Saturday, May 15, 2010

fifth street


for Anna Rathfon Nichols, 1882-1938




They declared their chips in Kansas.
Ace came round in a new fangled motor,
wore a fancy suit. She flew to him like a railbird.

Free hand wrangler, he scooped her up,
built his deck with brick and mortar.
He bought the pot; she bought short.

Mother and sister packed their lot,
headed north, after the fire that killed her pa.

Dealt a dead hand, he lost his Oklahoma purse.
After two stillborn births, this wild card shark
proved his bluff and upped the ante.

Go back to Indianny and console your ma.
I'll be up to collect you directly; he slipped
out the back door on a chronic rabbit hunt.

Cursed rag left her in the dark,
blind to his habit, crippled by a silent flush,
a gypsy muck of syphilis and insanity.



willow, 2010




Ace and Anna, Galena, Kansas, 1910

The story of Ace Nichols never returning to Indiana for my great-aunt Anna, has always been a sad part of my family history, but after I obtained her medical records, the story became even more tragic. Since his name happened to be Ace, I couldn't resist throwing in all the poker terminology.



This is a Sepia Saturday post.

61 comments:

  1. What a powerful story, wonderfully crafted in this brilliant poem. A sad, a tragic story, it moved me deeply.

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  2. Poor Anna - rotten Ace. Do you know what happened to Ace? Perhaps he was killed or something and couldn't return? It almost seems like a movie of the week. Who would play the parts? I always cast a movie when I read a book.

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  3. Oh wow. What a story. I suppose all of us have similar tales. I know I do. From being knocked out by my mother, wielding a coal shovel, to mom knocking my dad backwards into a bushel basket of Mason, green glass, canning jars. Had the blow been effective I wouldn't be here but he lifted himself out without a scratch and no cuts and then I came along.

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  4. Gosh, it would make a fabulous movie. There's so much drama. I think I'd cast Jude Law as Ace and Cate Blanchett as Anna.

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  5. Beautifully done -- this is the way to make history live and breathe.

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  6. willow -- I really liked that you linked the vintage photo with prose. I write family short stories illustrated by the actual family members. Some day I might pop one on my blog. Good post! -- barbara

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  7. Captivating...
    I wanted more, sad beggar, yep even back then, the world is full of them.
    Stories from my own families past would run in the same circles.
    Great picture !

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  8. Wow! That is some story and some poem! I loved the poker references. It a very sad story though.

    Kat

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  9. Stories better than fiction- Ace , such a scoundrel- My great great grandfather's name was ACE- he invented some little mechanical device for some reason and it kept them in the chips for a good long while...He must have been spades- your Ace was clubs...just sure of it- and your casting is perfect! I want this movie to happen!

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  10. such a tragic end for a chance to break free! more tragic still that this was family. not to change the subject but have you ever noticed that nowadays we look back and think that they had such simple and charmed lives in comparison to ours? poor anna didn't find this to be true :(

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  11. This is an awesome story, Willow. My mother passed away a couple months ago and before her death we talked family history. There is so much soap opera there. You inspire me with this wonderful tale.

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  12. It certainly wasn't all romance and swooning back then at all.

    This was fabulous, Willow, sad , real, but so well told.

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  13. You know I always love your Kansas City stories.

    This one made me think about how tough people used to be. We're such wimps now.

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  14. You are destined to rouse the ancient heartache in us all, Willow.

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  15. What a story! This should be a movie.

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  16. Grandmother ran off with the bus driver at 16; husband went to fetch her back. Mother didn't have any shoes, so quit school and left for New Orleans (by herself). All stories kept quiet in the family until they passed. Wonder if it was only the bluebloods that didn't have problems back then.

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  17. What a scoundrel Ace was. Even if he met with an untimely end and couldn't return, it doesn't alter the fact that he was addicted to gambling and oblivious to his wife. You did an incredible job with this poem, Willow.

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  18. wonderfully told willow...love all the card references personally...a tragic piece of family history..but fascinating...

