Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Thrifty Dilema

I was raised to be thrifty. In past blogs I shared my father's habit of carefully using a letter opener, going around the entire envelope of letters he received, stacking the envelopes blank sides up, and stapling the stack. Those were our note pads for shopping lists and game score pads, and we had business envelope size and letter size options. My mother was also thrifty, never wasting leftover food or even the juice from the vegetables, and finding ways to recycle clothing into something new. My father and brother's slacks were just enough to make a straight skirt for me. I have inherited versions of their thriftiness. Because I quilt, it is very difficult for me to throw away fabric scraps. I do use those scraps in quilts, but I have enough fabric to make quilts into the next century!
When our mothers past away--now over a decade ago--they had boxes of unused greeting cards. Unlike today, when most of us go to the card rack to select a particular card for a particular recipient, a generation ago people bought boxes of cards--often an assortment for various occasions. Typically, they used all the birthday cards, with cards such as anniversary or congratulations unused. They would buy a new box of cards to get what they needed, and the unused cards would continue to accumulate. At our mothers' deaths, I inherited those accumulated cards. There is nothing wrong with them, except they do not look like todays' greeting cards. They are in like-new condition--except they look like they were new in the late 1900s. The messages are still appropriate. However, it is obvious that I did not go to town and select that particular card especially for the recipient. Here is my dilema: Is it an insult to send a card from decades ago that will be obvious to the person who receives it that it was not selected especially for them? What is a vintage classic vs. just something old? When does thrifty slip into cheap?!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Backgrounds in Virtual Interviews

My husband and I were watching CBS Sunday Morning, as we often do, and one of the guests was Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer Prize Winner, biographer, historian, and political commentator.  As is typical in the coronavirus era, she was being interviewed from her home.  "Look at all of her books," I said, as usual trying to make out some of the titles on the book binders.  "Do you see 'Prairie Bachelor' on her library shelves?" my husband teased.  "Not yet!" I replied.

Doris Kearns Goodwin

Later in the show, 98 year old Norman Lear, television writer and producer, was being interviewed.  "You know, you could write a blog about the backgrounds people choose for their virtual interviews," my husband said.  Sure enough, Lear was seated in front of a book case, which also held an  Emmy award, as well as books.

Norman Lear



 I liked my husband's idea.  After all, when I was interviewed for the Fort Hays State University Alumni award last fall, I had carefully chosen the book cases in our dining room as my background.  

Lynda Beck Fenwick


I decided to conduct an experiment, so I went into the kitchen where I could still hear the tv to listen to Sunday Morning, and turned on our small tv to begin switching from channel to channel to take screen shots of whomever was being interviewed at that time.  The first thing I learned from my experiment was how much of our tv viewing time is consumed by commercials, for I was often detained, channel after channel, by commercials!

Peggy Noonan
On NBC's Meet the Press, Peggy Noonan, author, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and perhaps best known for having been the speech writer for President Ronald Reagan, was being interviewed.  A book case appears in the right side of the picture.  
Chris Christi




On ABC This Week I encountered my first fire place background when Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey from 2010 to 2018  and today political commentator and lobbyist, was being interviewed.

Laurie Barrett

Science and the coronavirus were the topics at MSNBC, where science journalist Laurie Garrett was being interviewed.  The crowded book case behind her contained books on many topics, but she is known for her science background and for having won the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for her series on Ebola published in News Day.

Andy Puzder

On Fox Business the guest was Andy Puzder, former CEO of CKE Restaurants, and unsuccessful nominee for Secretary of Labor.  He appeared in a traditional executive's room, in which the edge of what appeared to be a fire place could be seen, and on the opposite wall, a painting.  

Jeff Van Drew


 

New Jersey Republican Congressman and dentist, Jeff Van Drew, was the guest on Fox News.  His setting included a fire place.

Erie Foner


At CNN the guest was Erie Foner, a History Professor at Columbia since 1982 and the author of many text books.  Behind him was a crowded book case.

My informal survey began about halfway through CBS Sunday Morning and ended before that program concluded.  Much of my time was taken waiting for commercials to end, even though I moved from channel to channel trying to avoid the delay of the commercials.  I was not selective about choosing the guests in this survey.  Whoever happened to be on the screen on each particular channel became the subject of my screen shots, with whatever background each of them had chosen.

Perhaps not everyone has found it as interesting as I have to observe the background choices of those being interviewed virtually from their homes.  I also enjoy seeing the art people have on their walls, only one example of which appeared in this impromptu survey.  It is also fun to see those who select kitchens for their backgrounds.

The occasional dog bark or the cat who springs into the camera frame add interest, and enthusiastic plant lovers sometimes display potted plants or cut flower displays in vases.  Flowers can be seen in both Noonan's and Christi's screen shots. Some of the settings in the background seem carefully staged, while others look as though not a single thought was given before inviting thousands of viewers into the person's home.

To be honest, when the coronavirus threats are banished and everyone returns to their studios, I am going to miss being invited into their homes.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Election Tragedies

 I have found it difficult to compose this week's blog post and I apologize for the late posting.  It has been a tragic time for our nation, but as many of the blog posts over the past decade have shown, there is often much to be learned by looking to the past.

Stairs inside the refurbished Kansas Capital, Photo:  Lyn Fenwick


In 1893 the populist candidate for governor, Lorenzo D. Lewelling, was sworn into office in the state capital of Topeka.  The People's Party gained the majority in the Kansas Senate as well.  It was in the Kansas House, however, where the outcome of the elections was in turmoil.

In my book, "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement," the description of events is told in Chapter 10, including the important role played by Representative William Campbell, Isaac Werner's friend and neighbor.

