Monday, June 25, 2012

The House At Tyneford

"The start of an affair, the end of an era." This cover alone would make me pick up Natasha Solomons', The House at Tyneford.* Allow me to list the reasons I decided to read it: set in an English village on the Dorset Coast at the beginning of WWII; inspired by the author's own great aunt; Elizabethan manor house of Tyneford and the village based on the real ghost village of Tyneham.
Now, a reason why I almost didn't read it - I have a real problem reading any books about the Holocaust - possibly due to learning the story of Anne Frank at such an impressionable age - but probably because reading about the atrocities done to the Jewish people are more than I can handle thinking about. Fortunately for my sensibilities, Ms. Solomons manages to relate the bad parts of her tale in a palpable way.
Nineteen-year-old Elise Landau, her sister Margot and their parents, opera star Anna and author Julian, are living in Vienna in 1938. The world is changing; war is coming; it is no longer safe to be a Jew in Austria. Margot leaves for America with her husband Robert who has a job in California. Anna and Julian are waiting for their exit visas. In order to get Elise to safety, her parents make her place a "Refugee Advertisement" in the London Times. It is answered by the housekeeper at Tyneford. She will leave her glittering life of parties and champagne to become a parlour maid in England.
Even though there are parts of the book where you can see ahead and just know what is going to happen, the unfolding of the story, the beautiful descriptions of the English coast and the personalities of all the characters make it such a pleasure to read. I put it on a par with The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It is one of those books I want to add to my own library which says a lot as I try not to buy quite so many books any more. Now if I can just find a copy of the author's Mr. Rosenblum's Open Garden!
*(Note: This book was published as The Novel in the Viola in the UK. Be sure to follow the instructions in the Acknowledgments at the front of the book and listen to the musical score at the end of the book.)

I picked up Anne Tyler's latest, The Beginner's Goodbye off the 'new books' shelves at the library and looked at it a couple of times - each time deciding I wasn't in the mood to read a book about how a man copes with the death of his wife. Then I read Tyler's Back When We Were Grownups which reminded me how much I enjoyed her way of writing about ordinary people.
The Beginner's Goodbye is Tyler's nineteenth novel. "A beautiful, subtle exploration of loss and recovery, pierced throughout with Anne Tyler's humor, wisdom, and always penetrating look at human foibles." I should not have been so resistant to reading this novel. It is just as entertaining as all the books of hers that I have read. Perhaps it is time for me to go back and read her 1988 Pulitzer Prize winner, Breathing Lessons. I'm sure there's much I've forgotten about the couple who have been married for 28 years (and this year will be our 27th).

Victoria Thompson's twelfth 'Gaslight Mystery', Murder on Lexington Avenue, addresses the subject of deafness - a minor story line in all these books as the young son of one of the main characters, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy, is deaf. As always, the author's research into deafness at the turn of the century informs her novel as well as her readers - interesting that Alexander Graham Bell dedicated a great portion of his life and fortune to advance the teaching of speech (lip) reading and speaking which nearly eliminated the teaching of American Sign Language.
Even though I was right about the identity of the murderer because I cleverly picked up the clue about "reading it in the newspaper this morning", the ending still held a surprise for me.

And now, with the completion of Thompson's 13th Gaslight Mystery, Murder on Sisters' Row, I'm caught up with all the books in the series. There is another one in print which our library does not yet have, so I'll have to wait awhile to find out how the relationship between Mrs. Brandt and Malloy is developing as they undoubtedly solve yet another murder.
Once again Ms. Thompson's research into life in New York in the 1890's led to her idea for this story about the New York Charity Organization Society. I don't know how relevant learning about something that happened more than one hundred years ago is to my life today, but I really enjoy reading about that period in time and the mysteries are always interesting.
Now, back to the library to see what comes home with me this time.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Betty Club

 No, it's not a blog about The Flintstones, although Betty Rubble would be eligible to join The Betty Club. 
I first heard of The Betty Club last month when CBS Sunday Morning did a piece on the Nebraska Betty Club's 16th Annual Betty Convention. The only requirement for joining the club is the shared first name - Betty. And no matter how big the crowd is, remembering someone's name is not a problem.