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  19. That was some poem about some rat

    poor anna...
    nice nice poem

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  20. Hmmm. A lot of angst and tragedy swirling about in here. It doesn't sound as if they all 'lived happily ever after'.

    Bisou, Cro.

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  21. An American tragedy. Sorry to hear of poor Anna's fate. You wrote a wonderful tale about the two of them. God bless 'em.

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  22. There is usually an old family drama somewhere if you look hard enough, mine was a "black sheep" great uncle who ran away to sea.....Scandal !!!
    All my china is blue Willow except for my coffee mugs.
    Just reading "the thirteenth tale" as one who loves book shops, you may enjoy it.

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  23. More JOKER Than ACE.
    It's a universal story.I wonder.Did She spend the rest of her life waiting?

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  24. Who could have resisted the poker terminology when dealing an Ace? He sounds as though he was irresistible - "Ace came round in a new fangled motor,
    wore a fancy suit. She flew to him like a railbird."

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  25. Wonderfully powerful stuff Willow. A tale to match the photograph both in grandeur and that perceived sadness in their faces. And as ever, told with style.

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  26. Fascinating story, the picture and the poem are superb. I agree, it would make a great movie!

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  27. willow- what a story - there's so much more of course but its essence runs the gamut of emotion. what a photograph! steven

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  28. Fascinating photo and post!My great grandmother was the Anna in our family. She worked so hard to support her children,three little girls, after her husband chose to desert them all,under a cloud of deceit, leaving a sporadic trail of emotional destruction,false names, broken hearts and lives.Cads and con men, always disappointing to find them in the family tree. I know where you're coming from with this post Willow! Don't you wish life could have been different for those proud young women who never heard from their husbands again.

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  29. A tough and powerfully told story, Willow.

    Those were difficult times.

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  30. Tony, yes, sadly Anna waited for Ace the rest of her short life, dying at age 56 from syphilis induced insanity.

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  31. powerful imagery, Willow. Nicely spun.

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  32. Love the images you've conveyed in this poem. It's a stacked deck! (I know-couldn't resist!)I agree that this subject is the stuff movies are made of-Willow- maybe a screen play is next?

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  33. I'm in awe of your ability to write poetry which tells such a complete story in all its powerful, but heart-wrenching sadness.

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  34. Wonderfully powerful poem, Willow. Condensing their story in this way may simplify it but also makes it so much stronger and more poignant.

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  35. You can't beat reality for great fictional values!

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  36. Tragic, but wonderfully depicted poem. So many women were infected with dread and deadly disease during the late 1800's, early 1900's. History of it shows up in my family as well. Pity the poor souls who were infected through no fault of their own. Your poetic depiction is wonderfully done! Although I'm visiting 'paradise' I had to take time to visit you this morning. Never disappointed. Thanks,

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  37. Love your SS dear Willow. Sounded like the James boys story I post about for FSO. Although I didn't post all that story, what I read for research was similar.
    QMM

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  38. This is such a sad story. I have several pictures of them, but not this one. The poem is perfect!

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  39. That is indeed a tragic story! Poor Anna. I had relatives in Galena, Kansas too. I had to check and make sure there was nobody named Ace, otherwise I would have suffered from guilt by association.

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  40. There has always been stories like this I guess. They are all sad though.

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  41. Utterly stunning writing willow.
    Bravo.

