Sunday, October 31, 2010

October Reads II

Of the eight books I read the last half of this month, the one that affected me the most was the one I read last: Night Birds by Thomas Maltman. The two main reasons I found it so compelling were because it is fiction based on true happenings and because I learned of those happenings at a young, impressionable age.
Just as I wondered a couple days ago about the differences between what I learned in grade school and what kids today are learning, I wonder if Iowa students are still learning about the Spirit Lake Massacre of 1857? As horrible as it was, I was interested in learning more about it. That was why I read MacKinley Kantor's book, Spirit Lake, when it was published in the early '60's.
Maltman's book, Night Birds, is his first novel. It is set in the 1860's and '70's. The main focus is the Dakota War of 1862 when more than 400 settlers in south central Minnesota were killed by Sioux and Dakota warriors led by Little Crow.
The book begins: "I grew up in the shadow of the Great Sioux War which started here in Minnesota in 1862. Born four months after thirty-eight Dakota warriors were hanged en masse in Mankato the day after Christmas, I was named for an uncle, Asa, killed during the conflict." Part of the book is told by Asa, and part is related through the life of his aunt Hazel from the time she is a young girl in Missouri witness to the clashes between slave owners and abolitionists to her relationships with her Dakota neighbors near New Ulm, MN. Maltman explores German folklore, Dakota mysticism and pioneer spirituality in this moving tale of a local conflict overshadowed by the larger Civil War taking place at the same time.
Two more of Ruth Rendell's "Inspector Wexford" mysteries were among my eight reads: Murder Being Once Done and Some Lie and Some Die. Her writing is growing on me. I'm going to follow Wexford in the order of the novels available through my local library, as well as reading all Rendell's stand alone books Gibson Memorial has on its shelves.
Much as I like the new Inspector Lewis episodes on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery, I still miss good old Inspector Morse which is why I read two of Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse mysteries: The Riddle of the Third Mile and Morse's Greatest Mystery which is a collection of short stories. Good old Inspector E. Morris is hard to beat.
I read Cecelia Ahern's P.S. I Love You by accident about the same time it was being made into a movie. (I left home without a book to read and bought it so I wouldn't be book less on a car trip.) I liked it well enough to read Ahern's other books including this month's Thanks For The Memories. The book's premise is like the idea of a heart transplant recipient experiencing some of the donor's mannerisms, likes and dislikes. Except in this book, the recipient doesn't receive a heart, she receives a blood transfusion and begins seeing people through his eyes as well as being able to speak Italian and French just because the donor can.
It is a cute romance, set in Dublin (one of my favourite locales), England and Chicago. Ahern is the daughter of former Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern. She wrote her first novel at age 21. In addition to being an author, Ahern also co-produced the TV series, "Samantha Who?"
Anne Perry's fifth William Monk book, The Sins of the Wolf, finds Nurse Hester Latterly accused of murdering her patient, a wealthy Edinburgh matriarch. When the woman's expensive brooch is found in the nurse's luggage, it becomes the motive for murder. Detective Monk and Hester's friend, Barrister Oliver Rathbone, know she has been set up by the real killer, but how do they discover who that is in time to save Hester's life?
I have become a big fan of these Victorian mysteries. They are smartly written. I enjoy reading about the time period. Perry is almost as talented as my current favourite mystery writer, Minette Walters, in keeping her perpetrators hidden until the final pages.
Last of the eight is another first book, One Heart, by Jane McCafferty. It is the story of two sisters, Ivy and Gladys, who have depended upon each other during a shared lifetime. Now in their 40's, they are working as cooks at a school and summer camp in upstate New York. Ivy is cheerful while Gladys is sullen. The children like Ivy; they are frightened by Gladys.
As close as they are, the two sisters really don't know or understand one another. Nor do they always like each other. The book is one of family, friendship, forgiveness and redemption. I could not read it without wondering what my relationship with my sister would be like at this time in our lives had she lived.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Pairing of Halloween and Psycho

Fifty years ago today, I spent the afternoon decorating the Fairview Community Hall for a Harvest Ball to be held the next night - Halloween. All Hallows Eve was not the holiday it is today, which is why it was called a Harvest Ball. The decorations were fall themed, not Halloween horrors. As usual, my anticipation of the fun I would have at the party was much greater than the reality. I wrote in my diary the next night: "It was okay, I guess."
After an afternoon of decorating, going to a movie was a lot more exciting - especially when the movie was Alfred Hitchcock's much touted Psycho. A scary movie the night before Halloween would be perfect. The rule that "No one will be admitted after the start of the movie!", added to the drama.
I did think it was odd that the movie was in black and white when all the movies had been in technicolor for years. I definitely was not prepared for the pure terror Psycho engendered. I was not prepared for the star of the film, Janet Leigh, to be killed off so soon - well, not at all, actually. And to have her killed in such a dramatic, scary way - the famous shower scene - was almost too much.
I went home that night and wrote in my diary: "Went to show tonight. Psycho! Oh, man! It was really spooky." The next day I noted how tired I was because I, "Didn't get to sleep till one last night."
The movie was nominated for four academy awards. It is still a classic and probably Hitchcock's most memorable movie. "A boy's best friend is his mother."
(In one of those odd coincidences, we were watching Modern Marvels on the History Channel last night where I learned that chocolate syrup was used as the blood in the shower scene.)
I like reading psychological thrillers, maybe it is time to watch one? I wonder if Psycho is running on any of the movie channels this weekend?

