Monday, October 31, 2011

"And Things That Go Bump In The Night"......

 Halloween - an appropriate time to be thinking of ghosts and goblins and this old Scottish Prayer:
"From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!"
Appropriate also to post a picture of my Scottish grandmother, Bessie Duncan Lynam. Here she is pictured between myself on the left and my sister, Betty, on the right. Grandma is holding our neighbor's grandson, Bruce Firkins.
I have very strong memories of my fear for the terrors of the night when I was the young girl in this picture. There were two rooms on the second floor of our house - one to the left at the top of the stairs, the other to the right. There was a area between the rooms that we used as a closet. There was no door - just a curtain strung on a wire to close it off somewhat. I can remember lying in bed after lights out, looking out into the hallway and being absolutely certain I could see a tiger coming out from behind the curtain.
It didn't matter how many times Mom or Grandma told me there was no tiger and showed me the next day there was nothing behind the curtain except clothes hung from the rod, every night I would be terrified when I saw the tiger again.

Of course I finally outgrew my fears. But being able to remember them helped me try to help my little boy, Douglas, when he began having night terrors. He was about three years old when we moved to the Odell Place west of Brooks. The house was a typical two-story, Midwestern four-square with a one-story kitchen and bath addition.
We used the 'parlor' as our bedroom and had Doug's bedroom in the only downstairs bedroom. From the placement of his bed he could look through the opening at the bottom of the stairwell between the bedroom and the dining room and on into the bathroom. I don't know if he saw monsters before he went to sleep, but I began being awakened every night by his screams. He was having the same nightmare every night at the same time. I would go into his room to comfort him. He was looking out into the dining room with fear in his eyes, "There's a bear! The bear is coming! It's going to get me!" His terror was so convincing that I was afraid to turn around and look - even though I knew there was no bear* in the house.
This went on night after night until I finally took him to the doctor who said we had to do something to break Doug's sleep pattern. The answer was phenobarbital. I didn't like the idea of giving drugs to my little boy, but I didn't know what else to try. It worked. After only a few nights of dosage, he started sleeping through the night with out the bear nightmare and I started sleeping through the night with out his screams waking me up.

I don't remember Kari having nightmares or any specific night terrors, but she did go through a stage where she would not go to sleep unless I would stay in bed with her. I don't know if one of the bedtime stories I read her frightened her or what. She went from being ready to fall asleep after I had read to her and tucked her in, to not wanting me to leave her room and crying if I did.
I tried letting her cry herself to sleep, but her bedroom was at the top of the stairs of our house out by Cutty's north west of Des Moines. It didn't have a door on it so I could shut out some of the crying. I gave in and stayed in bed with her until she finally went to sleep. This went on for quite some time until she finally out grew it.
If Preston ever had any night time fears, I have either totally forgotten about them, or I never knew about them.
If the goblins, ghoulies and ghosties are after you tonight, you might try repeating the last line from the prayer above. HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

(*The bear of Doug's nightmares was a Polar bear.)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

School Souvenir Booklets

This School Souvenir Booklet is from the 1904-1905 Boswell Public School, District No. 5, Washington Twp., Adams Co., Iowa. Pictured is Agnes Nicoll, Teacher. The name in the bottom left corner is G. W. Bargenholt, Director.
This souvenir was published by the W. E. Seibert Co., New Philadelphia, Ohio. Several Ohio publishing companies printed these in different styles and colors as well as number of pages. Some included pictures of the students, poems, names of the school board, etc. They were popular around the turn of the 20th Century and have become collectibles as noted by those currently for sale on e-Bay.
 Oak leaves and acorns are embossed around the edges of these two cards. There are acorns printed at the top and bottom of page two. Was the acorn used because it symbolized the potential of the students? ("Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.")
The verse at top reads: "In memory of days spent together in the school room this token is presented with the compliments of Your Teacher." Agnes Nicoll was the daughter of the proprietor of the largest mercantile store in Mt. Etna from 1899 until March, 1915 when the building and contents were destroyed by fire. In June, Mr. Nicoll decided not to rebuild. By December, some of the family had moved to Oelwein. Agnes Nicoll was "North of Des Moines". 
My grandmother, Delphia Means, and her sister, Drothel, are both listed as pupils. I believe the Boswell School was south of Mt. Etna and a mile west - many Boswells still live in that area. Delphia was eight years old at the beginning of the school year - probably third grade. I'm sure the turquoise ribbon holding the two cards together is not original - most likely Grandma chose the replacement color to match the blue printing.

The Boswell School is gone, but there are signs marking all the locations of the one-room schools that once stood in Adams County. Next time I am over that way, I'll be certain to note where it stood more than a century ago. And I'll put this souvenir booklet with the pictures I have of my grandmother as a youngster to keep them together for another generation.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A Made Up Girl