My little sister was named Betty. Mom told me Dad was the one who named her Betty Ruth. Maybe he was thinking of the candy bar, Baby Ruth? Or maybe he wanted to honor Mom by using her name, Ruth, as the baby's middle name and thought Betty sounded good with it?

Why he named her Betty Ruth I never knew. To me it was just one more plank in the sibling rivalry deck - if Dad named her then that meant she was his favourite. I was almost two years old when she was born, so having her displace me guaranteed my jealousy. Ronald was about six years old here.

Mom must have had a thing for hats. I do remember this one, though not the one I was wearing in the previous picture.
While the Betty Club was new to me, I did know about the same type of club for women named Linda. It was started in Iowa by two Cedar Rapids friends in 1987. Their second annual Linda Club meeting was held in Des Moines. I worked with a woman named Linda at the time, so maybe that is why it stood out for me. Or maybe it just seemed like such a fun idea. When I thought about it, I realized there really were a lot of women named Linda.

Betty was a very popular name during the 1920's and 1930's. When an 88-year old Betty at the Nebraska convention was asked if it was a compliment if someone said you were a "real Betty", she replied, "You bet. It meant you're hot!" Must have been the Betty Boop image.

Betty's hair was almost as white as Grandma Ridnour's cat, Toby. Mom used to say she was a tow head. (I probably wondered what her toes had to do with her head.) I understood she called her a tow head because of her white/blond hair, but what did it mean?
Now, thanks to the internet, I realize towing is part of the process of turning flax into cloth - similar to carding in wool-to-cloth prep. Another adjective for fair haired is flaxen haired.

Mom also said Betty was bald the first couple years of her life - before she became a tow-head. The string of wooden thread spools on the high chair gave her something to play with and teeth on.

This was the basket, or bassinet, all of us slept in as babies - even Leslie when he came along eight years after Betty - it was still in good condition, surprisingly so since we used it to play in.

We had a neighbor boy that Ron usually played with and because they were older, my sister and I were playmates. Most of the time we got along - usually because she let me be the boss - but once in awhile she would rebel. I remember one time when I wanted to go outside to play and she didn't want to. I went on outdoors, climbed about two-thirds of the way up the elevator which was set up at the corn crib and began calling for her. "Betty, Betty, Betty, Betty." No response. I chanted her name over and over, "Betty, Betty, Betty, bettybettybettybettybetty" until her name became a mash of sound and lost its meaning.
I lost interest in her joining me and began pondering how her name, anyone's name, could lose its meaning (identity) and simply become a sound, a noise, a meaningless litany. It is a memory as clear today as it was when it happened when I was probably ten or eleven years old.

 If the Nebraska Betty Clubs had been formed earlier, Betty could have joined when she and Gene lived in Omaha when Mike was a baby.

Are there any Ramona clubs? I doubt it. I don't think the name Ramona was ever as popular as Betty and Linda. I think whatever popularity it achieved had a lot to do with Helen Hunt Jackson's novel, Ramona. Mom said she chose my name - but I was named for one of Dad's old girlfriends. H-m-m-m-m.
I don't remember what Betty and I were dressed up for in this mid-1960's picture. I do remember thinking I was pretty hot with my hat and matching gloves and suede pumps. Maybe not as hot as that 88-year-old, but if Dad had named me instead of Mom, I would only have to move to Nebraska to join her club.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

You Are Cordially Invited To Larry's Party

"What is this mighty labyrinth -- the earth, but a wild maze the moment of our birth?"
(Reflections on Walking in the Maze at Hampton Court" British Magazine, 1747)

Carol Shields won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel The Stone Diaries in 1993, but it was her 1997 book, Larry's Party, (winner of the 1998 Orange Prize) that my friend Kristina recommended I add to my reading list. I looked for the book for several years before finding a copy.
Larry's Party is the story of a man's life - an ordinary man. The only thing that makes him unusual is his obsessive interest in mazes. The book follows him through the 1970's, '80's and '90s; through two marriages and divorces, the birth of his son, the death of his parents. There is no mystery to be solved, no big revelation about Larry to keep you interested, rather it is Shields' circuitous route of reaching the goal, the party of the title all the while experiencing the twists and turns of Larry's life - somewhat a maze in itself - which may have been the author's intent all along.
As much as she wrote about Larry, I never felt that I truly knew him or understood him. Yet I was impressed by how it seemed this woman author really did understand her male character.