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Black Tuesday" - October 29, 1929

Sometimes when certain dates roll around that I remember learning when I was in grade school, I wonder if kids in school today learn them, too.
I remember learning about "the great stock market crash of 1929" which led to "The Great Depression". Of course that was all recent history for me compared to what it would be for today's school kids - ancient history.
Not only did I learn about the depression years in school, I heard it first hand from my parents. Dad told of husking corn for Ira Bosisto in the 1930's for 50 cents a day - and being glad for the work. This picture of Dad and Ron was taken in 1940. The corn he had picked was half his. (The landlord got the other half.)
It was impressed upon me that investing in the stock market was a very scary, very risky thing to do. Hearing about men jumping out of the high rise windows on Wall Street because they were ruined financially was an image that stayed in my mind.
While studying economics in high school, we "played the stock market" for a few weeks - selecting our stocks; reading the newspapers to see how they did each day; buying, selling, trading our stocks until at the end of the experiment we figured out who had made money and who had lost money.
During the 1970's, the owner of the advertising and public relations agency I worked for, talked about the stock market a lot. He was always watching his stocks to see how they were doing. At that time in my life, I never imagined that I would someday be concerned about the Dow Jones Average, NASDAQ or the S&P. But thanks to the retirement benefits of a couple companies I worked for in the 80's and 90's, I have reason to care about the stock market.
It is interesting that the stock market crashes of '29, '87 and 2008 all began in October. The '08 one was not as bad for me as it was for many investors. My little investments are slowly recovering. It was funny talking with a friend and former classmate about five years ago discussing how our retirement funds were doing. "Who would ever have believed that we would someday be talking about stock market investments?" I laughingly asked her.
Indeed. I never imagined it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"And They Call the Wind Mariah"

"Way out west they have a name for rain and wind and fire
The rain is Tess, the fire's Joe and they call the wind Mariah
Mariah blows the stars around and sends the clouds aflyin..."

The winds way out west may be called Mariah - the winds we have had the past two days could be called simply STRONG! A record setting low pressure system was responsible for winds that blew semis off the road and downed trees and power lines here in Iowa. Other Midwest states had tornadoes and blizzards - quite the couple of days.

While thinking about wind, two things came to mind: the first was the song from which I quoted. The second are a few lines from a poem: "We are ever and always slaves of these,
Of the suns that scorch and the winds that freeze,
Of the faint sweet scents of the sultry air,
Of the half heard howl from the far off lair.
These chance things master us ever. Compel
To the heights of Heaven, the depths of Hell."

Wherever I read those stanzas and copied them into my poetry notebook, I don't believe I ever read the complete poem until today. It was written by Laurence Hope and is entitled The Teak Forest.

And through the magic of the internet, I learn that Laurence Hope was the pseudonym of Adela Florence Nicolson (1865-1904). I love the ease by which I can now learn anything I want about anyone. The subject of wind has led me to read more about this poet and more of her poetry; a lovely activity for a slightly less windy day. All I need is a cup of tea to accompany my reading.......

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Brock, Zach, Katrina & Alyssa's Grandpa Kenny

It seems appropriate today on what would have been Kenny's 68th birthday (October 27, 1942) to give his grandchildren some pictures and words about him.
This first photo was captured in the spring of 1965 as he walked across the front yard at my parent's. Kenny was the youngest of four boys. He and Gary were always working on their old cars. When I began dating him, he was driving a white 1947 Ford and working on his green '49 Mercury. More than one date involved watching them work on their cars.
Kenny also excelled at roller skating and was a very good dancer. He liked rock and roll and country western music. I did not know it until a few years ago, but one of his nicknames was "Be-bop".

Doug was almost two when this snapshot of the three of us was taken in the summer of 1964. Again in the front yard at Mom & Dad's.
I have to admit that it bothered me that I was a little taller than Kenny.
Doug's hair has darkened over the years, but at this time he had his Dad's blond hair as well as other Botkin features.

Christmas, 1964 - Doug, Kenny, Les and Uncle Gene (with back to camera) were playing the "Crazy Clock Game". I imagine it was a new game Leslie had received for xmas. It looks like they were upstairs in the west room; probably too crowded to play a game downstairs. I don't know how the game was played, but they all look pretty intent. It looks like Les is clutching his hands in excitement or concentration.

I tried copying this family photo out of the Adams County History Book. Your Grandpa Kenny is rather blurred in the bottom right. Behind him is his sister Sherry, brother Jim and sister Marjo. Seated on the left in front are his brother Gary and parents Betty and Chuck. His brother Ronnie died New Year's Day, 1961 before this family photo was taken.
Kenneth Douglas Botkin died June 24, 1980 at the age of 37 after open heart surgery. It is too bad he never got to know any of his grandchildren. I'm sure he would have been very proud of them and they would have benefited from knowing him.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral - October 26, 1881

Like many red-blooded American kids, Bud and I grew up going to Saturday afternoon matinees at the local theatre - ours was the American Theatre in Corning. One of our favorite genres was the western.
Bud was eleven and I was thirteen when Gunfight at the O.K. Corral came out in May, 1957. Burt Lancaster played Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas was Doc Holliday. A young Dennis Hopper played Billy Clanton. The setting was Tombstone, Arizona Territory. The Wyatt Brothers and Doc Holliday were portrayed as the "good guys". The Clantons, McLaury brothers and Billy Clairborne were the "bad guys".
There is much controversy over what really happened in Tombstone 129 years ago - who fired the first shot; whether the Clantons were really outlaws or just ranchers bullied into a fight by the Earps - but the outcome was clear; Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were killed. Morgan and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday were all wounded. Ike Clanton and Billy Claiborne ran away, unharmed.

