Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Webber's Mill

In his journal, Isaac Werner describes going to Webber's Mill to have corn ground.  The Webber to whom he referred was Ezra Webber (sometimes Weber), who came to Stafford County about 1874, probably a few years earlier than Isaac's arrival.  In the St. John, Kansas Centennial collection of stories and newspaper articles, 1879-1979, a descendant, Erma Abbot-Evans described her Grandfather Ezra's mill.  "[My grandfather] ...located on the Rattlesnake creek southwest of St. John, near the Neeland Ranch.  Shortly, he built a grist mill using stone burrs.  This was located near a large spring which produced enough water to make the power for the mill.  Many pioneers came miles and miles to have corn ground into cornmeal.  Often, Mr. Webber kept a small portion of the grain for his pay as money was very scarce in those days."

When Isaac wrote in his journal about the Webber Mill on the Rattlesnake Creek, I struggled to imagine how that creek on the flat prairie could power a grist mill.  The image in my mind of old mills pictures rugged terrain with fast flowing water tumbling down rocky falls to turn the water wheel, more like the image above.  I do not know how Ezra Webber used the "large spring" to power his mill, but he apparently engineered some method.

Isaac mentioned his annoyance with careless neighbors who took dirty grain to be ground, leaving behind so much dirt and grit on the grinding stones that Isaac was unable to use what he had ground for feeding his chickens.

Some of you may be familiar with the term "That is grist for the mill."  For example, if you and a friend were discussing an idea, and your friend mentioned something you had not considered until your friend shared the idea, you might answer "That is certainly grist for the mill."  The saying utilizes the idea of grist, or something like flour or meal produced by the grinding of the mill.  In other words, your friend's suggestion has produced something worth considering.

Definitions online suggest "something that can be used to advantage," "something useful for a particular purpose," or "something that helps support someone's point of view."  The grist or product from milling is being used as an analogy for producing a new idea or perspective.

It is an old saying, and many of us have forgotten the meaning of grist and may have no knowledge of mills and grinding stones.  But, it is a good saying.  A willingness to see things from someone else's perspective or a willingness to consider new ideas is often productive.  Beware, however, as Isaac warned, of accepting grist from a milling stone that has been adulterated by those with careless thinking.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Thoughts on Covid - 19

Like most of you, my actions have been limited by the coronavirus, and my husband and I have stayed home.  Certainly, I have enough unread books to keep me busy for quite a while.  Research for my blogs also occupies significant time, and somehow I came across the story of Saint Roselia.    

Saint Roselia lived from 1130-1166, and the story of her life has variations, as might be expected from the oral traditions of that time.  What is fairly consistent is that she was born to a noble family and was devoutly religious.  She chose to live as a hermit in a cave on Mount Pellegrino, where she died alone in 1166.  

In 1624, nearly five centuries after her death, a plague struck the city of Palermo, the first reported case on July 1st.  Descriptions of how Saint Roselia became connected with protection of the sick or ending of the plague vary.  One source says that she appeared to a sick woman, and then to a hunter, whom she directed to her remains and ordered him to have her bones carried in procession through the city.

Another account says that the Franciscans uncovered her remains and brought them from her cave to  be carried around the city.  After the plague ceased, Saint Roselia was venerated thereafter as the patron saint of Palermo.

Her bones had lain in the cave for a very long time, and it may be that the only identifiable remains were her skull.  It is often included in depictions of Saint Roselia, and pink roses are also included in many paintings, in honor of her name.

The Flemish painter, Anthony van Dyck was in the city to paint a portrait, but the quarantine trapped him there and it is his five paintings of Saint Roselia that established the iconography associated with her.  She remains the patron saint of Palermo in Italy and is honored in other places as well.

The painting at the beginning of this blog was painted by Anthony van Dyke and is now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wein, Bilddatenbank.  It represents the coronation of Roselia as a Saint, and some of the iconography associated with Roselia can be seen in the painting, specifically, the skull on the steps and the pink rose held by a cherub in the upper right corner of the painting. Because  van Dyck depicted her with blond hair, she is traditionally shown that way. 