People of the Fire is the second in 'The First North Americans' series by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O'Neal Gear. I've blogged before about how much I've enjoyed reading books by this husband and wife team over the years. This book was published in 1991, so there is the possibility I had read it before, but it did not seem at all familiar when I glanced through it at a garage sale - nor when I read it. On top of that, it is an autographed copy! I would like to know the story behind that!
The novel is set in what is now present day Wyoming during a time of extreme drought. Two tribes are warring over what limited resources are left. Each tribe believes following their own ancestors' dream path is the only way to survive.
I've always been fascinated by the link between Native Americans and nature. This series is full of lore, mysticism and culture of an era we can only imagine - and these books truly illustrate my imagination of that time.

Gaslight series book #11 - Murder on Waverly Place by Victoria Thompson. After solving the mystery of Sarah Brandt's husband, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy tries his best to stay away from her. As the daughter of one of New York's oldest families - the Deckers - Malloy knows she is way out of his league even though she now earns her own living as a midwife.
Thus, when he is told somebody had been murdered during a seance and Sarah Brandt was demanding he be brought in to investigate, he was surprised. He was even more surprised when he arrived at the townhouse on Waverly Place and discovered it was not Sarah, but her mother, Elizabeth Decker, who had sent for him. Giving her real name to the policeman who was first on the scene would shock her society friends and infuriate her husband.
So, once again, Mrs. Brandt and Sergeant Malloy set about solving a mystery. This book seemed a little shorter, a little less involved than previous novels in the series, but I enjoyed it just the same.

Friday, June 15, 2012

"My Kingdom for a Horse(radish)"

"Horseradish, horseradish, my kingdom for horseradish!" (Paraphrasing Richard III in Shakespeare's play.) How do you make beef taste even better? - By dipping it in some horseradish sauce. Currently in my frig is Woeber's Sandwich Pal Horseradish Sauce. If I'm eating a hamburger, steak or beef roast, out comes the horseradish sauce.

Kraft Creamy Horseradish Sauce even says right on the bottle: "Great on Beef!" And Kraft is what I usually buy - just decided to try a different brand this time.

I don't know when I began appreciating the taste of horseradish - probably not until I was in my 30's - but it was around the time the above picture was taken (I was about 12-years-old [me on left, baby bro, Leslie, poking my doll's eye out, my younger sis, Betty, on the right]) when Mom told me how her Dad used to make horseradish for the family.

If I inherited my taste for horseradish from my Grandpa Joe, then maybe he got his liking for it from his German Ridnour heritage. Grandma Delphia and Grandpa Joe were both great gardeners - they had a huge "truck patch" when I was a kid.

But I think it was the place they lived when Mom was a teen where the horseradish grew. She said it was a very large patch. Grandpa would dig the roots in the fall - always leaving some for the next year's crop. I would have no idea how to prepare these roots, but reading online, it appears you should use heavy roots that are as 'hard as wood'. Once any dirt is scrubbed off, use a vegetable peeler to pare off the brown skin - do this under running water which helps carry off some of the 'volatile chemical'. It must be something like peeling and slicing an onion - the tear-producing smell isn't released until the root/bulb is cut into.

I do remember Mom saying how Grandpa had to be so careful about inhaling the fumes as he grated the root - outdoors upwind with a good breeze blowing would work. Apparently the only other ingredients needed are vinegar and salt. I don't know if it was necessary to refrigerate the horseradish or how long it kept. I don't even know how my grandparents ate it - did they mix it with some mayonnaise to make a creamy sauce?