In 1997, forty years after the movie made its impression upon us, Bud and I were enjoying an Arizona vacation. Our friends had given us a week at their condo in Tucson. Using that as our base, we made day trips throughout the area.
Top on the list to see was Tombstone.
After touring the museums, gift stores and historical buildings, we made our way to the O.K. Corral where Bud posed next to Doc Holliday - on the side of the "good guys".

While I crouched into fighting position on the opposite side with the Clantons and McLaurys.

Our trip concluded at Boot Hill, the resting place of Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton.

Another memory of mine from that day was the weather. It was sunny and in the low 70's - perfect for Iowans. In one of the gift shops a fire was burning in the fireplace. The owner was wearing a sweatshirt and said she was going to also put her coat on because she was freezing.

I guess it is all a matter of perception. We were comfortable. She was cold. The Earps and Doc Holliday were in the right; the Clantons, McLaurys, and Claiborne were in the wrong.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"The Proud Cherry Tree"

Every mom thinks her children are the cutest. Mine certainly were. I've always loved this picture of Kari taken on a Des Moines River sandbar in Jester Park. I had driven Doug's 'Ecology Club' members to the Park that day as a treat for all the trash pickup work they had done.

Sometimes when I am thinking about my granddaughter, Katrina, my niece, Kristi, or my daughter-in-law, Shalea, I wonder how they do all they do. They are working full time, raising children, taking care of homes, involved in their communities...then I remember that I once did the same things as well as furthering my formal education.

I began taking some college courses when Doug and I lived in Mt. Vernon. I continued taking some at DMACC when Kari and Preston were little. One of the classes was a Children's Literature course. One of the assignments in that class was to write a children's story. One of the stories I wrote was: "The Proud Cherry Tree".

It was a tale with a moral about a cherry tree which thought it was the best tree in the orchard. When a wind storm came along, the other trees told the proud cherry tree to bend with the wind. It would not. It was too proud. It would stand up to the wind. It would show them how brave it was. The wind blew and blew. The other trees kept shouting: "Bend with the wind." There was one final huge gust of wind. It toppled the proud cherry tree. The moral: learn to give a little when confronted with something you can't change.

We were to take turns reading our stories in class. I thought it would be clever to take my little girl with me, hold her on my lap and read my story to her. I dressed her in the cute dress and pinafore she'd had her three-year-old photo taken in and off we went to class.

Needless to say, it was a disaster. Kari wouldn't pay attention to the story. She didn't care about the proud cherry tree! She only cared about wriggling around and looking at everyone and everything else in that room and asking when we could leave.

Wasn't it W. C. Fields who said: "Never work with animals or children"?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"The Moon Was A Ghostly Galleon Tossed Upon Cloudy Seas"

The picture I took of this month's full moon, The Hunter's Moon, illustrates one of my all time most loved poems: The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes. When I was in grade school, we had a recording of the poem. I don't remember who made the recording, but his voice was deep, dark, perfect for the rendition. I played the record every chance I got. I can still hear it today:

Alfred Noyes (1880-1958)
The Highwayman
THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees, The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, And the highwayman came riding— Riding—riding— The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.
He'd a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin, A coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin; They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh! And he rode with a jewelled twinkle, His pistol butts a-twinkle, His rapier hilt a-twinkle, under the jewelled sky.
Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard, And he tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred; He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there But the landlord's black-eyed daughter, Bess, the landlord's daughter, Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.
And dark in the dark old inn-yard a stable-wicket creaked Where Tim the ostler listened; his face was white and peaked; His eyes were hollows of madness, his hair like mouldy hay, But he loved the landlord's daughter, The landlord's red-lipped daughter, Dumb as a dog he listened, and he heard the robber say—
"One kiss, my bonny sweetheart, I'm after a prize to-night, But I shall be back with the yellow gold before the morning light; Yet, if they press me sharply, and harry me through the day, Then look for me by moonlight, Watch for me by moonlight, I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way."
He rose upright in the stirrups; he scarce could reach her hand, But she loosened her hair i' the casement! His face burnt like a brand As the black cascade of perfume came tumbling over his breast; And he kissed its waves in the moonlight, (Oh, sweet, black waves in the moonlight!) Then he tugged at his rein in the moonlight, and galloped away to the West.

