Niagara County Adventures

On Monday morning, I went to my friend Jinni’s house for a “working visit.” Jinni is a professional artist and art teacher. Her specialty is watercolor paints. She makes large painting with lots of bright, cheerful colors. It is a delight to watch her paint. As a teacher, Jinni is enthusiastic and always encouraging. She has positive comments to make about all of her students’ paintings, regardless of whether they are beginner or advanced painters.
On our way to Jinni’s house, we stopped at the house of a man who works as a nurse during the night and grows and sells plants during the day. He is always friendly and has a big smile. His display cases are full of plants, mostly of impatiens of nearly every hue, although pinks and purples and whites seem to predominate. He had run out of certain flowers, including portulacas and snapdragons. Spring came early this year, the man explained, and these plants were completely sold out. Jinni and I selected a variety of plants to put into containers around her garden. The price was very reasonable, and the man gave us one extra plant just to take along with us.
At Jinni’s house, we got to work on the gardening tasks. Jinni arranged her flowers in a bunch of containers, and I started to weed the flower beds. I took a brief break to do a radio interview with Joe Schmidbauer and Grady Hawkins, who have a daily program called “The Voice of Reason” on “Newstalk 1270.” The topic was the bill before Congress to suspend operations and investigate the instruction offered at the Western Hemisphere of Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas). The bill, HR 1217, is called the Latin American Military Training Review Act of 2005. It was introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and has 133 cosponsors. I talked for about five minutes and encouraged people to call their Congressional representatives to ask them to vote for this piece of legislation. Then I went back to my weeding activities.
It was midday, and the sun was straight overhead. After about four hours, I had finished weeding all of the flower beds in the front yard. I had also weeded underneath the large tree in front of the house.
It was time to change activities. We got in the car and started on our next adventure. Not too far away from Jinni’s house, we saw a bunch of cars and vans stopped by the side of the road. People were standing around something, but at first, we couldn’t see what it was. When we got closer, we saw that a car was in a ditch. The passenger door was open and was facing the sky. The people seemed to be trying to get someone out of the car. No rescue vehicles or police were anywhere in sight. There was nothing we could do so we drove past this bizarre spectacle. We then went to a Chinese restaurant, where we had an early dinner with our friend, Barbara. A woman, Iris, approached me at the restaurant. She had heard me speak on the radio. I hope that she called her Congressional representative.
After dinner, we went to North Tonawanda, where we were planning to meet up with a group of artists to have an outdoors painting session. North Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda are considered to be “twin cities.” They sit on either side of the Erie Canal. North Tonawanda is on the Niagara County side, and the City of Tonawanda is on the Erie County side. We were headed to the Gateway Park, on the canal. It is a good spot for taking walks, bicycle rides, boat rides, and painting.
We had arrived early, ahead of the other artists. We left the car in North Tonawanda and walked over the bridge to a McDonald’s in the City of Tonawanda. The McDonald’s was sparsely populated. Jinni bought a beverage and we sat down at a table. A man sat alone at a table nearby. Another man walked by us. He was tall, big boned, and had long, blond hair. He had a collection of tattoes and a tiny beard. He also had a big, energetic voice.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“Fine,” Jinni said.
It turned out that he was speaking to the man at the other table. The two of them began talking about catching large fish. The blond man’s name was Spike and the man at the table was named John. John described a sturgeon that he had caught. It weighed eighty pounds and was THIS BIG! Spike had to go order something. At the same time, Jinni also needed to get something. John continued to tell me about his big fish.
Jinni and Spike returned at the same time. Jinni finished her beverage, and we left to look for the other artists. We eventually found them on the Tonawanda side of the canal. The artists had brought along a tablecloth, popcorn, cookies, beverages, and cups. They had transformed a picnic table into a party table. Including Jinni and me, there were six artists in the group. Before long, we had placed our chairs so that we could face the scenes that we wanted to depict in our paintings. We began to draw. Jinni and I started to work at once. Jinni is a very fast artist. She sketched in a scene of water and buildings on the far side of the canal and was soon happily painting. I am a much slower artists. I started to draw the Long Homestead, with its many windows and doors. I drew and drew and drew… stairs… banisters… shrubs… bushes… and, every now and then, I could hear snippets of conversation from the other artists, who were bunched as a group and were facing the canal.