Horseradish (Amoracia rusticana) is a perennial plant of the Brassicaceae family which includes mustard, wasabi, broccoli and cabbages. It grows to five feet tall. Both roots and leaves were used as medicines in the Middle Ages. According to Greek Mythology, the Delphic oracle told Apollo it was worth its weight in gold.
Horseradish can be found growing wild. It can also be quite invasive. I remember discussing with Mom one time about planting some horseradish in her garden. She said she didn't think she wanted to because it would "take over".

Even if I found some horseradish growing, I don't think I would be tempted one bit to dig some roots and make my own horseradish sauce, much simpler and safer to buy it. And if I can find it in a larger grocery store in the city, I am going to try Woeber's Cranberry Horseradish Sauce. I'm almost certain I will like it as much as the regular type because I like cranberry mustard - it would be a win-win if I could find both cranberry horseradish and cranberry mustard. Maybe when the new Whole Foods opens next month?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Back When We Were Grownups

Anne Tyler is one of those authors I've been reading for many years, though I haven't tried to read everything she writes. I picked up Back When We Were Grownups at a garage sale recently - scanned through it and got hooked on the opening lines: "Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. She was fifty-three years old by then -- a grandmother. Wide and soft and dimpled, with two short wings of dry, fair hair flaring almost horizontally from a center part. Laugh lines at the corners of her eyes. A loose and colorful style of dress edging dangerously close to Bag Lady.
Give her credit: most people her age would say it was too late to make any changes. What's done is done, they would say. No use trying to alter things at this late date. It did occur to Rebecca to say that. But she didn't."
I like authors who can write an entire book about what I call "ordinary people" and make it interesting. Tyler is an expert at doing so. Her writing presents what I call "truths" about life, love, loss, happiness, purpose, strength - themes found in all our lives - which, I suppose, is what makes her books so relate-able.
Rebecca fears she has lost her own true self and goes searching for her, only to find she has been living the life she was meant to have all along. Isn't that what we all get?

Thanks to another Friend of the Library who has adopted Victoria Thompson as an author, I have been able to read all the 'Gaslight Mysteries in order, of which Murder on Bank Street is number ten.
Out of his affection for midwife, Sarah Brandt, Detective Sergeant Frank Malloy has decided to try to solve the murder of her husband, Dr. Tom Brandt even though the odds of finding witnesses and evidence after four years are slim.
Malloy has narrowed the likely suspects down to four and as he hones in on first one and then another, there are many twists and turns. Sarah does not figure as prominently in the solving of this case as she has in the previous ones - she is almost afraid to finally find out who killed her husband and why. As the list narrows to two suspects, Thompson makes you believe it is first one and then another right up to the final pages. She is quite adept at keeping the suspense and mystery going until the final shocking revelation.
If you like period pieces (New York in the 1890's) as do I, with characters you care about, I think you will like this series. Now that Dr. Tom's murder has been solved, which 'frees' Sarah, I'm looking forward to seeing how her relationship with Malloy develops.

Okay, secretly, I want to be Maisie Dobbs. I even bought a hat like the one she wears - unfortunately wearing it doesn't turn me into a thirty-something, previously poor, now rich, intelligent, adventuresome, psychologist/investigator.
Elegy For Eddie is Jacqueline Winspear's ninth in the Maisie Dobbs series set in World War I and after. It is 1933, Maisie is an established investigator when several Covent Garden costermongers hire her to look into the death of Eddie Pettit - a gentle soul with a magical gift for working with horses. It appears Eddie was killed in an accident, but the costers have their doubts.
Maisie begins her search for answers on the working-class streets of Lambeth where Eddie had lived and where she had grown up. The inquiry quickly leads her to a newspaper baron, politicians and behind-the-scenes men of power. As she uncovers lies and manipulation on a national scale, Maisie must decide whether to expose secrets of national security or see justice done for Eddie.
As the characters in any series develops, the reader comes to care about them and wonder, "what's next" in their lives. It is apparent yet another romantic attachment for Maisie is coming to an end. Is she incapable of a lasting love because of the loss of her first love in World War I? Or is it just because of her independent streak? This novel sets up the next one as England once again faces the probability of being drawn into yet another war in Europe.
I absolutely adore Jacqueline Winspear's novels. Maybe when Downton Abbey has run its delightful course on PBS, someone will produce a Maisie Dobbs series for television. I can only hope.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Rock-A-Bye Baby, On The Treetops

When I think of the nursery rhyme (or lullaby) "Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetops, When the wind blows, the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all," this is the illustration which comes to mind. It was either a book from my own childhood or one from my children's.