Continue Scrolling Down to Last Week's Blog, "DEFINING COURAGE", to Read the Tribute to Front Line Care Givers and Essential Workers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Defining Courage

Credit:  Lyn Fenwick, artist
As Covid-19 sweeps around the globe, ignoring national boundaries, I do my part by doing nothing but staying at home.  Weeks ago I sat at my sewing machine to make masks for my husband and  me.  It takes no courage to simply do my part in avoiding confront this stealthy killer by hiding from him in my home.  Yet, for most of us that is the simple responsibility we are asked to assume.  Stop the spread by avoiding becoming a transmitter of the virus to others.

For many others, they lack the luxury of retreat.  They are on the front lines in this war.  They are the ones whose courage deserves our eternal respect.  They are the ones who are daily reminders of what courage is.

Credit: Lyn Fenwick, artist; Larry Fenwick, photograph
Courage is:  "...the quality shown by someone who decides to do something difficult or dangerous even though they be afraid."  Collins English Dictionary  They possess the "quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain...the state or condition of being a hero."  The Free Dictionary

While most of us only need respect the importance of staying home and exercising the distancing required when we go out, the caregivers walk into the lions' dens every day across the nation.  I wanted to do something to honor them, and my private memorial is what I share in this post.  The days I spent at my drawing board were my way of thinking of them and their courage as they worked in hospitals
and other care facilities.

The fact that my portraits are only of medical personnel is not intended to ignore the many others who leave their homes to keep services available to the rest of us.  Courage is also "the ability to do something that frightens one."  Showing up to stock grocery shelves, to keep electrical power working, to deliver the mail, and to do the countless other things that keep needed services working are also heroic.

Detail. Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
But, there is something about the daily strength of medical personal to "withstand danger, fear, and difficulty" (Merriam-Webster), day after day, that seems beyond understanding for many of us.  Examples deserving of being shared involve two nurses from Olathe, KS who volunteered to leave their families and go to New York City to help. Both work in an orthopedic surgery facility, and because orthopedic surgery is elective, the clinic closed temporarily and they contracted to work in NYC.

Detail.  Credit:  Lyn Fenwick

Heather Smith says that she knew what she was going to face would be bad, but "the difference between 'knowing' and 'seeing' how bad it is are completely different things."  In an interview, she said she wants people to know "This is real.  It is not some hoax, and it can be deadly."  Paige Clinton Walters said upon her departure, "I can't wait to go help and save some lives!  But even more I can't wait to get back home safe and healthy."

This is the courage I honor in my drawing of Covid-19 Heroes.  It is a poor tribute to all the brave people risking their own health and lives for others, but it is sincerely offered.   

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Tonia's Bread

It is interesting how those of us remaining in our homes in respect for limiting the spread of the  coronavirus are coping.  From face book I realize that many of us are using the time to go through stored things and decide what is worth keeping.  Just as many of us are staying in touch with friends through face book.  My blog last week about childhood piano lessons generated not only many visitors to the blog but also more comments on face book than any other blog I have posted.  Obviously, I was not the only one to take piano lessons from a teacher who used the Thompson's Piano teaching series of which I posted a picture!  I loved the comments, and I hope everyone enjoyed last weeks' blog.

A photograph from a very special niece and her husband inspired this weeks' blog, especially since the text sent with the picture included the fact that the bread was made with their last package of yeast.  (For privacy reasons, I have cropped the picture, but our niece is lovely!)  Here is my slightly modified reply to her and her husband:

What is it about the idea of homemade bread that sent so many people to the store for yeast during this coronavirus threat?  Bread has not run toilet paper...but yeast has.  There must be people who haven't baked bread for years who remembered the comforting aroma of baking bread and wanted to fill their homes with that comfort in a discomforting time.

A few months ago,, I decided to get out the bread machine (remember when those were so popular?) that was gathering dust in storage.  We bought dry yeast and I tried a few new recipies, but when the yeast ran out, we didn't buy more.  Yet, in the early days of our nation's recognition that the coronavirus had reached America, when my husband went to do our shopping, I added yeast to the list.  I was too late.  Already local shoppers had emptied the stock of yeast from the shelves.  Was it shoppers who were experienced bread makers, or did some unknown "expert" suggest stocking up on breadmaking ingredients?

