Saturday, May 28, 2011

When Photos and Memories Are All That Are Left

It isn't as obvious from this view, but my favourite tree at Prairie Rose Cemetery is dying - another victim of the pine bark beetle or whatever has been causing these stately old trees to die off the past several years. This tree has stood in the southwest corner of the cemetery for as long as I can remember. I have heard it said it was one of the trees marking the original four corners of the cemetery.
There were other changes in the cemetery this morning when I put flowers on the grave sites of my Mom & Dad, Sister and Nephew: a second grave and stone are now in the 'new' part of Prairie Rose. The former 'new' area (southeast side) is nearly full.
Had my father followed his family tradition, he would have been buried at Oakland Cemetery - the one we refer to as Quincy Cemetery - where his parents, sisters, grandparents and great-grandparents lie in eternal rest. However, he chose to be interred in the country cemetery two miles from where he lived the majority of his life.
Prairie Rose is a fitting name. It is a lovely and peaceful site. Visiting it is like recalling not only the neighborhood I remember, but also the names of the people who were my parents' early neighbors. As I read those names, I remember something about each one as well as where they lived - many of their home sites now gone - Jackson, Humbert, Brown, Vogel, Steadman, Rogers, Rimmer, Casteel, Hadley, Smejdir, Thomas, Lund, Johnson, Little, Amdor, Moore, Walters, Kapple, Perry, Mitchell, Travis, Leonard, Palmer, Hutchison, Lundquist, Schaffer, Reichardt, Shearburn, Septer, Olive, Law, Bycroft, Archer, Swartz, Goldsmith, Jenkins - even the Tuck of 'Tuck Corner' and many, many more.
Sometimes I read a name and wonder why they are buried here - like the Powell family. Then I read the dates of death in 1957 of father, son and daughter, with the mother being buried many years later - and remember that she was a Leonard; the driver of the car in which the rest of her family was killed. Theirs is not the only sad story - there are many others, like the Law baby and the Little son; my own sister, a young mother, and her son, my nephew, who found life too hard to live; the Reichardt daughter and the Steadman son, who also chose their own ways out of life on earth. Each name has a story whether a life cut short or one long-lived; a pillar of the community, a simple farmer or devoted mother. It is my privilege to remember them all as long as I can and to visit them once again each Memorial Day Weekend.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

People of the Longhouse

Many of W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear's book titles begin with "People of the....." The Gear's are prolific writers. All their books that I have read are the ones about Native Americans before our country was settled by foreigners. Reading their books is how I have learned of such fascinating places as Cahokia in Illinois (which I was able to visit a few years ago) and Moundville in Alabama (which is still on my 'to visit' list) as well as many, many sites in the Southwest.
People of the Longhouse is the first of four books that will tell the epic tale of Dekanawida, the Peacemaker. He established the Great Law of Peace and founded the League of the Iroquois - a confederacy of five tribes in the northeast area of our country.
This book and the next, The Dawn Country, is a duology focusing on the early lives of Dekanawida and Hiyawento. The next duology, The Broken Land and The Black Sun, will chronicle their later lives along with telling the story of Jigonsaseh, the head clan mother known as "The Mother of Nations". Their struggle for peace in fifteenth-century North America formed the basis of many ideals we cherish as free people today.

Reading this latest Gear book has created some confusion in my own mind: Somewhere in my fairly recent past, I was talking with a man who is or was associated with Wyoming archeology. When I mentioned that I enjoy reading the Gear books - how well they are written based on anthropology and archaeological findings (read the Gears' biographies at gear-gear.com) - the person I was talking with was rather demeaning of the Gears (who live in Wyoming) and their books.
What I'm unable to remember is where I talked to this man. It was a social setting and I don't do that many social settings anymore. Was it at my brother's wedding two years ago? (Possibly since my brother is in the world of academics.) Was it at my nephew's going away party? (Possibly as he is friends with a wide variety of people.) OR, is it just something I dreamed?
Regardless, I bet people reading the Gear books have learned more about early Native American peoples than through any other channels. For certain, I will keep learning thanks to their books.

The Shifting Tide and Dark Assassin are the fourteenth and fifteenth novels in Anne Perry's William Monk series. The fact that I have not grown weary of this character is a testament to how well these books are written and how interestingly fresh each one is. (For me, it also helps that they are set in Victorian London - an era and area I'm interested in.)
In The Shifting Tide, Monk's dire need of funds compels him to accept an assignment to find and return ivory stolen from a ship moored on the Thames. Monk knows London streets, but the world of the river and its docks is foreign territory for him.

Monk continues his association with the Thames in Dark Assassin as the new Superintendent of the Thames River Police. (I must say, I was pretty certain I was going to see Monk back in uniform.) As he tries to learn his new job, he realizes he must also earn the respect of his men - at least one of which is intent upon discrediting him.

