Tag Archives: Jonna ellis holston

The Real Story of Labor Day

It’s Labor Day. I bet you think I’m going to hash over that age long debate over who founded it. Some say it was Mathew Maguire of the International Association of Machinists others claim it was Peter McGuire from the Brotherhood of Carpenters.

Maguire vs McGuire, really?

I am going to settle this dispute right here and now. The idea of Labor Day had been kicked around for years but unlike Maguire and McGuire, the real story of Labor Day has no mention on the official Department of Labor website. The real story of how Labor Day was signed into law started with The Pullman Palace Car Company.

The Pullman Co was a manufacturer of luxury railroad cars on the Southside of Chicago. In efforts to deter labor agitators George M. Pullman created a company town for his workers in 1881 and named it, oddly enough, Pullman. The press hailed him as a humanitarian and a visionary but George Pullman’s saw an opportunity to control and exploit.

He charged high rents, inflated the cost of utilities and increased the prices of goods sold at the company store. He allowed only churches of his own denomination, banned public speeches, independent newspapers and within 10 years his town was valued at five million, over six times his initial investment.

Workers had little enough to live on during prosperous times but when 1893 saw an economic downturn Pullman responded by cutting jobs and reducing wages. Paychecks were cut by a quarter. His rents and prices remained unchanged.

As Pullman squeezed, families could no longer afford to heat their homes or feed their children. Out of desperation many of the workers joined the American Railroad Union (ARU) led by Eugene V. Debs and attempted to bargain collectively.

George Pullman refused to negotiate. He fired them on the spot and gave them ten days to vacate their homes. This action led to the Pullman Strike of 1994.

Riots broke out from Ohio to California as 125,000 other union workers supported their plight. Railways were disrupted, damage was done and this led to the first federal injunction to stop a labor dispute (teach them to delay the US Mail and interstate commerce).

That year, on the Fourth of July, President Grover Cleveland sent twenty-five hundred US Army troops to Chicago to break that strike. He is reported to have said that if it took the entire US Army to deliver one postcard to Chicago then he would do so. In the aftermath thirty Americans were killed and an untold number were wounded. Within a week the strike was crushed.

As opportunistic as it may have seemed, it was time to make that old idea of a special day to honor the workers real. Congress voted unanimously to approve and six days after the end of the Pullman Strike President Cleveland signed the bill into law. Labor Day became a national holiday celebrating the social and economic contribution of the American workers and you get a long weekend, yay!

Pullman died 3 years later. His casket was encased in eighteen inches of reinforced concrete then topped with more concrete, a layer of steel rail and another layer of concrete. Two full days of burial to ensure that this hated man’s body would not be dug up and desecrated by the masses.

So cast your vote, was it Maguire vs McGuire who founded Labor Day or was it George Pullman’s greed, Grover Cleveland’s violent response to people demanding fairness and his immediate efforts to appease them?

 

I would like to wish you all a Happy Labor Day. Enjoy the day, eat a burger, shop the sales and raise a beer to all those who died in labor disputes to make our lives a little better. We have much to appreciate.

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By the Time we got to Woodstock

Woodstock note

 

I was sixteen, pampered and fearless. I took my mother’s car and drove to Woodstock, Dylan’s hometown in beautiful up-state New York, to a Music and Art Fair, an Aquarian exposition. How great did that sound? It was a happening. I folded my coolest clothes, placed them into my backpack, tucked my pillow with its starched white cover under my arm and set off on an adventure.

Anyone who went to Woodstock would probably not describe it as the best time of their lives. It rained enough to make you miserable. The bands were delayed. The sound system was inadequate, guitars probably warped from dampness and it wasn’t even in the town of Woodstock.

The traffic crawled, Leona at the wheel and the rest of us walked along side. I have a vague image of Mom’s shiny Buick passing the poorly parked hippy vans and beat up cars, a blur of happily tie dyed people giving peace signs and policemen who were surprisingly friendly, considering that most of us were openly breaking state and federal drug laws.Woodstock_poster

Miraculously we parked at the base of the hill, slung our back packs over our shoulders and hiked up the path. We arrived as they tore down the fences, gave away posters, the classic ones with a bird on the guitar and the original Aquarian water bearer. If we’d had any brains we’d have taken those precious items back to the car with our tickets intact but distracted by the outrageous level of coolness and the scent of marijuana we moved on.