As other blogs have expressed, many Kansas homesteaders were Union veterans of the Civil War, and politically they voted Republican in respect for their old leader, Abraham Lincoln.  Consequently, Kansas politics was and remains primarily Republican.  The Democrats were occasionally successful in elections, but Republicans were accustomed to winning.  There was no dispute that the People's Party controlled the Governor's office and the Senate; however, in the House the results were challenged..

Undisputed, the Democrats held 2 seats, and the People's Party held 58 seats.  Disputed, however, were 18 certifications of the 65 seats the Republicans claimed.  Evidence of fraud had been collected to challenge those 18 certifications, and if fraud were found, the majority would shift to the Populists.  A Committee of Fifteen, with five Republicans, five Democrats, and five People's Party members, was assembled to consider the evidence.  Although five of their own members were included on the committee, the Republican leadership refused to acknowledge the authority of the Committee.

Both parties sent messages to the Governor and the Senate that they were ready to do the State's business, and the People's Party members were recognized.  The Republicans refused to accept that recognition.  Both parties elected Speakers and conducted business as if they were authorized.

After 31 days of this legislative standoff, matters erupted.  The governor's appeals to the Republicans were ignored, the militia commander sent to clear the hall refused the command of his superior, the Republicans used a sledgehammer to crash through the locked door of the chambers, unauthorized people were issued weapons by the Republicans, a new militia commander established a position outside the capital...in short, it was a dangerous situation.  The People's Party members finally agreed to allow the State Supreme Court to hear the matter, knowing the Court had a Republican majority which would probably result in a judgement for the Republicans.  It did.

The militia commander was court marshaled, according to military justice, and he was found guilty of refusing to carryout a direct order from his superior.  Two years later, when the Republicans were back in power, the verdict was set aside on political grounds, since it was undisputed that the order he refused had been lawful.  

United States Capital, west side


The greatness of our nation rests upon our magnificent constitution and our laws, state and national.  Not only must those we elect act in good faith under those laws, so must we as citizens.  Loyalty to party is part of the mechanism of government, but it must never be greater than respect for the laws that have knitted together our nation of diverse citizens.  In these times, we must hope that those to whom we have entrusted the protection of our nation act with wisdom and respect for the office they hold. 


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Author of the Prairie

Isaac Werner's Homestead Claim Today


It will come as no surprise to those of you who follow my blog that I love Willa Cather.  She was not a Kansan, but she didn't miss it by much, since she spent much of her youth in southcentral Nebraska.  She was born December 7, 1873 in Virginia, but in 1883 when Willa was only ten years old, the family arrived in Nebraska.  The farm on which they first settled was about 20 miles north of the Kansas border, but a year and a half later they moved 16 miles south to Red Cloud.  From a prairie farm to a prairie town, Cather came to know and love the prairie, and that love is revealed in much of her writing.

Somewhere I read an unattributed quote that goes like this:  Anyone can love the beauty of the mountains, but it takes someone special to love the prairie.  Cather certainly loved both and used both in her books, but she had a special feeling for the prairie.  That is why I wish more Kansans would read Cather.  Our state is not often the featured landscape for novelists, but the prairie is featured in many of Cather's short stories and novels, as is occasionally our state.

Some of those to whom I have recommended Cather have found the pace of her stories too slow.  It is true that they aren't action filled.  But, part of that is the result of her attention to setting, character, and particularly to descriptions of nature.  I might paraphrase the quote above:  It may be easier to love a book filled with action and adventure, but it is worth immersing yourself in a book filled with deep explorations of characters and setting.

Willa Cather

So, why is my New Years blog about Willa Cather?

During the era of covid-19, many of us have found ourselves at home, away from activities that would usually occupy our time.  Several of my friends have mentioned turning to books.  Perhaps this is a good time to try Willa Cather.

Although I have read all of her novels and many of her short stories, there remain stories that I have not read.  An internet friend and writer has created The Willa Cather Short Story Project, in which followers have the opportunity/challenge to read a Cather short story a month.  I signed up!  All of the stories are available at the Willa Cather Archive on line, so it is not necessary to buy any books.  Those who sign up can simply read along or can comment.  As my friend who has originated the project says:  "The point is to read Willa Cather with pleasure, whatever that looks like for you."


Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Which brings me back to my particular love for Cather...for I just finished one of the short stories, "The Clemency of the Court," from which the following quote is taken.

The love of the plains was strong in him.  It had always been so, ever since he was a little fellow, when the brown grass was up to his shoulders and the straw stacks were the golden mountains of fairy land.  Men from the cities on the hills never understand this love, but the men from the plain country know what I mean.

This New Years blog is about using the opportunity that staying at home offers to read some of those books you have put off reading.  I know that many of you are already doing more reading than usual, but might it be fun to direct your reading in a particular way--to organize a personal project that you would enjoy during this unusual confinement at home.  I did that earlier with my marathon reading of all the Harry Potter series, and that was fun.  Maybe you have a set of Churchill's World War series or Sandburg's Lincoln that has been gathering dust.  Maybe it is poetry you prefer, and you could read a poem a day.

I understand that for some of us, the annual New Years resolution to go on a diet is needed this year more than ever! but maybe reading is a good way to keep your mind off the refrigerator too!  I will be reading Cather short stories as my resolution.  As I often do with my New Years post, you are invited to share your resolutions with me!

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Merry Christmas from My Friend Mary Ann

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

I know that Christmas letters are often the butt of jokes, but they would not be if they were all written by our friend Mary Ann Marko!  She has given me permission to share her 2020 Christmas letter on my blog, and you are in for a treat!  (Only the images are mine.)

What to Make of a Covid Year

From January whisperings about a strange disease in a faraway land, to March when things began to look ominous, to the present, which finds us engulfed in a world pandemic, we have all taken a ride through some kind of a Sci-Fi horror movie.  Now we come into this season of gratitude and try to conjure up something we can to be thankful for.  No matter what, I will always be grateful for the moon, elephants, and cottonwood trees.  I am also grateful for the optimists who try to fill our cup at least half full with their postings of stunning sunsets, blooming flowers, jokes that force a smile, and photos of happy days.  We long to be with family and friends during this season, but are thankful for our warm, safe house to weather out this virus storm.  We are grateful, too, for Zoom that lets us at least see the faces we long to touch--to hold their hands.

Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Sheltering at home has brought its own set of challenges.  Those dreams of long ago, when life was a frenzy of even a few hours alone with my sweetie, have turned to accusations of stalking.  (He says he was just trying to put the clothes away.)  We stop.  Regroup.  Find ways to make space for each other, seal the deal with a kiss, and carry on.

When the news unnerves us, we remember we have Netflix, with the Tiger King and that chess girl, and The Crown.  We open another puzzle; read another book.  Our yearning for sweets triumphs over any resolution to eat healthy.  Kale and carrots do not do what Twin Bings and Blue Bell ice cream can do to tamp down the stress and sooth the spirit.  

We stay up late and get up late.  We bring in the paper with its predictable bad news, drink coffee, scroll face book, and now it's noon.  Lunch.  I need a nap.  Billy Collins reads poems to us in the afternoons and Heather Cox teaches us history lessons.  OLLI offers courses on line--very good ones--and I remember to tune into about half of them.  I have learned about flying buttresses, Neanderthals, viruses, crocodile, and all manner of animals and insects, how my brain functions, and how Google plays with it.  I have learned more about the constitution, and how, like the Bible, it can be manipulated to fit most anything one chooses to believe.  In searching for truth, I have learned to question everything I ever thought I knew.

Irregular adherence to safety measures keeps us home from church, grocery store, and everywhere else.  And so, we watch Mass on television (with coffee and cinnamon roll), order groceries, and everything else on line--staying safe, we hope.

Yesterday on my walk, I saw a neighbor's yard strung with bedding, and chairs sitting outdoors with a basket of disinfectants beside them.  My husband tells me there was an ambulance there when he came home from PT.  We hunker down even tighter.

Photo credit: Lyn Fenwick & Emy

If we travel next year (a vaccine and a thumb's up from Dr. Fauci being the key to our traveling), it will be to memorial services that are increasing, as is the pain of not being able to share the grief with family and friends in real time.

The giant poinsettia gifted us by a friend to usher in the season will be all the decoration we need for this year.  I am eagerly waiting for the stores to stock candied fruit so I can make fruitcake--I'm ready to open that apricot brandy.

We will spend Christmas home alone, happy in the knowledge we are protecting our families, and they us.  We await the Baby in a Manger to lighten all our burdens.  And when this year comes to a close, we will celebrate its departure by stomping on something and then banging pots and pans while demanding a new and vastly improved 2021!


My thanks to these special friend of ours, Mary Ann, for sharing her humor and wisdom, and to her husband, Gene, for providing her with such great material.  May the Holiday Season bring all our friends and blog followers the grace and humor of this message, and may the new year bring us kindness and health.   









Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Two Special Blog Followers

 The challenges of Covid-19 have reminded  us just how important friends are.  I am certainly appreciative of my friends, made so visible by their support for my book and by their continued following of my blog.  And, I must add, the appreciation of staying in touch through many years with their annual Christmas cards and letters, and the new novelty of zoom.  I have missed seeing or hearing from others, as the opportunities which would have allowed us to stay in touch in the past are now impossible.

Many of us have stayed in touch through face book, and others have followed my blog.  This week's blog shares the fun of both ways I have connected with friends.

What fun to open my face book reminder about Isaac Werner's construction of a neighbor's house, posted December 10, 2020, to discover that somebody "Loved It."

Unfortunately for me, they loved it so much they wanted more information about the county section number, information that I did not have.  My blog had only indicated the general direction and distance from Isaac's claim.  While I was considering how to reply, I realized someone else had answered the question.

That was a relief, since my research records compiled while writing the book focus more on Stafford County legal descriptions, although Isaac had many friends and business acquaintances in Pratt County.

However, what it also reminded me was how much is now available online that I needed to use other reference sources to find when I was doing my research.  The conversation between my two face book friends had not only shared the certificate number and date of issue , but also an image of the certificate.
My information about this particular topic had come from Isaac's journal, a rare source material that included the number of days the construction took and the amount Isaac was paid for his labor.  I had also interviewed a family descendant, which was helpful in distinguishing for whom the work was done, since two brothers had the same surname and lived in the same community.  However, since the Moore brothers were friends but not major characters in my book, I did not take the time to go further.  My face book friends found the information online in no time at all.


 However, this story does not end.  An image of the location was also supplied before I had time to praise the two online sleuths for sharing their research.  

In past blogs I have commented on the disappointments that technology has brought to communication--the extreme rarity of a personal letter, the greater likelihood that people will correspond by text that by e-mail, and the rarity of a chatty phone call.  

Yet, this face book exchange illustrates the other side of technology.  Three people shared information, and the chain of the conversation was not begun by a request.  Perhaps that is one part of the technology that is overlooked.  I posted my blog without any expectation that I would receive information that I didn't have, and unexpectedly, all three of us learned something new.

The challenge to all of us, young and old, is to discover and utilize the new possibilities, but to do so without the loss of benefits from the old possibilities.  If nothing else, the Covid-19 isolation has shown us that we miss the smiles behind the masks (and bless us for wearing those!), we miss the impromptu meetings with friends at the grocery store, and we miss the traditional rituals that bring strangers together--the clerks in stores, the strangers we are seated beside at programs and sporting events, the distant relatives at family reunions...  If Covid-19 should have taught us anything, it should have reminded us that privilege and class mean nothing to the virus, and neither should our sadness for those the virus has taken.  If we have missed those impromptu connections with friends, acquaintances, and strangers, perhaps we have also learned the significance of smiles, thank yous, and traditional courtesies (like holding the door for someone whose hands are full).  And, like remembering the common humanity in all of us.   


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Finding Descendants of Isaac's Friends

A simple sod house in early Kansas.

When my husband and I returned to Kansas in retirement and rescued the old homestead that had been vacant for several years, our return to the family home represented the 4th generation of my family to occupy the ancestral home.  There are other generational families in the community but it is increasingly rare for a family to occupy the same dwelling that their ancestors occupied.

Such families were more common in my youth, and when I began the research for my book about Isaac Werner and his community, I tried to arrange interviews with descendants of people who either homesteaded or arrived early in the communities near Isaac Werner's claims.  Some of the older people I interviewed still lived in the area, but many others had moved away.  

It is a special treat for me to talk with descendants whose ancestors knew Isaac Werner and who are mentioned in Isaac's journal.  The man I mention in this blog is Robert P. Moore, and the ancestor to whom I spoke is a relative although not a direct descendant.  This remote family member still lives in the area Isaac described in his journal.  He told me how his own ancestor mowed all the way to Iuka so that when he walked there he could follow a mowed path.  Isaac did the same thing, mowing from his homestead to the Emerson School, so that when he walked to meetings held at the school house he didn't have to walk through tall grass, especially on rainy nights.


Robert P. Moore was five years younger than Isaac, and he was born in Kentucky to Andrew J. and Rebecca Moore.  By 1880, Isaac Werner had been in Stafford County about five years, but Robert P. Moore was still in Kentucky, living in Cordova, KY, with his wife Martha (also called Marthy) and engaged in farming.  However, within five years Robert and Martha were in Kansas, having settled about 3 1/2 miles southeast of Isaac Werner's claim.

My assumption is that they had not lived there too long, for they hired Isaac to build their house.  Of course, many settlers built temporary abodes when they first arrived on the prairie--dugouts, sod houses, simple wooden shelters, or even tents, and Robert P. Moore's family may have build such a temporary structure before proceeding with a house.

Sometimes one member of a family would come to stake a claim, and other family members would follow.  In his journal, Isaac mentions "staid overnight at Jim Moore's," but I am not certain of the family connection between the two men.

On January 30, 1885, Isaac got his tools ready to start building Bob Moore's house.  His journal entries describe a 2-story building, with two gable windows on the second story.  Isaac's February 8, 1885 entry documents having completed the finishing touches of laying the floor and hanging the door.  He had worked 8 ten-hour days, plus "1/4th hour", for which he was owed $12.10 and was paid $10.00 cash.

Isaac was known as a talented craftsman, and before he got his horse, he often did building jobs for cash to earn money to hire others to break sod for his farm.  He continued carpentry jobs throughout his life, including furniture and cupboards, and his tools sold well at his estate sale.  The obituary his family wrote for publication back in Pennsylvania described both Isaac's fine farm and his gifts as a carpenter. 

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Zooming with Isaac Werner

 On December 1, 2020 the Fort Hays State University Foundation, Alumni Association, and Forsyth Library hosted a zoom book launch for my book, "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement."  I am late posting this blog, because since arriving home after the event until a few minutes ago, I have been sending messages and thank you's to not only the people who made the event possible at FHSU and The University Press of Kansas but all of the wonderful people who shared the zoom event.  If I have missed anybody, please forgive me.  So many were involved in the work it took to create the event and the effort to register and clear the evening to attend the celebration, especially for those who had never zoomed before.  To everyone, thank you for a perfectly wonderful evening!  

Isaac Beckley Werner's stone
When we left our farm to go to Hays, Kansas, home of Fort Hays State University, I asked my husband to make a special detour.  The book, "Prairie Bachelor," shares the story of a particular region leading up to and during the Populist Movement, as well as the other events happening across the nation during that time.  But, at its heart is Isaac Beckley Werner, his 480-page journal, and the articles he wrote for the populist newspaper, 'The County Capital.'  Isaac Werner has been a part of our lives for a decade now, and I wanted to pause at the lovely old Neelands Cemetery, where Isaac and so many of his neighbors are buried, to share a moment at his stone.
 
Mary, Larry, Lyn, and Leslie




That was only the beginning of a remarkable day.  When we arrived at the Forsyth Library, everything was set up so professionally that I knew it was going to be a great evening.  We were greeted by representatives of the Foundation, the Alumni Association, and the Library, and pictured are Mary Hamond, Larry and I, and Leslie Haas.

I cannot begin to thank everyone who contributed to the success of the evening.  When the Dean of the Library, Deb Ludwig, asked me if they could host a zoom book launch, I was thrilled.  Deb's last day in that position was the Friday before the event, but she will not be leaving entirely, a fortunate save for FHSU!  She led the planning for the event, but so many others contributed their talents as well, and they made everything work beautifully.  All I had to do was show up!  Since I have rarely left the house since February, showing up was a bit of a big deal, but we wore our masks and social distanced (this brief photograph being the only bit of a violation of the social distancing...but with masks on!).

Photo by Larry Fenwick
Every person who came was special, and those who braved learning how to zoom for the first time were particularly special.  There were 22 states represented among those who registered for the event, and one guest from Ukraine.  Those of you who follow this blog may have noticed many comments from my international friend Allen, originally Canadian.  Early in my blog a mutual friend who lives in Kansas suggested to Allen that he might enjoy my blog, and he became a regular follower of the blog.

Another group certainly deserves mention, for descendants of Isaac Werner's uncle were present as a family, including 92-year-young Jim Werner, whom I met in Wernersville 8 years ago and who was very helpful with my research, and Susan Davis, the great-great granddaughter of Isaac Werner's youngest sister, whom I met on Ancestry.com early in my research and who shared family history and photographs with me as well.

I am sincere when I say that everyone who joined the celebration and many that were unable to join is special.  Many shared stories about their ancestors, some shared images, one gifted to me a book signed by Isaac that she discovered in a library deacquisition sale, others serve on museum boards and are directors of museums, are newspaper publishers and writers, others worked in libraries, courthouses, and in Hains Church in Wernersville.  Others followed my blog for a decade or are friends and strangers who continued to ask about the progress of the book.  It is dangerous to start naming so many reasons to be thankful for the help and encouragement I have received because I will unintentionally leave someone out--but not in my heart.  Sharing the zoom celebration was just one way to acknowledge how many people contributed to my completion of "Prairie Bachelor."   
 
Photo credit: Larry Fenwick
A special group in attendance were those from the University Press of Kansas.  It was not easy producing a book in the midst of Covid-19, but they did it.  I have personally thanked those present to celebrate with me through zoom, but there are so many others that made the book possible.

Deb planned the zoom book launch to be an informal gathering, a group of friends enjoying an evening with their favorite beverage, having an informal conversation with the author of a new book.  We discussed various topics but we had no script, no pre-planned  Q & A.  We wanted everyone to relax and have fun.  I hope everyone did just that.  I know that I did, and I think the photograph taken during the gathering makes it clear that I was having a great time.

Thank you to everyone who not only attended the zoom book launch but who encouraged and helped me along the way, particularly my biggest fan, Larry D. Fenwick.  I hope Isaac Werner would be pleased by the book his journal inspired, "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement," available at www.kansaspress.ku.edu or to order by phone at 785-864-4155, or online or your favorite book store. 

The link to watch the celebration is https://youtu.be/7cMTRbHino4 . 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Thankfulness in Difficult Times

The illustrations of Norman Rockwell captured American traditions so perfectly that they continue to resonate with us today, but Thanksgiving 2020 for most of us is going to be different.  Perhaps we will roast the turkey just as we do every Thanksgiving, but for many of us, family will not be gathered around the table.  Even so, we have reasons to be thankful.  This week's blog will share some of the reasons I have to be thankful, and I hope my abbreviated list of gratitude will remind us that although 2020 has brought loss and disharmony, there are also reasons to give thanks.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

If you are searching for a reason to be thankful, one reason is obvious.  Many people are making our lives easier by their sacrifices and volunteering, from those who continue to go to work every day so that we can buy products we need to those who volunteer at food distribution locations, to thousands in between.  But perhaps those for whom we must be most thankful are the health care providers who put their lives at risk, disrupt their own families, and break their hearts with the suffering they see around them--doing their jobs to help the rest of us.




 
In a time during which Covid-19 reminds us how fragile life can be, the importance of family and friends become more apparent.  A decade and a half ago, descendants of the first occupants to live in the house behind them gathered at the farm where we had often celebrated holidays.  Today, several of those in the photograph are gone, but the memories of good times together at this place with family and friends remain, and those memories are another reason to be thankful.


 This year, although tragedy and need will fill our memories, I have many reasons to be particularly thankful to many people.  To Fort Hays State University, for special recognition at Homecoming (celebrated virtually) and to the upcoming zoom celebration they are hosting Dec. 1st for the release of my book, "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement."  Too many people have been part of those two events to recognize them individually!  To the University Press of Kansas and the many people who played an important role in publishing my book in the middle of a pandemic.  To Lucille M. Hall, and those who keep her dream of a museum in St. John, Kansas alive--the museum in which Isaac Werner's journal was found.  To so many others that I cannot name, who loaned family images for the book, who encouraged me not to give up on the manuscript for over a decade, who followed my blog, who aided my research in museums and libraries, who welcomed me in a church in Wernersville and introduced me to a Werner descendant, who helped me find Werner graves, who ordered the book months ago and continue to place orders, who were strangers who shared information on Ancestry.com and face book.  I was inspired to write the book because a stranger who died decades ago recorded the stories of his neighbors.  I wrote the book with his journal at its heart because I wanted to preserve the history of the struggles and courage of those early settlers for another generation to read.

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
Each day, as I sit at my computer to write this blog and as I sat at the computer sharing Isaac Werner's story, this photograph at left is my view.  The lumber in the old part of the building you see came from the tenant house my grandfather built for his fulltime farm worker, which my father recycled to build their garage, and which my husband and I used to expand the building.  All of us build on top of what was left to us by those who came before us, and we leave behind what future generations will build upon.

I hope "Prairie Bachelor" will share with young readers today and in the future the struggles and achievements of those who came before them, and the hopes and dreams those forefathers and foremothers had for their descendants to come.  It is a pattern repeated generation after generation all around the world, and it is important to remind ourselves to be thankful of what those ancestors, and the choices and sacrifices they made,   did for us.  We should not forget people like Isaac Werner, and countless other forgotten men and women, who left no descendants but made a difference, whether large or small, documented or not, for those of us who followed.
  
Thank you to so many people who have made this a remarkable year for so many, facing difficult times  with courage and generosity. 


