Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Crayons That Stay Put.

 10/ Crayons That Stay Put. American Crayon introduced the Kindograph and Kantroll brands especially for children and the patience of parents and teachers. The crayons were thick enough for little hands to grasp with large easy to read labels but the critical element was they wouldn't roll away--instead of being round, they had a flat end to keep them in place. This and other stories in my book Color Capital of the World: https://blogs.uakron.edu/uapress/product/color-capital-of-the-world

Tuesday, December 27, 2022


Seems there's no shortage of booklists at the end of every year. I like to wait till the end of December as I get some of my best reading done in the last days of the last month of the year. I use Goodreads to track my reads for the year--here's my list for 2022.         

I continue to read mostly in the category of memoir followed closely by travel. I suppose the memoir reads were influenced by the fact I published a memoir of my own this year, The Color Capital of the World: Growing Up with the Legacy of a Crayon Company and looked at how others had told their stories.

I enjoy memoir for all the times and places it can take the reader. I'm slowly working my way through the five volume memoir of Osbert Sitwell, which allows me a glimpse into an English artistocratic family of eccentrics in the Edwardian period--a life I'd never have a clue about in my here and now. 

Other memoirs I've sampled: Rock and Roll legends, television celebrities, surfers, and bohemians but those are for another time. 

This year I've clustered around what I call "hardscrabble hometown memoir".  Most of them are set in the Midwest with one exception. I've also snuck in a couple others that I read in earlier years to round out my list.

Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, Sarah Smarsh (2018). I was drawn to Heartland based on its title since heartland, Midwest and even Rust Belt can sometimes be overlapping in the scope of their regional definitions. Smarsh writes about growing up poor in Kansas and being trapped in poverty. I think the story is one that could have taken place in any part of the country but the author provides a strong description of living and working mostly in the agriculture world of rural Kansas. The women in her life make a series of bad choices with mostly terrible men but the author finds her way out of poverty through academics For me, I found myself disappointed as a reader when the author breaks off sometime around high school and then suddenly she is a college professor and we don’t learn anything about how she actually moved out of her cycle of poverty and achieved success in the academic world. The other distraction I found was her conceit of writing advice to a never-born child. For anyone who’s ever been a parent, it’s not some thing you can ever truly pretend or imagine until it actually happens to you and the act of pretending was annoying.

I don’t know if Heartland opened the way for other stories from female voices in the Midwest but the next three books are from young women who struggled to overcome significant challenges. 
Rust, Eliese Colette Goldbach (2020). A highly transparent personal memoir of a young woman from Cleveland in the early 2000s and her Catholic upbringing who fights mental health and sexual assault to work in one of city's largest steel mills. Extraordinary for its candor and the challenges that Goldbach overcame. Like many of the hometown themes, the writer leaves her hometown to set off for college, not sure whether she'll return. Her sexual assault at her Jesuit run university returns her to Cleveland where she faces an uncertain future. One of the book's defining moments is the author's trip to Washington, DC to meet a friend and her two attorney friends in bar. They smirk at the idea that Cleveland produces anything. After she lands the job in mill, she imagines what she'd have to say to them now.  Like Heartland, Goldbach finds her way out and up through success in the academic world. More than a Rustbelt story--it's a story of personal redemption.


Mill Town: Reckoning with What Remains, Kerri Arsenault (2020).  Written with a reporter's eye, the author tells the story of her life and family ties to Mexico, Maine, the company town of one of Maine's largest paper mills. She traces her French Catholic heritage to the three generations of Arsenault's family were employed by the mill. The area's residents have developed high rates of cancer to the point where the area is known as "cancer valley." Arsenault's life takes her away from the town and later back to Connecticut where she uses her skills as a reporter to understand the tragic relationship between the paper mill and it's residents. 




Uprooted: Recovering the Legacy of the Places We’ve Left Behind, Grace Olmsted (2021). While not set in the Midwest, Olmsted grew up in a small farming town in Idaho. She to leaves to become A journalist in Washington, DC. Her story is of being drawn back to her hometown to tell the history of her town Emmett, Idaho and the generations of her family who farmed. She identifies the two kinds of people: those who leave and those who stay identifying factors in modern life that pull us away from the small towns where people have been routed for generations. Her final observation is that once uprooted, one cannot recover what is lost.  




Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City, Gordon Young (2013). The author grew up in Flint in the 1980s going to Catholic school and moved away after high school to study journalism. He resettles in Flint's antithesis--San Francisco for 15 years working as a journalist. Over time, Young feels both the tragedy and nostalgia for his hometown and finds himself traveling back to look at shells of former houses that are sold at distressed prices.  





Made in Detroit, Paul Clemens (2006).  The author raised in Detroit in the 70s, 80s and 90s, chronicles trajectory of his Catholic family in what was once a Catholic neighborhood that transitions to a black neighborhood. Clemens examines his family's and his own attitudes toward race and the decline of Detroit. He finds his way out through his interest in writing and literature.