 When I think of a made up girl my thoughts immediately go to Carolyn Keene's Nancy Drew or Beverly Cleary's Ramona. Farthest from my mind is someone from TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras. I've never watched that show, but just catching glimpses of those little miniature women gives me the willies.
Yet here I am posed in front of Grandma Ridnour's spirea bushes wearing make up and earrings before I'm even two years old. Mom said Aunt Lois was the one responsible for decking me out. From the smile on my face I guess I liked it - or at least liked the attention.
The earrings were the old screw back style. Mothers didn't have their baby girls ears pierced as they do now. Ear piercing didn't come back in style until I was in my 20's or 30's. Although I do remember Mom telling about my great-grandmother Tillie Means piercing her own and her sister Becky's ears using a darning needle when they were teenagers. Ouch!
 In grade school my eyelashes still had a natural curl - didn't need any help from an eyelash curler*. And the shine on my lips wasn't from gloss - the photographer told me "lick your lips" just before he took the picture. Other than the curls from my annual start of the school year perm, my only other adornment is the mole on my chin. *(I still remember finding Mom's eyelash curler in her vanity drawer and trying to figure out what it was for.)
 Cosmetics are a multi-billion industry in this country. Starting high school meant I could begin wearing powder and lipstick - eventually believing I had to wear liquid make up to cover blemishes and concealer for the dark circles under my eyes. After graduating and joining the working world, I had to wear eye make up. I liked the shimmering blues and greens and occasionally browns and purples. I used an eyelash curler, eye liner and mascara, of course. And once in awhile, I even wore false eyelashes. Because I wore glasses, I felt I had to put on a bit more eye make up, but I don't think I ever resembled Mimi from the Drew Carey Show. At least I hope not!
 Now that I'm no longer a working woman, cosmetics are way down on my list of priorities. Only for important occasions do I still wear a modicum of make up. Moisturizer is my only daily contribution to the cosmetics industry.
One of the things I worried about when we moved from the country to town was that I would have to start wearing make up again every day, "in case my neighbors see me". It didn't take long for me to discard that notion. My attitude these days is more like, "if they don't like the way I look, they don't have to look at me." I may not be as cute as I once was, but I've gone back to being more natural - and sounding more like my Grandma Ridnour.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Frijoles Canyon, Si; Taos, New Mexico, Nada

 Fourteen years ago right about now, we had just returned from a wonderful week in Arizona. Friends of ours had given us the use of their condo in Tucson which was our base for many day trips in the area. On the way back to Iowa I wanted to spend some time in Taos, New Mexico - another one of those places I had heard/read so much about - just had to experience it for myself. After over-nighting in Santa Fe, we headed north on 285. At this point in my story, I have to share a difference of opinion my travel companion and I have - I always want to prolong a vacation as long as possible, whereas once the car is headed toward home, he wants to go.
About twenty miles up the road to Taos, Bud saw a sign for Bandelier National Monument. Neither of us new what that was, but there was an outline of a pueblo on the sign, so we decided to check it out. Bandelier lies in Frijoles Canyon where evidence of human habitation goes back hundreds of years. By 1550 the Pueblo builders had moved on. In the 1700's the canyon was home to Spanish settlers. In 1880, archaeologist Adolph Bandelier first visited the canyon. In 1916 legislation to make Bandelier a National Monument was signed by President Woodrow Wilson. At that time there was a ranch at the bottom of the canyon called The Ranch of the Ten Elders. There was no road. Supplies had to be packed in on mules and horses or lowered down from the canyon rim by rope. Between 1934 and 1941, workers from the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) built the road into Frijoles Canyon, the current visitor center, a new lodge and miles of trails.
 The pink rock that forms the canyon walls is volcano ash that was compacted over time to a crumbly rock called "tuff". Weathering gave the cliff wall a "Swiss cheese" appearance. The Puebloan people were able to enlarge these natural caves for use as homes and for storage. They also built a circular community house which stood two to three stories high and contained over 400 rooms. The outline of that structure is still visible.
What was so amazing to me was that we were allowed - encouraged - to climb up the ladders into the ruins and see them first hand. I wasn't too sure about my climbing abilities - there were four or five of these really long ladders to navigate - but I really wanted to experience the inside of those caves.
 Even after making it to the main cave, there were still more ladders up to the individual rooms. Bandelier is one place I would love to go back to explore more thoroughly.
 Only one of the kivas had had its roof rebuilt to show what the ceremonial structures were originally like.  The others were left as they were found with the roofs collapsed. Here Bud is standing in the large cave and looking down into one of the kivas just before climbing the ladder down into it.
Frijoles Canyon extends for miles and contains many more scenic and historic areas, some of which are just now reopening after the devastating Las Conchas fire in June and July this year followed by flooding of Frijoles Creek. Other areas won't reopen for months or years. Luckily the new visitors' center and other structures were spared. Pots, paintings and historical furniture were moved to safety ahead of the fire.
This terra cotta t-shirt with the ruins pictured on it was my souvenir from Bandelier. Every time I wear it I remember this serendipitous find. I still belabor the fact that I only got to spend a couple hours in Taos due to taking up the morning at Bandelier - but it was worth it.