It was on Mother's Day, while I was sitting on the deck, talking on the phone with my daughter, enjoying the flowers I won at Alyssa's baby shower the day before (for knowing the most baby animal names, i.e. fox - kit; swan - cygnet, etc.) and really enjoying the Dom Perignon Alyssa, Zach & Katrina had given me for Christmas so I could cross it off my bucket list, when I first noticed........

an Oriole nest about ten feet above the edge of the deck! Orioles have nested in this tree every year but always before the nest was hidden up higher in the tree. Oriole nests have fascinated me ever since I was a kid and Mom pointed out to me how they were made, suspended from a branch, swinging with the wind- rocking the babies on the treetops.

I told Kari with any luck, I'd get some pictures of the babies. Today, I did. Can you see the head and eye of one of them at the top, center of the picture?

Both parents work all day keeping the babies fed. After 'Dad' feeds them, he sits on the branch and just watches and watches them. I think he's saying: "When are you kids going to get big enough to leave the nest and fend for yourselves?!"

'Mom' seems a little more nurturing. She just puts the food into their hungry little mouths and then flies off to find them more to eat. There are four types of Orioles found in Iowa: Orchard, Hooded, Bullock's and Baltimore. These Baltimore Orioles are said to be so-named because the male's colors resemble those on the coat-of-arms of Lord Baltimore.

The first printed version from Mother Goose's Melody (London c. 1765) had slightly different lyrics: "Hush-a-bye baby, on the tree top....." rather than Rock-a-bye. One theory of the origin of the rhyme suggests it was written by an early English immigrant after she observed Native American mothers placing their babies in birch-bark cradles, suspending them from tree branches and letting the wind rock them.

With that image in mind, look at the above pictured Zen cradle swing from Fisher-Price. It has a mobile, plays six different lullabies and rocks either side-to-side or front to back. How far we've come. I know Alyssa will appreciate having something like this for baby Lily, but I hope she will also have time to hold her and rock her and sing her a lullaby - Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetops.....

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Believing The Lie

Believing The Lie is Elizabeth George's seventeenth Inspector Lynley novel. I know it takes much, much more time to write a book than it does to read one, but it seems I'm always 'waiting for the next one to come out' whenever there is a series I particularly enjoy.
Inspector Thomas Lynley has been sent undercover to the Lakes District to investigate a death which has already been ruled an accident. He enlists the aide of his friends, Simon and Deborah St. James. All the dead mans relatives could have motive for killing him. As Lynley, Simon and Deborha delve into their lives secrets, lies and motives are uncovered.

Ever since Inspector Lynley's wife, Helen, was killed a few books back, I haven't enjoyed George's series quite as much - they didn't seem to be up to the par of the first ones. With this book, I felt like the author was beginning to get back on track with the characters. Now I'm really interested in seeing what happens with Inspector Lynley and his partner Barbara Havers in the next novel, for which I will have to wait another year or two.

I do note that Elizabeth George is now writing a new young adult series and have read an excerpt of the first one, The Edge of Nowhere, which comes out in September. It does sound promising - and will help while I bide my time for another of her Inspector of  Scotland Yard mysteries.

There are eleven more books in M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth Mystery series than in George's Inspector Lynley series. Granted, Beaton's books are not as ponderous as George's. Death of a Kingfisher is the 28th book about Lochdubh's lovable Police Constable, Hamish Macbeth. It is always fun to read about Hamish's attempts to stay ahead of his superiors at their headquarters in Strathbane.
The recession has hit Scotland, causing the Highlanders to come up with inventive ways to lure tourists to their small towns. The savvy new tourist director comes up with the idea of renaming Buchan's Wood, "The Fairy Glen". Soon tourist buses are making the idyllic woods, with its waterfall, pool and gift shoppe, a regular stop and Hamish is coming under the spell of the beautiful director. Perhaps this time, he will find true love. Or not.
First, one of the kingfishers, which is nesting in the area of the pool, is found hung. Then other acts of vandalism occur culminating in the murder of the cranky older woman living nearby. Macbeth is working on solving this murder when another body is discovered.
As previously stated, it is always fun to read about Hamish Macbeth and all his foibles, as well as the mysteries he is so good at solving. Beaton will always be an author I'll read.

