2018 Keating Competition entries
Dana Lee - 1st place
Small and curious, her hands reach for the dreidel first. Her thumbs smoothing over its wooden sides, each face inscribed with a letter from the Hebrew alphabet. Nun. Gimel. Hei. Shin. Her hands clutch the dreidel’s stem, and when nine-year-old Kennedy Miller twists her fingers to make it spin, the wooden top drunkenly collapses on its side instead.
Her parents look on from behind, their hands full with pamphlets they picked up from previous tables, each one representing a different country as part of the weekend-long International Festival held at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.
Larger hands reach for the dreidel. “Here, like this.”
Lian Bar Zohar leans down and twirls the dreidel. “Ask me about Israel!” Her pin reads. On another pin attached to her black blazer, Israel fits inside a white heart. Together Zohar and Miller watch the top dance over the Star of David flag draped across the table. It continues to spin…
Zohar wants you to know she believes in destiny. Her being in Indianapolis is destiny. She moved from Israel two months ago, the start of a two-year period during she will serve as an emissary from her home country to the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis.
Growing up, it was easy to believe in destiny. Her family was modest and religious. Shabbat dinners were prepared on Wednesdays and held on Fridays. When her mother prayed while lighting the traditional candle, Zohar always thought it looked like she was talking to God.
“Like texting God,” Zohar says.
She owes everything to her mother, and now, over 6,100 miles away from the house where the two would cook challah bread together, Zohar is bringing pieces of her life to Indianapolis.
“Try some labneh,” Zohar insists. It’s her mother’s recipe.
“Even if I could have just one impact on someone leaving my booth — if they could say, ‘OK, this is different than what I thought’ — then I’ve done my job,” Zohar says. “Even if it’s just one person out of 10, I’ve done my job.”
Some days it doesn’t feel like enough. Two weeks ago, when Zohar got a notification on her phone about the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, it didn’t feel like enough. Her stomach tightened. She can’t find the words, so her hands clutch at her abdomen instead. Like I couldn’t breathe, she says. She was supposed to host a masquerade party that night. It was too late to cancel. When her guests walked in, Zohar’s heart was in Pittsburgh, and it felt a lot like everyone else in the room was still trying to breathe too. They would grieve together. No one felt like putting on a mask.
“We are trying to recover,” Zohar says. “We have a lot of wounds on our body and our soul. We are stronger together. We don’t let our spirits go down.”
One out of 10, she reminds herself. If she could help change the mind of one person and plant the seeds, it would be enough.
Can it be enough?
Forty-eight hours after the shooting, Lindsey Mintz, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, looked around her local synagogue. She saw doctors and teachers and engineers. Elected officials. Christians. After the shooting, leaders of different religious groups across Indianapolis — Hindus, Muslims, Christians — were the first people to call Mintz.
“We saw what happened.” “How are you?” “What can they do?” They all asked.
When she looked around her synagogue, there were over 2,000 people grieving with her. As executive director she always saw it as her job to equip the Jewish community with the tools they needed to have difficult conversations. It’s what she did after antisemitism messages were found in Carmel. Was that really just three months ago?
But now there were 11 victims dead, killed in a synagogue just like this one.
When it gets hard, Mintz looks at the poster hanging on her office wall. It’s a quote from Rabbi Tarfon, and she keeps his words on her phone too, in case she forgets like she is now.
“It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”
Laurel Demkovich - 2nd place
Alexandria Audritsh, 16, stands in the middle of a group of dancers dressed in traditional Chinese and Tibetan clothes.
It’s almost time to introduce the group onstage, but something’s not right.
Alexandria’s dressed in a bright blue and flowery qipao, a short-sleeved Chinese silk dress. Her shoes are silver and almost as sparkly as the large crown pinned to her head. Across her chest is a sash: “2019 Indy International Fest Queen.”
“I’m just waiting on my mom,” Alexandria says.
Her mom, Shirley Tang-Audritsh, runs over from the sound system. She unlocks her phone, sliding past the background set as Alexandria’s headshot.
“OK, we don’t have your music,” she says. “Does anybody have music on their phone?”
It’s the last day of the Indy International Festival, and as the 2019 Indy International Festival Queen, it’s Alexandria’s job to emcee the event.
But nothing is going right. The music isn’t connecting properly, the performances are out of order, the show is running 20 minutes late.
“Alexandria, Alexandria!” her mom whispers. “Get on stage and say we have technical difficulties.”
She does, and minutes later, Alexandria waits backstage again, anxiously pacing in the small area hidden by thin blue curtains next to the stage.
She picks up her phone and calls her mom.
“Where are you?” she asks, panicked. “I need a program.”
She opens the curtains and starts making her way to the stage, phone still pressed to her ear.
A Ukrainian singer finishes her last note. Alexandria rushes on stage.
She steps up to the podium with a big smile on her face and leans into the microphone.
“Now wasn’t that pretty!”