We have frozen bread, so we are not close to running out.  My husband likes sandwiches for lunch, but I only eat a slice or two from most packages.  What was it that made me add yeast to the list?  Why am I slightly discomforted that, even with our frozen loaves, we can't buy yeast?

I think it is really the comforting aroma of baking bread that I want more than the bread.

But it is also the comforting memory of past times and the feeling of family that is part of that aroma.  When I received the photograph of Tonia and her baking, it was almost like a visit.  I could practically smell the aroma from their kitchen.

I hope this blog awakens memories of the mix of aromas from family kitchens of all of you who follow this blog--followers that come from countries around the world.  What a delicious mix of fragrances that would be if all the cooking from all the countries of readers of my blog could only reach my kitchen.  I can almost smell the loaves being baked, the pots being stirred, the fish being fried, the spices used for seasoning...  Stay safe and healthy, wherever you are.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Piano Lessons

Can you imagine life without access to music?  Although I prefer quiet much of the time, it would be sad if I could not have music at the click of a knob whenever I wanted it.

For Isaac Werner and others on the prairie, music was very important.  Certain neighbors were known to have fine voices, and Isaac mentioned programs arranged just to hear them sing.  One neighbor gave singing lessons in the winter when people weren't busy in their fields.  Isaac also mentioned an evening of music when he stopped by one evening to visit a friend.  Today, we forget how much we enjoy music on our command--at home, in the car, piped onto some streets, in restaurants and stores.

Although piano lessons may be less common today than they once were, boys and girls still do take piano lessons.  My first piano teacher was Mrs. Fisk in Byers.  Once a week, after school, I would crawl through a fence to cut across a lot on my walk to her house.  I worked my way through "JohnThompson's Modern Course for the Piano," supplemented by songs from the Methodist hymnal.

When I went to Macksville to attend high school, my mother decided I should change piano teachers, and she enrolled me with a lady in St. John named Melba Budge.  I had never been fond of practicing, and once I was in high school, trying to fit the appropriate hours of practice into my many activities became nearly impossible.  More than once, I am ashamed to admit, the first time I played my assigned music was in front of my teacher at the following week's lesson.  My teacher thought I was dreadful, but had she known, she might have been impressed by how well I sight-read when playing a piece for the very first time!  I don't know if Mrs. Budge asked my mother to end my lessons, but I did not take lessons from her very long.  I do remember being given a very simple piece to play for the annual recital of her students.  I believe she thought I was unable to play anything more difficult, having only seen me play pieces I had made no effort to practice.  It was very embarrassing to be a high school girl playing a piece beginners could play.  Maybe she thought a good embarrassment was exactly what I deserved!

In reading through one of the local centennial books I acquired to use as a research source for writing Isaac's story, I found a brief biography of Malba Cornwell Budge.  I learned that her college years were spent at a Conservatory of Music in Nashville, Tennessee and the Institute of Applied Music in New York City.  While there she was a scholarship pupil of a famous piano teacher who was also the head of piano at Vassar.

Melba's husband was a businessman in St. John, Raymond LeClaire Budge, or Doc Budge as I knew him.  I do remember him visiting the farm when I was in grade school, at the time my special pet cat was ill.  My family did not take pets to a veterinarian if they became ill, but I worked up the courage to ask Doc Budge if he could help my cat.  I don't know how "Doc" got his nickname, but my father laughingly explained that Doc Budge couldn't help my cat.

The article in the centennial book describes Melba's professional positions and certifications as a Piano teacher and her role as a judge in piano competitions throughout America.  It described Doc's responsible positions in the community and his outstanding art collection.  The article made me blush as I read it, remembering how my disinterested lack of effort as a piano student showed such inexcusable disrespect for my gifted teacher.  

As lazy as I was in learning how to play the piano, my poor skill has provided me much pleasure all of my life, and I thank Mrs. Fisk and Mrs. Budge for teaching me as much as they did.