(Can you see the sun and crescent moon petroglyphs in the top picture?)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Different Sort of Moonstone

Sodium potassium aluminium silicate, better known as Moonstone has been a favourite gemstone of mine for, well, many moons. (Insert groan here.) Moonstones have been used in jewelry for centuries. The Romans and Greeks were just two ancient civilizations which revered the stone they associated with their lunar gods and goddesses. A few pieces of my collection are shown above. Of these, my favourite is the ring on the right. I bought it when I was in Ireland. I like the shape, the size of the stone and especially the three small silver balls on each side of the setting.
 If you are familiar with moonstones, you are aware of the mysterious shimmer which changes as the stone is moved. This is known as adularescence. Wearing a moonstone is supposed to enhance your intuition. The ring on the left is set with three small moonstones. It is from one of our Arizona trips. The Celtic Tree of Life pendant has a small stone on the bottom right. It is from an Irish shoppe in the Hollywood District of Portland, Oregon. The Celtic design pendant on the right is one from one of the many Renaissance Faires I've attended.
 When I first heard of Wilkie Collins' book, The Moonstone, I expected it to be about the gemstones I was familiar with. Instead it is about a large yellow diamond. (I've never cared much for diamonds except yellow ones - those I like.) Many years ago a friend loaned me her copy of this book, but I just couldn't get into it. When Kari said she was reading it for this year's RIP Challenge, I decided it was time for me to try reading it again.
The book, published in 1868, is generally considered the first detective novel in the English language. The diamond is given to a young Englishwoman on her 18th birthday. She wears it to her party that night and awakens the next morning to find it has been stolen from her bedroom. The story is told in several sections, each one being related by a different character which sometimes made the reading of it confusing - and a bit tedious. (For a good review of this novel, watch for Kari's write-up of it on Bookishdark.)
 Anne Perry's Acceptable Loss, the 17th in her Inspector William Monk series, is more my idea of an English mystery novel. Monk is still the Commander of the River Police and still trying to discover identities of the rich men behind the floating palaces of corruption on the Thames and bring them to justice. I still really like Anne Perry's writing though after seventeen in this series, I do note a certain formulaic repetition. It is the quality of her writing and my interest in her characters that will keep me reading all her future Monk tomes.
 In the meantime, I have two more Louise Penny Inspector Gamache books to look forward to. A Fatal Grace is her second book of seven so far. I haven't been able to read them in order, but I'll take them any way I can get them. I adore Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. I love Penny's intelligent writing. I can't wait to read the last two of the ones she's written so far - and then I'll be waiting for her to write more. I hope these books get made into Masterpiece Mysteries for television.
Burnt Mountain is the newest Anne Rivers Siddons book, this one set in the North Carolina mountains. Siddons is another author I have followed for many years. "Growing up, the only place tomboy Thayer Wentworth felt at home was at her summer camp in the North Carolina Mountains. It was there that she met Nick Abrams, her first love...and first heartbreak. Years later, Thayer marries Aengus, an Irish professor..." Siddons characters usually are from rich, old family, southerners - not people I identify with. Having a poor Irish man enthused about telling Celtic myths made this book more interesting for me even though I thought the ending was sort of "out there".

Several years ago Mark gave me the audio version of Caleb Carr's The Angel of Darkness as a Christmas gift. Now that I have finally gotten into listening to books, I have finally enjoyed this one. Boyd Gaines does a nice job voicing all the different characters. Carr brings back the team who tracked down a serial killer in his previous novel, The Alienist, to help find the kidnapped daughter of a Spanish diplomat at the time when Spain and the United States are on the verge of war. I like period pieces. I enjoyed this one set in 1897 New York.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When Something You Once Said Comes Back To Lift Your Spirits

 I was a substitute school bus driver for a couple years and then I got on full time and had my own route. Bus #49 - south and west of Corning. I really enjoyed driving the bus and loved most of my kids. I believe I was a good driver - very conscientious for the safety of my charges. I did my best to maintain order on the bus, but you can only regulate so much.....
The last person on the end of my route was a little second grade girl. She had blond hair, often worn in pig tails. She had the sweetest disposition. I liked her a lot. She was a little on the chubby side - which only made her cuter - but it gave the other kids something to tease her about. If teasing got loud and out of control, I could tell the kids to pipe down, but if it was done quietly, it was hard to do anything about.
One afternoon when I looked up into the rear view mirror I could see that Anna was almost ready to cry. After all the other students had been dropped off and we got to her home and stopped, Anna came forward to get off the bus. I asked her to wait a moment. I put my arm around her and told her I was sorry about the other kids calling her "Anna Banana" and teasing her about her weight. I told her she was not always going to be chubby, that someday she would start growing and lose her "baby fat" - that she would be thin and pretty. I told her I thought she was beautiful inside and out and she only had to wait a few years for everyone else to see that. 
I could only hope that my words helped her that day. I didn't know they did until several years later when I was visiting with her grandmother one day and she thanked me for what I had said to her granddaughter. She told me Anna related my words to her and that she said they made her feel better about herself. Knowing that I had helped a sweet little girl made my day better - years later.
My granddaughter, Katrina, (here with her little boy and Grandpa last summer) is good about calling me regularly to see how we're doing and keep me updated on her busy life. During one of those calls a couple months ago, she had been cleaning the bathroom which made her think about me so she just had to call and tell me something she had never told me before:
"I remember being at your house one time when I was little and you were cleaning your bathroom," she said. "I was so grossed out because you were cleaning the toilet by hand. You said that was the only way to get it really clean. I remembered that all those years and now that is the only way I clean my bathroom, too."
I got such a kick out of hearing that. I had no idea I had made an impression on the little girl. We laughed and laughed about it - a real "made my day" story.