He did not come in the dawning; he did not come at noon; And out o' the tawny sunset, before the rise o' the moon, When the road was a gypsy's ribbon, looping the purple moor, A red-coat troop came marching— Marching—marching— King George's men came matching, up to the old inn-door.
They said no word to the landlord, they drank his ale instead, But they gagged his daughter and bound her to the foot of her narrow bed; Two of them knelt at her casement, with muskets at their side! There was death at every window; And hell at one dark window; For Bess could see, through her casement, the road that he would ride.
They had tied her up to attention, with many a sniggering jest; They had bound a musket beside her, with the barrel beneath her breast! "Now, keep good watch!" and they kissed her. She heard the dead man say— Look for me by moonlight; Watch for me by moonlight; I'll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way!
She twisted her hands behind her; but all the knots held good! She writhed her hands till her fingers were wet with sweat or blood! They stretched and strained in the darkness, and the hours crawled by like years, Till, now, on the stroke of midnight, Cold, on the stroke of midnight, The tip of one finger touched it! The trigger at least was hers!
The tip of one finger touched it; she strove no more for the rest! Up, she stood up to attention, with the barrel beneath her breast, She would not risk their hearing; she would not strive again; For the road lay bare in the moonlight; Blank and bare in the moonlight; And the blood of her veins in the moonlight throbbed to her love's refrain .
Tlot-tlot; tlot-tlot! Had they heard it? The horse-hoofs ringing clear; Tlot-tlot, tlot-tlot, in the distance? Were they deaf that they did not hear? Down the ribbon of moonlight, over the brow of the hill, The highwayman came riding, Riding, riding! The red-coats looked to their priming! She stood up, straight and still!
Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night! Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light! Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath, Then her finger moved in the moonlight, Her musket shattered the moonlight, Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him—with her death.
He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood! Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear How Bess, the landlord's daughter, The landlord's black-eyed daughter, Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there.
Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high! Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat, When they shot him down on the highway, Down like a dog on the highway, And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.
* * * * * *
And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, A highwayman comes riding— Riding—riding— A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door.
Over the cobbles he clatters and clangs in the dark inn-yard; He taps with his whip on the shutters, but all is locked and barred; He whistles a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there But the landlord's black-eyed daughter, Bess, the landlord's daughter, Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

The above poem can be found in print, for example, in:
Noyes, Alfred. Collected Poems. New York: Frederick A.Stokes Company, 1913.
A recording of the poem being sung can be found on:
McKennitt, Loreena. The Book of Secrets [CD]. Burbank, CA:Warner Bros. Records Inc., 1997.

The poem is romantic and tragic at the same time - something that would stick in the mind of an impressionable young girl for a lifetime. I'm a big fan of Loreena McKennitt, also. I do have her recording of The Highwayman and while I find it lovely, it will never replace the recording I first heard in the 1950s - the one I still hear in my mind today......

........Tlot, tlot in the frosty silence! Tlot, tlot in the echoing night!.......

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy Birthday To Our Sandwich Cousin

Betty, Janet and Ramona on our horse, Queenie. - 1952-53?

I've commented before about how close we were to our first cousins. My sister, Betty, cousin Janet and I were the three musketeers. If we were a sandwich, Betty and I were the bread and Jan was the filling. Her birthday, October 23, was exactly one month after Betty's, September 23, and almost four weeks before mine, November 18. She was also in the middle of our birth years - mine, 1943, hers, 1944, and Betty's, 1945.
Our neighbor, Albert ('Shorty') Reichardt, took this picture of us one summer after we rode old Queenie down to his place. How did that poor old horse carry us all?

Oh, did we have some good times growing up! Obviously we were playing dress-up on this occasion. Standing on the west side of our house, left to right, me (in the coveted black hat), Lila, and Glenna (with her broken arm). Sitting - Janet, the gypsy, baby Mary Lou and Betty, the cowgirl. We all wanted to wear hats, but Mom wasn't a hat person. I think we took turns having our picture taken wearing her fancy black chapeau. I know Glenna remembers this day because she asked me not long ago where my Mom got the hat.

This professional photo of the Roberts cousins was taken in 1949 or '50. Left to right, Larry Joe, Lila May, Glenna Lee, Janet Kay, Glen Edward and Mary Lou squeezed in front. I remember Mom taking care of Mary Lou one time when she was little. After Aunt Evelyn picked her up and left, Mom proclaimed she was a little spoiled brat.

This photo of the family was taken at our place in 1957 when we hosted the Ridnour Cousins Reunion. Left to right: Glen, Janet, Uncle Howard, Lila, Glenna, Larry, Mary Lou, and Aunt Evelyn.
I know from reading the diaries I kept from 1957 to 196o, that Jan stayed with Betty and me fairly often. She would ride the school bus home with us and spend the night. And Janet is the cousin I wrote about going to Illinois with me and Grandpa and Grandma in 'The Illinois Connection'.
Once we graduated from high school, we went our separate ways. Janet met her husband, Bob Gray, while working in Red Oak. He was a career Navy man so they traveled around some before settling in Des Moines. Their firstborn, William, was a little younger than Preston. I remember keeping him for a day when he was a baby so Jan and Bob could attend the State Fair. They also had a daughter, Lana.
Many years later, I became better acquainted with Bill when he and I both worked as Building Facilitators for the West Des Moines School District. With Lana, too, when she worked as a teller where I banked.
Janet is retired now. She became a widow when Bob died in 2006. We still don't see each other very often, but when we do, she's the same old fun loving girl I knew from our youth.
Happy 66th birthday, Jan!

