Friday, March 29, 2019

April is Poetry Month Again - Number 1

By now, those of you who follow the blog know that Isaac Werner loved Shakespeare.  I think he would have approved of my using his blog to share some poetry this month.

What makes me sad is that children sometimes learn that poetry must be read (or recited) in a sing-song way, pausing at the end of every line.  That isn't true.

David McCord had three rules:  Good poems for children are never trivial.  As for the poet, poems should never be written "without the characteristic chills and fever of a dedicated man at work."  In addition, poems written by adults for children "must never bear the stigma of I am adult, you are a child."

When McCord was 12 years old his family lived on his uncle's farm on the edge of a wilderness.  He said that it was there where he learned:  "Poetry is rhythm, just as the planet Earth is rhythm; the best writing, or poetry or prose--no matter what the message it conveys--depends on a very sure and subtle rhythm."

However, he did not mean the reader had to read dah-da, dah-da, dah-dum.  I will share his poem, Every Time I Climb a Tree.  Here are my suggestions:  The first stanza has no punctuation until the end.  Interpret that as permission to feel your own rhythm and use pauses and full stops where they seem natural.  The first three lines are identical.  Read them with a different word emphasized in each line.

The next stanza gives you the opportunity to mimic a typical adult in the second line, to break up the other lines in which the child is speaking.

The third stanza seems to want the first three lines run together, with a break before the fourth line.

That gives you some idea about how I think this poem flows, but the last stanza try where it feels right for you to pause, emphasize words, stretch words out, and make the words sound spoken, without any artificial rules or stopping at the end of each line.

I know that most of you are readers and may be passionate about poetry too, but for those a lttle intimidated about poetry, give this a try!

Make poetry fun for kids to hear and to recite, and they may come to love their favorite poems almost as much as Isaac Werner loved Shakespeare!

Every Time I Climb a Tree

David McCord

Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
Every time I climb a tree
I scrape a leg
Or skin a knee
And every time I climb a tree
I find some ants
Or dodge a bee
And get the ants
All over me.

And every time I climb a tree
Where have you been?
They say to me
But don't they know that I am free
Every time I climb a tree?

I like it best
To spot a nest
That has an egg
Or maybe three.

And then I skin
The other leg
But every time I climb a tree
I see a lot of things to see
Swallows rooftops and TV
And all the fields and farms there be
Every time I climb a tree
Though climbing may be good for ants
It isn't awfully good for pants
But still it's pretty good for me
Every time I climb a tree.

Of course, many of you remember that Isaac claimed a timber claim, as well as a homestead.  Before he got his horse, tending trees was his primary task.  At least one of his trees was big and strong enough for him to climb with a borrowed camera to try to take an "aerial" shot of his farm.  It was too windy to keep the old glass-plate camera steady long enough!

Share your stories and the stories of your tree-climbing children and grandchildren, and let me know if they like the poem.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Send a Message

One of the things that is such fun about this photograph is that the picture was taken to be put on a postcard--a postcard showing three young women reading a postcard!

Of course Isaac Werner received mail in the late 1800s.  The post offices were in some neighbor's home.  The earliest reference to a postal address in Isaac's journal is to the Vosburgh Post Office, but the post offices during most years of his journal were in the homes of "Doc" Dix and Aaron Beck.  Nearby Antrum delivery was in the home of the Gibbs sisters.

But how was a message sent if immediacy was important, as in the case of serious illness or death?  That information is not contained in Isaac's journal, although I know that he was quickly made aware of the deaths of his sister and of his mother.

I have done some research on the telegraph of that era.  One of the issues the populists included in their Peoples' Party Platform was government ownership of telephone and telegraph, just as the government has the U.S. Mail.

According to the website from which the image at right was taken, it is likely that the messages Isaac would have received about family deaths would have been sent by Morse code, transcribed, and hand delivered in some way.  By 1900, 63.2 million messages were sent each year.  The distance from town of his homestead does raise the question of hand delivery.

Western Union was the first nationwide industrial monopoly, and in almost every session of Congress, bills urged either regulation or government takeover.  However, the greatest threat to Western Union was technology in the form of the telephone.

It is always technology that is nipping at the heels of the existing status quo.  Remember when you actually had long conversations with your friends over the phone?  And, do you remember letters!--not just a signed greeting card but actual newsy letters?!  And for sweethearts, love letters!

Then came e-mail, whose primitive beginnings happened in 1965 at MIT.  Within 2 or three decades most of us were enjoying chatty e-mails from our friends.  Today, if you are like me, most of my past e-mail friends are posting travel photographs and kids' pictures on face book!

Portrait of the End of a Romance
And, now there is Twitter, which did not exist until March of 2006.  By the 10 year anniversary of its creation there were 319 million monthly active users.  Evan Williams, one of its founders, said "Twitter actually changed from what we thought it was in the beginning, which we described as status updates and a social utility.  It is that in part, but the insight we eventually came to was Twitter was really more of an information network than it is a social network."  I would add that it is also a 'misinformation network.'  

Like all the communication methods just described, something new will surely come along to replace Twitter.  One of my earlier blogs pointed out that young people prefer texts over phone calls because it spares them from being trapped in a conversation.  I do understand that.  When you are busy or immersed in a project or even in the middle of a great book, being interrupted by the phone can be an annoyance.  However, it seems less likely that Twitter, or even texts, can develop relationships in the same way that conversation can.