I hope words you may speak now will someday come back to lift your spirits. It is a good feeling.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Apples, Autumn, The World Series, Sunday Drives and Dreams of My Dad

This picture of my Dad and Doug was taken forty-six years ago at Nine Eagles State Park near the Iowa-Missouri border southeast of Davis City. It was a beautiful fall day not unlike the ones we've been experiencing lately. I don't think there was a particular reason for our jaunt that day other than Sunday drives were a pastime for our family and we hadn't been to Nine Eagles before. Doug was three years old and Dad was close to the age Doug is now.
I've been thinking about apple orchards. It is the time of year when we used to go to an apple orchard somewhere to get apples. There was one in northern Missouri that we went to with Grandpa and Grandma Ridnour when I was little. There were free samples of apple cider so good I wanted more. And we did bring a few jugs home with us. The aroma of a trunk full of fresh apples filled the car on the way home. We all had an apple to eat. I remember Grandma chastising me because I left so much good apple on my core. She said I should eat everything but the seeds and stem like she did. Nunh uh. No way. (The only other person I have seen eat an apple that way is my husband.)
In later years Mom and Dad would drive up to the apple orchard at Griswold. Dad was known to have a 'lead foot' when he drove. One year he was stopped for speeding on the way home. Mom always talked about what an expensive bushel of apples they got that year.
I don't have dreams about Dad very often - he has been gone more than thirty-three years. But last night I dreamed about him and in the dream he looked much as he did in this picture - younger than I ever knew him. (I'm guessing this picture of him and his little sister, Leona, was taken around 1940.)
All the topics in the title of this piece combined in a dream of driving all over northwest Missouri - enjoying the autumn colors and looking for an apple orchard. We stopped at a park in a small town and got out to eat a picnic lunch. There were a lot of other people in the park and we started visiting with them - exchanging names, home towns, etc. One of the people thought he had heard of my Dad. I said, "Oh, you should have seen him when he was still playing baseball." Seems he was an almost famous ball player. And, as I said, he looked like he did in this photo - young, tall, thin - even though I was in my twenties or thirties.
There was some sort of fall festival going on in the town. One of the vendors was selling wine which I so badly wanted to buy - if I could just figure out a way to do it without Dad knowing. Maybe if it had been apple cider I would have succeeded in buying some!

"Yesterday is but today's memory, and tomorrow is today's dream."   Khalil Gibran

Monday, October 24, 2011

What Do Neckties Have To Do With Donating Blood?

 I remember the first and last times I gave blood - and several times in between. I gave blood the first time when I worked at the 'Light Plant' (Municipal Utilities) in Corning the spring of 1967. I was twenty-three years old. Community Blood Drives were held four times a year. Mom and Dad often contributed - Dad mostly because he was O-Negative which meant he had a rare universal donor blood type. The Red Cross volunteers always called him and asked him to donate.
Our nation's involvement in the Viet Nam War made the need for blood donors even more urgent than usual which is why I wanted to give blood for the first time - but was scared to. There was a salesman from Des Moines who regularly called at the Light Plant. He was a personable young man and we always conversed when he came in. When he learned that I wanted to give blood but was afraid I would faint, he offered to go with me and give blood, too. That gave me the courage to go up to the Legion Hall after work and give blood for the first time. It wasn't as bad as I had imagined. I didn't faint. In fact, I was rather proud of myself. I still remember the guy's name - Phil Wieting - and the company he worked for - McKesson & Robbins.
The second time I gave blood was in Des Moines in 1972 or '73. I worked for an Advertising and Public Relations Agency on the sixth floor of the Empire Building in downtown Des Moines. About once every month or six weeks, this little old man would come into the office carrying a suitcase. His name was Irving Redstone. He was one of the last of the salesmen known as 'peddlers'. His suitcase was full of beautiful neckties. Not all businessmen could be bothered to give time to a peddler, but the two I worked for were always gracious to Irving. They didn't always buy a tie, but they took the time to look. I even bought some ties for Denny even though they were more expensive than department store ties. I think we all felt a little sorry for the man. It seemed a hard way to make a living.
Just as I had gotten acquainted with salesman Phil, I also became friendly with Mr. Redstone. Then one day he told us his wife, Paula, was in the hospital. I don't remember the nature of her illness, only that she had had to have several blood transfusions. They did not have family members to give replacement blood and he really couldn't afford to pay for it. He did not ask us to, but when I told Denny about it, we both decided to donate blood in Mrs. Redstone's name to replace what she had used. That was the second time I donated blood.

Over the years, I donated blood many times. One of the companies I worked for in Des Moines had a regular "day" at the Blood Center of Iowa every six months. And when I moved back to Corning, I was a regular donor during the blood drives at the Community Center until......
The last time.....I was in the recliner when the nurse ordered: "Spit that gum out!" Yes, ordered. Not asked politely or even told why I should get rid of my gum. It reminded me of my school days when gum chewing was anathema to teachers. It all went down hill fast from there. She had trouble getting the needle in my arm. Then about half way through, the blood flow stopped. Nurse Crab tried repositioning the needle several times. The pain was too much and I started to faint. She finally gave up - as did I. Enough!

