Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Then There Were Two

 There are now only two remaining Ridnour cousins of the original seventeen. Leona was the last of Uncle Guy and Aunt Lottie Inman's children. She died on Valentine's Day - three days after her and Walt's 57th wedding anniversary.
Mom was closer to her Haley cousins than she was to her Inman cousins and the Inman cousins didn't come to the family reunions as often as everyone else, so my memories of them are fewer. And most of them are sad.

 Leona had an older brother, Ray Leroy, pictured here with Leona and their parents, Guy and Lottie. I never knew Ray, but I remember Mom telling me about him. When he was almost eighteen years old, he was kicked in the stomach by a colt. He died two days later. That was in April of 1940. The previous August, Ray and Leona's little sister, Macey had died. She was six years old. Mom was one of the pall bearers at her funeral.
Uncle Guy and Aunt Lottie lived north of Corning; west of where Lake Icaria is now. We went there once to see them and my great-grandma Kate Ridnour who was living with them. I was always fascinated by Uncle Guy because Mom had told me he was one-quarter Cherokee Indian. I believed that was where the girls got their beautiful dark eyes and lovely cheek bones.
In 1945, Leona married Rex Kirkman. They had two daughters, Jeanie and Janice. I don't remember Rex, but I do remember his death in 1953 - how sad it was for Leona and the two little girls.

 Finally, some happiness when Leona married Walter Veatch in 1955. I remember going to visit them when their son, Johhny was born. A daughter, Julie, followed, completing their family. In this picture from their wedding day, Walt and Leona are flanked by Walter and Lola Brokaw - Leona's sister and brother-in-law. In front are Jean and Janice.

 I found this Christmas card from when Jeanie was a year old among Grandma Ridnour's pictures. I returned it to her when I attended visitation. I hadn't seen her in many years. Julie was the only one of the kids I had seen recently. (Johnny died in 2001.) I reminded Janice of the time I had stopped to see her when we both lived in Des Moines; something she had no memory of and I only have a vague memory of a house somewhere on the south side.
What I do remember is a family dinner in the mid-50's at Reldon and Lois Ambrose's near Lenox. Les and Mark were little. Some of the older cousins walked down the road a short distance to an old house. We went in and started exploring. I saw what I thought was a head in a bucket and ran screaming out the door. It turned out to be a horse tail. I remember someone saying that the house was "where Rex and Leona had lived." When I was talking to Janice, she mentioned that she and her husband live on the home place. One of these spring days I am going to drive down there to see if any of those childhood memories return.

In this picture, Leona's mother, Aunt Lottie, is the girl on the right. She was the youngest of the Ridnour kids. Aunt Florence is on the left and Grandpa Joe is in front. Aunt Lottie and Uncle Guy had five children. Grandpa Joe and Grandma Delphia had three girls. Aunt Florence and Uncle Tom had nine kids. Two of their girls, Darlene and Doris, are the last living of the cousins.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sweet Violets