The Hard Way on Purpose: Essays and Dispatches from the Rust Belt, David Giffels (2014). Of this group, this was my favorite. Giffels' writing is insightful and enjoyable and he keeps the reader moving along in expectation of what is next for surviving. His story is unique among this list in that he never leaves the Rust Belt of his hometown in Akron but instead stays. By staying put, he notices others move away and come back or move away and never come back. Giffels is the constant presence who observes the hard times of Akron‘s industrial decline looking for what comes next. And for my taste, I’m drawn to the fact he represents what I believe is the general Midwest's
character--stubborn, optimistic, polite, and resourceful. 
Beer Money: A Memoir of Privilege and Loss, Frances Stroh (2016). Stroh's memoir is the exception to hardscrabble hometown if she says herself in the subtitle it is a memoir of privilege and loss.  Part of the decades old Detroit brewing family the author grows up at a time when the company is on its last legs. She gives us an inside view of what it was like to grow up in the final days of a wealthy Detroit family and all its trappings to the death of her father and the loss of the company. She finds herself leaving Detroit for the artistic world in San Francisco.  I found her story, in part, a template to help guide my story--on much smaller scale --for my book about the boom and bust of the American Crayon Company, Color Capital of the World.






Monday, December 26, 2022


9/ Boxing Day. American Crayon made its own packaging building durable wooden dovetail boxes suitable for shipping chalk and crayons. By 1921 the company made over 1 million maple boxes a year. The boxes were so sturdy that they came to the attention of the giants of the automobile industry. Henry Ford ordered them by the thousands to hold electrical coils sat in the engine compartment of the model Ts rolling off his Detroit assembly lines. This and more stories in my book Color Capital of the World. https://blogs.uakron.edu/.../color-capital-of-the-world/

8/ Merry Christmas from the American Crayon Company













8/ Merry Christmas from American Crayon Company. ACC was more than crayons. They made a significant portion of the sales in tempera paints. For a couple of decades they made festive holiday linoleum blocks so their customers could make their own Christmas cards rolling the paint on the blocks and pressing them onto paper. This and other stories in The Color Capital of the World: Growing Up with the Legacy of a Crayon company. https://blogs.uakron.edu/uapress/product/color-capital-of-the-world/

Saturday, December 10, 2022

2022 Journal Products of Nonsense











With the end of 2022, I'm cleaning out the nonsense from journal (usually from the left side of the page) and set it out for one last chance that someone will come and get it.

Cold Portal

Fridge light
is both tractor beam
and time machine
last night's dinner - made my plate clean


Coffee maid
made coffee.

(from my unauthorized unwritten autobiography - "Stories of No Consequence")

Listened to records of Gregorian Chant
or Henry Mancini
and ordered transcripts
from Firing Line

Band Names and some of their possible songs 
(these could also be reversed)

Failed Lineage - Unclaimed Days
Walk Ons - Glories in Decline
Back Channel - Frozen Star
Dunce Master - Turrets and Jesters
Bolt Hold - Live Round
Ragglesedge- 20 Hags
Replacement Memory - Love it Sometime

My Legal Poem

The Frolic and Detour
was arbitrary and capricious
but the trespass to chattels
lead to a right of replevin

Approaching a Short Poem

Sit still for me
on the page
You'll soon be lost in time


I sleep every 14 hours or so
Nature every 180 days
Watch her
cover up and crawl into bed
slumbering for a season or so.


A pox upon your mouse
A fox upon your blouse
Mocks upon you louse

Names You Might Rarely Hear
  • Percival Turnbull
  • Slavish Schmuckle, a family relation of Dr. Karl Schmuckle
  • Crisp Shapely (I thought this one up as a woman who ought to be in a Raymond Chandler novel)

Unintended Poetry Fragment from a Department of Defense Report

Demand is ubiquitous
and unending.

Need More Infinity

I want more space
Not stars and quasars
but plenty of room
in the parking garage


 7. Blendwel: Evolution of a Brand.


7/ Blendwel: Evolution of a Brand.
Blendwel was one of American Crayons best selling brands. Developed for children for everyday use, the brand started in the 19-teens and continued all the way through the 70s even after the company was taken over by Dixon crucible. My grandfather took a cross country drive in 1919 (see earlier blog post) and reported seeing them in a general store somewhere in Kansas. My favorite packaging is the one with the kids on the rocket ship flying through what looks like a city of the future. For a time they also issued the packages in snap tight metal cases. This and more stories from my book The Color Capital of the World.

Friday, December 2, 2022



6/ Crayons Go to War. During World War II American Crayon, like its competitors, modified its packaging to show patriotic themes including a set of color bright watercolors issued in 1942 showing children in tin-pot helmets and paper hats driving miniature jeeps and tanks and firing toy guns. Crayonex issued a cover showing the likeness of a B 29 for its box of 16 assorted colors. And then there is a set of watercolors called the American showing Uncle Sam smiling at a small parade of three children playing a drum and carrying a sword. All part of the story of The Color Capital of the World available here.