I have not given blood since. My fear of the needle and fainting before my first experience became true many years later. - The last time.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

China's Chowder and Holly Blues

 I began reading Susan Wittig Albert's 'China Bayles Herb Mysteries' in the mid-'90's after they had been recommended by a friend. The first in the series was published in 1992, so I had a few to catch up on. I instantly fell in love with Albert's characters and setting. What woman wouldn't want to leave the fast-paced corporate world behind, buy an old building in a small Texas Hill Country Town and open an herb shop? I certainly could identify with her and her ability to solve mysteries and use herbs. (All the titles of her novels contain the name of an herb.)
I tried to read this series in order, but have had to skip around some as I was able to find copies. Holly Blues is number eighteen. All have been immensely enjoyable. Even though Ms. Albert states in every book that Pecan Springs is a fictional town, it doesn't stop her devotees from trying to find it. Her books were one of the reasons I wanted to spend time in the Texas Hill Country which I was able to do several years ago. I was not disappointed.
As with other novels in this genre, Albert includes herb recipes at the end of each book. As I write this, I can smell  China's Easy Slow-Cook Sausage-Corn Chowder simmering away in the kitchen. I hope it tastes as good as her books read.
 Funny how the subject matter or setting can make such a difference in whether or not you like an author. I had previously reported on one of Carolyn Hart's 'Death on Demand' series books that while it was good, I didn't like it well enough to keep reading more books in the series. I felt entirely different about her stand alone Letter From Home which won the Agatha Award for Best Mystery Novel in 2003.
The setting: WWII home front in a small Oklahoma town; the protagonist: a teenage girl hired as a summer reporter for the local paper - she's a good writer and all the guys have gone off to war. Perfect setting for a mystery for me. I have put Hart back on my 'to be read' list of authors.
One of Victoria Thompson's books was on the recent additions shelves at the library. I read the fly leaf and thought it sounded good. Then I noted it was the latest in a series. I thought if I was going to give Thompson's 'Gaslight Mystery' books a try, I would start with the first, Murder on Astor Place. Sarah Brandt was raised in New York's high society in the 1880's and '90's. At the turn of the century, due to circumstances we only get hints of, she is estranged from her family, widowed and working as a midwife.
"After a routine delivery, Sarah visits her patient in a rooming house and discovers that another boarder, a young girl, has been killed. At the request of Sergeant Frank Malloy, she searches the girl's room. She discovers that the victim is from one of the most prominent families in New York - and the sister of an old friend. The powerful family, fearful of scandal, refuses to permit an investigation. But with Malloy's help, Sarah begins a dangerous quest to bring the killer to justice."
I must admit I had the reason for the murder and the killer figured out before the unfolding, but that didn't diminish my reading enjoyment of this book. There is just something about the time period that fascinates me and I like the interaction between Sarah and Frank. Luckily our library does have many (I hope all) of the books in this series.

William Trevor is an Irish author one reviewer compared to Ruth Rendell. That and the cover of Felicia's Journey were enough for me. "Felicia, young and pregnant, steals away from a small Irish town to search for her boyfriend in the industrial sprawl of the English Midlands, where she falls in with the fat, fiftyish, unfailingly reasonable Mr. Hilditch. He is looking for a new friend to join the five other girls of his Memory Lane."
This book had the psychological tenseness that made me want to quit reading because of what I felt was coming - but kept me reading in order to find out. Trevor has a number of other books to his credit including a couple Whitbread Award winners, one short listed for the Booker Prize, and others on best seller lists. Unfortunately, this is the only novel of his our library has. I will add his name to the list of authors I search out in other venues. I liked this book even if it did creep me out.

Last month while visiting with a classmate at our 50th Class Reunion, I remarked to him that I had always wanted to read his Dad's book. He told me his father had actually written two books and that the first was better than the second. Also that he had given copies of his book to all the local libraries. So I checked and our library did have a signed copy of Footprints by Eldon "Zeke" Roberts. I think this must be the second book Allen spoke of. It is a series of stories about the inhabitants of "Mt. Nebo" - a thinly disguised Mount Etna, Iowa. It was fun for me to try and figure out who some of the people he was writing about were and to picture those winding roads, timbers and ridges of the area southeast of Mt. Etna. I had great and great-great grandparents who lived in and around the town when it was still a thriving community. I have memories of the Sunday drives and hikes back to the "Slide-off" that we took when I was a kid.
And while I did not know Eldon Roberts all that well, his brother was my Uncle Howard - married to Mom's sister, Evelyn. Eldon's wife, Twylla, was a Means - a cousin of Grandma Delphia's - so I am distantly related to him by marriage. Reading his book reminded me of Zeke and Uncle Howard and the large family they came from - ten children. The boys all had nicknames, Zeke, Speck, Wimp, except Uncle Howard. It makes me wonder if he had a nickname, too, and that it quit being used after he married Aunt Evelyn. Mom's folks were not big on nicknames. Maybe some day I will have the opportunity to read Zeke's other book.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Nothing Nicer Than Nieces

Today is the birthday of my beautiful niece, Kristi. She is not only beautiful on the outside, she is beautiful on the inside. If anyone needs something, she is the first there. She would probably disagree and say, "Aunt Ramona, if you only knew.... but I see her as one of the nicest, sweetest, kindest people I know. So, Happy Birthday #1 niece!
Little miss adorable came into our lives October 12, 1968. My sister, Betty, and I had our children fairly close together. My daughter Kari is seven months younger than Kristi and our sons, Doug and Mike were eighteen months apart. The little cousins were good playmates.