* * * * * *
Alexandria has done pageants since she was 10, taking title after title. And for better or worse, her mom’s been there all along. Organizing contests, driving her everywhere, making final hair, makeup, clothing and song choices.
She started performing with the Indianapolis Chinese Performing Arts group when she was 5 years old and has been a part of it ever since. As someone who is half-Chinese, being a part of the group is the way that she connects with her culture, with the country that her mom grew up in. It was a way for Alexandria to learn about the diversity in the world.
But what she and her mom really love are the pageants.
Pageantry isn’t like “Toddlers & Tiaras,” Alexandria says. It’s more than that.
You have to be intelligent, she says. You have to be poised at all times.
She only does natural pageants, no crazy makeup or hair or bathing suit contests. She’s not in it to be the named the most beautiful girl. She’s in it because it increases her confidence both on and off stage. It teaches public speaking skills.
For Tang-Audritsh, it’s all about giving younger girls confidence and a role model — girls that they can look up to when they don’t know who else they can.
Whenever they go on a road trip to a competition, Tang-Audritsh makes a girls’ trip out it. Just the two of them. She critiques her and they bicker, but it’s for Alexandria’s own good.
She’s won title after title, including Miss National Star Teen Miss, Miss National Pre-Teen, Miss Indiana Grand Supreme twice.
Sometimes, her mom’s criticism is worth it.
* * * * * *
Away from the technical difficulties, away from her mom, away from attendees asking for selfies, Alexandria finds herself locked in a bathroom backstage. The room has the best acoustics, she says.
She needs just two minutes alone to warm up her voice. She takes a deep breath and hits a note on the piano app on her phone.
“No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no,” she sings down the scale.
She heads back outside where her mom is looking for her. It’s almost time to go.
The Sreemala Veena Group, an Indian musical group, finishes onstage. Now, it’s Alexandria’s turn.
She’s not really nervous, but having only been told a few days earlier that she’d be performing, she didn’t have much time to prepare.
She slowly walks up the stairs to the center of the stage.
“Hello, everyone,” she starts into the microphone. “Today, I’ll be singing the song ‘Hui Jia.’ It means ‘Return Home’ and is about a loved one and wondering when they’ll return.”
As she speaks, Alexandria’s mom makes her way to the back of the audience near the sound system. Organizers asked her mom to introduce her, but Tang-Audritsh didn’t want to; she wanted to oversee the music.
Her mom holds up her phone, ready to record her daughter’s performance — one of the hundreds she’s seen. She motions to the sound guy to play the track.
Tang-Audritsh is a ballroom dancer herself and has performed and competed numerous times, but she’s always the most nervous when she watches Alexandria.
Nothing compares to how her heart beats watching Alexandria onstage.
At one point at the end of the song, it switches to English.
“Be here, just be there, my love and only love,” Alexandria sings.
She walks across the stage, with more confidence and grace than most 16 year olds. As she sings, she remembers why all the stress and criticism is worth it. She thinks of her mom and how much confidence and motivation she has. The reason Alexandria is able to do any of these competitions at all.
She stares out at the crowd ahead, past the empty chairs and the food stations from across the world.
She looks toward her mom — her role model — recording the whole thing on her phone with a huge smile across her face.
Shelby Mullis - 3rd place
Her face beams when she talks about dance — the beauty of purposefully selected sequences of movement and the messages conveyed by each choreographed move.
As each twist, turn and leap flows into another, these moves are what reconnected Maria Manalang with her homeland of the Philippines, the country she left at just 13 years old to explore a new life awaiting her in the United States.
Dance became Manalang’s outlet for expression. More than that, dance was a mode of education — a way Manalang, now 53, could reintroduce herself to the culture that raised her.
“I was lucky to be gifted with artistry as well as a passion for dance, so it was my way of sharing my gift,” Manalang said. “A friend of mine a long time ago said, ‘If God gave you a gift and you don’t share it, He takes it away from you.’ This is my way of giving back to my community.”
As a young child, dressed in her mother’s traditional Filipino Baro’t Saya, Manalang pranced around her home singing the songs of her people. She dreamed of a lifetime on stage, performing Philippine folk dances in front of thousands of people.
But people told her it would never happen because she was “too heavy.”
The critics couldn’t hold her back. She wouldn’t let them. Instead, Manalang promised herself she would learn the Philippine folk dances and teach them to others one day at her own company.
“We all may look different, however, we all only want the same thing: being loved,” Manalang said. “We all want the same thing in this world. We all have the same problems. We just look different. I wanted to create a community for all.”
And she did.
Manalang founded the Sayaw Philippine Cultural Dance Company 12 years ago, and she is using it to teach others — non-Filipinos and Filipinos, alike — about the Filipino culture. She started the company in her own backyard, and it has since evolved to its own building on the south side of Indianapolis.
The number of members varies each year. Ages range from six months old to 78 years old. This year, 12 people are involved, including 63-year-old Teresita Soliven.