I do not remember the first sight of that stage that made history. I do remember when my middle-class teenage-girl-mind identified the feeling of hunger and my first sense of lack. There were no burger stands, no ice cream or funnel cakes, no soda. We had plenty of cash in our pockets but, like most of the kids at Woodstock, we were completely unprepared.

A primitive water line assured us we would not die but we had no canteen. So, without food, water or common sense we forged onward, through masses of stoners to get as close to the stage as possible (which still seemed a lightyear away) and we claimed a patch of land.

Richie Havens sang “Freedom” and someone handed me a bottle of wine, I took a sip and passed it on. Someone gave me a gritty brownie I took a bite and passed that on. Magically food appeared from every direction, and magic food it was. One bite made us larger and one sip made us small. Soon a collective level of mind alteration permeated the field as we partook in unknown quantities… mostly psychedelic… and by that time, we didn’t much care.

Intermittent rain of every kind was reported but I clearly remember seeing the stars that first night. Dancing hippies everywhere, young people made love in the open and nobody was offended. Masses of wandering lost found new homes with temporary families.

There were announcements, mostly about our extraordinary coolness. We had closed the NY Thruway, were declared a disaster area and “Welcome to the first Free City in the World!” A Swami had blessed us and helicopters flew over, anti-war messages shouted and everyone agreed politically.

WOODSTOCK 1

Woodstock Festival of Arts and Music at Bethel, New York, August 1969. (AP Photo)

They flew the bands in, ferried them across the sky. Music was everywhere. It was a night that a half a million young people took a collective sigh and melted into the hillside on Yazgur’s farm. Whatever came our way at Woodstock, we best relax and go with it.

With souls I’d never met I felt loved, cradled in the bosom of dear ones. They fed me, gave me drink. Should anything happen to me, this new family would care for me, tenderly as well as they possibly could… probably not very well but they would care for me… and there was a feeling of belonging to something, something much bigger than myself that made me almost tearful.

I folded my white pillow case and put it away when it rained. My quilt was soaked, my pillow ruined and I carried a bag of very cool clothes which I would never wear.

By half past Arlo Guthrie we realized that the need to pee was of greater importance than our land or this family we loved. We’d lost the people we came with, they’d disappeared into the crowd. Not losing Leona became paramount. She was the only one I knew from home and she had the keys to the car. We said good-bye to our loved ones and wrapped in muddied blankies we set off to find a bathroom and a place to sleep.

Cleary the first problem we faced was to simply relieve ourselves. The port-o–potty’s were soon to become their own disaster areas so we peed in the cornfield and relaxed between rows. I’d piled my coolest clothes on top of me for warmth and Joan Baez sang us into semi-consciousness. Then the rain began again.

To be cont..

Watch next Thursday for “Woodstock, the Dawn of Day Two”

http:/jonnaellisholston.com/

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Writing Romance for Baby Boomers

It’s been great to get to know Australian blogger,Lana Pecherczyk  from Author Zoo. Lana asked me to write about romance novels from an aged perspective for her series on “How to write a Romance from A to Z”. Google Author Zoo and check them out!

 

Baby Boomer LOVE

by Jonna Ellis Holston

If you are writing romance then chances are that a large percentage of your readership will be of the baby boomer age. Infrequently is a romance novel written specifically for this generation, so in rarity we find value. If written well the rewards are great.

This is the population who met the Beatles, the Woodstock women who eased the way toward sexual freedom. They lived through the sixty’s and now they’re in their sixties. If you are interested in writing about and for the boomers then, author, know thy sub-genre.

Writing an older woman protagonist has undeniable appeal. In her you discover a character of complexity and depth. She has confidence, wisdom… experience. Imagine the possibilities for characters, setting and plot.

-Feel the energy between a silver cougar and her prey. Is her motivation lust for his hard body or is she damaged and hiding her need? Is he drawn to her mystique, living MILF fantasies or does he plan to steal her money? What do they talk about? Where is the conflict? Who gets hurt and who is healed?

-A similarly aged couple finds a second chance love. Can two households merge? Do their adult children worry about the wills or cringe in disgust with each kiss. Which is worse? Which is real? Can their love survive their offspring?

-An older woman is polyamorous. Is she honest or deceitful? What will the neighbors say about multiple partners? Would she care? Will her lovers meet in conflict then end in a threesome?

What about writing physical limitations and the body image issues that millennials have yet to discover? Tread lightly here lest you break the spell. Use softer images, shimmering fabric catching candlelight or try something risky like a shared vape under moonlight and they end up naked in the lake.

