• Nora Koch

We’re All in This Together

March 12, 2018

Last week my friend Monica and I met in our usual place – the El Paso Bar and Grill, for our usual cribbage game, conversation, mushroom Swiss burger, shared basket of fries and Spotted Cow beer (only available in Wisconsin). We’d not been sitting long when two menus were flopped aggressively down on our table. The man who had done so, resplendent in crumpled raw hide cowboy hat and vest, immediately walked away without a word. It was really busy in there – people filled the room and it became obvious that he was the only one waiting tables. 

One expects to be treated with courtesy by “wait staff.”

The thing is – he has only one arm, and on that arm only the thumb and index finger. We’d chatted with him the last time we were there when I mistakenly thought he was the owner of the bar. He was rushing out to tables carrying one plate at a time and one beer at a time; slamming them down and running back to get the next thing. He didn’t have time for niceties. When he came back to our table, I stated softly that we were ready to order. He snapped “That doesn’t mean I am, what do you want to drink?” We ordered our Spotted Cows and shuffled cards for a cribbage game. He soon came back with one Spotted Cow and dashed off to get the other one. I wanted to go help him, but Monica pointed out that he would probably be irritated if I did.

We started drinking our beers and playing cribbage.

He came back again, got our order and off he went. A bit later, by balancing the two small Styrofoam burger plates on the basket of fries he was able to deliver them all at once. We finished our cribbage hand and prepared to eat – Monica shook the ketchup bottle, asking me if I minded that she put her finger over the small end opening. We opened our burgers and Monica accidentally bumped into mine. She commented “Sorry, I touched your bun,” just as our waiter passed by. We all laughed and both he and I made comments about her keeping her hand off my bun.

As the room cleared out, our acquaintance began to relax. We finished our meal and took up our cribbage game again. He asked who was winning, she was, and did. He gave her a verbal thumbs up. A woman emerged from the kitchen to bus tables. I recognized her from previous visits. She breezed by with a pleasant hello.

We’re all in this together.

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  • Nora Koch

March 5, 2018

Last Thursday night, after Mass and having dinner with my friend Karen, I drove to St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Stillwater to listen to a talk by Sebastian Modarelli about his recently recorded work "What I have Seen and Heard". The work was performed by Vocal Essence, conducted by Phillip Brunelle.

It’s hard to write about this without sounding cliché: transcendent, beautiful, stunning, thought provoking . . . Arvo Part comes to mind.

He projected perfectly chosen, classical (for the most part), art work shown in synchronization with the music. The church was darkened for each piece as a small engaged group of people, some of whom I have come to love very much, listened. The words were primarily from the Gospel of John with Just enough explanation from a musical point of view to pay attention to things I’d likely have missed.

Tears were running down my face.

I will definitely purchase his work.

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  • Nora Koch

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

First published March 1, 2018

My father was distressed before I went to graduate school in Iowa City in 1989. He said that I would go away and never be the same – I would in essence become one of “them.” I, of course chalked it up to him being up-tight and closed minded. I joked that me saying I was going to graduate school was like me saying I was going to Mars.

My father attained a high school education – earned over a longer period than most because he took time off to help on the farm – his three brothers and one sister were gone from home. His brother Earl was a Screaming Eagle in the 101st Airborne Division, at Bastogne during WWII. Dad didn’t join the Navy until the tail end of the war and ended up on Attu, one of the Aleutian islands of Alaska – not far from Siberia. Dad was thoughtful and read all his life.

In graduate school I ended up getting into and winning an award from the Print Club – the most important print competition in the US. I was completely ignorant as I applied for the Print Club show – had no idea it was as prestigious as it was and actually was ill prepared to apply. Instead of having it professionally shot, I held up my still wet print for my friend Kent to take a slide, which I later sent to the first show I found on the bulletin board outside the Print Studio office. After getting accepted I asked my boss at the Museum of Art if the Print Club was a very good show. He marveled, stating “yes, only getting invited to show in a museum would be better.” I was later invited to a museum show. In my naiveté, I entered and got accepted into shows I wouldn’t have dared to if I had known how “prestigious” they were.  Previously during critiques what I had to say was not taken seriously.  Suddenly I was elevated in status; people listened to me when I spoke. My work had not changed, it had simply been acknowledged in a major venue.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss; sometimes it is not. The longer I was at Iowa, the more I realized that I was from a different social strata than the majority of my friends, many of whom were from other countries, or an entirely different American culture (Mennonites). My peers were children of professors, doctors, or married to doctors. At the time “Educating Rita,” was in the theaters and as I watched it, I realized in many ways, I was working class Rita. However, I had no intention of leaving my farming heritage, or my faith behind. I loved God; I loved rural Wisconsin. This is what had given Dad anxiety. He was right; there was plenty of pressure to change and become someone I was not – to discredit my heritage; to leave it behind because I was in the midst of getting an advanced degree from a highly respected department in a highly respected university.

The Eve Drewelowe gallery, terribly battered and repainted to the point of distorted walls, is also one of the best galleries I’ve ever been in (I think it’s gone now – succumbing to the floods in Iowa City). It was naturally lit, intimate, and housed my art exhibit in my final year at Iowa. I’d structured the exhibit as a church, setting up several pedestals holding handmade books, one to imply a baptismal font in the back of the church. “Congregation” was an installation of ten abstract typographical Japanese-paper-printed hangings suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the room; “windows” around the outside were composed of landscape prints. In the back was a row of “icons:” assemblages of paper and religious postage stamps; in the front was a triptych and other images of Jesus (one of these is what got me into the Print Club exhibition). I’d printed them on a magnificent printing press reserved for graduate students.

When Dad and Mom came to visit for my final exhibit, it was the custodian I introduced them to. I felt most comfortable entrusting them to him. Though the exhibit was well attended and well received, it was Dad who “got” the intent of the show and made comments germane to both the subject matter, and intent, more than any other person. I truly felt at that time that I could die and my life would be complete.

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