Bridget Buff | Coop Dedication

31 05 2015

Norbert Blei

Coop Dedication

I am so very sorry that I wasn’t able to attend this great dedication day of my dad’s beloved chicken coop to the Write On School. When Jude asked me to come up with “a little something to say” for the dedication I immediately thought of something. A conversation I had that sticks in my head and I continue to think about. After my dad passed away and we were in the process of selling the house and trying to figure out just what to do with the coop I remember talking to my dear friend Annika Johnson. I was explaining to her that on my last visit with my dad in the hospital he knew he was going to be leaving us soon. He had some final wishes about things I never imagined him telling me. Specifics on where he wanted to be buried and what he wanted on his headstone. Even the shape and color of the headstone! He mentioned details on his library and his own books but not one mention of the coop! His precious coop!

It was one of those things you always hear about after the fact…”I should have asked him!…If only I would have brought up that subject!” As I expressed this frustration to Annika she replied,”Well why would he have mentioned it?!” These are the words that replay in my head. Why would he mention his coop? I guess because it was such a huge part of him and who he was? I guess he and many others just assumed it would just go with the house. Today I can honestly say thank goodness it didn’t! More than likely the coop would have been used as a shed or torn down. That would have been quite a sad ending to the story…his story!

Instead the story of Norbert Blei’s chicken coop is still being written. His precious writing space is still here with us. Dad would be thrilled that the coop found a new perfect home at Write On in a beautiful field with his dear friend Michael Brecke’s former church in the background. True, it won’t be exactly the same. Not possible. I know he wouldn’t want it to be a museum or gift shop either. It won’t be that. But his chicken coop will gradually be set up as close to possible to the way dad once enjoyed it. His own art and postcards and trinkets and treasures covering the walls and window sills and desk and even the door and ceiling. Hopefully it has that same magical smell and feeling and is filled with sunlight when we step inside. I can almost see the tiny bouquets of black eyed susan’s and forget me nots I would bring to him as he typed in the coop when I was a little girl. He would put them in brightly colored glass bottles he used as vases on his desk.

The best part of all, and the most comforting to me…comes from knowing that my dad would love that now writers can use his own chicken coop as a workspace to inspire their own writing. There is nothing that gave my dad greater joy than his love of helping other writers discover the joy of writing in Door County.

Thank you to so many for making this day possible and for allowing the story of dad’s chicken coop to continue to be written. I know you have dad’s blessing. The coop at Write On will be my first stop on my upcoming trip to Door County. I can’t wait to feel the magic of “the coop” once again. — Bridget Buff





Norbert Blei | A Father’s Dilemma, Where Can My Son Grow Up Happy?

14 06 2014
Wedding-#2-Yanni's-225

Norbert Blei with son Christopher Blei and daughter Bridget Buff

A Father’s Dilemma, Where Can My Son Grow Up Happy?

YOU TAKE a kid away from an apartment house on the west-side of Chicago at the age of 5 and plunk him in the middle of 15 acres of woods and fields of Wisconsin and tell yourself, “There, now let nature do it’s work. Let the kid grow green and clean. Give him a boyhood of space and natural wonder that I never had. Save him, 0 Lord, from suburban abundance, a city’s compulsions.”

And in time, you begin to wonder in his wonder. By the age of 8, the kid knows some of the soft green machinery of earth, like the taste and private habitat of wild strawberries and blackberries; the temptation of tea made of wild roses; boiling milkweed ketis for vegetables, an old Menominee Indian secret.

AND HE can tell an English sparrow from a fox sparrow, and identify all manner of birds . . . chickadees, thrashers, towees, rose-breasted grosbeaks, purple finches, nut hatches, hawks, every kind of woodpecker. I could tell a robin from a sparrow, when I was a boy, in Chicago and had heard some talk of a blue jay.

Give him any season, and there’s sure to be something brewing in this earth.

Spring, and the tree swallows come back to nest in the houses on the birch trees out front; the towees take up their secret nesting sights in the bushes in the back. “Do the same birds come back every year? How do they find our house?” I don’t know, I don’t know. They just keep coming back.