Her body is no longer perfect. You might describe the grace of her movement, the curve of a shoulder or the shape of his arms but consider what point when physical description must yield to expressions of feeling. The softness of her breast, the warmth of his skin, the magic of losing self-awareness in the moment, the urgency in knowing that this could be the last time either one experiences this feeling of love in their lifetime.

Age creeps on, choices lessen. Lovers sicken and die. When you write a character that a boomer identifies with she escapes more readily in your work. Once again she’s made beautiful, desirable and loved. They value this feeling for its rarity. They are greatly mindful of the moments ahead and appreciate each one all the more.

If you wish to write such a romance, understand that She is not your grandmother’s grandmother. She is Women’s Liberation in the Age of Aquarius. She’s the bra burner, the Great Mother and the flower child of love.

Do her justice. Write her truth. Write her well.

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Why Kernersville?

I once had a conversation that went like this:

 

Me: My biggest fear in life is that I will die in Kernersville.

Her: Why would you care where you die?

Me: I rather drown in the pool at the Paris Ritz or crash a plane into Iguazu Falls… or be shot by a jealous lover in Taos… something like that.

Her: You’re so dramatic.

Me: Are you saying the problem is me?

 

Kernersville is a perfectly lovely town with a fine historic district. At the crossroads of Main St. and Mountain there once stood a tavern where George Washington ate breakfast. There is a stone marker to commemorate this historic meal. For years a tanning salon stood on the site. I once joked to a woman that George Washington got his tans there. She believed me and repeated this, as fact, to her teenage daughter.

Geez, I thought, and I live here?

 

Truth is that I had a rough start and a low opinion of Kernersville. I didn’t fit in and it soon became evident that, if a tough city gal like me was to survive here, I needed to learn to keep my head down and my F-ing mouth shut.

But there is a reason why I stayed, a reason why the population of this town has almost doubled in the past twenty years. Here we wake to the song of the birds. It hardly ever snows and the gardens are lush with flowers. The rolling hills and halcyon of the Carolina Piedmont is the sort of place that’s too easy and comfortable to leave. Once you move here you tend to stay.

A short drive west is a location where a group of Moravians settled and stayed. Old Salem dates from the 1750’s. It became a center of talented craftsmen who valued education. Here they built Salem College, the first women’s college in America.

Winston-Salem is now known as the “City of the Arts” and for good reason. Not just because it founded the first arts council in the US, but because it is home to the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Arts (SECCA), The Reynolda House Museum of American Art and the UNC School of the Arts. Major film, theatre and music festivals are held each year. The list of attractions is endless.

East of Kernersville (take that, Steinbeck!) lies a place where Quakers settled, also in the 1750’s. Here the nationally recognized Greensboro Symphony led by the superb Demitri Sitkovetsky is heard. The Eastern Music Festival brings hundreds of concerts each year. And, historically speaking, from the Battle of Guildford Courthouse to the brave black students who sat at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, Greensboro has survived the best and worst of human nature.

And in the hub of this place, where art grows quicker than tobacco, Jule Korner’s father founded the Town of Kernersville. Jule was born here, on Main St and stayed. He built Korner’s Folly on Main St. He lived here and died here, on Main St.

His great home, Korner’s Folly, often called “the strangest home in America”, appears to have three stories from the outside but on the inside there are seven different levels. The ceiling height ranges from five and a half feet to twenty five. Originally there were stables on the first floor and the attic is believed to have been the first private “Little Theater” in America. Obviously Jule possessed a wildly creative soul. People laughed at and criticized him for his unusual tastes and constant renovation. He was an artist, his home was a work in progress and neither he nor his home fit in.

And like many evolutions in the piedmont, Jule’s home had a difficult start… rough beginnings as a livestock stable… with a dirt floor covered in horse sh!#. As time progressed it was altered to hold a reception parlor and sewing room. The heart of this home survived a continuous state of flux on so many levels, growing pains of constant change. The ceilings may have felt too high or hung too low, staircases and passages too wide or narrow. It was never a good fit for the Korner family then or to the many who visit it today. But the attic… in the attic of the structure grew actors and playwrights… the arts of the theater. Here our yesterday “lighted fools” as they strutted or fretted their “hour upon the stage”.

 

We are Korner’s Folly. We’re the actors, the inventors, the explorer and pilgrim. We are the artists and we are the art… all works in progress… ever blending.

I’ve grown to like Kernersville, this place that I call home. And when I die… let my ashes blow with the winds and settle where they may… because I belong to this land.

