A column dedicated to the folks in the pews.
Written by Dale Buchanan
This is a Picture I Did Not Take by Sally Vogl
This is a picture I did not take of my thirty-year-old Mom and Dad lifting a tractor with their bare hands, knuckles whitened by their grip on the frame, their faces scrunched in anguish, and their feet stepping backward in unison, keeping one stride ahead of the garage’s leaping flames.
This is a picture I did not take of the possum prancing on my fence, holding my gaze so I wouldn’t look at his razor sharp teeth growing longer by the minute, teeth ready to bore into the wood of my skin, efficient as a high-powered drill.
Sally, our pew person this week, is a multi-talented woman. Among other things she is a published poet. The poems above are what she described as prompts composed to encourage and inspire her students and as I was to learn, Sally is first and foremost a teacher. This scribe loves poetry, but its composition has always been a complete mystery to me and caused me incompletes in every English class through high school. But as Sally and I talked and I read her prompts, I halfway believed that I might have been able to write something approaching poetic if she had been my teacher.
We will return to poetry later, but first there is a charming story about her German grandmother who came to America as an infant in the 1800’s. Grandma became ill on the passage and it seemed she had died. In that day and age, death on the high sea ended in burial at sea. Sally described the immigrant burial as “dumping the body in the ocean.” Someone had the presence of mind to hold a mirror to her baby face. Her breath, feeble as it was, could be detected on the the surface of the mirror. And Grandma was saved.
From this sparse history our narrative moves to a small town in Central Montana where Sally’s mother was teaching school. Montana is very cold in the winter. As fate would have it the janitor who came every morning to get the school stove going was a young man. They fell in love, were married, and became Sally’s mom and dad.
Like a narrative poem, Sally next gave Gayle and me a glimpse of her childhood. Born in Lewistown, Montana, the family lived on a farm about five miles from town. When Sally was about twelve years old they moved into town and stayed there until she finished her junior year in high school. I wish I could do justice to her description of her childhood. It seems to me that the details are immaterial to the broad picture of her life and the woman she was to become. In her poetic prose she described to us long walks to the barn and visions of nature. I could and still can see the introverted little girl growing up surrounded by nature, surrounded by books, and absorbing a sense of self-reliance that has served her well all of her life.
In her quiet way Sally has always marched to her own drumbeat. She enrolled in the University of Washington, found the hectic pace of the large school not to her taste, and transferred to the smaller Denver Metro College where she received her bachelor’s degree. She then earned a Master’s degree in Blind Rehabilitation at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo. After graduation there was two years in Duluth, Minnesota, teaching blind adults.
Next we find this adventurous woman in Lesotho, Africa, teaching blind children in an Anglican Missionary School. She served three years in this small African nation as a member of the Peace Corps, married a fellow Peace Corps volunteer and together they went to Aberdeen, South Dakota, where Sally had another stint teaching vision impaired children. This adventure just about brings us full circle and back to poetry.
The young couple moved to Fresno in 1985. Sally worked occasionally while her son and daughter were small and then became a full-time teacher for Fresno Unified School District retiring in 2015. When her daughter was in first grade her teacher asked Sally to write a letter for a school function. The teacher was impressed with the letter and encouraged Sally to pursue writing. This stayed with her and in 2013 she went to Fresno State and got a Master’s degree in Fine Arts. Today she teaches poetry classes to inmates at Pleasant Valley State Prison near Coalinga and at SATF (the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility).
Sally came to the Big Red Church by way of her children twenty-two years ago and has never regretted it for one moment. Certainly this shy, introverted woman from Montana has set an example for us of DOING UNTO OTHERS.
Dale Buchanan is a member of FCCF with a passion for stories and writing. In between penning his own memoirs, he is helping us get to know our members, one pew at a time.