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  • September 14th, 2018

MY POETIC PAPER DOLL

By Joel M. Vance

Before Barbie came along in three dimensions to capture the imagination of the nation’s pre-teenage girls, there were paper dolls in two dimensions— Brenda Starr and the like could be dressed with designer clothes cut out from paper along dotted lines and presto! The little girl would have her favorite cartoon character dressed in the latest fashions. So popular and widespread was this preadolescent activity that the Mills Brothers sang “I’m gonna to buy a paper doll to call my own/a doll that other fellas cannot steal”.

Margaret Menamin (Eshbaugh, her married name) carried this childhood activity into adulthood and became— among aficionados of paper dolls— the acknowledged leader of dedicated collectors of such esoteric material. Few outdoor writers in the Outdoor Writers Association of America know that the author of the prayer that opens and closes the organization’s annual conference was written by Margaret Menamin.

Although she never was a member of OWAA, she had deep roots in the organization and strong ties to a number of the pioneers within the group. She was an honored and award-winning poet—published and cherished by those who love poetry— in addition to her odd hobby of collecting paper dolls. But Margaret was a long way from a little girl who never grew up. She possessed a bawdy sense of humor and, belying her moving beautiful OWAA prayer, she also wrote some verse that might shock the socks off of some of OWAA’s more uptight members.

The secret song of caves, the throbbing lust
Of roused volcanoes rising underground,
The laughing rain, the ardent pulse and pound,
Of savage rivers soaking thirsty dust.
Then came hot hailstones on me like a flood
And I could read the poems of your blood.

Only a sample and one of the more innocuous sonnets from Margaret’s series of passionate and erotic tributes to remembered love.

I have a copy of the published but extremely rare–there were only 50 copies by a now defunct publisher in the original edition–manuscript of a long series of sonnets titled Sonnets for a Second Summer which celebrate in eloquent Shakespeare-worthy verse the joy of physical love.

The verses are impossible to read without falling in love with the woman who so eloquently captured the spirit and feeling that is in that poem/prayer which opens and closes every OWWA conference. I never met her in person, But I heard stories about her from Jim Keefe and others and it is one of my great regrets that I never got to hang around with her and swap outrageous stories.”

Menamin delighted in telling a story related to her by a mutual dear friend, Mitch Jayne, who was the bass player for the Dillards bluegrass band, also known as the Darling family on the old Andy Griffith show. Mitch, an accomplished writer and novelist (his book Old Fish Hawk was made into a fine but forgotten movie) once had a Weimaraner to which someone wanted to breed. Let Margaret take up the tale from there: “Apparently this was one dumb dog. And Dutch, the Weimaraner, didn’t understand. Mitch was down on the floor, on all fours, showing Dutch the motions, hoping Dutch would catch on, which eventually Dutch did, after Mitch had developed sacroiliac trouble and possibly a strange propensity for “doing it dog style.” (Forgive me, I couldn’t resist that.)”

In 2009, Menamin began feeling poorly and went to the doctor. She emailed me, “I have been dealt a terrible blow.” She had been diagnosed with leukemia, and within a month she died. She was survived by her husband Robert Eshbaugh, a daughter and a son and four grandchildren. And, although most wouldn’t know her name, she is survived by at least two generations of OWAA members who either are inspired by her eloquent poem—or should be.

When OWAA created a writing workshop, OWAA member Pat Stockdill was inspired to name it Goldenrod, a tribute both to the OWAA prayer, and to its author Margaret Menamin.
Menamin was mourned on several websites by those who knew her and by those who wished they had. No one summed it up better than a fellow who said, “I loved her. We all did. She was one of the supreme unsung poets, the epitome of generosity and class, a great mind and, a great heart. Her passing has left an immeasurable void.” By then her OWAA mentors, Werner Nagel and Jim Keefe were gone and I felt, though I never met her in person, as if I had lost a lifelong and dear friend. I once wrote a profile of Menamin for the OWAA newsletter and it is reproduced here—with the understanding that all the present tense mentions now are past tense.

“In autumn when the leaves are brown/
they fall all around the town.”

