Narrative Discovering An Ice House Oddity

Tippie Doodle Dandy

True, I do not "get out much" these days, but I do know an interesting conversation when I enter one!

Having two kids and one on the way it is not often that my wife and I get an afternoon away to entertain new ideas or even have the opportunity to cross paths with new people. Ironic we should have met a new person in an antique store, but less and less strange as we discovered that this gentleman belonged in there.

It had been a spontaneous decision to stop off at the store for a minute... as Aunt Kimmie had offered to watch the kids for a few hours and we were only driving through town to drop off the water bill and return some library books. Parking behind the city park, like so many times before, this time I did not offer up lip-service saying "I would like to go in there sometime." Instead there was no reason keeping us from stopping in: no busy hands to break things, no little tummies that were hungry, and no promises of ice cream treats to stain little cheeks. So... when my wife said "Oh look, the antique store. Do you want to go in a bit?" I stood there strangely pondering and found it bizarre that I actually had a choice in the matter on this particular morning!! It took me a while to answer, but finally "Yes...yes I think I do!" was my reply.

I loved absolutely everything about our visit. The old brick that welcomed us was more than facade, it led on among four walls of times forgotten with thick, heavy rafters running overhead. Each beam appeared to be a single cut log, tree trunks really, that had noticeably been shored-up with hand tools; tool marks and lines of imperfection gave each beam a certain individuality and they stole my attention for some time. We walked down the right side of the store admiring aged cherry and mahogany desks, looking in all their secret compartments and asking questions about little knick-knacks that were displayed on each and every shelf and surface.

The kind lady that worked the right half of the store, explained that she ran the "furniture-part" of the store and that this building was an old ice house. Today the building held in its' frame antique furniture (some from roughly the same time period as the building itself) and the other half of the store was a custom framing operation for portraits and prints. For a minute I sat, reclined, in an old Quaker rocking chair that I was afraid was going to drop me, but it sure enough did not. Just after poking my head around the wall that divided the two sides of the store, I saw that the other half had only fabrics and framing materials... and its' few employees, I presumed, standing up toward the front.

I sat for a moment in a replica of a corner chair before my wife Mel and I scooted-off up the thick, timber plank stairs that curled up the back wall to the loft of the ice house. We could feel how old the wood was beneath our feet as the darkness of the stair well opened to the brightness of the upper floor. There were not many things up-top, so I walked toward a front window and was pleased to discover some old soda bottles, I am glad I did but not solely because I am a collector.

When I made my way back down the stairs, with an arm full of glass treasures, another lady working the desk on the framing-side of the store began wrapping each bottle and nestling it down into a brown paper bag branded "Ice House Oddities". About that time I heard a raspy but, exuberant voice ask me "Ya ever go bottle digg'in?!" I informed him that I would not know where to look.

So we began in what I thought would be a two phrase exchange. Again, I am glad that it was not.

A gray haired man in a pair of bi-focal glasses and with a button-up, pocket shirt continued in his advice, that if I were to locate an old outhouse that I could dig up plenty of bottles. Fifty years ago, I suppose, that would have been a pretty grotesque endeavor but, now-a-days I would only be digging through fertile soil... that did much to change my image of the scene. The man further explained that back when indoor plumbing was introduced that folks began using the outhouses as garbage dumps and how those times were long before concerns of "The Environment" were so very prolific.

Not yet finished in our exchange over the subject of outhouses, he had mentioned that every so often the outhouses would have to be dug-out (i.e. cleaned out) and this old timer went on to educate me on a few new terms. A gully he said was just a valley where two good sized hills settled into a ditch (being a country boy myself, I was savvy on this term) and a washer he said was when a torrent of rain would come through and send a "Gully Washer" down through the trench. The washer term was one that I had never before heard of being applied to a down-pouring of rain.

Now, a clever friend of his had positioned his outhouse just at the mouth of a gully and so every few months when a Gully Washer would come through, the cleaning of his friend's outhouse was naturally automatic. Sending me into a wry smile and a few chuckles I had commented that this brought on a whole new meaning to the term "Gully WASHER" and danged if this old man didn't miss a single beat and exclaim, "Yeah, how about a Gully FLUSHER!"

We all three broke into a fit of laughter and I could not help but offer up my hand to congratulate my new friend on his comic success!!

After shaking my hand he began to ready himself to leave. He had been standing at a hind counter, pen in hand, over an index card. A black and white pattern had caught my eye and now I had the comfortable grounds to intrude. "What do you have there?" I asked, thinking that he was scribbling some words on a pre-printed card stock, the design was so bold and intricate that I thought for sure he couldn't possibly have drawn it; the design being so very fine.