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Holidays in Unusual Times

For many of us--limiting or cancelling things that take us from our homes and eliminating most social occasions--the days begin to blur and run together, one no different from the rest. Seasons change but traditional occasions go uncelebrated--no fireworks on the 4th of July, no parades on Labor Day. I find myself needing to check my phone to confirm what day it is.
I have decided that although no family or friends gather at our home to celebrate, it remains important to recognize special occasions as more than just another day.
My decorating began with Halloween, and although there were no trick-or-treaters, witches and pumpkins and crows assumed their customary places. The morning after Halloween, they went back into their boxes for another year, and Thanksgiving decorations took their places.
My grocery shopping list includes the ingredients for our favorite pumpkin cake, and the turkey awaits in the freezer. My mother's ceramic topiary stands atop the vent shelf over the range, a special memory not only of the artistic talent she shared in so many ways but also a memory of the many family Thanksgivings celebrated in this house over four generations. Isaac Werner's journal describes many holidays, most of which he celebrated alone. In 1887 times were particularly difficult for farmers on the Kansas prairie. On Thanksgiving Day, he wrote: "Everybody busy with their work, little thanking for short crops and hard times, going ahead with the hay' [haying?] more promises ahead to accomplish something."
Isaac's journal entry for Thanksgiving 1888 was more encouraging. On November 29, 1888, he wrote: "Fair like day to work, very favorable to prepare for winter and gathering corn, and make one feel thankful for it [even] if he can't afford a Thanksgiving turkey. At night dance to be at Garvin's barn. Last Saturday he bought and shipped bulk of loose fat hogs in neighborhood shipped from Macksville, bringing a little cash to many needy ones." The sadness brought by Covid-19 is severe, but it is important to remind ourselves of the things we have for which to be thankful. As Isaac wrote, even if we can't afford a turkey, there is still reason to dance!

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Challenges of Keeping a Journal in Early Days

 


One of the followers of this blog commented on how seeing Isaac Werner's signature moved her, bringing him to life in a way that his transcribed words alone could not do.  I have shared in an earlier blog post  how special it was for me to receive the gift of a book in which Isaac had written his name.  Although I still long for the discovery of a photograph of Isaac, his signature remains almost as intimate.  

Of course, I spent months transcribing his 480 page journal, so I can certainly recognize his writing.  Early blogs have explored the significance of dropping cursive writing from the curriculum of public schools.  The art of a distinctive penmanship has been a mark of education and aesthetic appreciation for generations, and the abandonment of that discipline is regretted as disappointing by many of us. 


In past years I was often complimented for my style of printing.  Today, I am more likely to be complimented for my cursive script.  Either way, I believe how we write introduces us in a particular way.  Many graduates of the past decade no longer have been taught cursive, and even their training in printing is treated as only an adjunct to the "real" writing they will be doing electronically.  In short, writing by hand is not taught as particularly important, and it certainly is not considered an extension of the writer's personality, respectfulness, or education.

Transcribing Isaac's penmanship from his journal was challenging, not because his writing was careless but rather because of how densely he often wrote and because some of the lettering was of a style no longer used.


However, the biggest problem was the ink.  I suspect that living far from town without a horse may have caused Isaac to stretch his ink by adding water when he noticed the ink well getting low and he had no plans for a trip to town.  The paleness of the ink did not appear to be the result of fading through  exposure to sunlight.

In 2016, the Berk's History Center republished the April 12, 1946 article by Luke Sutliff titled "An Old Recipe for the Making of Ink.  The recipe was taken from a 1748 German Almanac.  "It often happens that if people in our country have something to write they will take gunpowder and water, and make ink, and write with it."  The author of the recipe complained that when the gunpowder and water ink dried, it not only smeared but could be wiped off the paper.

Instead, his recipe suggested "pulverize a piece of cherry tree gum the size of a bean, let it dissolve in as much water as half an egg shell can hold and add the [gun?] powder afterward for then the ink will not wipe out."  The author also suggested "gallnuts from oak trees in the late summer when they are ready to fall and are soft" with a recipe including vinegar, vitriol and gum added later.

The ink recipes sounded confusing to me, but the 1946 article had added an ink recipe from the 1943 World Book Encyclopedia, and I hoped it might be simpler.  It wasn't!  It involved a "pound of bruised nutgalls, one gallon boiling water, five and one-third ounces of sulphate of iron..., three ounces gum Arabic previously dissolved, and a few drops of antiseptic such as carbolic acid."  I failed to make it through the details of steeping and straining.

Not only do I now understand why Isaac would have preferred to buy his ink in town and water it a bit if he ran low before he anticipated another trip to town.  I am also grateful for my ball point pens!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Lending a Helping Hand

 One of the stories I included in "Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Kansas Homesteader and the Populist Movement," described how Isaac Werner intervened to help a neighbor youth when the doctor from town had told the boy's mother there was no hope.  Isaac not only sat with the boy to give the young man's mother some time to rest, he also visited two neighbor ladies for advice about a better diet for the sick boy and returned twice with his tools to repair the unsteady bed and to secure the windows and doors letting in the cold.  His help over a period of several days and nights had a happy ending, for despite the doctor's prognosis, the boy recovered.

Isaac's numerous efforts to save the sick teenager may have been more than was common, but it was and remains common for neighbors to pitch in when a neighbor needs help.  Recently, neighbors helped harvest the corn of another neighbor in my community, so the tradition remains active.


The photograph in this week's blog is an example of such a gathering.  If you look closely, you can see that the thirteen men, (plus one dog to keep away the unlucky number 13!) are standing in front of several tractors.  The implements being pulled by the tractors cannot be seen in the image.

Often the gesture of helping a neighbor is the result of illness.  Sometimes it is the result of a death, the neighbors having gathered to help the widow bring in the crop.  The tradition does not depend on any particular reason for helping the neighbor, but rather on the need for help.

The picture and the identity of the famers were supplied to me by Doug Lamb a few years ago.  He is the young man with his thumbs in his pockets third from the right end of the row.  Doug has since passed away, as perhaps most or all of the men in the picture have.  The tradition they represent continues through some of their sons and grandsons.

From left, the individuals pictured are:  Clifford Locke, Cy Turner, Don Gibson, Verne Seibert, Red Satterlee, Edgar Preston, Paul Satterlee, Noel Graebner, Clinton Blount, Doug Lamb, Eston Piland, Bob O'Connor, and Harry Seibert's Dog.  A note at the bottom of the list of farmers given to me reads "Working ground for Verlin Tucker."