Monk has been helped in both these books by a young mudlark* named Scuff. I'm going on record as betting that Scuff will be adopted by Monk and Hester in some future book.

(There are only three books left for me to read in the Monk series, so I'm going to get one of Perry's WWI series and try it when I go to the library today.)

*A mudlark is someone who scavenges in river mud for items of value, especially in London in the late 18th and 19th centuries. (Forerunners of today's metal-detecting beachcombers perhaps?) There was a 1950 movie, The Mudlark, starring Irene Dunne and Alec Guinness which I would watch if it is ever on the classic movie network.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Feeling Like A Grandma

Thirty years ago today, I became a grandmother. That's me holding baby Brock. His dad, my son Doug, is on the right. Brock's mom, Diane is on the left. Behind on the left, my daughter, Kari, and on the right, my son, Preston.
Being a young grandma has had many advantages - the number one being that I was able to keep up with my grand kids.


This weekend, however, found me feeling more like a grandma. Saturday we drove as far as Waterloo so we could get up early to drive the last hour or so to Decorah in time to attend granddaughter Alyssa's graduation from Luther College Sunday morning.
Humidity and wind were high and rain threatened, but the outdoor commencement was successfully held. The backyard of the house Alyssa shared with four other senior girls was the perfect spring backdrop for our picture taking.

Left to right: Alyssa's parents, Shelly and Doug, the happy graduate, myself and Bud. At this point I was already beginning to feel tired, but there was a four hour drive ahead of us to make it to Winterset in time for a graduation reception for......



granddaughter, Kathryn. Her Winterset High School commencement was held earlier in the afternoon. Kathryn will be attending Coe College in Cedar Rapids in the fall. So I'm already imagining another cross state commencement in four years.

Above left to right, Grandpa Bud, Mom Shalea, graduate Kathryn, Dad Preston and Grandma Ramona. I think you can tell I was getting pretty tired. How do grandparents who have their grandchildren later in life manage? I still have three more to graduate from high school. Is there a tonic out there which will keep me going?



Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Still Point

Amy Sackville's, The Still Point, is this Brit's first novel. I almost did not read this split novel describing the last days of an Arctic explorer and one sweltering summer day in the life of his great-grand-niece one hundred years later.
Julia has inherited the rundown Mackley mansion where she lives with her husband, Simon. While the wayward Simon is at work, Julia is attempting to sort and archive the journals, letters and artifacts (including stuffed polar bears) from Edward Mackley's expeditions.
Edward and Emily were only married a few weeks when he left on his final attempt to be the first to reach the North Pole. (The title refers to that still point of our spinning world.) Edward has promised to return and Emily has promised to wait for him. It is this faithful waiting which captures Julia's attention as she reads the romance of Edward and Emily's short time together. Julia begins living Emily's life in her mind while her own marriage unravels. (Intended or not, I thought Julia was descending into madness.)
It is only a chance visit from a distant cousin that uncovers the secret from Emily's lonely life that releases Julia from her dream world and opens the door to renewing her own marriage.
Did I like this book? Yes. Do I feel I would have missed out on a good book if I hadn't finished reading it? Probably not.

Empire Falls is Richard Russo's 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning novel about small town life in a blue collar town. Miles Roby has been running the Empire Cafe for twenty years -waiting patiently for the ownership the cafe's owner has promised him so he can sell it and leave the dying factory town. Miles is the epitome of Mr. Nice Guy. He keeps taking it on the chin, putting up with the idiosyncrasies of Russo's wide cast of secondary characters including Roby's soon-to-be ex-wife, his ne'er-do-well father, his younger brother, his daughter, the former classmate turned town cop and the aforementioned, controlling cafe owner. How much will this guy take before blowing his top?
This was a very satisfying read. All the characters were finely drawn and fully fleshed-out. I always wanted to see the 2005 HBO movie starring Paul Newman and Ed Harris based on this book. I think I would like it as well as I did the book.

Over Here, Over There is the biography of The Andrews Sisters during WWII written by Maxene Andrews and Bill Gilbert. It is an affectionate, nostalgic look at a country at war and the talented men and women who entertained the troops who were fighting it.
I've always liked the music from that era - the big bands and the individual singers. So I enjoyed reading this book. As usual, when I read, I always learn something I didn't know before - like $59 billion dollars was raised from the sale of war bonds to help finance the war; eight Nazi saboteurs (four in New York and four in Florida) were landed with bombs, forged draft and social security cards, and cash for expenses and bribes with the goals of blowing up bridges, rail lines, manufacturing plants, the New York water supply system and the Niagara Falls hydroelectric power plant.
I was familiar with rationing from having Mom show me my own ration book and explaining it to me. I had heard the story of when I was born during the war - how Dad drove her the twenty-five miles to the hospital in Creston, stayed with her until I was born before driving back home then not coming back again until we were released from the hospital ten days later. That seemed rather uncaring until I read in this book that gasoline was rationed at the rate of three gallons a week. The fifty-mile round trip would have used almost all of one week's gas! No wonder he didn't visit us during the hospital stay.
It was fun to read this book and be reminded of so many of the old songs and the entertainers from that era. I hadn't appreciated the importance of the USO canteens and shows before.