"Just doodling." he had said in an un-presuming tone. "It's yours if want it." That is when I realized I was talking to an artist. The card held an imaginative work of art, how could I possibly? "Well, I don't want to take this, if it could be used as inspiration for another piece someday." For a moment the paper switched back to his hand and I am sure he had thought maybe I did not want the clutter. Snatching a pen off the counter I said, "Well... you will have to at least sign it!" His eyes lit up a bit as he could tell how much I liked the design he had been laboring over. "Let me use my good pen" he retorted as he pulled it from his shirt pocket. 'Wm. Tippie' was the name that he had signed.

He seemed pleased that I liked it so much and he proceeded to show me a few more of his "doodles", that he had captured as images, on his phone. We flipped through three or four doodles as I could tell that the one I held in my hand was not his best or even a finished work, though I liked it the same. "Here is my card, if you wish to come see some of my other art. A few of my pieces used to be displayed in some galleries around town but they have all recently been closed."

I am sure many people consider themselves to be artists and it is a shame that they cannot vouch for their own work matter-of-factly in a commonplace conversation, but I have the feeling that a true artist would not do so even if they could. Perhaps the best artists, just as the best people, do not know just how good they are.

Our last words we shared were those concerning his health, he explained to me about how his blood pressure had been all "out-of-whack" until he began doodling; how he had tried five different medications and how none of them had seemed to work. But, when he had begun "doodling" his blood pressure had magically normalized! In this context, "A doodle a day keeps the doctor away" it seems. This did amaze me... but not quite so much as the beautiful abstract that I glanced down at on card-stock. How it did change my day!!

Pointing to the branding on my paper bag, Mr. Tippie inquired "You know why they let me hang out in here don't you? It's that last word in there." I laughed, thinking to myself that was about right, though he was not what I would call "odd" as the word odd has a stigma attached to it, he was indeed an "oddity"! And an oddity that my wife and I had thoroughly enjoyed that morning!!!

As I swung my bag by the handles exiting the store I heard someone say "Later, Bill." Not to me though, but to Bill Tippie as he thanked them for letting him camp-out for a few hours on a Saturday morning. From one Bill to another I could have told him right then that I would definitely be calling him later, but perhaps he had already figured that much.

After two weeks had passed I had serendipitously been finishing up a piece of writing that had not been written regarding the object of a soda bottle, but that had included a soda bottle from my youth as a supporting image which I remembered seeing in my grandparents' garage. My grandparents had given me an old six-pack of special addition RC Cola bottles with faded orange and blue paint from the seventies (old for me but not for my new friend). The subject matter of my writing piece was the coincidental thing though... the title was "Digging Down", and in it I was surmising that we should all cut busyness and agenda in order to share time with the important individuals of our lives. And so with the overwhelming feeling that an important person had entered my life I called up Mr. Tippie and told him "This is the other Bill speaking." I was pleased that he did remember our conversation and I caught a chuckle from him as I assumed he was remembering our Gully Flusher exchange.

So, when I showed up to his home not knowing what to expect, he led me up the stairs in his two bedroom home, to his gallery.

As two of the three galleries containing his art had been closed, he confessed that he did not know just how much art he had accumulated until he was forced to consolidate it. His main "gallery" now doubling as his guest bedroom, was impressively covered surface-upon-surface with art. His word "accumulation" I thought very odd though, as that is a word that suggests glancing out the window on a winter's day and being surprised at the white blanket that wraps all the greens and browns in a unified coloring of white. That could not have been what this was.

As I perused the collection, I found it quite baffling how ANY of this had happened! The collection was astounding and diverse. Another of his comments had been that he had never been able to settle into any form "of style" for his art. I now truly knew this man, not as a self-proclaimed artist, but I began to see the art that this man had brought to each day he had lived. Surely, he had lived in a world of imagination as if each day was a blank canvas; suddenly I could not have been more aware of how ALL this had happened.

Our visit ended by him gifting me a pen and ink, an image he had shown me on his mobile phone at the Ice House and a piece that I had been mesmerized by. Upon my arrival I had given him one of the six soda bottles from my grandparents' garage, along with the words I had written and wished he would enjoy reading. Tippie had said, "Now we are even." but, in my chest I knew how unbalanced the deal was that had been struck.

I had looked through a few easels loaded with art and Bill and I ended up in his art studio where he showed me a few pages of a scrap book that he had complied, cataloging some of his earlier work. It was all impressive. The most impressive thing to me, however, was sitting atop the corner of a short dresser, against the wall of the guest room just beside a padded, wicker chair covered in art. A half-inch thick notebook of what Tippie called his "doodles"... I had hoped, through his word choice, that he was not suggesting them as a "lesser" art, because to me they are the most artful of all; brilliant works of imagination that adorn the pages of a priceless book of masterful visions.

Quite a day this was for me.

The name of one of his "pen and ink doodles" stuck in the corner of my mind:

What a day - a Tippie Doodle Dandy!!!

*William Tippie's art may be viewed by making a personal appointment. He asks that you please email him at: wtippie@twc.com

Bill Hudson   # April 27, 2015

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