio’s Mad River where James Dallas settled. The next four generations, beginning with my great-great-grandfather John Woodburn (who married James Dallas’ daughter), remained nearby until my dad moved our family to Ventura four decades ago.

Heritage is dear to me: my son’s middle name is Ansel, in honor of his great-grandfather; my daughter’s first name is Dallas. Thus, my summer fortnight in Ireland, and especially five days spent in ancestral County Cork, promised to be a trip for the ages.

Flying 12 hours to London and two more to Dublin, before taking a three-hour train ride to Cork seemed an arduous journey. Yet I could not help think how embarrassingly easy this was compared to weeks at sea in an 18th century ship.

In a movie, I would have arrived in Cork and taken a taxi to a farmhouse, knocked on the front door and been greeted with open arms by a distant blood relative. Real life, of course, is rarely so Hollywood.

For starters, where would I possibly knock?

When asked about the surname “Dallas,” tour guides, locals and even a historian in the Cork City Central Library did not recognize it as Irish. It was suggested the Gaelic name “Dalgash” might have been anglicized upon arrival to the New World.

On a nine-hour bus tour of bucolic southern Cork, our guide/professor Dan O’Brien spent an hour expounding on dairy farming. It was an invaluable lecture.

Dairy cows dot the County Cork landscape -- and milk cans are common as well.

Dairy cows dot the County Cork landscape — and milk cans are common as well.

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Importantly, I learned that dairy farming was “the jewel of the crown” in Cork in the 1700s and 1800s. In fact, Port of Cork was the world’s leading exporter of butter. So it makes perfect sense James Dallas was a dairy farmer.

Making sense of why he left Ireland may be answered by the question in this lyric from an old Irish folk song: “Was it poverty or the call of adventure?”

Likely, both. Three decades of economic difficulty preceded James Dallas’ emigration. Add to this a system of powerful landlords and hardscrabble tenant farmers, and perhaps as much as fleeing hardship James Dallas was running to adventure in America and the opportunity of land ownership.

Gazing out the tour bus window at farm after farm, cows after cows, mile after mile, I wondered if against all odds I was at one moment looking at James Dallas’ boyhood pasture. As Hemingway wrote in “The Sun Also Rises”: “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Two more pretty thoughts: strolling through historic English Market Cork it came easy imagining James Dallas once shopping here; visiting Guinness Brewery, established in 1759, I could not help but picture my forebearer, even at age 14, drinking a pint of the legendary black stout.

An example of a very old stone fence still standing despite no mortar.

An example of a very old stone fence still standing despite no mortar.

One more prettiness: Hearing Irish accents and pronunciations, like the silent “h” in “th” – tirty, tousand, tirsty – I wondered if James Dallas carried the lilt of a leprechaun.

Prior to arriving in Ireland, James Dallas, born 182 years before I was, had seemed less a real person and more a painting faded a tousand years. But in the context of this ancient land where farmhouses are routinely a century old or more; stone fences built masterfully without mortar stand 300 years later; and castles date back half a millennium, time collapsed and I suddenly felt a closer connection.

Spiritually, I felt his presence.

The day I arrived in Cork a small sign above a house doorway caught my eye – and heart: “Welcome Home.” It brought to mind a poetic thought by Maya Angelou: “When you leave home, you take home with you.”

Traveling to Ireland, I felt this true. Returning to America, I felt it equally.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

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Column: The Path Less Traveled

Taking The Path Less Traveled

This is the second in a four-column series on my recent travels to Ireland to explore my distant family roots and much more.

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CollinsStatue

Statue of Irish patriot Michael Collins

A dear friend of mine, a travel writer who has visited the four corners of the globe, always offers this reminder before I embark on a trip:

“Be sure to turn down a hidden alleyway or go inside a quiet doorway off the beaten path because that’s where you’ll find some of the most memorable experiences.”

During my recent fortnight in Ireland I again heeded Ken McAlpine’s wisdom. Hence, in addition to seeing the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher, historic Kilmainham Gaol prison and, of course, the famous Guinness Brewery, I also enjoyed some not-in-a-tour-guide-book experiences.

For example, during a scenic tour of County Cork our bus stopped at Emmet Square where we were greeted by a seven-foot statue of Clonakilty’s favorite son, Michael Collins. After learning about the founding father of the national self-determination movement who was assassinated in 1922, my wife and I went off to explore the town.

Artwork by Kevin Holland

Artwork by Kevin Holland

In an alleyway off the main street I came upon a small music shop. Inside at the back was a half-hidden stairway. I went up to explore. Instead of more handsome acoustic guitars and beautiful African drums, I found myself face to face with a mesmerizing oversized mask sculpture resembling Abraham Lincoln.

A second face was below Abe’s copper countenance – storeowner Mark Holland looked up from his bookkeeping and shared: “I love it, too. Every time I look at it I see it differently and draw a new feeling from it.”

Over the next half hour, while my wife wondered where I had wandered off, I learned that the artist who created the mask – it was anonymous, by the way, not of Lincoln – was Mark’s brother, Kevin.

For good reason the mask carried a price tag of 2,500 Euro (about $3,200 – proving, once again, if you have to ask you can’t afford it) because Kevin is somewhat famous. His numerous public commissioned pieces throughout Ireland include none other than the statue of Michael Collins in Emmet Square.

Irish artisan working at is craft

Irish artisan working at is craft. . .

... and the final piece.

… and the final piece.

A serendipitous secret I collected upstairs off the beaten path: Collin’s shoes were cast from a pair belonging to Mark’s and Kevin’s father.

As my own shoes carried me down a road less taken in Galway Eire, I happened upon a much lesser known artist – an artisan who works with rock instead of metal. A master stoneworker by trade, Michael Daif turns discarded shale shingles into engraved elegance.

For one-hundredth the price of Kevin Holland’s copper mask, I brought home a lovely image of a Gaelic harp, Ireland’s national symbol. Daif skillfully added his name and a personalized inscription on the back.

A different signature, this one in blue ink, came about when my wife and I walked past a small independent bookstore in Dublin one evening, heard laughter, turned around, went inside and followed the voices upstairs.

And so it was we met Irish author Caroline Finnerty, whose book launch party was wrapping up. After a pleasant conversation, she signed a copy of her new novel “Into the Night Sky” as a gift for our daughter.

Frank McCourt & Me

Frank McCourt & Me

Under a sunny afternoon sky in Limerick, a bronze bust caught my eye through a closed wrought iron gate on narrow Hartstong Street in the Georgian Quarter.

On closer inspection, the base below the familiar face read “Frank McCourt 1930-2009” with a feather quill below.

By chance, and by taking a new walking route, we had stumbled upon the Frank McCourt Museum – formerly Leamy School, where young Frank attended and lived in the 1930’s – honoring the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Angela’s Ashes.”

Galway Greyhound Stadium was museum-like quiet and seemingly closed the evening we strolled past. Hoping to sneak a peak through a side gate we found it ajar.

Slipping inside rewarded us with the sight of a lone trainer working out a handful of greyhounds.

Witnessing these magnificent animals bounding 40 mph as if on winged paws around the quarter-mile oval in an empty stadium, at brilliant sunset, was art and poetry and another most memorable experience.

Thanks, Ken.

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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.

Wooden&Me_cover_PRCheck out my new memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece”