Elwood H. Smith
Lanny March 17, 2007

Francis Landon "Lanny" Sipperley
1944 - 2007

As best I could tell, our neighbor, Lanny Sipperley was not a complicated man. If he had demons, they were kept hidden. Some of us (me, in spades) blather on about our feelings, our fears and our opinions until the cows come home. Others (Lanny, in spades) hold their private thoughts close to the vest, like W.C. Fields' trusty whiskey flask. Now and then, I'd ask Lanny about his childhood or I'd tell him about one of my military experiences, hoping he would share one of his. Each time, he'd shift the conversation to a more comfortable topic, usually the weather or local gossip. "We live in a fishbowl" was Lanny's mantra. Locust Grove Road, is a cul-de-sac, which means you are watched coming in and going out. He lived on this street in the same small, white home for his entire life, minus three years serving his country. Lanny knew about life in a fishbowl.

In 1945, when Lanny was one year old, his parents, Vernon D. and Estelle Sipperley, moved into their modest Locust Grove home. Lanny was a good son and a good student. He graduated from Rhinebeck Central Schools, class of 1962, and earned an associates degree from Dutchess Community College in 1964. Neighbors say he was good at sports. He served in the United States Army from 1964 to 1967, spending two of those years in Germany. He enjoyed the beer there, he told me, but I never saw him drink. Lanny didn't smoke, he didn't curse. He was a man of good cheer even when times were tough. He was, in short, a good citizen of the world.

Life was not an easy road for Lanny. It is said that he returned from the army a changed man. He didn't see action, but something mysterious, it seems, happened over there. When Lanny's military obligation ended, he moved back home to live with his mother. Estelle was a genuine, home-grown eccentric—at least during the years we knew her. Often, on a cold winter morning, Maggie and I would stand at the window watching Estelle, her nightgown peering out from under her husband's old, red plaid hunting coat as she stomped through the snow with her tethered Siamese cat. Come spring and there she was, up on a ladder clicking her false teeth and slathering fresh paint on the side of her single-story house. Lanny spent his time outside raking leaves and stones off Locust Grove Road. He also worked occasionally for his cousin, Peter, who ran a plumbing supply shop in Rhinebeck. Peter was also, for many years, the Mayor of Rhinebeck. Lanny and Estelle were good neighbors—they kept to themselves, but they were friendly, willing to help out if asked.

We were concerned about Lanny after Estelle suffered two strokes (the second one knocking her into a vegetative state). How, we wondered, would he handle things without her? We were relieved and delighted when he landed a full-time job working for a local commercial landscaper. Not long after his mother died, Lanny surprised us again by starting his own landscaping business. At his funeral, several of the men who had worked for Lanny over the years stepped forward to laud him. He was, they said, a hard worker who was a man of his word. And all who knew him said he was generous to a fault. By the time he died of heart failure on December 3rd, 2007, Lanny had fallen on hard times. Still, he insisted on buying coffee for his cohorts, even when his broken down truck was running on treadless tires and vapors.

On March 17, 2007, precisely one year ago as I write this, I was hunkered down on our enclosed back porch filming birds and squirrels in our back yard. They had gathered to devour the seed I had sprinkled around our freshly plowed driveway. A final snowstorm had come and gone, leaving ravenous animals in its wake. The birds noisily exploded from view, as Lanny, shovel in hand, crunched into the picture frame. During the summer, he cut our lawn and, after each heavy snowfall, we hired him to shovel two paths—one for our postman and another to allow access to our compost container. He didn't see me on the darkened porch as he attended to his task and I was loathe to disturb the moment with a greeting. This short movie was created from footage taken that day.

It doesn't seem right that this gentle man, built solid, like a fireplug, was so easily and suddenly taken away. Lanny, wherever you are, the fishbowl misses you.

To view the video Lanny - Final Snow, click here
Left to Right: Susan Lienhard Holmes, Francis Landon Sipperley, Gustav Edward Lienhard, P. Vernon Sipperley and Peter Finn Sipperley - July 6, 1968

Thanks to Lanny's cousin's Karl Sipperly and Shirl Di Gugno for tracking down the photo above. It's a rare find, it turns out. As Peter told me at Lanny's funeral, "Well, you see, the Sipperley's weren't big on taking pictures."
I'm Back. From Alpena

Smith Family Reunion 2007

I'm not fond of flying. I can drag myself into an airplane hull, but I need a few pints of beer in my belly. I'd rather keep my feet planted on a surface that is covered with grass covered dirt (which often includes my studio floor) or the floor mat of an automobile. Maggie loves air travel. A puzzlement. Being stuffed and buckled into a seat with sweaty, swollen ankles, toxic air and a single miniscule bag of stale salted nuts is her reward. And mine on Friday the 13th, July, 2007.