Friday, October 22, 2010

George Washington Gravett - October 22, 1842

One of my sixteen great-great grandparents, George Washington Gravett, was born 168 years ago today. He is pictured above with his wife, Melinda Jane Cecil and ten of their fifteen children.
(Five died in infancy.) Great-great grandpa and grandma are seated directly behind their youngest son, Joe Gravett. The woman in the back on the left is my Great grandmother, Nancy Gravett Lynam. There is no date on the picture, but I would guess it was taken in the early 1900's.
I don't know too much about my Gravett relatives. When I was working at the light plant (Corning Municipal Utilities) in 1966-67, Joe was (to me) an old man who came in to pay his light bill. He told me we were related. But at that time in my life I wasn't interested in family genealogy. Too bad because I'm sure he could have told me many stories.
The woman seated to the left of G.W. was Jeannette Hunt. I didn't know her, but I knew her son, Paul Hunt and his wife, Bernadette. When I moved back to Corning in '78, Bernadette was the manager of Westgate Housing. She is the one who gave me this picture. Paul had died. They had no children. When she gave the picture to me she said, "You are probably the one who will appreciate it the most."
The woman on the right in the back was Lulu Fail. She was the mother of Ruth Wyatt. Mrs. Wyatt was the high school librarian. When I was a senior, I worked in the library. Again, I was told we were related. Again, I did not pay attention.
When Bernadette gave me the photo, she named all of the women and three of the men. She said according to family legend one of the boys had "taken off out west" never to be heard from again. Bud and I kidded that we figured it was the one behind Joe and between G.W. and Melinda. We both thought he looked a likely 'outlaw'.
At least three of the children who died in infancy are buried in Findley Cemetery northeast of Villisca. I remember seeing the gravestones and that one of them, a daughter had the same birth day, November 18, as I.
My grandparents, George and Bessie Lynam, were attendants at Joe's wedding in 1915 when he married Ezma Dicks. I learned that from reading old issues of the Adams County Free Press online. Also that one of Joe's sons, Cecil Rex Gravett, was killed in WWII.
If I learn more about this family, I'll come back and add to this blog. And yes, I really wish I had paid attention when Joe Gravett and Ruth Wyatt tried to tell me some family history.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Grandpa Joe and Fred Fitch

Of all the pictures I have of Mom's and Grandma's, I cannot find one of Mom and her father together except for the posed studio photos - no snapshots of just the two of them. Here is Grandma Delphia and Grandpa Joe Ridnour. Written on the back in Mom's handwriting, "Daddy and Mother, 1954." Mom always referred to her father as "Daddy" even when she was in her 80's and was remembering something about him. Never Dad or Father, it was always, "Daddy".
I wanted a picture of Mom from the same era. This one was taken in October, 1957 when we hosted the Ridnour Cousins reunion at our place. Ron and Louis in back; Betty, Ramona and Ruth in the middle; Leslie in front. (Uncle Alvin in his pickup window.) (Note those rolled up jeans, bobby sox and saddle shoes!)

So, who is Fred Fitch and what does he have to do with this blog? One of the things I remember from my youth was a weekly visit down to Grandpa and Grandma's house west of Iveyville. We often were at their place for Sunday dinners, birthday celebrations, etc., but this trip had a specific purpose: for my Mom to "do" Grandpa's hair. At the time, I thought it must be something special that only Grandpa's middle daughter knew how to do. Now I realize that it was a gift of love and care that my Mom gave to her Daddy.
First she would wrap a towel around Grandpa's shoulders. Then he would lean over the kitchen sink where she would wash his hair with Fitch's Shampoo; lathering and rinsing it a couple of times. Then she pulled the towel up over his head to blot most of the water.

Grandpa would then shuffle over to one of the black and white chrome kitchen chairs and sit down. (By then the arthritis in his knees was so bad he didn't walk any distance without a cane.) Mom toweled his hair some more before combing it. Next she poured some Fitch's Hair Tonic in her hands, rubbed it around then worked it through Grandpa's hair; finally parting and combing it the way he always wore it. The entire process would have taken less than a half hour, but in my memory, it seemed to take longer - a big, significant production instead of a small token of caring.
Oh, and those bottles - their shape and size and the colors of the shampoo and tonic! They only added to the mystique of the entire ritual. Fred W. Fitch was an early Iowa barber in Madrid. Later he had a barbershop in Boone where he founded the F. W. Fitch Co. in 1892. He began marketing his hair products to and through barbershops throughout Iowa. In 1917 he moved his company to Des Moines where he built a four story plant at Fifteenth and Walnut. (Today the Fitch Building is home to local artists and a gallery.)
Fitch was the first Iowa manufacturer to sponsor a national radio program. One of the slogans for his shampoo was: "Don't itch it; Fitch it." From 1938 until 1948, the "Fitch Bandwagon" was broadcast for a half hour every Sunday night on NBC. It was unusual because each program was broadcast from the city in which the featured band was playing. It might have been Cab Calloway from New York one week or Tommy Dorsey from Chicago or Guy Lombardo from Los Angeles the following Sunday night.
Fred W. Fitch's story was one of "rags to riches". He became a millionaire with his hair products and savvy salesmanship. He helped found the Des Moines College of Pharmacy and later gave $100,000 to Drake University for the construction of the Fitch Hall of Pharmacy.
Naturally I knew nothing about Fred Fitch when I accompanied Mom on those weekly visits so long ago; nor would I have cared if I had known. The lesson I learned by example was that performing a simple task for someone else could be a memorable act of love.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"The World's Fastest Indian"

When American Pickers debuted on the History Channel last January, I was an instant fan. I've long been a dumpster diver and discoverer of "treasures" set out for trash pickup during clean up week as well as an inveterate devotee of auctions. Watching a show about other people hunting for good junk was interesting. And the fact that these American Pickers were from Iowa made it even better. The interaction between stars Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz adds to the watch ability.
What was new to me was the term pickers. I had never heard that name applied to junk collectors before. The polite term was antique hunters; impolite - dumpster divers. After watching the show a few times I began to notice the two were very interested in old motorcycles - Frank in Honda's; Mike in Indians. I don't know a lot about motorcycles, but I had heard of Indians. I knew they had their own fans just as the more famous Harley's do.