I’m staying.

 

 

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Never Doubt I Love

Sad blue eyes and a fine even smile, his build bragged of gym dues and vegetables. A friend of a friend, that’s usually how these things start, he said he was recently divorced, forty years void of love. I believed him. If any man seemed starved for affection it was he and if anyone’s self-esteem had been ruthlessly damaged, it was his.

hugBoth over sixty, an odd age for a summer love but astounding beauty like his was a gift. Was my judgment clouded by perfection, my sight blurred by superb? I wanted him and I wanted him to know that I wanted him, and the tastes of his kisses were pastries of sensory delight. I savored each one, found joy in his touch. I devoured this man from each graceful finger to his strong lovely legs, gave him the tenderness he had learned to live without. Freely, without shame I admit to loving this man with all my might.

I guarded him jealously because I knew he would not be mine for long. As soon as he understood what a commodity he was in a world full of women, he’d be gone. Someone younger and prettier would get him that is exactly how it happened.

I got to love that man for only six months before he found her and it was painful as hell when he left. For three full months I cried, spent sleepless nights writing bad poetry, I even considered Prozac till I began to recognize a small spark of joy between each tear. I could be pleased for him because I knew that if anyone deserved happiness it was he. If anyone deserved to be appreciated, if anyone ever deserved to be loved it was this man.

Maybe Rumi was right when he said, The wound is the place where Light enters you.” Or maybe Bob Marley when he said, “Truth is everybody is going to hurt you. You just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” But I clung to one thought, maybe she deserved him.

I am impressed with my heart. It’s still open, still willing to endure injury in order to love. I’m proud that this weird world hasn’t jaded me and no barriers protect from deep feeling. I’m only slightly crazy, I don’t drink… and I’d give all the Prozac in Walgreen’s to have a chance like that again, to help a deserving man grow in confidence and realize he is worthy of love. This was life affirming and there is no experience more existential than skin to skin, heart to heart, face to face contact and sharing vital breath with someone you love.

Then I did the math. Six months of bliss minus three months of melancholy, I’m ahead by three months. Net positive, bliss, hell, ya, I’d do it again. It beat the heck out of crocheting shawls by lamp light.

If you must lose in love, lose to a woman half your age with long gorgeous legs and a doctorate. A large house on acres of land is a plus, an heiress maybe with a sports car or two for good measure. Or to a kind, sincere, loving soul who rescues animals, volunteers with the elderly and keeps a vegetable garden.

I saw them in the analgesic section of Walgreens. I peered through the endcap gaping. She had a fake set of boobs like two fishbowls, her hem was crooked and her eyelashes came from a box. I wished them well (him more so than her). Perhaps he has found the woman of his dreams or an adolescent-like crush on a cheap shiny piece or maybe, just maybe she recues kittens between hair appointments. So goodbye to my handsome, make your life happy… and love… love willingly, love passionately, love with everything you’ve got.

But, damnation, if I had lived forty years of neglect and had a body like his, I’d keep looking. In truth, I’d probably be messing around like Tiger Woods on hell fire.

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Meeting Jack Kerouac by Jonna Ellis Holston

I was about to meet Jack Kerouac, pioneer of the beat generation, the man who wrote On the Road in twenty days on Benzedrine, typed it on a 120 ft. scroll of tracing paper taped together like only a person high on Bennies would do, the guy who practically invented the style of spontaneous prose. Was this the most exciting night of my life? Alas, I was just a seven year old girl. Meeting Jack impressed me less than knowing that I could stay up late that night at Aunt Mary’s party.20160118_125848_resized

A man in a wrinkled trench with a Florida tan, a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other, he stood before me. Auntie Mary handed me paper and a pen, told me to ask for his autograph. He was creepy, his undershirt was showing and he was… wobbly. With trepidation, I did as told.

“What do you want me to write?” he asked Mary, cigarette hanging between lips and acting as though he’d been pestered by a bug.

“Write something nice about Jonna,” she said and spelled my name for him. He wrote just that. Jonna… just Jonna and tried to hand it back to me. “Come on, Jack write something nice,” she goaded. He wrote more words, signed the page and handed it to Auntie for perusal.

“Jonna is a goner in Glockamara. Oh Jack, you’re so silly,” she laughed and passed the page to me.