It seemed like almost no time before the sun was ready to go down, and we were ready to leave. I never painted anything as I had spent so much time sketching. The group of talkers commented that they got very little drawing or painting done in the time allotted.
The group made plans to meet at the house of one of the conversational artists. I’ve never been to her house but I was told that it is in a scenic area, and there is much to draw and paint there. Also, this artist is a great hostess, and everyone loves going to her house.
As Jinni and I walked to her car, we saw a dog standing near a car. The dog had giant ears and looked like a happy, well-contented dog. We both wished that would could paint a portrait of this dog.
I slept in Jinni’s studio. It was full of bright colors… Jinni’s paintings on the wall and several Japanese lanterns in the window.
On Tuesday morning, I took a walk in the park across the street from the house that Jinni and her husband Howard live in. The park is called Fairmount Park. It is a fairly small park with a pond, baseball diamonds, a walking track, and a basketball court. People were busily working on lawn maintenance. They were using riding lawnmowers and weed whackers.
In the middle of the park is a small cemetery. It has only about five graves in it. All of the deceased were members of the Stieg family. Some of the markers had faded to the point where they were hard to read. The one in the center was the largest one. The individual buried in that grave had lived and died in the nineteenth century.
I had brought a sketchbook and a permanent marker. Jinni had recommended the permanent marker. She said that sketching with something that can’t be erased helps an artist/student artist to think. I sketched several pictures, one of a picnic shelter, one of part of a basketball court, and the third of geese in the pond.
After visiting the park, I returned to Jinni’s house, where I continued weeding, this time in the back yard. Before long, Howard came home from work for a lunch break. He said that he was very happy about all of the weeding that had been done. After lunch, Howard returned to work, and Jinni and I went to a church in Pendleton, the Pendleton Center United Methodist Church, where Jinni taught an art class. We made paintings of scenes that included Japanese lanterns. Jinni had brought pictures with lanterns as well as a few lanterns from her window.
We drew and painted and talked. As usual, I spent all of my time sketching and none of my time painting. I had a large piece of watercolor paper and I was determined to fill every inch of it. I didn’t quite succeed in doing that, but I did manage to make a large picture.
We stopped the art class early to have a little party for Peggy, who had worked for the past fifteen years for the church. Her job involved cleanup and maintenance mostly. The church had grown and the workload had also grown. Peggy also works at the homes of elderly people, helping them with chores that they can no longer do. The party was a big surprise for Peggy, and she seemed very happy with the food and the gifts. One of the gifts was a quilt that had been made by people in the sewing class and was signed by some of the sewers and artists who had become friends with Peggy.
Peggy talked about some of her upcoming plans. She and her husband were going to take a vacation in Maine within the next few weeks. In the autumn, she was planning on going to Nicaragua to bring some clothing and other things to donate. She has been traveling to Nicaragua with a nun from Buffalo for several years. Peggy calls it her “mission.”
After the party, Jinni took me back home and thus ended my Niagara County adventure.

4 thoughts on “Niagara County Adventures”

  1. Hi, Alice!

    I came over from the NLDAdult list, and I loved this story. An artist jam session sounds like a lot of fun–although, like you, I am a very slow artist.

    The first time I ever heard of the School of the Americas was when I read about it on the sidewalk. (I read the ground, periodically). Some students at my college had planned a protest against it, and I had to look it up to see why they were protesting.

    As the governor of California would say, “I’ll be back.” 🙂

  2. Howdy!

    I ran accross this site while looking up the name Stieg. The graves at fairmont park are of my great grandfather and his family. The name on that road is due to the fact he once owned most of the land on both sides. On the one corner of Stieg Rd. is a house (across from the school), this is the house he lived in and my grandfather grew up. My grandfather then moved down the rd (Errick Rd which interesects with Stieg rd). My aunt still lives on Errick rd. There were no sons for my grandfather and I am the only male grandson her had.

    You may not care…but thought you may have some interest in the history. I was just up there (I live in the south now) and took pictures of those graves and showed my gf.

  3. Silki,
    Thank you for telling me about your connection to the graves at Fairmont Park. You are right that I am very fascinated by history. I’d very much like to know more about it.
    If you’d care to leave an email address, I would like to talk to you about this in more depth.

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