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.