So, it was with some trepidation that I drove with Maggie to Stewart-Newburgh airport. Maggie was on her way to visit her 93-year old mother in Florida. I was on my way to my hometown of Alpena, Michigan for a family reunion. Maggie parted from the gate on time and arrived in Ft. Lauderdale thirty minutes early. I flew out some 12 hours later. An electrical problem. My brother Dave (see the Rat Piss and Nails video), who is a generous and loving guy (and who loves motoring) offered to drive across the Michigan Mitten from Alpena to pick me up. He made it about halfway before I reached him with my rented cell phone. Ever cheerful, Dave headed back to Alpena, promising to retrieve me next morning. I would find a motel in Traverse City for the night. A fellow traveler informed me that every Traverse City hotel and motel would be packed to the gills. Turns out I was arriving just in time for the big annual Cherry Festival. A lot like Mardi Gras, according to my cabbie, with cherry-nosed drunks on every corner. Maggie, bless her travel-loving soul, found me a room at a Motel 6. Very well the last available room in Cherrytown.

The family reunion part of my trip was wonderful. I won't sully it by talking about the severe thunderstorms that bombarded O'Hare before chasing my bouncing jet back home. I may never board another airliner, but the family union (great weather up there, too) was worth the whole flying fiasco.

Here's a short video I concocted from some some video footage I took while up north. Don't ask. My 85-year old Uncle Vern said to me at the reunion: "You are strange. To say the least."

Me? Strange?

(click below to see QuickTime video)

Elaine's Bunion - A Pugilist's Tale
Banjo Dave

Dear Drawgerites,

I learned to play guitar when I was about 15 years old and I've continued to play music in one form or another throughout my life. My brother, Dave (about 18 months my junior & my childhood sidekick) learned to play drums in high school, but lost interest in performing once he headed off for college. I guess the ham in me kept me going. Over the years, I harbored a dream that Dave would learn to play guitar, mandolin or banjo and, whenever he would trek from Michigan to visit me in New York or I would end up in my Michigan hometown to visit him, we'd haul out our instruments and, much like the Everly Brothers, we'd create the special kind of music only family members can make.

But Dave didn't learn to play the banjo or the mandolin. Not even the ubiquitous guitar turned his head. No matter, my dream, like a vaporous barnacle, was in it for the long haul. Opportunity knocked in mid-September. My sister, Jude, and Dave and his wife, Elaine, journeyed from Tennessee & Michigan to Rhinebeck for a short visit. One morning, during my daily walk, inspiration struck. An idea for a video, followed the lyrics to the perfect Dave song began rattling around my head. I'd hit upon a way to realize my dream. I arrived home, jotted down "Rats & Nails" and asked Dave if he'd be willing to be an actor in a short video. Uh, yeah, okay. How could he refuse his older brother?

I tuned my tenor banjo (4 strings, short neck) to an open tuning so Dave could strum it without worrying about chords. The song was short and simple--no chord changes & a bluesy, modal melody. Dave sings occasionally in a choir, so it was a piece of cake. We needed a set. The dining room was chosen, chairs were moved and living room floor lamps were brought in. Dave gamely allowed me a half dozen or so takes. As payment, he demanded a supply of Dogfish Head Raison D'Etre ale, which he soon began carrying with him as he trundled on and off the stage.

Dave suggests cracking open a dark ale before viewing this small movie. Damned fine advice, banjo man.


Click Here for Rats & Nails
COUNTY FAIR - a short film

County Fair

2 minutes, 5 seconds

Whac-A-Mole, gut-wrenching rides, the smells of cow shit, cotton candy & fried dough. The roar of the crowd, of bellowing carnies & screaming offspring. That's what folks expect from a county fair and most come away fat and happy. Not me, of course. I stand there watching wild-eyed pigs, tags riveted to their large, bristled ears, numerals felt-tipped across their broad backs, screaming as they slam against the bars of their cages. I wonder, is it feeding time? Or is it a hog's final desperate hurrah before he is thrust upon a spit? I feel out of place, as though my life has suddenly spilled over into a Fellini film.

Click Here to View Movie
Sausages © 2006 George Gruel

George Gruel = see Michigan George in my The Monkey Files = responded to "County Fair" with this beautiful photo. Pigs without a blanket. By the way, George has just joined Zimm's other blog, "Photoger", which is, as far as I know, still in Beta stage. Is Carotene the next stage?
TESTIFY TO THE LIES - a short film
Ted in His Amazing Home

y dear friend, Ted Denyer, died in the early morning on January 2nd, 2006. The previous summer, I shot some footage on my Sony digital camcorder. I explained to Ted my plan to one day create a film of an old man (live footage) lost in dreams (animation) and he willingly played the part of the old man. Method acting at its best. I'm using some of that footage in my current animation project, but I recently worked up one segment as a stand-alone film. Over the past couple of days, I created a short song which struck me as the perfect soundtrack for the film. It runs 2 minutes, 20 seconds.


Click here to see film
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