Soliven, also from the Philippines, never danced a day in her life before joining the Sayaw Philippine Cultural Dance Company. She discovered the dance company in its early stages when they performed at a birthday party she attended.
“I like to dance, but I don’t know really how to,” Soliven said. “With Maria’s guidance, she teach me how and we practice.”
Soliven said Manalang is like a daughter, emphasizing her kindness and patience as two traits that make Manalang special.
But for Manalang, the kindness comes naturally. She said the community she has nurtured is built on generosity.
“I welcome everyone regardless of their ethnic background, as long as they have an interest in dance,” Manalang said. “This is my family. It has developed to more than just a company, but basically a community.”
Additional 2018 Finalists
An urgent “meow” from the living room called Thresa Crohn to the attention of her cat. The big, beloved and white-haired Mr. Kitty had a red burn lining the front of his neck. It was “real bad,” Crohn remembers, and she knew it was a lit candle that had injured him.
The next day Crohn threw out every candle in her home.
That was in the ‘90s. Today Crohn stood behind a booth at the Indianapolis Christmas Gift & Hobby Show selling what appeared to be candles and candleholders. But upon closer inspection electronic plugs came into view at the back of the jewel-toned containers. These warmers melt and release fragrances from wax “tarts,” as they’re called, without any flames.
Crohn wanted to find an alternative to candles after Mr. Kitty’s burn, so since 1999 she has been producing and selling wax tarts through her business, Lil Stinkers. This is her fourth year selling at the Christmas Gift & Hobby Show, the largest holiday shopping event in Indianapolis.
* * * * * *
Christmas was quite literally in the air at the West Pavilion in the Indiana State Fairgrounds, where the show was held. Snowflakes hung from the ceiling. Exposed pipes were enveloped by garland. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” played softly in the background while the cries of vendors called customers to their booths.
But at Crohn’s booth, it was the scent and not the sound that pulled passersby in.
Blueberry cobbler. Buttercream. These are the two scents Crohn uses to entice customers, and she’s got more waiting for them behind the counter: apple cinnamon, mulled cider, caramel crunch. She makes over 200 scents.
“That’s what gets everybody,” she said, “smelling it.”
Crohn’s husband Larry, who helped her sell on Saturday, likes most of the scents that waft through his house on a daily basis, but there’s one that he can’t stand.
“The one I have to leave the house for is hazelnut coffee. It’s way too strong,” he said. “Whew! She has to tell me when she’s going to make it.”
“It’s not that you don’t like it,” his wife replied, “it makes you sneeze!”
Crohn enjoys the friendly atmosphere at the Christmas show. She specifically enjoys chatting with the other vendors. John Raddatz from Scentsy, a rival company that started in 2004 and makes similar products to Crohn’s, asked why she didn’t sue them.
“I was just like, ‘Hey, that’s one you could’ve chased,’” Raddatz said. But Crohn wasn’t, and still isn’t, looking to be a big company.
“I’m a simple country girl. That’s all I want to be,” she said. Suing would have been too “petty.”
Raddatz said to enjoy the fair vendors have to have a good attitude towards competitors.
“I see people in booths who are so competitive and they just have bad experiences,” he said. “I like good karma in the booth. There should never be bad blood.”
Crohn has more scents than Raddatz’s company, so he encourages buyers to visit her booth as well.
“I’m actually sending a lot of business her way,” he said. “She’s got a great product. I’ve got a fantastic product too.”
While most vendors and visitors at the show embraced the Christmas spirit, the booth next to Crohn’s fought the likes of the Alvin and the Chipmunks Christmas song with an individual speaker from which they played pop songs.
The Christmas music puts the vendors at the ProFashion booth to sleep, Jessica Levi explained.
“I like Christmas music, but the thing is it’s too relaxing. We put on this music to wake us up,” she said.
Crohn said she didn’t understand the “new style” music her neighbors were playing, but “we all carry on. Gotta have an understanding that we’re all here to make a few dollars.”
One of Crohn’s new products at this year’s fair were her aroma necklaces. The spherical jewelry pieces hold lava rocks in their center, which people can spray with their favorite scent for a nice smell throughout the day.
In the center of Crohn’s necklace collection was one in the shape of a cat’s head. Totally coincidental, she said. But she smiled.
Nuzzled between more than 2,000 booths, stands booth 105, a 10-by-10-square foot space where John Marchal and his wife, Diana, sit anywhere from seven to 12 hours waiting.
In that time, they might have 75 people stop and buy something.
Over the next five days, shoppers scout the 147,040-square-foot building, looking for the perfect gift to put under the tree. The annual Christmas Gift & Hobby Show winds down the Marchals selling season and within the next week or so both John and Diana will return to their workshops, crafting their products for a new season.
Some booths tote Christmas gear, boasting every ornament, sign and sentiment imaginable. Others offer services like massages or hair styling. But the majority, like the Marchals’, offer unique items you wouldn’t see at your local Target.
Six years ago, John made his first pen for $1,000 (a majority of the cost came from creating his toolkit).
