Posts Tagged 'Anthony LeTourneau'

Number one

That's my great-niece Lydia showing off Anthony's illustrations.

Our eight-hour train trip to Minnesota on Thursday gave me lots of time to think. Doing the math on my fingers, I counted one, two, three, four years since our last trip to Minneapolis.

Our 2006 trip was all about meeting Anthony LeTourneau, the artist Blue Marlin Publications had chosen to illustrate Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound. Tony lives with his wife and three kids on a Minnesota hobby farm 12 hours away from Chicago. Early that summer, Tony had asked my husband Mike to take photos of Hanni and me and mail them so he could get to work. “I’ll send some sample drawings back from time to time,” he told Mike. “That way you can check to see if I’m on the right track.”

A couple of the sketches Mike got in the mail were just a teeny bit off. Hanni’s harness is made of leather, but in the drawings it looked like plastic. In the illustration of Hanni confronting a hole in the sidewalk, Tony had Hanni’s body horizontally in front of me. Hanni is always at my left-hand side, a little bit ahead of me. When she stops, she stays facing forward. I stop, too, gliding one foot along the surface ahead of us to feel what’s there. If I don’t find a curb or the top step of a flight of stairs, or a hole at my feet, I wave one arm back and forth in space. Maybe Hanni saw yellow construction tape stretched along our path. Or a low hanging branch. Or a sawhorse.

I knew Tony would get a better “picture” of how the two of us work if he saw us in person, so on a beautiful autumn day in 2006 Hanni and I boarded a Megabus full of college students and took off on a ten-hour trip to Minneapolis. My niece Caren, who lives in Plymouth, MN, delivered us to a coffee shop where Tony and his family were waiting to meet us. His sketch pad and pencils were all set up already, and he didn’t waste time before asking us to pose. He photographed us, too. When Hanni needed a break outside, Tony followed us, taking notes on how Hanni and I work together. People in the coffee shop thought we were from Hollywood, and, I must admit, we did feel like stars.

Just about everyone who sees Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound now gushes about the artwork. “The illustrations are beautiful!” they say, admiring each and every oil painting. “The drawings look just like you!” So last Thursday, four years after posing in that Minnesota coffee shop, Hanni and I were back in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes to show off our beautifully illustrated book.

My sister Cheryl accompanied Hanni and me on our Amtrak ride to St. Paul, and just like in 2006, my niece (Cheryl’s daughter) was our chauffeur. Caren and her husband Mark have two delightful daughters, and it was a joy to visit Lydia and Audrey’s classrooms at Zachary Lane Elementary School on Friday.

And Audrey got her turn in her kindergarten class.

It was Audrey’s job to sit at my side and choose which kindergarten classmate would ask the next question. My favorite came after I’d explained that Hanni doesn’t scratch the door when she wants to go outside. “I need to be sure to take her out every four hours, though” I said, hesitating a second to decide what wording was appropriate here with kindergartners. “You know, to give her a chance to go #1 and #2. I sensed the kids nodding their heads. Some typical questions followed. “How old is Hanni?” “Does she like to play with other dogs?” That sort of thing.

Then came the question du jour, from a boy near the front of the class. “What is #1?” he wondered. I turned to Audrey for help. “What would you call it?” I asked. She looked at the boy in the second row, and using her quiet inside voice, gave a one-word answer. “Pee.”

More school visits

That's me and Hanni at Reavis School in Chicago.

Hanni and I have visited 4 schools in the past couple of weeks. Five, if you count a side trip to my alma mater, York High School in Elmhurst IL. But I’ll get to that later. First, the elementary schools. Reavis Elementary in Chicago, Jefferson Elementary in Milwaukee, Kipling and Wilmot Elementary Schools in Deerfield, IL all had us come as part of “disability awareness week.” Our presentations were geared to first graders, who were learning the five senses, and third graders, who were studying Helen Keller. “Have you ever heard of her?” a third grader asked. I told her I had. “Helen Keller was a writer, just like me! “I said. “Except she wrote a lot about politics.” The crowd grew silent. These 6 and 8-year-olds had no idea what I was talking about. Note to self: save discussion of Helen Keller’s socialist and feminist leanings for some other time. We moved on.

A student who had already read Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound said he noticed that the woman in the book used a white cane before she got a dog. “Did you use a white cane, too, before you got your dog?” I had to explain that, hey, I am the woman in the book! “Do Hanni and I look like the pictures?” They chorused a “Yes!” Hanni turned 10 last week. People tell me she’s turning white around the muzzle. It was a relief to hear the kids say she still resembles the young energetic pup Anthony LeTourneau painted for the illustrations in Safe & Sound.

A first grader wanted to know what Hanni dressed like for Halloween. She didn’t dress up this year, but I was tempted to dress as a baseball umpire and go trick-or-treating with Hanni at my side — you might recall the umps were in a little hot water during the playoffs last season?

And at Wilmot School, in Deerfield, IL.

And now for our high school visit. Hanni and I didn’t go to York to perform; we went to see a performance. Remember my great niece Anita, the one I mentioned in my blog post about Obama’s election night party? She is a star on Willowbrook High School’s freshman basketball team, and Willowbrook and York are rivals. My sister Bev came in from Michigan to see Anita play, and Flo was going, too. Anita’s family and her grandma and grandpa (my sister Cheryl and brother-in-law Rich) always go to Anita’s games, and Hanni and I decided to take the train to Elmhurst and join the fun.

So there we were on the second row of the bleachers: Anita’s 93-year-old great-grandmother who uses a walking cane, seated next to Anita’s great aunt Beth, who uses a Seeing Eye dog.

We were right at the center line. Basketball shoes thumped back and forth. When I heard action at our right, I knew to cheer: Willowbrook might score. When the action was at our left, I could yell, “Defense!” Flo was a natural at play-by-play. She’d groan every time the ball went in-and-out of Willowbrook’s basket, so I knew when they missed. And she ever-so quietly repeated “Miss it, miss it, miss it” at every York free throw. A groan after that told me Flo’s voodoo didn’t work, York made the shot.

That's me and Flo and my sister Bev cheering Anita on--between gabbing.

Anita played well, and The game was very exciting. I know it’s old news by now but I just gotta say: it is oh so cool that girls are encouraged to play sports now. Helen Keller would be pleased.

Anita, the budding star.

After the game, 14-year-old Anita was promoted to the varsity team – she’ll be playing in the regionals this week. Not sure Flo and I will make it to any of those games, though. After we successfully climbed down from the bleachers, Flo pulled me close. “I don’t know about you, Beth,” she whispered. “But my butt is sore!”


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