"Sweet Violets. Sweeter than the roses...
Covered all over from head to toe...
Covered all over with Sweet Violets."
Those sweet violets have to be one of the first flowers I was able to identify (along with Dandelions, of course) - and they have stayed one of my favourites through all the years.
The picture is of the two pieces I kept that show the pretty little violets of my youth. The cup on the left is less than two inches high and an inch and five-eighths across. The handle is so tiny, I wonder if the cup is from a child's tea set? I've had it so long I no longer remember where it came from. It has a gold rim and I think it is obviously hand painted.
The lovely cream pitcher is marked "Made in England". When I use it (as I did when Mark & Lindsey were here for Christmas), I fantasize my English great-great (even 3x great) grandmother might have once used it - though I really don't believe it is quite that old - and it isn't a piece handed down to me. I love it for its classic lines and the violet appearing inside.
When I look up the lyrics to Sweet Violets, I'm surprised to learn their humorous lyrics. I thought I was remembering the Dinah Shore version. Now I'm more inclined to believe it is the Roy Clark song I'm thinking of: "All year long, I waited for the chance, to ask if she'd go with me to the dance. She said, "What kind of flowers will I get?" And all I could afford to buy were sweet violets.
Sweeter than all the roses...covered all over with teardrops...she laughed at my sweet violets. That night another stole my love away. He promised long-stemmed roses everyday. She broke my heart and I still can't forget the time she laughed and left me with my sweet violets.
Her tear-stained letter came to me today. Now someone buys her orchids everyday. She has the world at her command and yet she wants the boy who offered her love and sweet violets...
Sweeter than all the roses.... Covered all over with teardrops...she cries for my Sweet Violets...." (Written by Joe Allison and Danny Hill.)
Those sweet violets ..... the little ditch flowers I picked for May Baskets....the plant that many consider a weed....the flowers I remember covering the bedspreads and curtains in the bedroom of a revered couple I once did housecleaning for....the flowers I still pick out of the yard and bring in to place in that small-mouthed perfume bottle I saved just for that reason...the flowers that will soon herald spring for me....the flowers that are 'sweeter than the roses' - the flowers that I hope my granddaughters will one day receive and value for all the right reasons.....those flowers....sweet violets.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Fat Tuesday and The Little Prince*

 It is time for carnival, for Mardi Gras, for the wearing of masks. It is Fat Tuesday - which is the definition for the French Mardi Gras - a time to feast and over-indulge before Lent and fasting begin.
Sunday on Yahoo news, I read a post titled: "We kissed at Carnival: Brazil blog aids lost loves." Someone who had a brief encounter during Carnival in Rio started a blog to help star-crossed lovers find one another. As many identifying details as possible about the sought-after, would-be lover are posted ending with the seekers e-mail address and the yearning question, "Where are you?"

 One of the 'typical' postings went like this: "He was gorgeous with curly hair, dressed as The Little Prince...He was alone but his dancing was so joyful. In a second he disappeared. Little Prince where are you?"
Naturally that made me think of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's classic The Little Prince. I did not become aware of this lovely tale until I was in my thirties even though the book came out the same year I was born.
For my 50Th Birthday, Kari gave me the special Fiftieth Anniversary Edition pictured above.

 I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans during the week leading up to Mardi Gras in 1975. There was a parade and some revelry, but not as wild as it would be a few days later. I did not dress up or wear a mask, though if I had chosen one to wear, it would be something like this one. I did, however, feast. I remember my hosts choosing calamari as an appetizer. They wouldn't tell me what calamari was until after I had tried it and declared I liked it.

I fell in love with the Little Prince when I read Saint-Exupery's book the first time. If I saw someone dressed as the Little Prince, I would want to find him, too.

"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

(*This is the post I intended for yesterday before I had problems with my blog site.)

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sun Going Down

Jack Todd seems to have led an interesting life as a columnist, editor, reporter, even a hotel desk clerk and a novelist. When his mother first sent him a box of family documents - letters and journals - he was uninterested; twenty-five years later he turned the family history into a book spanning four generations from the Civil War to the Great Depression.
I found Sun Going Down to be a very interesting historical novel. It is set mostly in Nebraska and Montana ranching country and vividly details the hardships of pioneers. Todd states the title of his book is from a collection of Mari Sandoz's work. "Sun-Going-Down" is a song written by a Cheyenne chief being held in chains in a Florida prison and translated by Sandoz. (If you are interested in the history of the Nebraska High Plains, I recommend Mari Sandoz's book Old Jules.)
Our library has the next book in this series, Come Again No More, which continues with the Depression and WWII years. I'll be reading it next.

Murder in Chinatown is Victoria Thompson's ninth Gaslight Mystery. This one involves a mixed race marriage between an Irish woman and a Chinese man and the problems their children encounter. I always learn something new in any book I read. This time it was that immigration laws prohibited Chinese women from immigrating to the United States. Thus, the Chinese men who were brought here as cheap labor for building the railroads and other menial work, married white women. Of course there is a murder involved which midwife Sarah Brandt helps Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy solve.

