Welcome to the First Half of My Interview with Steve
By Jeff Salter
Folks, I don’t recall this happening (to me) before. I sent 15 questions to my amazing friend Steve VanHorn and he wrote back about 6900 words! I trimmed it down to about 5600 words, but dared not delete any more… because it was all great stuff. Therefore, I decided to split the interview.
Today we’ll deal with the seven questions mostly related to Steve’s writing… and we’ll feature links to one of his terrific poems and one of his excellent vignettes. Next month, we’ll present the remaining eight questions, which deal mostly with Steve’s other creative endeavors and the work he and his family have done to rehabilitate an old farm.
Before we start, however, let me say a word about how I met Steve. I’d become acquainted with Donna VanHorn at Somerset’s “Market on Main” events where she had a canopy with several of the tasty treats she produces at Harmony Acres. She got me hooked on her Strawberry Jam and expressed interest in my published novels. One thing led to another – and I kept needing more Strawberry Jam – and I finally met Steve and their daughter Amanda. It was years later, after the farmer’s market events had ceased and I’d found the entire family on Facebook, that I realized Steve was also a writer!
So here he is, my Guest Hound, Steve VanHorn!
Steve VanHorn, husband to Donna; dad to Stephen and Amanda; Pop to Noah, Paige, Hazel, and Shiloh, brother to Jim and Wendy; friend to everyone.
Born and raised in Rhode Island, the ocean state. I grew up close to the Pawcatuck River and spent many of my days on the river. Whether on the river or the ocean’s shore, fishing, exploring, reflecting, and talking with nature, made me appreciate that the simple things often reveal a deeper understanding of who we are and why we are placed here.
In 2004, we moved to the land-locked state of Kentucky where we have a 28 acre farm hosting 5 acres of woodland. Here I was able to find, once again, my passion for writing. Though the adventure has been entirely different from the one in Rhode Island, it has been filled with many blessings; especially the ones who call me, Pop.
Link to Steve’s blog:
Q & A — Part 1
- Several years ago, when I complimented a sample of your writing this was your reply: “It is a passion that I put away for many years.” What type of writing HAD you been doing? Were there any particular circumstances that caused you to “put away” your passion for writing? What happened to bring it back to the fore?
[ *** SVH *** ] — I remember that even as a young lad I would let my imagination wander and write silly little stories. My maternal grandfather, Linton Buck, was quite a story teller. I could sit for hours and listen to his stories of the “old days”…even if I had already heard the story a hundred times. He was quick with a joke or a witty one liner; many of which I still use. Listening to his stories gave me a great platform to spring my own stories from.
In high school, I took a creative writing course. The teacher, Mr. Sydney Cohen, really challenged me and he pushed me to be a better thinker, as well as a writer. In high school I wrote much in the same way I write now; poems, prose and vignettes. I wrote with my emotions, often dictated by the circumstance I was experiencing. I remember visiting the hospital with my best friend, watching his grandfather taking his last gasps of breath. It was an extremely sad and emotional experience. I wrote about it and had that paper with me in class on a day where we did not have to submit the work. After noticing mine and reading it, the teacher asked me to stand before the class and read it. I pleaded with him to choose another student, but he persisted. Not only did I doubt my ability to get through the emotional reading, but I feared judgment by my peers. Though I had a difficult time getting through it, it was well received. Years later, I learned that some of my peers considered it an important experience and were glad that I had shared. That experience of reading my own work made me realize it was okay to share my thoughts, and handle criticism. Even more, that someone might actually find it enjoyable or valuable in some way.
Life after high school came at me fast. I was busy working two and three jobs, raising a family and restoring houses and yards as the family changed and grew. I did on occasion write small sermons and devotions for different church functions. Once I even spoke to the URI football team at a breakfast sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In 2004 we made a huge move to Kentucky where an entirely new chapter of life opened up. Sadly, rather than pursuing my writing passion in any capacity, I laid it all away.
Oddly enough, it was joining Facebook (sometime in 2013) which brought me back into the writing realm. I thought it would be a good way to stay in touch with family and friends who lived far away. I showed my wife one of my first posts before sending it into the cyber sphere. She read it and said, “You can’t post that!” I read it again and said, “But this is who I am” — at which point she shrugged and gave me the nod.
Understand that all my work over those past three decades did wear me out some; so I was known by my family as a man of few words. When I started posting some of my thoughts poetically, some of them scratched their heads and wondered where this guy had come from. It was like the real guy living inside of me was finally free to come out. Though I am not as obedient to a schedule where writing is my top priority, I am working on it. I am happy that my family and friends now associate me with writing. I hope I have made my creative writing teacher, Mr. Cohen, proud.
- Tell us about your blog. How long have you been posting? What convinced you to set it up to begin with?
