It’s fall-festival time of year in the Hoosier state. Most every weekend from now on until it turns into church-bazaar season, there are festivals throughout Indiana.
This year the festivals are even more jazzed up because it’s Indiana’s Bicentennial.
This weekend I’m heading back to the mid-1800s.
This week I’m gearing up for my debut as a pioneer woman. Well, make that a pioneer-ish woman. I’m wearing a long, borrowed, old-timey skirt, (thanks John Guglielmi and First Nighters Theatre) a not-so-old-timey apron, cameo jewelry and spending Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 10-11 on the Union County courthouse lawn.
Periodically on Saturday I’ll be doing some readings. I’ve chosen William Miller Herschell’s classic, “Ain’t God Good to Indiana” and some James Whitcomb Riley. I’ll also be talking about Mary Alice Smith. You might know her as Annie.
Back in the 1800s, Mary Alice lived on a small farm outside of Liberty. This explains why the folks of Union County have a particular interest in Riley, the famed Hoosier poet. Hang with me, here.
At age 9, due to her mother’s passing and either her father’s death or incarceration (it is unclear which), Mary Alice was left an orphan and relatives found room-and-board for her as a hired girl for the Riley family in Greenfield.
She came to what is by accounts the benevolent Riley household with her share of stories – which surely fed the imagination of young Jim “Bud” Riley. Years later he wrote his most beloved poem, “Little Orphant Annie,” about this charming girl and her tales.
The poem is credited with eventually inspiring the story and musical, “Annie,” and even said to have inspired the Raggedy Ann doll.
Nevertheless, only in recent years did I learn (or it register with me) that Mary Alice, aka Annie, was from my hometown. If you were a sixth grader in Mrs. Ruth Lawson’s reading class in the 1960s and 70s, you memorized the poem and I’m betting that you can recite it still. Back then, I don’t remember an emphasis on Mary Alice, but from here in my late 50s, I'm curious about this girl who spent her childhood on the same place on the map that I did and fame found her to an extent she probably never knew.
There are other things going on this weekend at Founders Day in Liberty, small-town doings, you might say. I’m posting the flyer, below. I am grateful, once again, to Kelly Finch who asked me to be there to be a part of things and bring along my books. She’s even providing a tent for me next to hers.
Kelly is one of those people who for no reason other than she totally rocks, has taken a special interest in my book journey and I owe her for presenting me with several opportunities.
So if you’re in Liberty this weekend (and why wouldn’t you be?), stop and see me on the courthouse-square lawn. Oh, you’ll find it easy enough. Follow the scent of the ham and beans. The butter will churn. There will be a Raggedy Ann and Andy contest, bluegrass music will play, and jugglers juggle, and there's an old-fashioned cake walk.
Small-town stuff. Hometown stuff. Simple, almost-fall pleasures. Maybe you'll catch a glimmer of why I love this place so much.