Although it is difficult to predict what new technology may replace Twitter, history would predict that something will.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Prairie Recycling

Canning when produce is in season
Does anyone else get upset watching Fixer Upper on "Demolition Day" when Chip takes a sledge hammer to the kitchen cabinets?  Most of those cabinets are perfectly functional, if not for a modern kitchen then at least for a garage or workshop.  Sometimes they are almost like new and the only fault to be found is style.  It really bothers me to see them torn apart and thrown into the dumpster.  Surely someone would like to have them!

I confess, my shelves contain too many recycled plastic containers, and almost every scrap of fabric, unless it is too small for the tiniest quilt piece, is saved for a quilt I will probably never make.  I was raised to be thrifty by parents who went through the Depression when they were young, and being wasteful in my home was practically a crime.  Mother's best soups and stews always had not only left-over meat and vegetables but the left-over juice when all the vegetables had been eaten.  There was always a jar in the refrigerator for scraps awaiting the next soup.

Finding entertainment at home instead of going out
Consequently, I appreciate the entries in Isaac's journal about utilizing scraps and recycling and repurposing items when their original usefulness changed.

One of my favorite entries describes Isaac getting the wooden boxes in which coffee was shipped to Doc Dix's store and using them to make an incubator.  Unfortunately, he didn't describe the details--did he set the incubator on a shelf over his stove to keep the eggs warm or did he use a candle?  Did he plaster the boxes to keep them from burning or scorching?  Did he make wire shelves for the eggs?  I don't know the answers to any of these questions, but I do know that neighbors brought him eggs, which he marked somehow to know to whom the chicks would belong when they hatched.  I learned not to mark hard-boiled eggs with a lead pencil because that might cause lead poisoning to leach through the shell, but would Isaac have used a pencil to identify the chicks?  I also know he took the incubator to a neighbor to turn the eggs regularly when he was busy in the field and couldn't do that.

Using Mother Nature's Bounty
Getting wood was a long trip to town and expensive for homesteaders, so anything that could be salvaged was saved.  As a bachelor, he didn't have a wife to preserve things from his garden.  When the sandhill plums and the peaches from his garden were ripe, he sometimes ate so much he gave himself a belly ache.  Watermelon was another annual treat.

Our ancestors definitely believed in "Waste Not, Want Not," and that was certainly passed to me.  I remember telling my niece when she stayed with us for a few days as a little girl that it was better to wait and save for items of quality than to impatiently buy something cheaper that would not last.  I wonder if she remembers my telling her that.  The American economy would probably suffer if all Americans followed that advice, but there might be more repair shops along our Main Streets like there once were if we followed that advice today.

One of the pleasures of reading Isaac Werner's journal is learning about his ingenuity as he builds things and repairs what he has.  I fear that is becoming a lost art.  I hope some of you share your own family's "Waste Not, Want Not" inventiveness.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

The Ghosts Among Us

Part of my delight in history is learning about our past, and part of my emotion about what I learn is understanding how quickly that past disappears.  The subjects of my manuscript, the Populist Movement and the Peoples' Party it created, were for a brief time a powerful challenge to the two old political parties. Yet, most people today have never heard about them.

Barn on old Saratoga site
In doing the research, I learned about people, famous and influential in that time, which few remember today.  And, I read about places that vied for a long existence but disappeared completely.  One of those places was Saratoga, Kansas.  I have posted blogs about the old cemetery, "Cemetery on the Hill" 2-7-2013, which is nearly impossible to find even when you know where it is, and the beautiful barn built on the site that once was Saratoga, "Disappearing Old Barnes" 1-15-2015, which has since been torn down.  Times move on, people with memories of those places pass away, and eventually those historical roots are forgotten.  Yet, they remain, as the ghosts of our past history.

Two Pratt historians preserved the history of Saratoga, and I am indebted to Lucile Asher and J. Rufus Gray for much of the information I will share in this blog.  I believe that both of their books are available at the Pratt History Museum.

A stone at the Saratoga Cemetery
Three towns battled, literally sometimes, to be chosen as the Pratt County Seat.  When Pratt Center, now simplified to "Pratt," prevailed, Iuka shrank, but Saratoga disappeared completely.  I knew where Saratoga once was, but I had no ideas what a bustling town it had been until I began working on my manuscript.  It could be argued that Saratoga should have prevailed over Pratt.  It existed earlier, a railroad reached it first, and the temporary naming of Iuka as the county seat was more of a governor's whim than an indication that it was a superior choice over Saratoga at that time.

When Pratt Center finally prevailed, many Iuka merchants and residents simply moved there--quite literally moving structures to the new county seat.  Saratoga was determined to continue to exist, but gradually its people began to move to Pratt as well.  Now it is just a forgotten location north of the Forestry, Fish & Game complex.

Images in old photo albums
But, today, as you read this blog, picture the ghosts wandering around the busy town square of Saratoga, unaware that in a few years their homes would be moved or burned down, and the seemingly permanent brick structures would disappear.  Picture the Wichita, Kingman & Western  train (replacing the previous service of the Cannonball Express Stage line).  Add to your imagination the mills on the Ninnescah where Isaac Werner came to sell his corn, and the brick kiln producing the brick for the fine brick buildings in town.

Picture the impressive brick city hall-opera house, the school, livery stable, and hotel, and imagine the bustle of shoppers visiting grocery and general stores, butcher shops, drug stores, restaurants, a dressmaker, a milliner, a jeweler, and most impressive, two book stores.  Churches countered the pool halls, and barber shops kept the men neat.

Now the people who frequented these businesses are the ghosts of past generations, memories passed from generation to generation until they are forgotten, faded images in old photo albums. While some may remember stories about Saratoga, no longer are there first-hand memories of the actual town.  It is the responsibility of historians to preserve these stories, and the responsibility of all of us to care.