[ *** SVH *** ] — I established my blog in early September 2015. Much of the earlier posts were written a year or so before. A lot of my poetry and prose is based on the love story of Arturo and Katarina. I’ve always been a hopeless romantic. Growing up on the coast of Rhode Island, the ocean speaks to me in a deeply sensual way. I have always enjoyed the way of nostalgia and romance. In high school I dated a young lady who shared my passion for contemplative thinking and the written word. I have been either cursed or blessed, not really sure, with the ability to recall in extraordinary detail, the things we discussed… as well as our story, which includes love, the ocean, and the sand. Many of my poems are written to Katarina from the perspective of Arturo.
My other writings are thoughts from a simple man, stories of my personal life now, and recollections of growing up in the 60’s and 70’s.
I don’t consistently post on my blog, which is a problem with keeping the interest of potential followers. Also, as the years go on, I find that some of my favorite writings get buried near the beginning and may be difficult for an interested reader to locate. Several friends and family urged me to start the blog… and curiosity finally gave way to construction. I was told not to expect a lot of followers and to grow thick skin. Mine is mostly calloused due to farm work anyway, so I maintain the blog, hoping it will keep true love alive, be an inspiration to somebody, or make someone smile.
- I noticed your blog has this tagline: A whisper in the wind, a twinkle in the eye— Tell us how you came up with that way of expressing the content and/or focus of your musings.
[ *** SVH *** ] — Oh boy. You came up with some really good questions!
The whisper in the wind… I hear it every day. She is my muse; my reason to continue writing and always to try to improve it. That whisper is my hope that though I may not see my muse, she can hear me through my song and she will be pleased. The whisper is part of who I am.
A twinkle in the eye… As I stated earlier, writing is a passion which I had laid away for decades. When you put certain things away, there is still a part of them which lives inside you. Though for years I was a non-writing kind of guy, there was always a spark which burned within. On the outside, I was a regular guy going about his business; but on the inside, was a passionate guy with a twinkle in his eye who saw things (often perceived by many as ordinary) in an extraordinary way.
- Other than your blog – and Facebook posts – have you ever considered publishing any of your reproducible creativity? Would it be the poems? The vignettes? The photographs?
[ *** SVH *** ] — I have considered trying to put together a book featuring my poems and vignettes. Photographs help initiate the reader’s attention, but my photographs are ironically accidental for the most part. I use an old Sony pocket camera — the viewing lens is scratched, most of the paint is worn off, and one side of it is held together with duct tape. One time, some killdeer had hatched and were running around the nest. They looked like fluffy chicken nuggets with spindly legs. Though I did not have my (needed) reading glasses with me, I took pictures of the little birds and even zoomed in to get some good shots. When I later viewed the pictures on my laptop (the only way I can see them) I found that I had taken quite a few shots of the surrounding grass, and never caught a single bird in any of them! I am thankful for the readers and the edit/delete option on my laptop.
- Do you share your wife’s interest in birds? How about your daughter’s interest in horses?
[ *** SVH *** ] — I do enjoy our birds. My favorites are the hummingbirds which come along in May. I also like our barn swallows — especially when the fledglings line up on our fence rows waiting to be fed by their parents, who circle over my head while I am mowing to catch grasshoppers. Then the parents feed their young while hovering in front of them.
My wife Donna – the expert bird watcher – researches and documents them. She even participates on the big day, when true bird watchers see how many they can catalog on a specific day.
The horses…I have always been a little afraid of them. I had dreams of raising miniature donkeys when we lived in RI. My daughter, Amanda, was able to volunteer at a therapeutic riding facility where she discovered her love for horses. Now she trains horses and gives riding lessons to kids as young as age 3. She also hosts birthday parties and events such as an open house. People have commented that I must really love horses. I always reply, “well, I really love my daughter!”
My fear of horses is almost gone. I love participating in the maintenance and building Amanda’s dream. I was actually the one who found our horse, Sherman (my favorite), on craigslist. I’m glad that you were able to ride him, Jeff.
- You have a talent for writing, for photography, and for crafts (like horseshoe art). Also skills in landscaping, fencing, mechanic work, carpentry, and (at least the rough-ins for) electricity and plumbing. Has anyone ever suggested you’re a Renaissance Man?
[ *** SVH *** ] — Well, I’ve heard the term before… I guess I’ve just been lucky enough through the years to be in the right places, with the right people, at the right time.
Grandpa taught me how to use a saw and sharpen a mower blade. At 13 I worked at a gas station across the street from my mom’s house. Pumped gas, checked air and oil, even gave out S&H Green Stamps!