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  42. Very brilliant! The way you described this Kansas couple, with their unique dialogue of the midwest. Totally foreign to my ears yet due to your narrative I understand the storyline.
    For example; "She flew to him like a railbird".
    I have never heard of this saying or idiom before, may I guess at its meaning? It goes something like this; Your aunt is a sweet young thing, a catch, a looker, a woman of a substantial family who is lonely and hangs out in railway yards or near the depot trying to find newly arrived husband material? A potential husband so hard to find. As a railbird she'd have first dibs?. Beat the other Biddy's to roping in a "man"?
    Ace being a good looking rogue, muscular and tanned (oh yes Jude Law! and maybe Emily Watson for Anna) However, her parents never accepted him as they thought he was so far beneath their social strata. So soon, a quicky romance, tied the knot in months if not weeks, they set up housekeeping with the skin of their teeth.
    "He bought the pot; she bought short" also must be language indigenous to the prairies. Meaning he's poor, she's rich?
    Maybe Ace just couldn't handle anymore tragedy in his life. Underneath his outer toughness he was a shallow marshmallow; he could no longer put up with the bad luck. He thought, being a railer or early hobo he could try his "hand" "somewheres" else. As an emotionally distrought deserter one can feel sorry for him, to an extent; but much moreso for her. Being a woman in those times was extremely difficult; plus to have all that bad luck. She needed a man to stick it out through thick and thin. A good man would have toughed it out I believe. This may have made her loose touch with "reality"; too much loss all at once, the post-partum, the still-born children. She would have blamed herself. The huge gapping hole, a deep chasm love could not fill. A most excellent historical account of early life in America circa 1910. Thanks Willow for sharing this! You've got to make this into a movie!

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  43. Oh! That is so heartbreaking! Very moving.

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  44. Chic, oh, yes, Emily Watson would be perfect as Anna. I LOVE her! Actually, the language isn't so much Midwestern, as it is poker terms. A railbird is someone who sits and watches the card game from the sidelines. "Bought the pot" and "bought short" are also poker terms. This poem is chalked full of 'em! 25 to be exact. I should have had everyone try to pick them out of the text!

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  45. How very, very sad. Some of the things I find in my family history are heartbreaking - as is the story of Anna. I love how you presented the story. Hauntingly beautiful.

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  46. Definitely not light reading. That's a gut puncher. You are a powerful wizard with words, Willow. Horrid life poor Anna led. Life is hard and for some it's just a brick wall.

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  47. Godmorning, Sweden here...

    You are a very good writer & your story so sad!

    Thank you for nice words on my Wabi & Sabi blog! By the way, today I have a very swedish theme on my blog.... and I mayby you'll like it!

    Please take care

    Agneta

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  48. it would make a great movie
    I love the terse-ness of your poem, you pack such a lot into the words

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  49. Post 52 can't really add much more, but the story sounds sad and the photo is such a classic. 1919 wow!

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  50. Beautifully wrought, willow. "crippled by a silent flush" stays in my mind

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  51. what a precious piece for family love,
    thank you for sharing...
    Happy Sunday!
    You Deserve Happiness!

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  52. That is an amazing story. You did it so well. I am sure there were other families that had lot's of heartache in those days.
    I an watching History Chanel and that Donner Party. I heard of it but never in such detail. Hard to believe

    Yvonne

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  53. The good old days, told in truth, in the present. Sad but good to remember.

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  54. You capture well their ill fated relationship with the imagery and stark word choice. There is so much emotion here conveyed in a few lines.

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  55. There are chapters to be told in more detail in each line of the poem which makes it all the more powerful. The photo is wonderful too with a view of them in their motor. I have many similar tales filled with tragedy from the same era in our family.

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  56. Wonderful! And you have some really wonderful photos, Willow. Quite a story is right...

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  57. A tragic tale captured very powerfully in your poem--I love the line about the "chronic rabbit hunt." What an interesting take on Sepia Saturday!

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  58. I have been, for the last couple hours going back thru all the posts that I have missed since I started reading your blog.
    So many interests that we have in common...right down to the reading of The Raggedy Man. DNA, genealogy, Leonard Cohen..well just about everything that makes your DNA tingle.
    This story is sad and tragic and I am amazed that you found so much information on poor Anna. I have a family mystery to be solved and am having a very difficult time finding it but it will be done, by gosh! I've solved many. I am deep into genealogy. I also enjoyed the Deep DNA post. Wow, my friend and I were just talking about that..I always wondered if what they felt and did and thought influenced me...very interesting. So nice to have so much in common with someone that is as talented as you, with roots so close to mine.

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Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)