Kristi's birthday has me thinking about nieces. If anyone asked how many nieces I have, my first response would be three, Kristi, Lorrie and Christine. But then I realize I'm leaving out my nieces by marriage - Michelle, Tina and Heidi - so, six. But wait, including my grandnieces, Jesse, Gwendolyn, Esmerelda, Samantha and Maya, the count is almost doubled. All of them are lovely young women and cute little girls.

But I have another niece; one I hardly ever talk about even though she is often on my mind. She is my second born niece, Jennifer Lynn. Here is what I wrote about her thirty-nine years ago, December, 1972:

"I must write of Ron and Ruth's Jennifer Lynn. She was born Wednesday, December 13, but our joy and happiness was so very short lived. Mom called Saturday night, December 16, to say that the baby had died that day in Omaha. Her heart was not fully developed.
The kids and I went down to Mom's Sunday a.m. Everyone feeling so badly - not knowing how Ron and Ruth would take it after waiting so long. (They had already had several miscarriages through the years.) Finally, in the afternoon, Dad, Mom, Betty, Preston and I went over to Ron's. Ruth's sister Marianne there. Friend and wife of Ron's from work. Neighbor lady. Mom went to Ron. Held each other and cried - talked.
Ruth was on the couch. I went to her and sat down. Hugged her, cried, said, "Oh Ruthie, I'm so sorry." Drew back and looked at her, wiped some tears off her cheek and then kissed her. She said, "That's the first time you've ever kissed me." Then I moved for someone else - Dad I think.
Went out to Ron in kitchen - hugged each other and I cried. It soon became obvious that Ron and Ruth were going to be o.k. They were comforting us in our sorrow for them. Their minister came and the three of them talked quite awhile. The kids felt much better then. There was so much love and understanding that day. They are a unique couple.
Denny and I went to the funeral in Red Oak on Tuesday. We took Mom and Dad and Leslie with us. The shock of seeing that tiny, tiny casket was too much. I stood and looked at her a long time trying to memorize what I could of her. Trying to visualize what she would have looked like. Wondering why she wasn't granted the chance. The minister talked about her "playing in the streets of heaven." Ron and Ruth great against it. Many of Ron's friends from work there - just the men. A feeling of great pride in my brother came over me again.
Some of family back to Ron's after funeral. Ruthie said, "I feel so much better now." They have so much faith. Ruth showed us the things they had gotten for Jennifer. Talked about how thankful they were even for the three days they had her. Talked, laughed as though it had not happened. Great acceptance. Great inner strength - and peace. God is with them."

So, when I think about my nieces and how lucky I am to have them in my life, I wonder about the one I never got to know and what she would be like. Would she have been a Jenny? or a Jennifer? How would she differ from Lorrie and Christine in looks and personality? How would she being the eldest have changed their family dynamic? I also think about her being born on Santa Lucia which was an important date for her Swedish mother and that Jennifer and my mom have the same December 16 death date.

I can only speculate about my second niece, luckily I can go help niece #1 celebrate her birthday. There's nothing nicer than a nice niece!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Have You Seen This Man?

Generally if you read the words "Have you seen this man?", there is some type of 'Wanted' poster involved. At the time of the man I'm searching for, the wanted poster might have looked something like this. Photographs were rare, so a sketch was sometimes used.
Or, if a sketch or photo was not available, a general description was given. The above wanted poster is from circa 1870 which is about the time my great, great, grandfather disappeared. Perhaps my great, great grandmother could have used such a poster - if she'd had the money - and if she wanted to find him.

I know where almost all my great, great grandparents lie buried. If I haven't been to their grave sites, I at least know where they are located. The exception is great-great grandpa John Richardson. He is a mystery I would love to solve.
From family lore comes this much: My great-great grandmother, Agnes Georgina Hull married John Richardson February 25, 1870 in Austin, Mower County, Minnesota. Their daughter, Flora Viola Richardson was born in Austin, MN April 20, 1871. Agnes and her baby daughter came to Adams County, Iowa where her parents and brothers and sisters lived sometime in 1872. I do not know if the husband/father came with them.
This is the picture I have been told is John Richardson. I think the coat looks like it could be a Union Army uniform. But if it is, out of all the thousands of John Richardson's I've found listed, the one I believe could possibly be the one I'm searching for would have been fifteen at the beginning of the Civil War - nineteen at the end of it - so it is possible, even likely, this could be a tintype made before he went to war.
Here is the basis of my belief - an 1860 census record showing a John Richardson living in Mower County, Minnesota; birthplace, New York. Someday I am going to be tempted enough to pay for a membership to one of the ancestry search sites. Then perhaps I'll be able to verify my John Richardson and even trace him back further. But would I be able to trace him forward?
Again, from family lore, "He went south to look for work. His wife, Agnes, received three letters and then they stopped. She heard in the spring of 1872, news of his death, but did not know if it was true or not."
This is why I'm not sure he ever came to Iowa. In 1872 they may still have been in Minnesota. According to cousins of my grandmother Bessie, their Aunt Agnes would never talk about her husband, or if she did, it would be some off hand remark like: "He fell down a well."
I imagine his disappearance to be like so many others of that time - today's equivalent of divorce - just not traceable through court records. It would help if I had a date of birth and a middle initial - then I might be able to find a death record. I might finally know where he lies buried instead of imagining him lying in an unmarked grave somewhere south.   