I don't think I've read any of Anthony Horowitz's books before although I enjoyed his Foyle's War series on PBS. When I saw 'A Sherlock Holmes Novel' beneath the title, The House of Silk, I was interested. (Who doesn't like a Sherlock Holmes story?) Then I read on the inside fly leaf: "For the first time in its one-hundred-and-twenty-five-year history, the Arthur Conan Doyle Estate has authorized a new Sherlock Holmes novel" and I was intrigued.
It has been awhile since I've read any of the original Sherlock Holmes books, most recently enjoying the movie and TV versions of his escapades, but I thought The House of Silk portrayed Holmes & Watson very true to form. Once again, "The game's afoot......"

Interestingly enough, Sherlock Holmes appears in another of this stack of books. I will always read anything Laurie R. King writes. I think she is an amazing author and I have been waiting to read the next book in her Mary Russell series, in which Mary Russell is married to Sherlock Holmes. Pirate King is the eleventh book in the series.
Scotland Yard has sent Russell to investigate rumors of criminal activities surrounding a popular silent movie industry. Traveling undercover with the film crew traveling to Portugal to shoot a cinematic extravaganza based on Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Pirates of Penzance', she is put in charge of everything from chaperoning thirteen young actresses to dealing with the Portuguese interpreter. When the crew embarks on a derelict boat for Morocco and the actual filming, Russell detects a problem with the hired 'pirates' who begin acting more like real pirates. Where is Sherlock when you need him? Perhaps in disguise as the stand-in for an indisposed actor?
I like that it is Mary Russell whom saves the day with only a little help from Holmes. I did not enjoy this novel as much as I have previous ones, but I think it is because I just couldn't get into the whole silent film back drop.

Now to make my list of wanted books for a trip to the library tomorrow.....

Friday, February 17, 2012

Saint Fintan of Clonehagh and Paris Hilton

Today is the Feast Day of Saint Fintan of Clonehagh as well as Paris Hilton's thirty-first birthday - not that I care much about her or her birthday - I just thought the juxtaposition of the two was a catchy title. I do find reading about Saint Fintan of Clonehagh much more interesting. Had I known about him before my trip to Ireland, I would have visited the remains of his church when I went through Portlaoise, County Laois.
Today is also the birthday of some other famous people I do like - actor Hal Holbrook (1925), actress Patricia Routledge (Hyacinth Bucket [pronounced Bouquet]) (1929), author Ruth Rendell (1930), actress Rene Russo (whose birth date, February, 1954, seems familiar) and Canadian singer/songwriter/musician, Loreena McKennitt (1957).

It is also the birthday of an old friend and high school classmate, Bill Arbuckle. This photo of him was taken last September at our 50th class reunion banquet. To me, it doesn't seem like Bill has changed very much. He is still the youngster I first met at my Grandmother Lynam's home on the west edge of Corning in 1956. Bill's Dad, Ikey, rented the pasture from Grandma and kept a milk cow or two there. When I stayed with Grandma in the summer, Bill came with his father to do the chores and we got acquainted. I always said he was my first coke date because one afternoon we walked downtown and he bought me a nickel coca cola at the McClelland Drug Store soda fountain. I remember passing some kids he knew on the way and them teasing him about his 'girl friend'. "She's not my girlfriend", he said turning red, "she's my cousin." If I had even a thought that he might become my boyfriend, his remark killed any such ideas right there. But we became friends that summer and have remained so since.
When I was a senior in high school and had pneumonia, Bill came to visit me in the hospital. He brought along his chess set and challenged me to a game. I was a pretty good player, though not as good as he was. He came out to see me and play chess a couple of times and it really helped pass those long hours.

 To this day, whenever he sees me, he makes a comment about the cars coming along the highway in front of Grandma's place. At that time Highway 34 went through Corning and past the acreage where Grandma lived. If we got bored, she made up games for us. One of them was to sit on the porch and choose a certain color or make of car. Then we had to count the cars that matched what we had chosen. Whoever had the most cars at the end of the agreed upon time was the winner. I remember playing that game with my siblings and cousins as well as with Grandma and Bill. That's her porch in the background of this picture of Ron & me. (Summer of '45?)

Today is also the birthday - the birthday I always think of first on this date - of my younger brother, Les. He was born under a full moon February 17, 1954. (Him and Rene Russo - though she wasn't born in Creston, IA.)
This picture of Les and our sister, Betty, was taken on his 13th birthday. I hosted a party for him when I was living in the Odell house west of Brooks. Betty helped with the decorations and games. I think it was her idea for this one - a life saver tied to a string. The point was to see who could get to the life saver first. I suppose for some 13-year-olds this must have seemed like a flirtatious game.
I think Les had a good time that night. I know Betty and I had fun. And I hope Bill & Les both are having fun on their birthdays today.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"Now Don't Tell Me, I've Nothing To Do"

 "Countin' flowers on the wall, that don't bother me at all...." The Statler Brothers had a hit country/pop song in 1966 with Counting Flowers on the Wall.
The song was written and composed by Lew DeWitt, the group's original tenor.

"Playin' solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty one...."

 I have played a lot of solitaire over the years, though now it is almost always played on the computer.

 "Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo...."
 Who could forget Captain Kangaroo and Bunny Rabbit? I started watching it along with my little brother in 1955. Before Bob Keeshan became Captain Kangaroo, he was Clarabell Clown on the Howdy Doody Show - another early television kids' classic.
The Captain and Mr. Green Jeans welcomed us to The Treasure House where Dancing Bear performed and Mr. Moose told jokes. Tom Terrific, his sidekick, Mighty Manfred, the Wonder Dog, and their nemesis, Crabby Appleton appeared in cartoons. And the list of celebrities who appeared as guests over the years is lengthy and varied.
Captain Kangaroo was still aired in black and white when my oldest son, Douglas, was little. But by the time Kari and Preston started watching, it was in color. The show was on CBS for the nearly 30 years.
"Now don't tell me, I've nothing to do....."

I do have much I need to do. Sorting papers and pictures is chief among the tasks I find it hard to tackle. I can remember wondering why Mom never seemed able to sort through her papers and get rid of what wasn't important. I mean, it wasn't like it was hard manual labor which I could understand her not doing anymore. Now I'm beginning to understand. I do fairly well with the easy stuff - newspapers, etc. to recycle - and most of the junk mail that needs to be shredded if I don't want to be a victim of identity theft - but what about the insurance/tax/savings/credit card statements and the like? I let them pile up until even shredding them is an all day task. It's so easy to think, "I'll do it tomorrow......" and go back to playing another game of solitaire.

Or even counting flowers on the wall.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"My Heart's On Fire, Elvira"

"Eyes that look like heaven, lips like sherry wine..." The Oak Ridge Boys hit song Elvira (written by Dallas Frazier) always made me think of Dad's cousin even though her name was Elvera, not Elvira.
Yesterday afternoon I learned that Elvera had died at the age of 85, so, naturally, she has been on my mind. I believe this is her high school graduation picture. She was the daughter of Dad's Uncle Leslie Duncan and his wife, Ethel Harris Duncan. Born March 28, 1926, she was almost nine years younger than my Dad, but the two families were always close.

There were many family get-togethers celebrating birthdays and anniversaries as well as for no special reason at all. Pictured here in October, 1955, back and middle rows left to right, Leslie Duncan, Albert Childers, Bessie Duncan Lynam, Louis Lynam and Leona Lynam Childers. Front row is Josephine Irish Harris (Ethel's Mother), Ethel Harris Duncan, holding Bobby Drake, Ruth Ridnour Lynam, and Elvera Duncan Drake. (That's my little brother, Leslie Lynam, with his back to the camera at the bottom right. Too late, he decided he wanted to be in the photo after all.)

Elvera was a freshman in high school when her baby sister, Marjorie was born October 2, 1939. This picture was taken when Marjorie Elaine was two months old and Elvera Rosamond was 13 years old.

 My Aunt Leona and Elvera were classmates as well as cousins. In this photo, taken in April, 1941, the girls were fifteen years old. There was almost as much 'sibling rivalry' between these two as if they were sisters - close most of the time, but jealous of one another at other times. In the 1960's after Aunt Leona's family had moved to Phoenix, Elvera was very close to my Grandma Bessie (her aunt) which may be part of the reason my folks and Elvera and her family remained close. Dad and Elvera's husband, Frederick, both loved to fish. The two families trekked to Glenwood, MN a couple of times on summer vacation fishing trips.                  

Another photo taken in April, 1941. Back three men, Mahlon Harris, (Elvera's grandfather), Louis Lynam and Ralph Duncan. (Grandma Bessie's youngest brother.) Middle row, Pearl Duncan, (Ralph's wife), Grandpa George Lynam, Josephine Harris and Bessie Lynam. Front row, Ruth Lynam, holding Ronald Lynam, Elvera Duncan holding her little sister, Marjorie, Aunt Leona Lynam with her hands on her little cousin Shirley's shoulders. (Ralph and Pearl's daughter.)

Tomorrow evening I will attend visitation for Elvera. I will take these pictures along to give to her children. We will talk and remember when we were young. I'll tell them how much I always liked their mother. And perhaps we'll mention how few there are left of the Duncan cousins - just as we always do when there is a death in the family.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Wedding Dress

Virginia Ellis is a new author for me. I picked up The Wedding Dress because of the intricate handwork depicted on the dust jacket. When I read the inside cover and saw it was set right after the Civil War, I knew I would probably enjoy the book and I did.
Three sisters are left to deal with the aftermath of war on Oak Creek Plantation. Julia and Victoria were barely brides before their husbands marched off with the Confederate Army; now they are widows with barely enough money left to see them through until Spring.
Their 17-year-old sister, Claire, despairs of ever finding a husband with so few young men returning from the fighting. Julia comes up with a way to lift all their spirits - they will sew a wedding dress for Claire even though there is no groom in sight. The planning and construction of the gown brings a sparkle back to Claire's eyes and hope back into all their hearts.
As the dress takes shape, the sisters welcome the arrival of Sergeant Monroe Tacy. He has come to fulfill a dying man's last request, but his presence begins a series of events that will change the sisters lives.
I have always liked books set during the period of the Civil War. This was a perfect heartwarming story for a snowy winter weekend.

I love Kate Morton's writing. The Forgotten Garden takes the reader on a journey through generations and across continents as two women try to uncover their family's secret past.
From the back cover: "A tiny girl is abandoned on a ship headed for Australia in 1913. She arrives completely alone with nothing but a small suitcase containing a few clothes and a single book - a beautiful volume of fairy tales. She is taken in by the dock master and his wife and raised as their own. On her twenty-first birthday, they tell her the truth, and with her sense of self shattered and very little to go on, "Nell" sets out to trace her real identity. Her quest leads her to Blackhurst Manor on the Cornish coast and the secrets of the doomed Mountrachet family. But it is not until her granddaughter, Casandra, takes up the search after Nell's death that all the pieces of the puzzle are assembled."
Some people do not like it when a book changes back and forth between time periods and speakers, but as long as the year is noted at the beginning of each chapter, I do not have a problem with it. I will continue to read everything this talented Australian author publishes.
Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet has become one of the most beloved classics of our time. I first read it in the 60's and was very impressed by its poetic truths.
The Prophet is a series of essays covering such topics as love, marriage, children, work, freedom, self-knowledge, friendship, religion, beauty, pain and death - a total of twenty-eight in all. Even though I remembered some of the passages, I hadn't read the book for several years.
Here is one I remembered about children: "Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."
It was natural to say "my" children as though they belonged to me. I think reading this passage made me realize they were (are) their own selves. It helped me raise them (I think) as independent individuals.
Gibran's essay on Love is a classic section repeated by many lovers, I know - "To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night...." - but the one on marriage is the one I like best.....
"You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love: let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."
The officiate at our wedding used this passage which may be part of why it is one of my favourites, but I think all of Gibran's essays are inspiring and full of meaning. It was good to go back and re-read this classic.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Of Cataracts and License Plates

When we took our nearly three weeks trip through the west several years ago, the National Parks of Utah were high on my 'must see' list. After Bryce, Escalante and Capitol Reef, you realize you can't see them all. This picture was taken overlooking the Dirty Devil River just before the confluence with the Colorado River which then flows southward through Canyonlands National Park near the area known as Cataract Canyon.

Most people now, when they hear cataract, immediately think of the condition causing cloudy vision - especially if they are of a 'certain age'. There is another definition for cataract from the Greek katarassein - to dash down- which evolved into the Latin cataract - another word for waterfall or downpour. I have to admit that while we stopped at the above pictured Cataract Falls when we passed through Canyonlands National Park, I, too, think of cloudy vision when I hear the word cataract.

Last year my vision worsened to the point where I could no longer read license plate numbers while driving down the highway; even some roadside signs were hard to make out. I was relieved when my optometrist said he thought I should have cataract surgery. And even more relieved when I began seeing clearly again after my surgery.
Being able to read license plates may not seem like a big deal to most people, but I've always been a license plate reader -originally just to see where a vehicle was from - later to try and decipher those cleverly concocted vanity plates. (EL8D; BAKE4U; 2BENVD; 4U2NV; CARPEDM)
Iowa license plates have changed a lot over the years. When I was first old enough to recognize them, they had the number 2 (For Adams County) on the left followed by the license plate number. With 99 counties in Iowa, I did not know all of them, but I certainly recognized our surrounding counties - 87 - Taylor; 88 -Union; 15 - Cass; 69 - Montgomery; 73 - Page; as well as some of the ones with larger populations, like 77 - Polk; 78 -Pottawattamie; 52 - Johnson  and 82 - Scott.
In 1979, Iowa went to a three character alpha designation followed by the numeric plate number. The county number was written out at the bottom but plates still followed in an alphabetical order, thus Adams County was ABC. These plates were green with white letters and numbers. They were good for six years with a sticker being applied for each year after '79. Plates were changed to blue with white in 1985 and the letters began where they had left off six years previously with the K series. I remember Mom's new license plate that year began with LCA which we said was for her grandchildren, Lorrie, Christine and Andrew.
I think the first REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection) or DNR plates became available in 1991. I bought mine when I got my '85 Dodge Aires wagon in '92. It has been on both cars since then - the '93 Ford Escort wagon and the current 2003 Saturn Ion.

Something else I remember from my youth was how people would vie for the first license plate each year. Plates went on sale December 1. Most years there was a line of people wanting a low license plate number. I remember Jack Ford and Byron Steadman as two who always tried to get number 1. It may have been an ego thing, or it may have been a way of showing prosperity - a delinquent charge was added if the plates weren't purchased by December 31 - which resulted in a flurry of activity right after the holidays. If you had a very high license plate number, it meant you were a person a low means who couldn't afford to buy the new plates until you absolutely had to. The Free Press even published the plate numbers and names of the first twenty-five on the front page each year.
In 1934, during the Depression, there was no rush for the number 1 plate. Our future landlord, Hayden Hutchison got #2 for his Dodge sedan. His father, O.T. Hutchison received # 3 for his Willys-Knight.

This plate I had on the back of my cars all those years got so faded that last fall before I put the new sticker on, I switched the plates and put the better one on the rear - all the better to be seen by anyone with cataracts.