It started when Diana said he needed something to do. So, he took a woodworking class at Woodcraft of Indianapolis. He had never touched a band saw or a lathe and didn’t have any of the tools at home, but after the class was over, he was ready to commit.
“My wife said I needed something to do — she had no idea,” he chuckled.
Now, John, the owner of First Sgt. Woods, crafts banks, pens and puzzles.
However, before the Logansport-native became a wood worker, John was a radar technician in the Air Force for 23 years. He spent time in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Alaska, California, the Philippines and Vietnam.
After he went to the Air Force Reserve around 1988, John opened Pip Printing — a custom print shop — in Indianapolis and later a location in West Lafayette. After doing that for 23 years, he retired and moved on to the Department of Homeland Security where he worked for eight years, then worked with the Transportation Security Administration for six years.
When it came time for his fourth and final retirement, John picked up a hobby. Though is started with penmaking and puzzles after a class at Woodcraft, where he now works part-time, John expanded his craft to include wooden coin banks.
“I saw one someplace and it was just a square box for the door, and I thought, ‘I can do a little bit better,’” John said. “So, I put my own design on it.”
Each bank starts with a 4-foot-tall piece of wood — John doesn’t use pine or plywood — and is cut down to stand just a tad taller than a post-office box. Each bank comes with the same instructions, scrawled in John’s tight handwriting: turn to the right, turn left and turn right again.
The banks, whether they are shaped like a mail box or mail truck, don an old postal box door. Some date back to the late 1880s, while others teeter around the 1900s. Some have two-digit codes, while others have three.
“They’re all unique in their own way,” said John, who has made the banks for three years.
“Most people don’t realize the time it takes to get one of these ready, get the wood ready, get it all put together.”
Each traditional bank can take anywhere from six to 10 hours, while the mail trucks can take an upwards of 18. None of the banks are stained, rather are coated with lacquer to highlight the natural color of the wood, John said.
Though crafted on the same workbench, by the same pair of hands, each boasts a unique door, wood grain and, of course, code. The banks, however, only make up half of the Marchals’ inventory.
When Diana, John’s wife, was 12 years old her aunt taught her how to knit. After picking up the needle craft, she taught herself how to crochet.
Diana, a Madison County native, spent most of her career working in marketing, creating advertisements for companies. However, when she and John retired six years ago, she again picked up the needle craft she learned more than 50 years ago.
“I enjoy making animals that appeal to children,” Diana said. “Some of the pieces I make are more expensive, more time consuming, so I have to charge a little more for those, but I like to make the little turtles and things that are less expensive. [So] that when the kids want something, mom and dad can say, ‘Well, pick out a turtle.’”
During the couple’s off season — when they aren’t traveling to shows or markets every weekend — they each spend a few hours honing their craft.
Diana sits on the rust couch in front of the television, with either their white and tan Lhasa apso Oliver or their black and silver mini dachshund Sophie, while John heads to the cement floored, white walled two-car garage, which is carless by the way.
When evening comes, they eat supper, return to their craft and go to bed to start the routine over once again, Diana said.
Then when the time comes, they pack it all up and head to the farmers market in Noblesville and craft shows around the state.
However, each year they end their busy season in a 10x10 booth at the Christmas and Hobby Show, watching their inventory to dwindle as they prepare to trade their displays in for their workshops.
The spirit of Christmas isn’t with Santa Claus at the Christmas Gift and Hobby Show or nestled among the salespeople trying to get onlookers to buy teeth whitener or aloe vera lotion.
The magic is instead at a booth in the back of the expo hall, tucked away behind the to the coat check and women’s bathroom, where a husband and wife have just bought a new book.
They hand it to the woman sitting behind the booth.
“To Debbie and Vern,” the wife tells the woman to inscribe. “It IS a wonderful life.”
For many people, Karolyn Grimes isn’t really the 78-year-old woman signing “It’s a Wonderful Life” books and silver bells in large, looping handwriting.
She is still Zuzu Bailey, the 6-year-old daughter from the 1940’s holiday classic who tells her father “every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings” after he realizes his life is important.
Grimes has embraced her role in her later years, traveling to events across the country to meet with fans who tell her just how much “It’s a Wonderful Life” means to them.
“To see how many people love this movie makes me think there’s hope for America,” Grimes says.
Everyone in line seems to want the movie to so. One man asks Grimes to dedicate a book to his unborn granddaughter. A couple wants her to sign the invitation for their wedding, which has an “It’s a Wonderful Life” theme.
There’s also tougher moments, like a woman who tells Grimes about the death of her husband around Thanksgiving 6 years ago.
“People project all kinds of things on her,” said Clay Eals, who is helping Grimes out at the booth.
But Eals, who became friends with Grimes after writing her biography years ago, said the movie became just as important to Grimes it is to millions of people across the country.
She was orphaned at 15. Her first husband died from a hunting accident, her second of cancer. One of her seven children died by suicide.
Grimes, who left Hollywood after her parents died to go live in rural Missouri, says the movie reentered her life when she was in her 40s and finally saw the whole thing for the first time.
When Target sponsored a tour for the actors who played the Baily children in 1993, she realized her calling was to go around meeting people. October, November and December are the busiest months of the year, but her only break is in August.
She says she doesn’t mind hearing people’s stories became she feels she can relate to them, and she wants to be able to help them with their own difficulties.
“I had to take this path to be able to communicate or commiserate to people who share their love for this film,” Grimes says.
By the end of the first two hours of the show, she hasn’t stopped signing. Her gluten-free coffee cake sits unopened on the coffee table next to her.
One woman hands Grimes a silver bell made by the same company that made the original one on the movie.
Before reaching down to sign it, Grimes raises the bell and flicks her wrist.
A high-pitch tinkling sound rings out, and somewhere far away, an angel’s wings have just appeared.
Humbugs Beware: The Christmas Gift and Hobby Show
No one was in a hurry at the Christmas Gift and Hobby Show. The crowds – three abreast at least in the busiest aisle – were one reason for that. People would have steamrolled each other had they moved faster than a shuffling walk.
“I think what impresses me most is the patience of people who are here,” said Joe Stuteville, a former journalist and Vietnam veteran who attended the show with his wife. Tuckered out by the busy atmosphere, he took refuge on a bench near the ceiling-high Christmas tree in the center of the Blue Ribbon Pavilion.
“Most people are in such a rush to do anything these days,” said Stuteville. “I find it encouraging.”
The show is certainly not for anyone in a hurry. The festival started on November 7 and will end on the 11th. Even moving slowly, it would be almost impossible to see all of the Christmas paraphernalia on display.
Foot traffic might also have been slow because of the average age of the attendees: about 50 years old. Most of the vendors catered to their main audience.
“Do you ladies know anyone who has trouble hearing on the telephone?” called a woman’s voice in the 200 aisle.
“Come try a massage!” cried one man who was selling massage pads. Then, in almost a whine as he saw his customers disappearing, “Try out! Two minutes!”
“Good for joint pain!” bellowed one man with an Australian accent in an attempt to help his coworker.
The buyers might have been mostly middle-aged, but they brought plenty of babies along. One tiny girl looked like cotton candy with shoes, a pink-and-white knitted blanket swaddled around her with only her face and her black Converse peeking out. A small boy was nearly buried beneath a Marvel superhero-themed Christmas hat on his head. Another girl who wore a felt Christmas-tree hair bow turned down the corners of her mouth and asked her mother, “Where’s Santa Claus?”
There was hardly a happy baby in sight – unless you count the dogs. By the sunglasses stand, two tiny puppies slapped at each other behind netting in a stroller. Their owner, a thin blond woman in a white flowered sweatshirt, draped a towel over their faces, laughing.
That woman, Vicky Deckard, has been coming to the Christmas Gift and Hobby Show for as long as she can remember: at least 35 or 40 years, she said. She used to come with her mother before the latter’s death in 1990. Now, she comes with her dogs, Missy and Bentley, and her married daughter, Kimberly Black, but not her husband. He died about six years ago.
Black’s husband comes to the festival, too, said Deckard.
“Yeah, we started dragging him along,” said Deckard, laughing and pointing at her son-in-law. “He enjoys it.”
Susie and Kelli Bacon, who had the same smile and blue eyes, were another mother-daughter duo at the show. Susie, the mother, has been coming to the Christmas show for four or five years. She said she normally buys chocolate and painted wood ornaments.
Many of the goods at the festival, like the wooden ornaments, were Christmas-themed. Many were not. One woodworker, J.M. “Dusty” Rhodes, sold silk-smooth bowls, pepper grinders, and lamp stands that he made himself. The business is called “Wood Be Memories.”
“I’m here to make money, numero uno,” joked Rhodes, but clearly money wasn’t his only motivation. He spoke with vigor about his passion for woodworking, saying he had three basic rules for turning wood.
“Safety first, don’t waste any time turning bad wood, and don’t tell anyone what it is till you’re done,” said Rhodes. “Every piece of wood is different – uniquely the same, if that makes any sense.”
Rhodes wasn’t always a woodworker. He grew up on an Indiana farm and went to Indiana State University on a football scholarship. He studied English and creative writing and planned to become a sports reporter. But “a little thing called Vietnam got in the way,” said Rhodes.
That “little thing” kept Rhodes in the Air Force for four years. He played semi-professional football for the San Francisco Giants for three years after that. That stage of his life ended when he injured his elbow. He then went to live with his brother.
While staying at his brother’s house, he met a Texan woman who came to visit the family and later married her. The couple moved to Texas, where they opened two barbecue restaurants and cooked on site in several East Texas locations. Years later, they moved to Indiana and opened barbecue places in Muncie and Marion.
Rhodes sold the restaurants and planned to retire, but after six weeks, he said, he went nearly insane for lack of employment. He took up woodworking as a hobby and now has made it into a business. He also works at Lucas Oil as a health and food safety instructor for concessions.
“It’s a little different from cooking at home,” said Rhodes. “You’re cooking for 20,000 people!”
Food of all kinds was plentiful at the festival. One engaged couple, Jeremy Kendall and Allie Hatcher, sold homemade honey and maple syrup. The syrup flavors ranged from cinnamon to all-spice to star of anise. The last is a major ingredient in licorice, but Kendall and Hatcher’s version has a more forgiving aftertaste.
The couple’s favorite syrup flavor is vanilla.
“We like it on coffee, and also a little on sweet potatoes,” said Allie. “And of course your traditional waffles, pancakes, things like that.”
Visitors to the stand got nearly unlimited samples. Kendall always asked if customers wanted to try another flavor, and the answer was nearly always yes.
Hearing about the maple syrup vendors piqued Stuteville’s interest, but he said he wasn’t partial to any specific holiday food.
“No, wait, I take that back,” he said, recalling his love for balls or blocks of cheese.
“I wouldn’t eat them any other time of the year,” he said, “but around Thanksgiving I’m ready for them.”
Stuteville enjoys celebrating Christmas with his family, especially going to church and visiting his children and grandchildren. He isn’t as interested in the physical trappings of the holiday.
“I think in your heart, you should [celebrate] throughout the year. Many people here are really into it” – he indicated the people nearby, some of whom were decked out in blindingly horrible Christmas sweaters – “but personally, it’s not my kind of thing. I enjoy the pageantry of Christmas, but I also enjoy the spirituality of it.”
Stuteville paused to greet a fellow veteran who had seen his “Vietnam Veteran” hat, shaking his hand and thanking him for his service.
He then added that the gift and hobby show was a good way to “kind of jump-start the Christmas season” for those who were interested in crafts and gift-giving.
Many other visitors were adamant that Christmas celebration should not start until after Thanksgiving.
“It upsets me to go into Walmart and see all the Christmas decorations,” said Rhodes.
“[Christmas] keeps creeping up earlier and earlier,” said Susie Bacon.
When asked how early was too early to start celebrating Christmas, Deckard responded, “Halloween! It shouldn’t start until after Thanksgiving, no matter what anybody says.”
Kendall said it doesn’t matter much to him when people decide to celebrate the holidays.
“Whatever makes you happy,” he said.
They greet visitors with smiling faces, women and men dressed in saris and kilts. Photos of foreign landscapes hang in every direction, commanding attention. Sounds of drums and pan flutes trill through the air as those walking by munch on churros and sip from coconuts.
In a giant whicker basket sits makeshift passports, waiting idly by until an unsuspecting visitor picks one up and begins their journey. More than 30 countries are represented at the 2018 Indy International Festival, reminding visitors that even in a time of cultural turmoil, there is beauty to be found.
In the corner, on top of an elaborate burgundy carpet, stand two players, brows furrowed in concentration. They are engaged in a game of towers, similar to modern day Jenga, each one trying to figure out which piece of wood to knock out with their sabers.
Behind them sit five women of the Tudor Rose Players, each one dressed more ornately than the last. It is obvious who is queen. She sits in a gold-adorned chair wearing a gold and ruby crown and red plaid sash. Women curtsey before her and don’t dare to look her in the eye.
She is Queen Elizabeth de Burgh, wife of Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots, come back to life. She tells people about the First War of Scottish Independence against England, which Robert the Bruce led. The wars against England began in 1296 and continued until The Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which restored Scottish Independence, in 1328.
There is a booming thud.
Sir Archibald has successfully knocked out a piece from the tower. The small crowd that had formed applauded.
“He’s not finished yet, though,” Elizabeth said, her Scottish accent strong. “He has to place the block.”
A 5-year-old girl works up the nerve to approach the queen. She is met instead by one of the servants who asks her name and teaches her how to properly curtsey.
“My queen, may I present Lady Charlotte,” the servant says.
Lady Charlotte curtseys and quickly runs back to the arms of her waiting mother.
Another roaring thud.
This time, it is Lady Agnes who has scored. By now, there is a larger crowd gathering. Two-year-old Emmett Griggs stands in the arms of his mother, wide-eyed as Lady Agnes nearly knocks the tower over.
“Careful now,” Elizabeth warned. “You almost got two for one on that turn.”
Emmett clenches his fists as Sir Archibald goes in for another piece. It is stuck. Sir Archibald begins lightly tapping the block of wood, demanding it come loose.
The tower topples.
The crowd disperses.
Queen Elizabeth raises her chalice of wine for a toast. “Nicely done Lady Agnes, I think you’re having a rematch now.”
Emmett bows to the queen, stamps his passport and runs off, eager to see what other adventures the day holds.
In another corner stands an 18-foot tall teepee. Its 30-foot poles are expertly twisted, towering over all the other booths. The wrap, made from buffalo skin, is painted with red and black triangles, sending a message to all who see it.