Pictured above left, Flora V. Richardson Duncan, Ralph Duncan and Agnes G. Hull Richardson. Standing in back left, Lloyd (I think. Could be Lawrence) Duncan and Bessie Duncan (my grandmother) taken around 1909.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Macbeth on CD

Reading, actual reading of books is such a huge part of my reading enjoyment. In the past I have tried listening to books only to find it just wasn't the same as reading them. I just couldn't do it. However, last week I decided to give listening another try with more successful results. Perhaps I was more motivated this time - I wanted something to keep me pleasantly entertained during my daily work out at the Y.

I'm a fan of M. C. Beaton - both her Agatha Raisin books and her Hamish Macbeth series. Hamish was a good first choice to listen to. Macbeth is a constable in a small Northern Scotland town. Death of a Gentle Lady is the twenty-third book in this series. When Mrs. Gentle moves into the area, she has everyone fooled into believing she is as sweet and refined as her name sounds - everyone except Hamish Macbeth. When Mrs. Gentle's illegal cleaning woman disappears and then Mrs. Gentle herself is found dead, Hamish must solve a multitude of crimes. Scottish actor Graeme Malcolm beautifully narrates this CD.

Death of a Chimney Sweep is the twenty-sixth Hamish Macbeth mystery. This one I read. In the metropolitan areas of Scotland, homeowners have their chimneys vacuumed, but in the isolated villages of Northern Scotland itinerant sweep Pete Ray still plies his trade with his old fashioned brushes. When the new owner of a long abandoned estate is found dead, stuffed inside a chimney, Pete is suspected as the murderer. When he is found alongside the motorway, dead from a broken neck, it looks as though he was killed in an accident while trying to escape. The estate owner's wallet and some silver candlesticks are found near Pete. Open and shut case as far as Hamish's superiors are concerned - but Hamish believes otherwise.
Beaton's mysteries are light, quick reads. I enjoy them for the setting, the humour of Hamish's many foibles and his abilities in putting clues together.

How long have I read and loved Maeve Binchy's Irish novels? I always try to read her latest and Minding Frankie is that. Her last few novels are more pat than the ones she wrote twenty plus years ago, but I still enjoy reading them. She has a believable way of describing modern Irish problems though I doubt they get solved as easily as Binchy writes them. I still love the good feeling I get from reading one of her novels.

Frankie is the unborn daughter of a young woman dying of cancer. She asks former boyfriend Noel Lynch to visit her in the hospital and tells him he is the dad. He barely remembers the woman or the drunken encounter that led to the pregnancy. All she wants from him is the promise that he will take the baby and raise her and that he names her Frankie. What makes this a feel good novel is the way a neighborhood and all its inhabitants come together as a family for the little girl.

George Baker is the actor who portrayed Chief Inspector Wexford on the BBC TV series based on the books by Ruth Rendell. Sadly, I have never seen any of the TV shows. I still hope to see them someday. And even more sad, Mr. Baker died at the age of 80 last Friday. His six decade career covered a wide variety of roles including comedy, drama, soap operas and science fiction. He was once considered a candidate to play James Bond, but he is most remembered for his portrayal of Inspector Wexford.

The Vault is Ruth Rendell's twenty-third Inspector Wexford novel. It is a follow-up of The Monster in the Box. Although it could be read without having read the previous book, it does add to the understanding to read them in order.
Inspector Reg Wexford is retired now, enjoying dividing his time between Kingsmarkham and London where he enjoys going to museums, movies and the theatre with his wife. He also enjoys walking the streets of London. But he misses his life as a policeman. A chance encounter with London DS Tom Ede gives Reg the opportunity to work with the Metropolitan police as a consultant - no pay, just glory.
Orcadia House, an old cottage in St. John's Wood, has turned up four bodies under an old drain cover over the long unused coal cellar. Three of the bodies have been there for twelve or thirteen years (the ones we read about in The Monster in the Box), but the fourth  - the body of a young woman - has only been there for a couple years.
Rendell gives us London and its neighborhoods through Wexford's eyes. She gives us well developed characters and mysteries that are hard to figure out. Ms. Rendell herself is 81 years old. Some thought she might retire when she 'retired' Inspector Wexford. I hope she doesn't. I hope she goes on writing as long as she can. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

My Home Is Devoured - Part II

The way I remember my home the best - before the windows were changed; before the porch was enclosed; before it was painted yellow - the home of my youth.

My Home Is Devoured by Paula Shane:  Farm life has its disadvantages as far as growing up is concerned, too. I consider the lack of social contact with other personalities the worst. It takes time to understand other types when you have never been exposed to their behavior before. It is hard for a farm lad to understand some of the antics of town boys, for farm boys have not been in close contact with them before. It is equally hard for some farm girls to understand the "giggly airs" of a town girl trying to be impressive and popular.