SUMMER, and you plant a sunflower seed and see it plow five feet before your eyes, and watch it track the sun. Fall, and you catch black and white and yellow caterpillars on the underside of milkweed leaves, and you put them in a jar, and you watch the caterpillar move to the top, in time, and form a fantastic green house, about himself, and then watch for that house to turn transparent, and watch for the orange wings and old black patterns to glow brighter till the wings are free. And then you open the jar and set a monarch butterly free. Magic.

Winter, you keep the birds alive with sunflower seeds, you see the tracks of deer in a garden now under snow,  you see a red fox move across  a landscape in white  and,  maybe, you never forget a  picture like that. You hold onto that like a painting, ‘Fox in Snow’, the rest of your life.

But In time, you begin to  wonder in the wonder of it all. Is to be a father, to be in doubt? . . . “The  woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to  keep . . .and miles to go  before I sleep. . . .”

The kid can tell a birch from a maple, but does he  know what a corner lot is like, where you set traps and build forts and hold all manner of meetings in secret clubs with all the kids on the block? No. . . The kid knows perch from bass and is a better fisherman than his father ever will be, but does he know the summer games kids play in the dark, after the streetlamps have gone on? No.

DOES HE know how to chant “Ole, Ole, Ocean Free!”? No. Does he know how to lag pennies, play marbles, throw a rubber ball against concrete steps with just himself and a friend and play a whole nine inning ball game? No. Does he know how to win? Does he know how to lose?

And does he know what it means to grow up with a friend, the kid next door or  across the street? To go to school with him, to show with him, to work with him? To know his family as your own? To keep such a friendship [and many of them] alive for over 20 years? No. And very likely he never will. There is just too much distance between friends in the country.He has one or two, about three miles away. And so friendship is not an everyday, ever growing thing in the country.

AND HAS he ever been introduced to alleys? Those cracked concrete [asphalt, brick, or stone] runways that go on and on [north and south usually] and, lead to either more of the same, or great streets of business? No.

Alleys, for playing baseball, football, basketball, ice skating, roller skating, hop scotch, walking, running, chasing, throwing, hiding, junking, climbing trees and telephone poles, climbing fences, climbing garages.

Whatever your fancy, whatever your fantasy… it can be worked out in the alley.

“Do it in the alley!” … a Mother’s last resort.

And so, what for my son? I wonder, I wonder…

I can give him a bike, but I can’t give him a wire basket attached and a newspaper route. I can’t give him ten kids in the alley playing kick-the-can. I can give him a solitary swing tied to a magnificent maple, but I can’t give him a real playground. I can give him an occasional movie [80 miles away, round trip] but I can’t give him a Saturday afternoon matinee at the neighborhood show, fresh popcorn, and a carmel candy bar.

And zoos, museums, concerts, buses, trains, skyscrapers, freight yards, air ports, great bridges, department stores, elevators, escalators, neon lights, uncles, aunts, grandmas, grandpas, hot dog stands, and McDonald burgers are out of the question.

I CAN GIVE him books and music and paints, and everything nature has to offer beyond our kitchen door . . . the geese now flying overhead, the purple asters starred along the roadside, the sugar maples turning radically red by the hour.

I can give him all this, but what will it all add up to for him? And when? I’m afraid he does not know black from white. Is this good? I’m afraid he does not know the machinery of a city, the poetry, and tragedy of streets. Is this bad? He saw poverty once in a camp of migrant cherry pickers and said, “Dad, I don’t like what poor is. Dad, I don’t ever want to be poor.” Is this good?

I can give him a morning so blue and gold he can taste it. I can give him a night with such a moon and so many stars, he can touch them. I can give him all this for the time being, and only hope it will stay with him forever . . . or 20 years from now, when , he may need such luxuries.

I can give him all the time in the world to be alone, in the silence of it all.

But I can’t give him a friend from next door, standing on the sidewalk, calling for him to come out and play. And that is the sound I remember most, and the way it was with me. And I can only wonder how it will be for him.

Chicago Tribune, Sunday, December 10, 1972 BY NORBERT BLEI








Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 708 other followers