When I was not yet 16, I bought a 1954 Chevy panel truck. When the wrecker delivered it to my mom’s place, it looked like a brush pile was being dropped off. I loved restoring it, even though I did everything wrong. My dad, a pretty darned good shade tree mechanic, dropped a 1955 Chevy 6 cylinder in it and I learned to drive the “three on the tree”. Because of the unique schedule of our high school and junior high, I could get out at 12:33, jump into the panel truck (lovingly named, Pandora) and could be at the body shop where I worked by 1:00. The owner of the shop was a meticulous man who was a master at his craft, so I learned to do body work the correct way. I love doing metal work, welding and brazing. The craft of hammering, heating, forming, and painting metal is one that I love, and have found useful in so many other applications. Part of my work in Connecticut for 20 years was lead man over the metal fabrication, motor, paint, and box shop. A good friend (who was a carpenter with his dad) taught me a lot about building. Later, I worked with an HVAC guy for a while. On the same job sites was an electrician who needed some help and could pay better… so I made the switch. He was also the master of his trade — a very neat and thorough tradesman. At a local vo-tec, I took classes to get a license in 2001.
I came to Kentucky in 2004 and did not know a solitary soul. One of the real estate agents we had spoken to told me that her husband had his own electrical company and we talked – very generally – about job prospects with him. Even though we ended up buying our farm through a different agent in a different county, three days after we moved to Kentucky, that electrician contacted me and invited our family to dinner to discuss me working with him. I started the following week and worked with him for almost 13 years. Besides doing the electrical work, we helped each other build barns, bale hay, you name it. He is a terrific guy with a fantastic work ethic.
I am thankful in my life to have had the chance to just hang out with some pretty awesome people. It has been great to pick up and hone the skills I’ve had to put to use.
- You’ve recently been through a frightening cancer diagnosis and surgery. I was impressed at how courageously and candidly you faced that tense period. Is there anything about the experience that you’d like to share?
[ *** SVH *** ] — I’m not sure if I was really courageous. It may have seemed that way because right from the get go — the exams, blood work, and even the biopsy’s positive results — I just could not believe in my heart of hearts that I really had prostate cancer. I’m 59 years old and I try to eat the right things and I certainly get a lot of exercise on the farm. Everything about my body appeared to be in good working order; not a check engine light to be found!
As the days went by the diagnosis sunk deeper and deeper into my reality. Because the cancer was thought to be contained within the prostate, I was given several options for treatment. I was told there were no wrong answers, but I was beyond the point of watch and wait. I might know a little about a lot of things, but choosing the best treatment for my cancer, was not one of them. I have seen my parents and many loved ones pass away from cancer. I could not bear the thought of it growing inside me. If cutting it out was an option, then that was the option I wanted; so I underwent a radical prostatectomy.
I had to wait almost two months between my diagnosis and the surgery. I’ve been in situations in my life where I have had to handle a lot of things coming at me all at one time, but this situation almost got the best of me. I sought the council of a therapist to help me sort out the truth — the difference between worrying about what might be, as opposed to trusting and taking things as they come. I tend to be a worrier…mildly stated.
I also knew that to get through this, it was going to take some time. I wanted my friends to know what was going on and to understand that I needed their support. Oh my, the support has been overwhelming.
After researching the best hospital and surgeons, Vanderbilt in Nashville was the place I trusted the most. After meeting with the surgeon, we immediately set up the surgery. As we were walking out of the hospital, my wife asked me how it was that I made the decision so confidently. I told her that I really liked the doctor — he reminded me of my brother.
Four weeks later I had the surgery and I was a happy guy when I realized that I woke up from it. All the nurses were fantastic — they had me doing laps the first night around the floor and nurses station. My floor nurse took me around one time, and then let me go by myself for the next round. When I came back to my room I asked her if I could go around again (always the overachiever), and she looked at me and said yes. As I made my way towards her on my last lap, she said that I really looked good, at which point I did a pirouette with my IV stand and temporary catheter. She told me not to do that again and helped me back into bed.
Folks, I cover a lot of fear and pain with comedy. I won’t know for a while if the cancer will come back or not. But I have seen a lot of friends, good friends, and young friends, die from this terrible disease. You can be an athlete and live on the strictest diet in the world, but cancer does not care. I beg anyone reading this, even if you’re feeling good, to Please, Please, go for that PSA test, PAP smear, mammogram, or physical. Whatever checkup your doctor recommends, do it, so that if you find that cancer has given you the first lick, you’ll be able to counter with a knock out punch. Early detection is crucial. If you find out that you have it, call your friends. Give them the chance to lend an ear or talk with you. Cancer is horrible.
Getting a card or letter or call from a friend means more than any of my many words can say. You can even call me if you’d like. The love and support of my family has been immeasurable. I appreciate you all.
Thank you, Jeff. This has been a most enjoyable interview.
Link to Steve’s poignant poem (“Siren”):
Link to Steve’s humorous vignette (“Sheep-ish”):
Be sure to look for Part Two of Steve’s Hound Day appearance, scheduled for Jan. 13.
Any questions for Steve? Any comments?
[JLS # 466]