“The colors represent Mother Earth and medicine power,” Tony Castoreno, one of the last Apache teepee makers, explained to a small crowd. “When I’m camping, it lets people know that I’m a spiritualist.”
Near the teepee’s entryway stands an eagle staff with nine feathers, representing warriors who have fallen in battle. Inside, 4-year-old Lucas Kincaid looks up in amazement, his play-worn Batman cape flowing behind him.
“Woah, look how super cool this is,” Lucas says to his mom. “It’s like a house in here.”
He chortles and romps around the 19-foot diameter teepee, touching the various pelts that are strung throughout.
“This one is from a bear and that one is from a moose,” Lucas tells his mother.
Outside, Castoreno, who is also president of American Indian Center of Indiana, Inc., explains Lucas had actually touched the pelts of a buffalo and coyote. He explains the meaning of his war bonnet, telling Lucas that leaders who have earned respect in their tribes wear them.
Lucas touches one of the feathers, stamps his passport and runs off, eager to get lunch.
Nestled among the rows of booths is a makeshift gazebo of flowing yellow, red and blue fabrics. In the tent rests a dhol, a two-sided drum made of bamboo and cane wood that is used for a variety of Indian celebrations.
A man in an ornate purple and gold turban explains the history of the Sikhs to a group of adults who are enjoying a Saturday outing. Sikhs are those who follow the Sikh faith, which originated in India more than 500 years ago, K.P. Singh tells the group.
“Most of the people wearing a turban in western countries are Sikhs,” Singh says.
He follows their eyes to a backdrop of a building, whose shimmering gold façade is reflected in the water before it. It is an image of Sri Harmandir Sahib, or Golden Temple, located in the city of Amristar, Punjab, India.
“It is the equivalent of Vatican City for Sikhs,” Singh said. “It has the world’s largest kitchen that serves more than 100,000 people daily.”
The group tries to play the dhol, gets their passports stamped and head to the main stage to watch a performance.
A new family walks toward the booth and the saga begins again. Singh shows off the dhol, Castoreno teaches another child the semblance of his war bonnet and Queen Elizabeth raises another glass.
Families again mill about, taking in the sights of the Swiss Alps, smelling the aroma of an arepa and hearing the deft plucking of a sitar. They disperse back to their own reality, their own culture — the only physical semblance of their journey into other worlds is their stamp-filled passport.
The smell of tamales combined with Swiss espresso made it feel as if you were traveling around the world within the 70,000 square feet of the Blue Pavilion. As people walked in, the music coming from multiple speakers blended together to create one harmonious sound.
Indy’s International Festival gave over thirty countries the chance to share their culture, uniting people of all sorts of lived experiences. The festival celebrates the idea that being American does not look one way or speak one language.
Thirteen years ago, Fernando Cejas left his home in Mexico City to work at the Mexican Embassy in Indiana. Now he works as the director of community issues for the Embassy and educates the public while also promoting Mexican culture.
When Cejas came the United States he had to learn to adapt to American culture, while ensuring he did not lose his native culture or his language. He wants other immigrants to know that they can adapt without losing their Mexican identity.
Cejas knows that many come to work more than one job and said that immigrants have the dilemma of choosing between trabajar para vivir o vivir para trabajar (working to live or live to work).
Laura Uribe, who has been coming to the festival for three years, said that she combats this by enjoying her work. “I think the trick is to love what you do,” Uribe said.
She has owned her restaurant for sixteen years, and uses it as a way to promote Mexican culture while also making money.
She had to adapt when she came to the United States, but said “that’s what you have to do.” Uribe has four children and has taught them Spanish and made sure they know their heritage.
Cejas also works to promotes Mexican culture to defy the negative rhetoric against Mexicans and immigrants. “It is important to educate people so that they lose the fear and that feeling of animosity toward what is foreign,” Cejas said.
He wants to show people that immigrants are coming to work and contribute to the economy while also sharing Mexican culture. “We are not trying to impose our culture,” Cejas said, “just share it.”
As he mentions this, two little girls walk up the table and they look at all the documents on the table with curiosity. Their faces light up when Cejas gives them a Spanish book.
The older sister grabs the book with the utmost care and says, “Muchas gracias.” Cejas smiles as they leave the table, their arms full of Spanish books.
Alyx Kopie doesn’t like the color pink. But that’s hard to tell.
Her booth at the Indianapolis Pet Expo looks like an explosion of pink bubble gum. A rosy-colored, sparkly tablecloth. Glittery pink signs. Small metallic pink figurines shaped like balloon animals.
Kopie herself is a vision of pink. The pink sleeves of her baseball style T-shirt contrast with the intricate tattoos on her arms. The two stud earrings in her earlobes are pink. Her glittery eyeshadow is pink. Her nail polish is pink. Even her feathered, pixie-cut hair is pink.
But the most important piece of pink sits beside her.