Most farm youngsters don't come into contact with town life until they begin high school. Living on a farm can cause difficulties in transporting teens to the important high school social activities. They need this "out of classroom" contact to develop a well rounded mental attitude. Here they find another view of the ever changing "town class". They also find the chance to develop their own personality a little more.
The final disadvantage really has little to do with farm youth but more with their parents. Farming is no easy task and the milk and egg checks aren't exactly high. What I'm getting at is simply this: A person who wants to make a big financial success of himself has no business on a farm. A man should possess almost unlimited strength and indefinite endurance to make farming really successful. For always the elements are against him; drought, hail, rain, frost and many more. Farming may be a good life but it is not a luxurious one.
The future of the small farmer is not hard to see, for it is a thing of the present already. A farmer with 360 rented acres of land, two hundred chickens and ten head of milk cows cannot survive against the organized farms where everything is done on a large scale. The "little guy" must either find a second means of income or modernize and "go big". He may even have to quit farming and retire. It would be necessary for him to retire for he knows no other type of work.
The farm will always be home to me in thought but not in actuality, for the farm I know will soon be a thing of the past.

The pictures of the barn I have interspersed throughout were taken in 2000. They illustrate the slow deterioration all the outbuildings suffered from lack of use and lack of funds for repairs. My home was devoured by time. Forty-nine years after my story appeared in The Smoke Signal, our family farm was sold to a neighbor who pushed down all the buildings, trees and fences. I have not been back to see what it looks like. I may never drive by that portion of Adams County again. I will keep my memories of the way it was and the way we were - a family growing up in the country.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My Home Is Devoured - Part I

On November 11 last year, I wrote a blog Remembering My First Published Writing. At the time, some people asked if I still had a copy of the essay which was published in our high school paper The Smoke Signal. Alas, I did not - too many moves in the intervening fifty years. The stars aligned during my fiftieth class reunion last month and I now have an almost full four year collection of The Smoke Signal once again. (Eventually, the collection will be bound and offered to the Corning Public Library.)

So, for those who asked, here is the essay just as it was published almost fifty-two years ago:

My Home Is Devoured by Paula Shane - To me my home will always be a farm. I don't mean I intend to live on a farm all my life, but when I hear or think the word "home", I will think of the farm where I have spent all my life up to this point.
Many people consider a farm as a poor place to live but it has numerous advantages over urban residence. It is an especially fine place to raise children who have room to play without fear of running into a street and being hit by a car. I recall many happy hours I have spent playing and growing on the farm.
I remember our old horse, Queenie, and the old buggy we used to have. My older brother always got to steer the rig until my sister and I decided we knew how to harness up the horse. We would just joyride around the country until Dad decided we could be of some use hauling water to the field for threshers. That ancient buggy stayed in use until some bumble bees decided to make it their home one summer.
Something that was even more fun was the corn cob fights we used to have. Our neighbor and my brother were against my sister and me. They would climb onto the hog house and fire at us until they ran out of ammunition. No quarter was given; none asked for. And if you got hit you didn't dare cry. There was no ceding until both sides were ready to quit or until someone was really hurt. It may sound dangerous and barbaric, but to us it was just plain fun.
A person has a chance to develop his own true personality on a farm and not just be a carbon copy of his friends. I think farm "kids" have more respect for other people and their property than do city youngsters. There is something in the papers every day about teenage gang fights and the destruction caused by teenage vandals. A farm youth's life is a more strict upbringing, as his parents' before him, than the city youth who is often allowed to roam at will.
A person learns more from experience and contact than from anything else. Farm youngsters grow up with a knowledge of animals and a security around them. They know that milk comes from a cow, and they know how to get it!
One thing I think farm youngsters appreciate more than their "city cousins" is nature. Their perception of nature is greater because they come into contact with it more. We on the farm see crops planted, cultivated, ripen and harvested. The changing of the seasons is more evident because we see more of it.
Sometime in March you get your first announcement of spring. You can feel it and smell it coming. Between the patches of snow you can see the grass beginning to push through the broken skin of winter's frosty coast.
Spring comes slowly, then suddenly it's upon you in all its glory. Birds are singing, the grass is turning an emerald green and trees are beginning to leaf out. But this isn't the best part of spring. No, the best time is when you step outside after the supper dishes are finished. It is a peaceful and serene time - a time when you can collect your thoughts and let them rest on the wonder and beauty that He has set before you. A gentle warm breeze is barely caressing you. The first star has just begun to shine and the quarter moon is a faint glowing sliver. The smell of growing plants and fresh earth reaches you, and like a snake is charmed by the flute player, your thoughts are drawn away, leaving you at complete peace with the world. This is the best time of Spring.
Following this is uneventful Summer. It's hot and humid and there's always work to be done, until August. With August comes the let-up. The days move almost at a standstill; hot days, dry days. There is an undescribable peace in these days. You realize they are the last days of summer. Maybe that's why they move so slowly - to give you time to savor each one. The air is always full of insects: the only things moving at a fast pace in this waning time.
We on the farm don't think of fall as a time to buy winter finery but as a time for preserving food for use in the long cold days ahead. We see the cold beauty of winter's icy fingers as they coat the outside world with their own being and turn it into a sparkling tomb of silence. (End of Part I)

I have to admit, re-reading this is a bit humbling - seeing all the mistakes I made and the rough juxtapositions. But at the time, I thought it was about perfect - pretty heady stuff as a junior having your teacher thinking your essay was so good it should be published in the school paper. Never once did I think maybe they were short on articles for that issue and just needed some filler! Mr. LaChapelle's red pen was used abundantly on the original paper I turned in. I still remember his trite written across "a winter wonderland" before he suggested my changing it for publication and it became "a sparkling tomb of silence."

(Kari & Preston might note the heading for their Dad's sports column in the above picture.)