Which is what made me think a movie about Indian motorcycles might be interesting. "The World's Fastest Indian" was the movie my bank's travel club was showing this month. Its reviews were good and it was based on a true story, so this morning we went to watch it.
The movie tells the tale of New Zealander, Burt Munro. His lifelong ambition was to try to break the land speed record at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah on his modified 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle, which he did in 1967 at the age of 68. Anthony Hopkins was the perfect actor to portray Munro.
This is a picture of a 1920 Indian Scout. I don't see how anyone in their 60's could ride one very long in such a position. This was such a wonderful 'feel good' movie for people our age. It makes you think that you're never too old.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Barista! A Caramel Macchiato, Por Favor

I have no idea what I just ordered, but it looks something like this. And I did say "please" in a worldly way. The subject of coffee in all its various forms was discussed at my brother's a couple Sunday mornings ago when he asked if I'd like a caffe' latte. "First you'll have to explain what it is," I replied.
Les and Susan have an espresso machine so when they have time on weekends they like to enjoy coffee drinks that take a little more time to prepare. I tasted their lattes - hers plain; his flavored. They were o.k., but I opted for plain black coffee. I'm so boring.
I think Starbucks has to take the credit for the many ways to order their brew. Lattes, cappuccinos, espressos, mochas, macchiatos; iced, flavored, skinny. No wonder it takes me ten minutes to decide what to order when I look at their menu!

There was a time I had my own little barista. She would navigate me through and help me decide what to try. Kari began her career with Barnes and Noble as a bookseller in Edina, MN. When B&N finally opened a store in West Des Moines, Kari transferred "back home". I was so happy to have her in our neighborhood again. (Literally. She lived just down the street from us on 4th.)
In order to move up with B&N, Kari accepted the management of the cafe, even though it meant moving away from her beloved books. She did get management experience. She hated that it was in the cafe.

Remember the Nescafe world globe cups? Ron & Ruthie had a set of these. I'm not sure, but I think they may have been a premium you could get for Nescafe points. I had one which I got at a garage sale. I liked their shape and the globe effect, but found I preferred my coffee out of a mug and let my one world cup go at our farm sale.
Les and I talked about the two extremes in our family - Ron is perfectly happy with a cup of instant coffee - Les is very particular not only about where his coffee beans come from, but how the coffee is prepared from those beans - while I am somewhere in the middle. I can't go the instant route; I prefer my coffee brewed in a drip coffee maker. And I prefer Hills Brothers Columbian (already ground).

There were a couple times I drank instant coffee. One of them was in Ireland. Les and I kidded about how we both soon learned on our Ireland adventures to drink tea at the bed and breakfasts instead of what our hosts thought of as coffee. The word coffee seemed to be synonymous with Nescafe.
The other time(s) were when Bud and I first began taking trips and our accommodations were sleeping bags and tent. Our coffee was instant, made in water heated over a campfire. I remember our trip to Kentucky. We were at a campground at Land Between the Lakes when I realized I forgot to pack the coffee pot we used to heat the water. I had to have my coffee in the morning, even if it was instant. So we drove to a nearby small town (more like a couple stores stocked for the fishing tourists) to buy a little aluminum coffee pot. There wasn't a coffee pot to be found. The only thing we could find to heat water in was a bread pan. We made it work - using a pair of pliers to take it off the campfire.
Les and I both like using a french press for coffee. He is more of a purist, grinding his own coffee beans first, while I am lazy and use pre-ground coffee.

And we both like Gevalia Coffees. I have ordered from Gevalia many times over the years, though not presently. However, I am still using Mom's coffee maker she received for ordering Gevalia Coffee. I "borrowed" it after our sixth or seventh "Mr. Coffee" maker quit working. It must be at least ten years old now. I rely on it every morning for my two cups of plain, strong, black coffee. It's how I begin my day.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Loma Prieta Earthquake - October 17, 1989

Twenty-one years ago today, I had just settled in to watch the third game of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics. The pregame warm-up was being telecast from Candlestick Park in San Francisco. It was 5 p.m. Pacific Time. When the t.v. screen suddenly went blank and didn't come back on, I thought something had happened to our t.v. until a switch to another channel showed it working fine. After several minutes the audio came back on ABC. It was then I learned there had been a major earthquake in San Francisco. When video was restored the sportscasters began showing live coverage of the damage.
One of the scenes I remember most vividly was the collapse of the freeway. The upper deck collapsed, crushing the cars on the lower deck.

The other scenes that captured my attention, and fear, were of the fires in the Marina District. One of the first things a person thinks of in any disaster is, "Who do I know there?" In my case, it was my friends, Gene and Kristina. At that time I was not familiar with the areas of San Francisco, but I was almost certain they had told me they lived in or near the Marina District. I tried calling them over the next few days to make sure they were o.k., but of course, the lines were down. In the meantime every news program was about the devastation, the deaths, the rescue attempts and the fires. I was finally able to contact Gene's daughter in Nebraska and learned that he and Kristina had not suffered injuries nor damage to their apartment. Thankfully, they were o.k.