A couple authors I read on a regular basis have also written books for Young Adults, so I was checking to see if they had any in our library's YA section when I happened upon Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larson. The book won a 2007 Newberry Honor Award, which was enough of a recommendation for me to read it. But I also liked that it was based on the true story of the author's great-grandmother homesteading in eastern Montana.
In this age of social networking, vampire chronicles and wizard books, I'm not sure how many young adults would be interested in a historical novel about homesteading, but I found it very interesting. There were many truths about friendship, loyalty, determination and following your dreams in this story. I enjoyed it very much. (One of my great-grandfather Ridnour's brothers homesteaded in Montana. I thought of him and his family as I read of all the hardships in this novel.)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Born In A Year Of The Goat

The goat is one of the twelve-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese Zodiac. I was born in a "Year of the Goat" - which is supposed to mean I am: "Shy, introverted, creative and perfectionist." I question the creative trait, but am okay with the other three.
Perhaps being born under the goat sign is one of the reasons I have long admired, and wished at one time, to raise goats. Is there anything cuter than a baby goat? Look at these twins suckling in the background of this picture.

This herd of Boer goats is just west of town on the north side of the highway. Every time we drive past them I 'o-o-h and a-a-h'. I remember the first time I ever saw this breed of goat. We had gone on vacation to San Antonio, but I wanted also to see the Texas Hill Country. (I had been reading the China Bayles herbal mysteries.) As we headed toward Fredericksburg, I began seeing herd after herd of these strange white goats with the red heads. When I asked a local about them, they said, "They're Boer goats." Of course I heard boar goats. You can't fool me, I was born on a farm - boars are male hogs; bucks are male goats.

We didn't have the magic of the internet in those days, so it was some time before I learned this breed of goats originated with Dutch settlers in South Africa where Boer is a Dutch word meaning  farmer. The first full-blood Boers were brought to America in 1993. They are noted for their fast growth and high fertility - two traits that make them prized in the rapidly growing goat meat industry.

As with any new exotic (think llamas and ostriches), prices were high. I remember hearing of a local couple starting a herd. They went to Texas and bought a registered buck for several thousand dollars. On the way home, they stopped for dinner. When they went back out to their rig, someone had stolen their Boer buck right out of their stock trailer. (This is the way I remember the story - it may, or may not be entirely true.)
The highest price paid for a full-blood Boer buck was reportedly $80,000 in 1994. By late 1995, prices were declining and male Boer's sold for around $2,000.

I would never want to raise goats for their meat. The idea of slaughtering young kids is abhorrent to me. My interest was in having goats for milking and making cheese - and for the pleasure of watching them. I used to go to the State Fair just to walk through the Avenue of Breeds to see all the different goats. One of the breeds I liked was the Nubian. It was developed in Great Britain. Recognized by its floppy ears and Roman nose, Nubians are highly intelligent and affectionate. Their milk has a higher butterfat percentage than other breeds. Aren't these little kids precious? I love the tans, browns, blacks and rusts of their coats.

The Toggenburg was another breed that caught my fancy. The oldest registered breed, they are named for their area of origin - Toggenburg Valley in Switzerland. Toggenburgs are generally friendly, quiet and gentle. They make good pets. You've probably seen this breed at petting zoos.

The largest of the dairy goats, is the white or cream colored Saanen. It also produces the most milk - an average of a gallon per day. Saanens have a calm, mild-mannered temperament. Goat milk has long been used to feed babies and small children when they can't tolerate cow's milk.

The Saanen breed is named for their area of origin - the Saanen Valley of Switzerland. When I traced my Great-Great-Grandmother Maria Romang (Mauderly) back to her birth in Saanen, Switzerland, I made the remark, "Maybe that is why I always liked the Saanen goat breed."