If anyone visiting this blog remembers the reason the men had gathered at the Tucker field or the year the photograph was taken, please share it in a comment at the bottom of this blog.


A Note: Linda Lamb called to share that the group of men gathered in the early 1960s, perhaps 1961 or 1962, to help a friend battling cancer. She commented that because the men were wearing jackets, it was probably early spring or perhaps fall, getting the land ready to plant wheat. I hope others may have more stories to share about this day of friends helping a friend. My hopes that others would add to this post came true. Tom Tucker, son of the farmer whose neighbor's came to his aid, has added a comment. For those of you who may not check the comments, I will share his words. "This picture was taken in the spring of 1963 or 1964, when my dad was sick fighting cancer. These great friends and neighbors came together and worked the ground the first time over in the spring while I was away at college. Nolan Cummings is also in the picture. I have this picture and a picture of the thirteen tractors all in a row on my wall at home. I will always be grateful to these folks." To add a note to Tom's comment, after graduating from college, Tom continued to farm for a while but now lives in Texas where he is a CPA.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Next Week we Vote

 Next week we vote.  Some of us already have.  A month later my book, Prairie Bachelor, The Story of a Homesteader and the Populist Movement will finally be released.  A decade of research for this book, as well as much of my life as a law student, an attorney, an author, and incidentally as the granddaughter of a member of the Kansas House have obviously focused my attention on our nation and how we govern ourselves. 

Isaac Werner's 480 page journal

Much has changed since my great grandfather, a Union Soldier, took advantage of the benefit of a year's credit toward getting title to his claim for each year he served the Union, in his case, reducing the time it took from five years to prove up a claim to only two.  He was not alone.  Many Union soldiers returned to their former homes and found that opportunities had changed, so they decided to come to Kansas to start a new life.  Their loyalty to Abraham Lincoln, their commander, often influenced the choice of Union soldiers to vote republican, a decision that many, including my own family, passed down through the generations.  I doubt that Kansas remaining a dependable republican state would surprise my great grandfather, but a different political change certainly would--women getting the vote!

My research about the Populist Movement, and the People's Party they created--the most successful 3rd party this nation has ever seen--included many discoveries not only about Kansas but also about Texas, where the populist movement began.  Kansas was slower to the movement, but ultimately became its heart.  Women lacked the vote in both of those states, but they were active in the movement.

Not only have women gained the vote, but in this election, one of our national political parties has chosen a female running mate for it's Presidential nominee. Kansas has a female governor, and both Kansas and Texas have female candidates making a strong challenge to their male political opponent in seeking election as their state's senator in Washington.

Stained glass window, Dole Institute 


Because this is a Presidential election year, as I often do, I have looked to the past to learn what past presidents have said about the responsibilities of the one occupying the highest office Americans have to give.  The words of three of America's presidents follow below:

Lincoln:  "We the people are the rightful masters of both congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution."

Truman:  "When you get to be President, there are all those things, the honors, the twenty-one gun salutes, all those things.  You have to remember it isn't for you.  It's for the Presidency."

Nixon:  "With all the power that a President has, the most important thing to bear in mind is this:  You must not give power to a man unless, above all else, he has character.  Character is the most important qualification the President of the United States can have." 

The responsibilities thrust upon those who are privileged to hold that office are great, but all of us have an important responsibility as well--to Vote! 


Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Habits at Home during the Coronavirus


Admit it.  Is is sometimes noon before you finally bother to get out of your pajamas to get dressed?  Most people will admit that their usual habits have changed, but what is interesting is how similar our responses to the coronavirus can be.

For some reason, only a few days into the coronavirus interruption of our lives, I decided it would be a good idea to add yeast to the grocery list, so I could bake our own bread.  Guess what.  I was not the only one with that "unique" idea, and the grocery store shelves everywhere had empty spaces where the dry yeast should have been.


Then I decided the time spent at home was perfect for cleaning out closets and organizing shelves, and finding the courage to throw out or give away things we needed to admit we would never use again.  But on face book it seemed that many people had the same idea.

With no one stopping by for a visit it was easy to skip some of the things we might have otherwise done if drop-by guests might appear.  The 4th of July didn't bring any fire works and Labor Day was just another day.


 But now it is Halloween, and I love to decorate for Halloween.  And, so I did!  Here are my Halloween Decorations that I have put out just for you!  Well, really just for me, I suppose.  But my husband seems to enjoy them, and the cat definitely does, although he keeps getting into trouble because he thinks they are toys for him to bat off the table.  Whoever they are for, I hope you enjoy them.  Happy Halloween! 


Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Foot Dragging My Way to Zoom!

As the coronavirus arrived in America, I sewed a pair of masks for each of us, lined with interfacing to improve the filtering, and began my separation from the world.  The television, e-mails, and face book became my primary connections beyond our front yard.  A friend invited me to join a group meeting virtually for their regular Friday afternoon happy hour, but I was reluctant to use my laptop for socializing.

Our televisions connect us with the world.

However, when the Willa Cather Foundation decided to proceed with their annual Spring Conference virtually, I was challenged to give the virtual world a try.  It was wonderful!  I found myself reaching beyond the group of friends we always look forward to meeting each spring, connecting with them, but also connecting with strangers.  As a result, I joined a writing group established during the conference.  We meet virtually once a month to do flash writing inspired by quotes from Cather.  We select the quote and then each of us writes for 20 minutes, following which we read aloud what we have written, with comments then received from the others.  Our small group spans the nation, from coast to coast and in between.  We may not create any master pieces, but we have fun.