When we visited Gene and Kristina in their Tucson home last February (pictured above), we happened to talk about that time and I heard a very moving first person account from Kristina.
She was still in her office at the hospital. Naturally her first thoughts were of her husband who was at home and whether or not he was alright. She wasn't able to reach him by phone. She set out on what was to be a long journey home.
Traffic was a complete snarl. The major routes were at a stand still. She found herself creeping along a lesser used route. It was start, stop, move ahead a few feet, stop, start.....After awhile she realized a man in the car next to hers had put down his window and was reaching out his hand to her. She lowered her car window, put her arm out and clasped the man's hand. The two cars continued on side-by-side for some time. Neither of the two hand holder's spoke. Words weren't necessary. They were two strangers dealing with the unknown consequences of a disaster offering one another a touch of humanity.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"Patience Is A Virtue"

While it may be true that patience is a virtue, in this case, Patience, is another name for the game of Solitaire. According to the "History of Solitaire", it made its first appearance in writing in 1783 in a German book of games. It was described as a competitive game of cards where participants would take turns or play with separate decks of cards. It is believed that it became a solitary game when players practiced alone in preparation for competition.
"Patience" is the name generally used in Great Britain while in France it is called "Success". In Denmark, Norway and Poland, among others, the name of the game is "Kabal" or "Kabala" (secret knowledge). This goes back to when the outcome of a game of Solitaire was thought to be a type of fortune telling.

It was during my preteen years that I learned to play Solitaire. I became quite obsessive about it, hurrying through after school chores in order to fit in a game or two before supper. Then a few more games after supper with one eye on the t.v. I can't remember the exact configuration of the living room furniture, but I remember sitting on the north side of the chimney with the cards spread on some piece of furniture. Maybe it was just a t.v. tray?
I know I played game after game, trying to win. One time when there was more than one possible play, like the two Kings above, I was peeking underneath to see which card was most advantageous to play. Just like it was yesterday, I can hear my mom saying, "Ramona, you're only cheating yourself when you do that." Eventually I tired of playing Solitaire all the time and went on to something else. Until.......
we entered the age of computers. Solitaire once again became an obsession of mine. It is so easy to play. There's no need to shuffle and deal each new game by hand. A click of the mouse brings up a new game.
Of the more than one hundred different games of Solitaire, I only play the 'original' and Free cell. Now that I'm retired, my day doesn't officially begin until I've won a game of each.
When we got a new computer a year and half ago, the games that came preloaded on it were slightly different than the ones I was used to. If I remember right, my high score on the old computer was somewhere in the 12,000's. In eighteen months on the new computer, slightly over 9600 was my highest score. I despaired of ever cracking 10,000 again.
Then on Wednesday, the 13th, when I wasn't even trying that hard, I scored 10,116! Now, with a little patience, I may even beat that record.

Friday, October 15, 2010

October Reads I

"He had this black and white photo of her, and it was the spitting image of Maureen ... skinny and slitty-eyed ... called her a sidewinder."
"As in snake?"
He nodded.
"Because she never looked him in the face ... just stabbed him in the back." It sounded halfway reasonable till I realized he feels like that about all women. 'They're all snakes,' he said, and snakes have shapes. If you can't recognize the poisonous ones you're a dead man."
There were only 63 pages left to read in this Minette Walters' thriller until reading the above lines gave me the reason for the title of her eighth novel. I know every time I finish one of her books, I say, "This one is the best." This one is the best - so far.
There's a fine line between justice and revenge; love and hate; compassion and indifference. When "M", a white, middle class, English teacher returns home after an evening of parent-teacher conferences at her school and discovers her black neighbor dying in the street in front of M's row house, she is incensed both at the indifference of the neighborhood residents and the racist policeman assigned to the case. M is convinced the woman, "Mad Annie", was murdered. Her attempts to have the police look at that possibility fail. The case is closed as an unfortunate traffic accident.
Twenty years have passed. M and her husband, Sam, - the 'Ranelagh's' - who have lived in Hong Kong and Sydney during those years - are now back home in England. The subject of "Mad Annie's" death has never been mentioned in all that time. Sam is blind-sided to learn his wife has spent those years corresponding with people back in England, steadily building up a case file in order to discover Ann Butt's murderer.
Walters builds her story just as carefully. Along the way the reader is enmeshed in the dark side of human nature. From reading eight previous Minette Walters' mysteries, I know how difficult it is to figure out the identity of the murderer. The Shape of Snakes was no exception. Few of the characters escaped my certainty of who dun it, including M's husband, Sam and his pal, Jock.
I still love that her novels are all stand alones and don't have to be read in any order. I also love that I have her tenth book waiting on my bookshelf.

The last two of Rita Mae Brown's "Sister Jane" foxhunting books were included in the first half of my October reads. The Tell-Tale Horse and Hounded to Death are number six and seven. I've learned that both victim and perpetrator are usually from the "new" characters in each mystery - but not always. Once in a while the victim and/or the murderer is/are characters we've met in previous tales.
I consider these "light" mysteries - fun, easy, quick reads; something to bring me down from the psychological heights of a Walters novel. I'm assuming the next book in the series will soon be out.

The cover of Sheri Reynolds' Firefly Cloak caught my eye. The inside cover flap caught my attention. "Eight year old Tessa Lee and her brother Travis are abandoned in a campground by their desperate mother and her boyfriend of the moment. They are left with only two things: a phone number written in Magic Marker on Travis's back and their mother's favorite housecoat - a housecoat painted with tiny fireflies." Seven years later, when their mother is spotted working at a nearby seaside tourist trap, fourteen year old Tessa sets off alone to find her.
This is a well written, coming of age story of family love and redemption. Another of Reynolds' books, The Rapture of Canaan, was an Oprah Book Club pick a few years ago.

I'm becoming more of a fan of Ruth Rendell's so I decided to read one of her Inspector Wexford mysteries, No More Dying Then. I didn't feel like I got a very good picture of Wexford from this one reading. His partner, C.I.D. Mike Burden, was more featured in this one so I will try another Inspector Wexford novel. This one was published in 1971 and was tenth in the series. The Inspector was in his 40's then. I wonder how he will be portrayed thirty years later? I don't recall watching any of the series when they appeared on television between 1987 and 2000.