When we were at the Nodaway Cemetery yesterday, I found another gravestone I'd never seen before. Jacob Romang was Maria's brother, one of the ones who accompanied her to America. My Great-Great-Great Uncle's epitaph reads: "Gone Home". I can imagine his essence back in the beautiful Saanen Valley of Switzerland.

"What was he doing, the great god Pan,
Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
And breaking the golden lilies afloat,
With the dragon-fly on the river."
               Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

A Perfectly Serendipitous Day

A few days ago I started looking online to see what I could find out about my Great-Great Grandmother Malinda Jane Cecil Gravett's family; in other words, the Cecil's. I was quite surprised to find that her father, William (C or G) Cecil, born in Kentucky July 9, 1822....

and her mother, Nancy Agnes Davis Cecil, born November 10, 1821 in Tennessee, are buried in Nodaway Cemetery. "Oh, I wish I had known this when we were at the cemetery for Memorial Day, I would have looked for their graves," I lamented. Bud said, "Well, we could still go and look for them." Which is how we started out on our adventure today. We had no trouble locating William and Nancy's stone next to the drive in the back (East) side of the cemetery.

Close to which was this marker for Ellis and Sarah Ann Gravett. "Hm-mm, Malinda Cecil married George Gravett. Were Malinda and Sarah sisters and George and Ellis brothers?

There was also this marker for Clark W. (William?) Gravett, five-year-old son of E & S Gravett. And as it was next to the Cecil stone, it made sense that Sarah was probably their daughter and little Clark was their grandson. When I got back home, I was able to confirm that Malinda and Sarah were indeed sisters and George and Ellis were brothers.

On my list of 'things to do someday' has been to go and see the bow string arch bridge which once crossed the West Nodaway River near the old Smith Mill built by Samuel Smith in 1856 in Milford, later re-named Grant in Montgomery County. And since we weren't that far away from Grant......

and, since it was almost noon, and because I had read about "The Hayloft" in Grant, we stopped at this unique bar/cafe. The place is run single-handedly by Zelda. I had been under the impression there was a daily lunch special, but the menu was of the sandwich and fries ilk - which was fine by us - especially when we saw the prices! Can you believe a hamburger for $2.00; cheeseburger or tenderloin for only $2.25? We both had the tenderloin with a side of fries and a side of onion rings. All I've got to say is, "That was the best tenderloin I've had in a long time."
Every available wall space - even the ceiling - is covered in artifacts from the "good ole' days". There are stuffed animals, an ox yoke, metal Buddy L trucks, old signs, lamps made from wagon wheel hubs - it would have taken all day just to look at everything, but I was on a mission to find .....

that bow string arch bridge. I first read about this bridge a couple years ago when I was reading about a similar bridge in Poweshiek County - the McIntyre Bridge over the Skunk River. The history of these bridges, once found in Iowa by the hundreds, is something I found interesting. There are now only twenty of the bridges in Iowa - most of them on the Historic Register.
The article I read then (but can't find online now) told how this bridge once spanned the Nodaway River near the old mill in Grant, Iowa but had been replaced and subsequently moved to Pilot Grove County Park three miles west of Grant on County Road H14.

Pilot Grove Park is a lovely 23 acre park with camping and picnic facilities. The above bridge is one of three  which provide a way to cross the lake while walking the paved one-mile trail around the lake.

This bridge leads from the campgrounds over to the picnic area. There are several shelter houses sited amid mature, towering oak trees. I can easily imagine camping and/or picnicking at this park. Maybe next time we'll get our sandwiches and fries from The Hayloft 'to go' and bring them here to eat. It would have been nice to have a fishing pole along, too.

This bridge is known simply as 'The Nodaway River Bridge'. It was built in 1876 by Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Works of Leavenworth, KS. It is 70 feet long.
For someone who is deathly afraid of crossing bridges, this one doesn't bother me at all. It was worth the wait to finally see this graceful old bow string bridge.

Find an article about Iowa's Bow String Bridges at: