Monday, November 26, 2012

The Rattlesnake Creek

Wild Violets
The Rattlesnake Creek about two miles from Isaac Werner's homestead takes its name from the curving, serpentine course of the creek bed, although I'm making no promises about whether there are snakes along its banks.  In Isaac's time, homesteaders valued the prairie grass that grew in what they called the Rattlesnake Valley.  A Prattsburg community subscriber to the County Capital newspaper praised the benefits of owning land along the Rattlesnake, predicting that in the future others would covet that land.  He urged discouraged settlers to stay where they were, on their farms along the Rattlesnake, without being tempted to leave for Colorado or Washington during the hard times.
But this post is not about the Rattlesnake Creek in Isaac's times.  It is the story of a little girl whose mother said to her one day, "Let's go have a picnic at the Creek."  Off they went, their picnic being a pint of ice cream back in the days when ice cream was sold in a small rectangular box.  The mother had brought the ice cream, a sharp knife to cut the box in half, and two spoons.  It was a wonderful picnic.  However, given the warm day and the tendency for ice cream to melt, their picnic was consumed rather quickly and they were left to find other entertainment along the creek bank.
"Come see what I have found," the mother called to the little girl.  They carefully bent over a tiny plant nearly hidden among the larger foliage.  Its rich green leaves were shaped like small Valentines, and a delicate purple flower danced on its stem.  Looking around, the mother and daughter saw more of the plants.  "They're wild violets," the mother explained.  "Let's take some home to plant in our yard."
The spoons brought to eat the ice cream became little shovels, and a pair of violets were selected, one for each half of the ice cream carton.  Mother and daughter returned to their farm home with their beautiful flowers.  Father did not appreciate their treasures as they had expected.  "If you plant those here they will take over the lawn," he complained.  Mother planted them anyway.
Of course, the little girl was me, and the violets did spread.  After my father's death the house stood empty, except for a couple of tenants who seemed to pay little attention to maintaining the yard.  When my husband and I began to restore the house, mowing the weed covered yard and watering in hopes of bringing the Bermuda grass underneath back to life, I wasn't thinking much about the little violets.  It seemed unlikely that any would have survived the neglected years without any watering except by Mother Nature.
This summer we decided to attempt growing Bermuda on the north side of the house, an area that had never had much of a lawn.  As I was hoeing weeds in preparation to scatter Bermuda seed, guess what I found.  You know, of course.  A few of the wild violets had somehow survived after all the years of neglect.  Just as my mother and I once had done, I carefully dug them and moved them to a protected place where they wouldn't be bothered by mower blades.
I think the wild violets will be happy where I put them, and my father was probably right.  They are sure to spread into the lawn, but I don't care.  I love those little survivors and the memory of my picnic with Mother beside the Rattlesnake Creek.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Shared Thanksgiving Memories and Traditions

Newspaper image from the 1890s
The invitation to my blog visitors to share Thanksgiving memories and traditions has resulted in a wonderful collection of stories.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who follow my blog as you enjoy what your fellow blog visitors have shared.
How a family expression was born! 
"Fifty-five years ago we lived in Lubbock, Texas, where Pat was in pilot training.  It was my first Thanksgiving dinner to prepare and Pat wanted to invite two bachelors who were not going home for the holiday.  We were at the table, serving our plates and I noticed the rolls were extra small and commented that maybe it was the altitude that caused them not to rise--Lubbock is over 3000 feet!  Later that evening I decided to check the package of remaining frozen rolls and discovered that I had broken them apart and was supposed to have kept them in three pieces, making a clover roll.  This incident still brings a laugh and I always have the remark, "it must be the altitude" to cover any cooking problem in the kitchen."Ann
Untraditional Traditions
"I grew up in St. John, Kansas, in a little family of 3 girls and my parents.  We always had a beautifully browned turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, and canned cranberry sauce.  The serving dishes were from my mother's grandmother, and we finished the meal with pumpkin pie with a flaky crust and a dollop of Dream Whip on top.  There wasn't much football watching at our house, but there were leaves to rake and play in.  Our meal included the one 'exotic' thing my dear, sweet mother cooked...the stuffing.  It had both sausage and oysters in it!  Nothing else in our 1950s-style meals, made by our depression-surviving parents, contained such extravagance!
As adults in Washington state, living far from family, we started our own tradition of going to sunny Pacific Coast Mexico for Thanksgiving.  We fly to LA and stop for a traditional celebration with my husband's extended family and then get up early to fly across the border and down the coast to the cozy escape in Ixtapa for a week!  We return to Seattle rested and ready for a wonderful holiday season all the way through New Year's Day--this year will be our 25th wedding anniversary!  New or old holiday traditions are meant to adapt to your life as you make it work!  Happy Holidays from a fan of Isaac and Lyn!"  Alice (McMillan) Lockridge, a 4th generation Kansan
Bittersweet Memories
"Thanksgiving has always been about family for us.  We went to our parents' homes until our daughter Kimberly went to college and asked for 'home time' during her school break, and our parents began coming to our house.  After our own kids began to marry, we alternated Christmas and Thanksgiving with in-laws.
Meals always included turkey (sometimes smoked), honey baked ham, cornbread dressing and oyster dressing (Rodney's favorite), garlic mashed potatoes, Grandma Howald's wonderful homemade rolls, green beans, and fruit salad.  My kids do not like pies, so I also make red velvet cake along with some traditional pies.  Sometimes there are cookies for the kids too.  Around the table, we tell how God has blessed each of us either during our lifetimes or the last year--things we are thankful for.
Our last Thanksgiving with Mom was the day before she had her now Thanksgiving is a time we remember as our last one with Mom.  It makes the time bittersweet."  Nancy
A German War Bride's Daughter
"My Grandpa, Mike Green, hosted Thanksgiving dinner at his home for many years.  Grandma died in 1948 before I was born, so aunts, daughters, and daughters-in-law actually did most of the cooking.  My mother was a 'German War Bride' and unfamiliar with American customs.  To their credit, all the Green family tried very hard to make her feel welcome and needed.  Mom became the 'designated' turkey gravy maker.  She always asked Grandpa to taste it from a teaspoon.  He would always declare that it was 'just right and nary a lump in the whole pan!'
Children were basically allowed to run 'wild.'  Coats were piled in a corner and when someone had enough of us chasing around the house, they would send us all outside.  When told to go, we were supposed to put on the first coat that came to hand and go!  If you were slow, you likely got a coat that didn't fit!  Oh, well...
'Euchre' was another important part of the day.  The Green brothers (6) and their various cousins would play this card game most of the day.  Men rotated in and out of the chairs at the card tables and laughed and yelled at each other.  They were all very hard working men and it was a rare chance for them to get together and 'let off steam!'
Finally, the women would tell Grandpa that dinner was ready!  He would clap his hands for everyone to come together and then he would say a 'Blessing' over the mountains of food.  In later years, this would get to be a long and emotional prayer for him, as he would remember those who were no longer among us.  Basically, Thanksgiving at the Green's was very loud, very long, and very, very loving."  Margie Green Uzarski
Newspaper image from the 1890s
Memories of Special Food
Mother was a maker of pies every Sunday and holiday, made with lard in the crust.  Thanksgiving called for pumpkin pie.  Another favorite was her dressing--crammin'in as Dad teased.  In time, along side the regular dressing oysters were added to a separate labeled bowl of dressing.  In 1985, a foreign exchange student from Finland was our guest for the meal.  She had never seen a bowl of dressing and decided that she was not brave enough to try it."  Lillian
Recipes Handed Down through Generations
I joined the McMahan family exactly 45 years ago this month.  What a treat I had in store for me!  Curt's mother, Mildred, always went all out for the holidays.  She would cook all day and as we ate, it never failed that she would comment about how long it took to prepare and how quickly it was 'inhaled.'
We always had the traditional Thanksgiving Day feast, with roasted turkey, dressing or stuffing if you prefer, oyster dressing for Curt's dad and regular for everyone else.  There was a huge bowl of mashed potatoes, fresh green beans, squash casserole (daughter Christa's favorite), and, most important, baked pineapple.  This was no ordinary baked pineapple!  It was a treat handed down from Mother Mac, Curt's grandmother.  There was NO recipe.  It had to be learned by watching the matriarch make it.  It consists of day old bread cut into cubes and layered into a buttered baking dish.  After that, crushed pineapple is added, then sugar, sugar, and more sugar, followed by dollops of butter, NOT margarine!  Finally, pineapple juice is poured over the top and baked in a very, very slow oven for hours until the edges are 'candied.'  There you have it!  My sister-in-law and I make it faithfully every year and compare our results.  It never turns out the same, but oh! how the family loves it served as a condiment with the meat.  Of course, all of that was topped off with pumpkin pie and pecan pie topped with Blue Bell Ice Cream.  After we have eaten our fill, we'll watch football, chat, and plan our Christmas menu."  Charlotte M
A Senior Lady's New Tradition
"Thanksgivings have evolved through the years, but always included roast turkey and all of the trimmings.  My mother would always make pumpkin pie--AND a lemon meringue pie for me.  I continued the same traditions for the next generation.  After becoming a widow and moving to Pratt, my latest practice is to attend the community Thanksgiving Dinner--which is marvelous!"  Jane T
Changing Tastes
"As a child with 3 siblings, we always argued over who would get to open the can of Cranberry sauce, slice it, and fan it out in the plate for a lovely presentation!  Fast forward to our grown up Thanksgiving.  For years we have made multiple recipes of fresh cranberry sauces.  Some are cooked, some fresh, all delicious.  We also only cook Heritage Turkeys--no more Butterballs."  Cheryl Livingston Watkins
The 'Fishes & Loaves' Thanksgiving Dinner
"While many of our Thanksgiving traditions included sharing the feast with family, perhaps one of our most memorable dinners involved the then newly formed Community Thanksgiving Dinner, sponsored by the Ministerial Association, involving all local churches.  The first year, in support of this needed ministry, we donated a turkey for the meal but made plans to travel to a family dinner an hour away.  With one of our kids just recovering from severe bronchitis, we were concerned about being around smokers, as well as concern about the weather forecast for a heavy snow, but we forged ahead with our travel plans, preparing side dishes and desserts to take to the family meal.  We woke to a major snow storm over a heavy layer of ice, and travel warnings discouraging driving.  It was then we opted to attend the Community dinner, furnishing our side dishes and desserts for the meal.  We all loaded up in the 4-wheel-drive pickup and arrived early to help with preparations.  Delivery to shut-ins boomed into delivery to others who couldn't get out of their drives, some of whom used the delivery pickups for transportation to the dinner.
The atmosphere was festive.  Many who would never have considered attending such an event were very glad it was there for them.  Food was plentiful, despite all of the home deliveries and unexpected guests, with leftovers to share.  A large amount was delivered to the local halfway house that more than fed their hungry residents that evening.  It was a 'fishes and loaves' type of meal.  We were glad we opted to be a part of it."  Marilyn & family
The incredible Terminal Market in Philadelphia

Thanksgiving Bird Hunting
"Many of my earliest Thanksgiving memories revolve around bird hunting.  My uncle & cousins from Wyoming would come to Kansas, and we would walk for hours on end through grassy pastures & plum thickets in search of coveys of quail and cackling rooster pheasants.  I was the only girl in the crew, but with my trusty 410 bolt action shotgun, I could keep up with the rest of them.  We would arrive at Grandma & Granddad's old farmhouse with pink cheeks & tired legs--ready to eat!  We would 'circle up' (almost 50 of us at times) holding hands as Granddad delivered the blessing, and even now I can envision (and almost taste) the turkey, bread dressing, potatoes & gravy, green beans, salads, pies, and oh-so-amazing Festive Rhubarb Cake with Butter Sauce...Afterwards, we might rest or play cards & board games, but eventually, we headed out burn more calories & enjoy each other's comaraderie in search of often elusive birds.  Thanksgiving has always been more than a meal for me--it is about enjoying FAMILY and giving THANKS!"  J. Suiter
Snow Storm Thanksgiving
"Thanksgiving as a child was filled with great food and fun with relatives.  We usually went to my aunt and uncle's home in Byers, KS.  There we enjoyed food prepared by my aunt, my mother, and my grandmother.  The afternoon was spent playing cards or dominos with the adults, quite a treat.  One very memorable Thanksgiving we were snowed in at home.  Drifts were much too deep even for our truck to get through.  Dad broke ice to reattach phone lines to a few neighbors.  One neighbor asked us to join them for Thanksgiving dinner, as their family from far away could not get to their home.  My dad, never one to pass up a social occasion, hitched an open trailer to the farm tractor.  Dressed warmly with blankets and our food contributions, we plowed two miles through the snow and had a wonderful time."  Anne Beck Current
Defining Thanksgiving with Family, not Food
"While our Christmas traditions are more entrenched, our Thanksgiving plans vary from year to year.  Last year, we traveled to South Carolina to visit our son, who was working on his master's at the University of South Carolina at the time.  Our Thanksgiving meal included shrimp purchased from a dockside fish market, along with cheese grits.  I had to find recipes on the internet to prepare them in his tiny apartment kitchen.  It was deliciously different.
Since my husband's parents' deaths, we often celebrate Thanksgiving a day late with his sister and family.  Instead of having traditional fare, we may meet at a restaurant halfway between our homes....In my own family, turkey has always been the centerpiece for the meal.  My mom's dressing made with sausage is simply the best, as is my Grandma Leonard's pumpkin pie recipe, which we still make today.  We also make a coconut pie that is more like a pecan pie.  I don't know where the recipe came from, but I've never seen one made by anyone outside our family...
The important part isn't the meal that's being served.  It's not even whether it happens on Thanksgiving Day itself.  It's gathering with loved ones and being thankful for the opportunity to do so.  It's also about remembering to count our blessings every day, not just once a year."  Kim Fritzemeier, fellow blogger, who can be followed at 
Daily Gratitude
"I love the idea of giving thanks, and I try to daily express my gratitude for all the wonderful and special people and things in my life..."  Karen L
Friends Like Family
"Since we've chosen to live so far from family we have found ourselves more often than not surrounded by friends.  I've heard it said that 'family' is not defined so much by relation as by 'those who you love who love you back' and I can certainly attest to that--although it would be wonderful to be able to spend each and every Thanksgiving holiday in the company of our own relatives we love so much.
I do enjoy cooking a Thanksgiving meal.  It's one I tend to overdo a bit each year--too much food (but isn't that the point--all those leftovers?!), and all those fattening pies and desserts I can't seem to turn down.  I will admit that I look forward to the roast turkey and trimmings and pumpkin pie each and every year.  This year it will be just the three of us gathered around the table..We'll keep it simple and small, sounds good.
Our son Brian is coming over tomorrow so he'll be here to help me with some of the shopping.  But again, it'll be a small shopping list, so no worries.  I'll just be grateful for the opportunity to spend time together under one roof."  Tonia
Dinner at just one of the many fabulous Philly restuarants
An Open Heart and Home
"There is a rule in my family.  'Everyone comes home for Thanksgiving.'  We now celebrate Thanksgiving at my sister's because she has the biggest house.  We often invite students from the community college where I teach to join us if they are not able to go home for Thanksgiving, or friends that do not have family around the area.  Needless to say, our table is full with anywhere from 14 to 20 family and friends.  Our meal is traditional with turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry jelly, and creamed corn.  Dessert includes pumpkin pie and cheese cake."  Teresa from Kansas
A Closing Message from Lyn
Thanks to all of you who not only shared your Thanksgiving traditions and memories but also to those of you who have come to form my weekly blog community.  Your encouragement and interest in Isaac, his community, and the early settlers who struggled to survive and preserve the dreams of our nation in difficult times have fueled my commitment to share that valuable and too-little-known history of America's past.  The first two images in this post are from the County Capital in the 1890s, from which other images in my blog have been shared.  The two photographs were taken during our recent trip to Philadelphia, an adventure that has topped my bucket list for over a decade.  Since all of you who read the blog know my love of history, and many of you also know my love of art and fine food, you will understand why my husband gave me the best birthday gift I could have imagined with our trip to Philadelphia, driving to enjoy sites along the way.  Our last day, we spent all morning at the Philly Terminal Market, an amazing source of fresh produce, meats and fishes, baked goods and candy, specialty items like the fabulous balsamic vinegars at The Tubby Olive, and prepared dishes, and the first photograph depicts just one of the wonderful businesses. Our meals were all memorable, whether formal or streetside, especially the tapas at Amada's (pictured), my perfect Chinese-fusion birthday dinner at Buddahkan, the incredible flavors at Capogiro Gelata, the sidewalk pecan tarts at Tartes,  breakfasts in the formal dining room of our bed and breakfast, Hammanasett, near Chadd's Ford, and too many other meals to mention!  Now I am looking forward to our RVers community Thanksgiving feast at Buckhorn RV Resort, and I wish everyone the happiest of Thankgivings! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Thanksgiving on the Prairie

The wonderful images in this post appeared in the County Capital newspaper to which Isaac subscribed.  While the images depict a traditional bounteous Thanksgiving, on November 25, 1890 Isaac wrote in his journal:  "Not much observation of Thanksgiving as I noticed, too little to thank for from a rotten and corrupt administration."  The contrast between the newspaper images and Isaac's words illustrate perfectly the economic circumstances of the Gilded Age.  As farmers on the prairie were literally starving, wealthy industralists and monopolists in cities like New York, Chicago, and Pittsburgh were enjoying Thanksgiving feasts in their mansion dining rooms, with servants presenting the Thanksgiving turkey on silver trays that reflected the candle light from crystal chandeliers.
Populist newspaper editor of the County Capital, John Hilmes, who like most other small newspaper editors published local news on the front and back pages of his paper and purchased center sheets with the national and international news from a larger city paper, ignored the irony of delivering to his starving subscribers a menu including Fricassee of Oysters, both Roast Turkey and Roast Duck, and five different deserts, not including the fruit and nuts!
A few days before the holiday, Isaac angrily described in his journal how a neighbor was poaching quail from his property.  Isaac loved wild birds.  In the spring he recorded the dates when song birds returned, and he used the migration flights of ducks and geese to predict weather changes.  Especially important to him were the wild quail, such favorites that in lean times he scattered his precious corn as feed for them.  Although he raised chickens and describes boiling the roosters to eat, he never mentions killing game birds for food.  He posted his property to prohibit hunting on his 360 acres by others.  When that "Scroundal Stambaugh" rode his buggy along the side of Isaac's homestead and timber claim shooting the quail on Isaac's land, he walked toward the sound of the shooting, making himself seen to stop his neighbor's poaching.
Isaac did not mention what he ate for Thanksgiving dinner in 1890, but it is certain that he had neither roast duck or quail!

Remember last week's invitation to share thoughts about Thanksgiving!  I have received several wonderful e-mails sharing Thanksgiving traditions and memories, but before I begin putting those stories together for next week's blog post, I want to remind those of you who have been meaning to send an e-mail to me at with your contribution to the Thanksgiving blog that it is not too late.  Please send them to me ASAP so I have time to include them in the post!  Thank you to everyone who has sent stories--they are great! 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

A Call for Thanksgiving Sharing

Place setting at Buckhorn
Isaac B. Werner was a bachelor homesteader, and unlike other neighbors, he had no family living in the community.  He never mentions being invited to share Thanksgiving with a neighbor, and his journal makes it clear that he spent his Thanksgivings alone.  During the hard years of the last half of the 1880s and the 1890s when Isaac was writing in his journal, settlers had little to share, and many of them made no special Thanksgiving dinner for themselves.  It was Abraham Lincoln who designated Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863, so by the 1880s and 1890s it was an established tradition, but homesteaders with barely enought to eat certainly lacked the resources to prepare a holiday feast.
Because Thanksgiving is a time to pause and be thankful, I have an idea for my Thanksgiving Day post that I know will be great fun for me, and I hope it will be fun for all of you.  Foremost, I want to say thank you to all of my supporters who have followed this blog week by week, getting to know Isaac.  For me, you have become an online community, and my idea for Thanksgiving day will provide a venue for you to get to know each other.  I'll explain how I hope all of us can share Thanksgiving later, but for now, I'll go first!
Thanksgivings of my childhood were family occasions.  My parents put all the leaves in the dining room table, and even then there was barely room for everyone.  Mother's menu was always the same, and turkey was the centerpiece of the meal.  After I married, my husband and I were occasionally able to join our families for big holiday celebrations, but often we were invited to share dinners with friends in the different places that we lived over the years.  In New England, we learned to enjoy mashed rutabaga as a traditional vegetable; in the South we learned to appreciate dressing made with corn bread; and in Texas one Thanksgiving we discovered how delicious brussel sprouts could be, although the dish was prepared by our hostess's visiting mother from out-of-state and may not be traditional for Texas. 
Guest holiday display at Buckhorn RV Resort
Recently we have occasionally enjoyed a different tradition.  With our parents no longer living and most of our friends now celebrating with their children and grandchildren, we have discovered a wonderful tradition at the Buckhorn RV Resort in Kerrville, Texas.  RVers staying there are invited to a dinner of turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy prepared by the RV hosts.  Guests may participate the evening before in the preparation of pies by bringing their favorite fillings for pie shells provided by the park hosts.  For the dinner, guests are asked to bring a dish--vegetables, salads, and deserts to add to what the park provides.  Guests may also supply their own place settings for the tables, although the park has centerpieces.  The opening photograph shows our rather humble decorations from last year.  Some of the tables are quite elaborate!  Because many RVers make Buckhorn their traditional Thanksgiving destination, it is a chance to see old friends.
The park also welcomes the coming Christmas season that weekend with seasonal decorations, and there are prizes for the guests who display their own decorations.  The photograph of part of one guest's impressive display shows a prize winner transported in a trailer behind the guest's motor coach for the annual Thanksgiving weekend display.  It is always the stopping place for strollers.
Enjoying the holiday decorations with an after-dinner stroll
Now that I have shared some of my Thanksgiving traditions with you, here is your invitation to share yours in return.  I hope most of you will share a sentence or two about your Thanksgiving traditions--food, guests, games, places, childhood memories or other special traditions.  They do not have to be lengthy, as I hope many of you accept the invitation.  On Thanksgiving Day I will post the things you share.  Many of you who follow my blog are international visitors, and you may not celebrate Thanksgiving; however, other cultures have Harvest Festivals and other Autumn Celebrations whose traditions you  might share.
Send your e-mails to me at and please get them to me as soon as possible, as I hope I will receive e-mails from many of you that I will need to organize and prepare to post.  Please indicate if you wish to include your initials, first name, full name, or pen name with what you send, and also whether you wish to include the name of your state or country.  I am so excited looking forward to see what everyone will send, but I obviously need followers willing to take a moment to participate.  Thank you again for all of your support during the past year, and I hope this little idea of mine proves to be fun for everyone!