I may have been only seven but I knew that this guy wasn’t normal. I thanked him and retreated. With signature in hand I ran to my place, my place behind the large potted plants to try and figure out, with my seven year old mind, what the heck the famous writer meant by Jonna is a goner in Glockamara. I knew about alcohol. I liked when the people at Mary’s parties got wobbly, everyone laughed and danced. There was even some old lady who would sing when she was wobbly. I could watch everyone from my little secret place but tonight I was keeping an eye on him, this guy… Kerouac, this weirdo that everyone seemed to be so gaga over, I mean… somebody had to.

What was so great about him? Look at how he was dressed. People wore their best at Mary’s parties, how come he got to wear dirty old clothes? And he was wobbly but he wasn’t singing or dancing or having fun. He wasn’t… enjoying wobbly.

“Oh, Jack, let me fill your drink.” I heard from somebody.

I spied Uncle Dino, crossed the room and climbed onto his lap. He explained that Jack was an alcoholic and I comprehended that notion pretty well. “Well if he drinks too much then why is everybody getting him more?” I asked… when life was still simple.

“Watch what he does. He takes his drink then he sits over there.” He pointed to the chair next to my place in the plants. “Watch him”. Jack sat; hunched over, sipped his drink. I soon got bored and started playing with Uncle Dino’s face. “There.”

“What?”

“You missed it. Go watch him from the plants like you do.” Well this just floored me. How did Uncle Dino know about my place? People never paid attention to me at a grown-up party. Wasn’t I invisible? I skulked back to my place, as close to Jack as a plant to dirt.

“Jack, let me freshen your drink,” said some lady I knew. I looked across at Dino. He nodded and I realized that Dino was sitting in his place. That seemed pretty funny to me, that Dino had a place where he watched people too. We smiled knowingly, one observer to the other as she served Jack his drink; he took a small sip and held the glass precariously in his lap. I watched this old guy sip his drink and it was still boring, but a small leather notebook peeked from his pocket and it caught my eye. Jack shifted his weight and it stuck out a bit more, then he may have crossed his legs or something and it was right there…

I can’t say for sure if the book fell out of his pocket or if I helped it out. I may actually have picked the pocket of Jack Kerouac and then I hid the journal between the pots. Uncle Dino gave me a stern look from his place then tipped his chin for me to watch Jack. That was about as exciting as watching ice melt. His drink of amber, still half full, Jack lifted his head sharply, looked around then he dumped his drink into the plant beside him. What? Why did he do that? I looked to Dino for answers.

Jack jumped up to argue again with someone about something and I flipped through his book, his book of scribbles. I couldn’t read any of it but I recognized one symbol, the crucifix and it was on most every page. I guessed it was a prayer book and I reverently placed it in his chair and made for the shelter of Dino’s lap.

Jack died about ten years later, in 1969, of cirrhosis. I refreshed that memory with Uncle Dino several times and he confirmed that not only did he witness Jack dump drinks frequently but that he often saw him transform from nearly passed-out drunk to completely sober within seconds in order to read a passage or a poem, perfectly enunciated, for the crowd.

That was also the year when I first read On the Road I understood none of it. I’ve re-read the work several times since. What holds me to the pages is the rawness of his words, the feelings of how never did anything ever go right, the desperate a search to find meaning in a messed up life. In that way, I suppose, it’s every man’s story.

We were from Lowell. In 1959, the year I first saw Jack, Lowell was a distressed mill town of greyness and brick. Our family home overlooked greenery. About forty years earlier, he grew up near the smelly Merrimac which rippled its flotsam and side-floating fish. Everyone in town called him Jack… just Jack.

You can swim in the Merrimac River now. The mills are museums and trendy shops. Kerouac Park, downtown by the river… there, the homeless sleep. Monoliths engraved with exquisite quotes of his work shade the drug deals and wear spray paint graffiti. Somehow I think he’d be okay with that.

Jack claimed that his stories were about his search for God. I only know that I saw the crosses in his journal with my young impressionable eyes. To me his work will always be about hope, hope for the disenfranchised, hope for the oppressed, for the different, for the mad.

Glockamara, next I heard of Glocca Morra was from Finnian’s Rainbow. It’s a sentimental song about a fictional Irish town with little brooks, willow trees and a carefree boy with twinkling eyes. It sounds heavenly, doesn’t it?

So, how are things in Glocca Morra, Jack, since you’ve been gone? I imagine that you are resting by a gentle stream with a cool breeze on your face. I hope you found peace and I hope you found God, because when I saw you, Jack, you drank alone.

 

Pictured above, Charles G Sampas (my uncle and Godfather), my beautiful mother, Rachel Ellis and Jack.

 

 

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