Other reads this time were some more Anne Perry's - another Thomas and Charlotte Pitt novel, Paragon Walk, and the next two Monk novels: Funeral in Blue and Death Of A Stranger in which Monk at last regains his memory. It looks like our library has four of the last five books in this series. I'll have to see if I can find the missing one next time I'm at Half-Price Books. (Or maybe finally start ordering books online?)

Friday, May 6, 2011

Mothers' Day - 1940

From the left: Ruth and Ronald Lynam, Lila Roberts and Lois Mitchell.


Seventy-one years ago today, Mom's sister and brother-in-law, Evelyn and Howard Roberts, had their third child - their first daughter - Lila Mae. The very next day, Ruth and Louis Lynam had their first child, Ronald Earl. He was born the day after his father's 23rd birthday - Lila being born on her Uncle Louis's birthday and beating her cousin by one day.

Mother's Day was May 12th that year, so the sisters got to celebrate it with week-old babies. Although with two little boys plus the new baby, I doubt Aunt Evelyn had much time for celebrating.

I don't know why Aunt Lois is in the above picture instead of Lila's mother. Perhaps Aunt Evelyn was taking the picture. They were all arrayed on the front lawn of the house where the girls had spent their teen years. It was a large home we referred to as "Walter Johnson's" for the family that lived there after Grandpa and Grandma moved to a farm west of Iveyville.

Mom was always fond of this place - telling us about the large fish pool, climbing atop the barn with her sister, Lois and keeping baby lambs in the basement during the severe winter of 1936. When her dementia worsened and she talked of "going home" all the time, I thought this was the place she was thinking about going to.

The same day Lila was born, John Steinbeck was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, The Grapes of Wrath. Eighty years earlier in 1861, Arkansas seceded from the Union. Three years earlier, in 1937 while the newly engaged Ruth was planning her October wedding, the German zeppelin, Hindenburg, caught fire and was destroyed while trying to dock in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

On May 6, 1877, Chief Crazy Horse surrendered to US troops in Nebraska. King Louis XVI of France moved his court to the Palace of Versailles on May 6, 1682 - 235 years before the aforementioned first-time father, Louis Lynam, was born on May 6, 1917. (I have often wondered if Dad was named for those French kings.)

Lila, Dad and Ron will probably never appear on any 'this date in history' lists, but they will always be the ones I think of on May 6 & 7 - and Mom, of course, because it is almost Mother's Day again.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

A Roman Goddess, Great Grandma Flora Viola and May Day

Celebrating May Day as a holiday on May 1 does not rank very high in the United States. But there was a time it was a principle festival. Ancient Romans held a five day celebration known as the Floralia in honor of Flora, the Goddess of Flowers and Spring. Above is the face of Flora from Sandro Botticelli's painting, Allegory of Spring (circa 1482). (Another painting of Goddess Flora I like is from a Villa di Arianna fresco. She is painted in a yellow robe from the back.)
My Great-Grandmother, Flora Viola Richardson, was born 140 years ago on April 20. I wonder if she was named in honor of the Roman Goddess? And a double floral name? Her mother must have been happy to have a spring daughter.



As was I. Here Kari and her cousins, Christine (left) and Lorrie (right) are displaying their May Day wreathes which Kari made from willow branches. (Circa 1979)
When the Romans occupied the British Isles, their celebration of Flora became entwined with the Druids' May 1 Beltane celebration. Flowers met fires.



The history of the Maypole is uncertain. There seems to be a version of it in the Scandinavian countries and Germany. By the mid-14th century, maypole use was widespread in the British Isles. Every village had its Maypole. A Queen of May was selected to lead the procession followed by the dancing around the Maypole.
My picture of the Maypole was taken in West Des Moines around 1994. It was part of the May Day celebration held at the Jordan House (in background). Until then, I had not realized the intricacies of the dance. "Weave, weave, weave me a rainbow out of the falling rain. Weave me the hope of a new tomorrow, fill my cup again."





The Queen of May in bygone days was always a young maiden. For my own Queen of May, I would choose my Mother, pictured here with two of her great-granddaughters: Alyssa on the left and Katrina on the right. They were all wearing sprigs of crab apple blossoms in their hair. The Queen and her Princesses in 1997. Happy May Day. I hope you are celebrating.