One of Rendell's stand alone mysteries, 13 Steps Down, was more to my liking. A man obsessed with a supermodel, the number 13 and a mass murderer from fifty years past is the focus of this novel. When his obsessions propel him to murder, his elderly landlady and her friends become involved.
There's no question about the who in this who dun it. However, there are some amusing moments and even a bit of pity for the bumbling stalker.
As I said, I'm becoming more a fan of Rendell. Her books will keep finding their way into my book bag.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Brothers Graham?

The 2005 movie, "The Brother's Grimm" was rated PG-13 when it was finally released. I remember reviewers warning that it was not for young children because it was so "dark". I don't remember just when I saw the movie, starring Matt Damon and Heath Ledger, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Naturally I grew up first having Grimm's Fairy Tales read to me and then reading them to myself. The cover of the book I read over and over was similar to this one, though I would have said it was green rather than blue.
The first collection of German fairy tales was published in 1812 by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. It contained 86 stories. Subsequent collections over the years contained various numbers until more than 200 stories had been published.
My favourites were Cinderella (of course), Snow White, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel (which I found very scary as a small child), Sleeping Beauty and Rumpelstiltskin.

The cover of the book I remember my children having looked like this. I don't know how many fairy tales it contained nor which were their favourites. There was more competition for their reading time than there had been for mine. Television was also more a part of their lives than it was for me.
In 1988, I began working for The Graham Group in Des Moines. The owner, John Graham, was retired from the day-to-day company operations, but he did maintain an office and was present occasionally.
Mr. Graham was slight of build, a natty dresser, with twinkly blue eyes and a friendly smile. I never had too many personal conversations with him, but I remember once remarking that Graham sounded like an English name to me. "Were your ancestors from England?", I asked. He replied, "No, actually they were from Germany. Graham is an anglicized version of our family name, Grimm."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mad* About Hyssop

In May of 2009, my Mother's Day present from Douglas was the installation of my pretty new oak flooring in the laundry room, kitchen and dining areas. While Doug and Bud installed the flooring, Shelly and I went to some garage sales in the morning and plant shopping in the afternoon.
We were inspired by one of the garage sale stops - when we admired the woman's flower beds at the side of her home, she invited us on a complete tour including her back yard. After that, we were really ready to go plant shopping.
If it hadn't been for Shelly's purchase of two hyssop plants - a lavender one and a coral one - I would not have bought one, too. Both colors were pretty. I went with the coral/orange/pink one. I had heard of hyssop before, but I had never seen it in bloom. I'm very attracted to what I describe as airy plants and this is one.
The first year, it bloomed nicely and grew to about two feet tall before frost. I really didn't expect it to survive the winter, so I was quite happy when it came back up this spring. This is a picture of it taken on June 26 - already taking over the sundial. I love the fragrance and so do the bees. They worked the flowers all summer long. The hummingbirds enjoyed it, too.

And this is the plant as it looks today - approximately four feet high and four feet across. You can hardly make out the cupid statue holding the sundial. I can't bear to cut this plant back as long as it has these gorgeous blooms. But once we have a killing frost, I am going to dig and divide it. I don't have much space on the south side of the house for more plantings, so I'm going to try it on the north side, even though instructions say to plant in a sunny location.
Hyssop is a herb of the mint family. It has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. An infusion made from the flower tops can be used as an expectorant. It has also been used as a remedy for rheumatism and asthma. Leaves can be used to add flavor to soups, salads and meats.
I doubt I will enjoy this plant by taste - sight and smell are enough for me. I just wish I had discovered it many years ago.
(* Mad - carried away by enthusiasm.)

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Real Columbus Day - October 12

Before 1971 when Congress decided we needed another 3-day weekend and changed it to the second Monday in October, Columbus Day was always celebrated October 12 - the day Christopher Columbus set foot in the new world in 1492. As kids in grade school, we learned all about Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, Columbus, who, though born in Genoa, was setting sail under the flag of Spain, and his ships, La Nina, La Pinta and La Santa Maria.
Special stamps, including the 4-center above, were printed in 1892 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Columbus' achievement. The World's Columbian Exposition - also known as the Chicago World's Fair - was designed to feature the 400th anniversary, too. And even though dedication ceremonies were held in October, 1892, the fair didn't open to the public until May, 1893.
Columbus Day is no longer celebrated as it once was due to recognition of the cruel treatment and eradication of indigenous peoples during the colonization of the Americas by European settlers. Some cities and states have renamed the holiday "Indigenous People's Day" or "Native American Day".

This picture of my niece, Kristi, was taken August, 1980 when we lived on Tuck Corner. When she was born, October 12, 1968, I knew it would be easy to remember her birthday - 1) because it was Columbus Day and 2) because it was also my father-in-law's* birthday.

Doug's Grandpa Charles William Botkin was born October 12, 1903. I have given Doug most of the pictures of his Dad's family but I did find this multi-generational one with Chuck in it. We were celebrating Brock's first birthday in 1982. Standing, left-to-right, (Brock's) Great-grandma, Ruth Lynam; Great-great grandmother, Delphia Ridnour; Great-grandma, Betty Botkin and Great-grandpa, Chuck Botkin. Seated are Brock and his Great-great grandmother, Bessie Lynam.
I still think of October 12 as the real Columbus Day, but now the only celebrating I think of is for Kristi.
(* at that time)