Kopie’s dog, Bowie, sniffs her hand with his light pink, heart-shaped nose. His pink tongue lolls out of his mouth. He focuses intently on Kopie as she talks to passing visitors. But he doesn’t hear them: Bowie is a deaf dog.
Kopie is the founder of Pink Heart Rescue. The organization rescues blind and deaf dogs in the Indianapolis community and helps them to find homes.
Almost all blind or deaf dogs, such as Bowie, have pink, heart-shaped noses. Kopie thought the name fit perfectly, even though that meant using the color pink. However, this is just one sacrifice Kopie has made in order to better the lives of blind and deaf dogs in the Indianapolis community.
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In August of 2017, Kopie saw an advertisement on Facebook for a Great Dane puppy. She fell in love with the dog’s bright blue eyes, speckled pink nose and long, wiry whiskers.
There was a catch, though. The puppy was deaf.
That didn’t stop Kopie.
After convincing her husband, Justin Kopie, the two paid the $100 adoption fee and brought the puppy home. They decided to name her Paisley.
Kopie wasn’t sure where to start when it came to training Paisley. She had dog training experience from her days in 4-H, but she had never worked with a deaf dog before.
She contacted the Forever Friends Great Dane Rescue, who placed Paisley with an owner experienced in training deaf dogs. The situation opened Kopie’s eyes, though.
Kopie says she realized many people do not know how to work with deaf or blind dogs. Because of that, dogs with these types of disabilities are often passed from home to home.
She began to read books about training blind and deaf dogs. She scoured the internet. She even became a certified dog trainer.
“I wanted to give them the best chances they could get,” Kopie says. “I told myself, ‘I’m going to do this to give them better lives.’”
Kopie has been fortunate to have the support of her husband, Justin. Even today, he wears bright pink camouflage pants.
“I was a cat person before marrying her,” Justin says, laughing. “But that’s all changed now.”
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Kopie says she has always been a dog person. When she was 13 years old, her family adopted a dog named Josie. They bonded instantly, she says. Kopie trained Josie for agility, obedience and tracking down animals.
But two years after getting Josie, she was hit by a car and died. Kopie was devastated.
“Losing Josie made me realize how big of an impact a dog can have on your life,” Kopie says. “Josie is a big part in why I do all of this.”
Kopie is reminded of her first dog every time she looks at her left hand, which features a portrait of Josie.
Today, Kopie has helped find homes for over 27 blind and deaf dogs in the Indianapolis community.
She often sees blind and deaf dogs on Facebook or Craiglist that, because of their disabilities, cannot find homes. So she takes them in, caring for them and teaching them. Once they are ready, she helps the dogs to find their forever homes.
Sometimes, she evens trains the blind and deaf dogs she takes in to help others.
Bowie, for example, is currently being trained to be a service dog, even though he is deaf. Kopie, who suffers from PTSD, trained Bowie to warn her before she has a panic attack.
It can be challenging, though.
Last year, Kopie saw a deaf and blind dog on Craigslist located in Pennsylvania. She and her mother drove seven hours to get the dog, whom they later named Kora.
Kopie says Kora suffered many problems. She would bark continuously. She would lick objects compulsively. She would spin in circles.
Kopie wasn’t sure if she could help Kora. But she didn’t give up.
“None of us believed that that dog was going to be savable,” says Amira Dutra E Mello, a volunteer for Pink Heart Rescue. “But Alyx (Kopie) did.”
Kopie began to work with her, spending hours training her. She also took her to a veterinarian, who gave her medicine to help with the dog’s anxiety.
The weeks passed, and Kora began to respond to Kopie, learning basic commands and becoming more affectionate.
When Kora first arrived at Kopie’s home, she refused to interact with the other dogs. But one day, when Kopie went outside, she saw Kora romping and playing with the other dogs.
“That was a huge obstacle to overcome,” Kopie says. “I knew in that moment she was going to be okay.”
Once Kora improved, Kopie found a home for the dog in Ohio. She still gets regular pictures and videos from Kora’s new owners.
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Kopie and her husband currently live in a three-bedroom home. One bedroom is for the couple’s own nine dogs. The other bedroom is for their rescue dogs. The third bedroom, well, they save for themselves (for now, at least).
During the week, Kopie works as a tattoo artist at Blessed Tattoo Studio in Greenwood. She is a part-time youth minister at Saints Francis and Clare Catholic Church. She also works part-time as a dog trainer on the weekends. Her husband recently began working from home so he could have more time for the dogs.
The couple is saving money to build a home near Martinsville or Mooresville. They want it to include a farm so the dogs can have more room to roam.
For now, though, Kopie will continue to help blind and deaf dogs in any way she can.
“These dogs just trust you so much,” Kopie says. “They rely on you and love you 110 percent, and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”
Kopie smiles, looking at Bowie, then looking down at her left hand. She sees the portrait of her first dog, Josie. And, right above on her middle finger, she sees another tattoo: a small pink heart, shaped just like Bowie’s nose.