As poetry it falls somewhat short of a Shakespeare sonnet, but it’s pretty good for a second grader. Now that the second-grader has grown up she has written a poem that is far more familiar to any OWAAer who ever has attended an annual conference.

The poem contains this phrase, “I am the goldenrod, the grain, the granite …” The OWAA prayer opens and closes every conference; it is prominent in the directory. It was written nearly 40 years ago by Margaret Menamin, then a Missourian, now a Pennsylvanian. Menamin has had several careers, mostly as an old-school newspaper writer, but her love of and writing of poetry has been a constant.

About that first poem she says, “I was so delighted with the idea that I could make a poem that for a long time it didn’t occur to me that I could make more than one poem. I just kept adding to that one, and it got longer and longer. Fortunately it no longer remains anywhere, even in my memory.”

Menamin was born in a rural area of Missouri’s Washington County, which still is as rural as it gets in the Show-Me State. Her family moved to Steelville, on the banks of the Meramec River and she graduated high school there and entered the University of Missouri at 16, the youngest freshman on campus. “I certainly didn’t look like a college girl,” she says. “I was still buying my clothes out of the ‘little girls’ pages of the Sears Roebuck catalog.”

She felt out of it among the older students and dropped out after a year and began working as a printer’s devil – a print-shop apprentice – at the Crawford Mirror in her hometown (this still was the days of hot type set on the incredibly complex Linotype machines).
Next she became clerk of the Crawford County probate and magistrate courts for a decade. She married and had a daughter and a son, and began selling poems to Seventeen Magazine and saw her first poems published in The Missouri Conservationist, the magazine of the Missouri Department of Conservation.

That was her entrée to OWAA – Dan Saults, Werner Nagel and Jim Keefe, stalwarts of OWAA, all worked for the magazine and all became friends. She also knew Don Cullimore, OWAA’s longtime executive director. (The OWAA headquarters then was in Columbia, in a building owned by the late Buck Rogers, OWAA’s 1972-73 president.)

“How I miss Jim Keefe,” she writes. “So many times during the day I encounter an odd news item, a funny typographical error, a beautiful poem or just something I want to run by him and think, ‘I must show that to Jim.’ One never gets used to such a presence being absent.”
Nagel, who also was the founder of OWAA’s Circle of Chiefs, urged her to write a poem that could be used as an opening prayer for the OWAA conference. “I think he did it specifically with the idea of obtaining some recognition for my poetry by OWAA. Who knows?”

Uncle Homer Circle, who was president of OWAA at the time, also urged her to write a poem of invocation. “I felt we needed one to replace those which tended to be biased toward one religion or another,” he said in a letter to Jack Kerins. Circle had been charmed by an “Outdoor Prayer” that Menamin wrote which says in part: “… allot me some small earthly spot/Where I may feel the rain and wind and sun./ If Heaven be lovelier than the soil I stroll/I could not hold it in my shallow soul.”

OWAA adopted its prayer/poem on June 22, 1967, Margaret Menamin’s birthday.
“OWAA’s acceptance and use of the poem has been an ongoing honor to me,” she says.
Today she lives in Pittsburgh and wild turkeys come to her driveway to be fed. “They watch for me and as soon as I open my side door they come running.”

She never has been a member of OWAA, though she belonged to two regional outdoor communicator groups, Missouri Outdoor Writers Association and Great Rivers Outdoor Writers.
After her court clerkship she and her family moved to Rolla, Mo., site of OWAA’s 1954 conference, the hottest on record. There she did just about everything for the Rolla Daily News, including writing all the paper’s editorials for several months. The editorials and her personal column both took first place in the Missouri newspaper competition.

Today she works from home, transcribing medical reports, a job she did full time for 14 years. She has won several awards with her poems. OWAA freelancers can identify with one facet of her career: She was established with a magazine which had published a number of her poems – but it went out of business.In addition to her husband, there are two children and four grandchildren.

Although it wasn’t written for OWAA, the last two lines of a poem titled “Death Watch” could be a caution not just for her family, but also for everyone:

“The earth has grown too fragile./
Must it break along with all things loved for beauty’s sake?”

Goodbye Margaret and rest in peace.

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