Having gained a little confidence in my Zoom skills, when I received an e-mail from Baylor University School of Law, inviting me to a Zoom 3-day conference, I signed up!  Speakers from across the nation spoke virtually, and it was a wonderful opportunity to update myself about changes in the law, since I am no longer practicing.  James A. Baker III was to have been the keynote speaker, but he had to cancel when both he and his wife contracted the coronavirus.  I was disappointed...until I learned who had stepped in to take his place.  Although the speaker pinch-hitting for Secretary Baker is a lawyer, John Grisham is now far better known as an author.  I was thrilled to be a virtual member of his audience.

John Grisham speaks virtually.

Secretary Baker and his wife both recovered from the coronavirus, and I recently attended, virtually, his wonderful interview, scribbling notes as I watched and listened.  When he was asked if his legal training and experience helped him in his political roles, he said that his training as a lawyer was especially beneficial in his role as Secretary of State, naming specifically in negotiations and in observing details.  He also recommended an old saying:  "Prior preparation prevents poor performance."

Some of you have even watched my own virtual interview, something I could not have imagined doing only a few months earlier.  It is now posted on my face book page.  I have changed my opinion about Zoom, and it occurred to me that perhaps some of you who follow this blog have been reluctant to try using Zoom.  I have never set up a zoom meeting, but I have been invited to zoom meetings set up by others.  A zoom account is not required if you are strictly joining a group that has been established by someone else.  As a participant, you simply wait for the person who set up the meeting to send you an e-mail with the link to the meeting. You click on that and it will take you to a screen where you watch for the host to invite you to join the meeting.  You click on the notice to enter, and you will then join your host and the other participants.  It is all that easy!

I realize that those of us staying at home because of the coronavirus are certainly not isolated in the same sense as my Prairie Bachelor, Isaac Werner.  He had neighbors living closer than any of our neighbors, and more neighbors in his community.  But in the decade and a half that he lived alone on the prairie, his twin brother was the only family member who visited, and he spent only two nights at Isaac's homestead.  There was rural mail delivery, I believe about twice a week.  There was a telegraph in town, but I don't know how the messages were delivered to homesteaders.

Perhaps all of us have had the opportunity during the past several months of gaining a better appreciation of what it might have been like to leave family and friends behind and move to the unbroken prairie to stake a claim.  Isaac Werner wrote letters and looked forward to the answers he awaited from his correspondents.  Surely he could never have imagined sitting before a computer screen in Kansas and having a live conversation with his twin brother back in Pennsylvania!

P.S.  Am I the only one who checks out the book shelves and the art hanging on the walls behind the people being interviewed from home during the virtual interviews being shown on television?  It is unusual to have a glimpse into the homes of reporters and interview guests.  I can't resist trying to read the book titles on the shelves in the background.  Plants and flowers are also popular for filling the background, and it is interesting to see what room in the house they choose for their interview!

 

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Precious Handkerchief

Like many little girls, I adored my father.  He was a farmer, and I loved trailing after him as he worked around the farm, and walking out to the field to ride the tractor with him.  But the story I am going to share involves playing beside him as he worked at his desk, the desk that had been his own father's and now is his lawyer grandson's desk.  He would spend time there paying bills or filling out farm reports or keeping the church records as church treasurer.  Sometimes he would need to get into his safe, where he kept important things, like insurance policies, deeds, abstracts, his school diploma, his favorite marble shooter, and the most precious thing of all--a special handkerchief.

Verna's initialed dresser set

My grandparents had seven children--first three girls, then my father's older brother and himself, and finally two younger daughters.  The oldest sister was Verna Pauline Beck, who became a school teacher, following in the tradition of her grandmother and her paternal aunt.  It was believed that Verna caught tuberculosis from one of her students.  TB, as it was often called, was a very dangerous disease in that time, and it sickened and killed the poor and the wealthy alike.  For a time Verna was treated in a sanatorium, but eventually she was sent home to be cared for by her family.  Doctors believed that fresh air was the best cure, and Verna was confined to the front screened porch.  From what we have learned with the coronavirus, her isolation may have been as much to protect her family from contracting TB as it was to help her get well.

Verna Pauline Beck, age 3

My father loved spending time on the porch with his beloved sister, Verna, a young adult and my father a pre-teen, twelve years separating the siblings.  The family believed Verna's health was improving, but on January 19, 1926, Verna died.  She was 23 years old.

Verna's Graduation Photograph

My father idolized his oldest sister and they had become especially close during those months together on the porch.  It was during that time that Verna embroidered the treasured handkerchief that my father kept in his safe.  I can still recall the tears glistening in his eyes as he carefully showed me the beautiful gift from his sister--his first initial "R" embroidered in a silk thread of a soft pumpkin color on a silk handkerchief of a muted brown, with a delicate thread border of turquoise and gold.

Ralph Beck's precious handkerchief from Verna

My father was devoted to his family and to service to his community.  He had no hobbies other than the games our family played.  He did not play golf or tennis, nor did he hunt or fish.  The cribbage board my father and brother enjoyed, the ping-pong table, the board games, and other family games had already been acquired.  When Fathers' Day and Christmas and his birthday rolled around, it was always difficult to select a gift for him, and I am sad to admit that too often I settled for a nice cotton handkerchief set with the machine embroidered initial "B" as his gift.  He was always gracious in thanking me for my predictable gift.

When my father died and I was helping my mother go through his things, I found in  the top drawer of his chest a collection of unopened gift handkerchief boxes.  I am sure that he carried a nice handkerchief whenever he wore a suit, but as a farmer he had more need for a red bandana to take to the field with him than all of the monogramed handkerchiefs I had bought for him over the years.

Ralph G. Beck, about age 3

All that I can hope is that my unnecessary gifts reminded him of the hours spent on the front porch with Verna, watching her doing her beautiful needlework.  If my gifts served to cause him to recall those precious days with Verna, then perhaps it didn't matter that he already had a drawer full of unopened handkerchiefs.