Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Married to a Farmer


In gratitude to the many people who follow this blog, I have shared history and other topics weekly for nearly 550 blogs.  It will probably not surprise you that I am constantly on the lookout for interesting subjects, but so is my husband.  Recently he handed me a page torn from a magazine, with an ad from Pioneer.  The text read:  Her great grandmother married a farmer,  Her grandmother married a farmer;  Her mother married a farmer,   Her Husband Married A Farmer.  Beneath that was this sentence:  "We're proud to work with generations of American farmers in the most complex and rewarding industry on earth."

"Do you think you can make a blog out of that?" my husband asked.  "Probably," I replied.  Actually, it was easy!  Thank you to Pioneer for the idea.  They inspired me with the quote from the upper corner of the ad pictured at the top of this blog, which reads:  "We're proud to work with generations of American farmers in the most complex and rewarding industry on earth." 

My Great Grandmother

Living in the farmhouse of a 4th generation family farm, all I needed to do was consider my own ancestry.  My great grandmother, Susan Beck, was a pretty young teacher when an older fellow, who had put marriage aside to help support his parents before serving 3 years in the Union army and working for a while after returning from the war, spotted the young teacher and asked her to marry him.  By the time he went to Kansas to stake both a homestead and a timber claim, they had two young children, which Susan brought with her by train to join her husband.  When a stroke disabled her husband, Susan stepped forward, taught school, helped neighbor ladies with medical needs, and bought a quarter-section of land with her son.  Her role in their marriage went beyond being "a farmer's wife."

My grandmother raised a family of seven.  The house we now live in had no electricity nor running water inside the house, but the pump on the enclosed corner of the porch provided the water she needed to fill the tank in the iron stove every morning to keep warm water available through the day--once she got a fire going in the stove first thing in the morning!  I don't know how much was delegated to her children and a full time hired man, but although she never managed to learn how to drive a car, she was said to be able to harness a horse to a wagon as fast as any man.

My mother was the 3rd generation, and while her role was more domestic, no one should minimize the importance of her summers of canning what was raised in the garden, providing shelves in the basement filled with enough canned tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers, as well as jars and jars of sand hill plumb jelly to last until the next summer's garden.    

And finally, the 4th generation comes down to me.  I have done some gardening since we moved to the farm, but not every year.  I do make enough sand hill plum jelly to last through the year, if late frosts don't ruin the harvest.  I can't really claim to be a farmer, but I certainly can claim to be a Farmer's Daughter.

More history about female farmers next week!


Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Keeping Holiday Traditions During Covid

The day after Thanksgiving I began packing away the turkeys and the pilgrims for another year and bringing out Santa and the Angels.  Covid cases had been lessening, and I hoped maybe we could share the holidays with friends in our home this year.  Unfortunately, between the new varient, more people traveling at Thanksgiving, cold weather bringing people together inside, and other reasons, we will probably not be inviting guests again this year.

Nevertheless, the calendar says it is Christmas, and even though Mother Nature delivered the worst wind we have ever seen at the farm instead of snow, we are doing our best to maintain the Christmas spirit with decorations in every room.

It took us a while for just the two of us to finish off the Thanksgiving turkey, so we aren't doing turkey again for Christmas, although that was the family tradition in this house when I was a child because our crowded holiday tables contained so many guests that there were few leftovers.  We finally have managed to collect all of the ingredients we need for our recipes, although the now familiar challenge of not always finding ingredients on the shelves meant it required shopping early and visiting more than one store.  

I confess, over the years I acquired far too many Christmas decorations.  When we lived in cities, I did my holiday decoration buying the day after Christmas, when prices were drastically reduced and beautiful marked down treasures were far too tempting to resist.  That is why we always have at least two trees.

This year that required some negotiating with our cat Emerson.  We try to keep him off the furniture, without complete success I must admit, although we have negotiated a few rules.  This summer we brought in a wicker porch chair during a rainstorm, and Emerson laid claim to it for himself.  When we were putting the lawn furniture away for winter, it occurred to us that we might just leave the wicker chair in the house for him.  We even put it at a window so he could see out to the south.  That worked well to keep him off the other furniture at south windows.

The problem is that the south window where the second Christmas tree is usually placed is where Emerson's chair sits.  The negotiations were challenging, and the results are not entirely satisfactory for either us or Emerson, but he does have his chair and we do have a tree in the south window.  And best of all, it still keeps him off the other furniture.

Happy Holidays to everyone!  Stay safe and healthy, and perhaps our visits for the holidays in 2022 will not have to be virtual.


Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Old Enough for Remakes

 Isaac Werner had a wonderful way with words, and among his clever expressions is one that I particularly like.  Isaac had made the effort to go to St. John to hear Mary Elizabeth Lease speak on a nasty winter night that necessitated his wearing layers of clothing and a veil over his face to avoid frost bite.  He found her program "splendid from beginning to end," but he was unwilling to face the freezing temperatures to travel to his farm when her program ended.  Instead, he chose to spend the night with a former country neighbor who had moved into town.  I describe that evening in Prairie Bachelor.  

From Prairie Bachelor:  "Unwilling to face the cold in darkness, he spent the night with W.C. Betzer, a former country neighbor who had moved into St. John when he reached his sixties.  His wife Julia left the two men talking politics until after one o'clock.  Despite Isaac's eagerness to start home early the next morning, his host was still talking." From Isaac's Journal: "Finally got away from old Betzer,' Isaac wrote in his journal. '...his only fault, he needs a Westinghouse Air Brake to stop him from talking when he gets started.'"

I love Isaac's description of needing "a Westinghouse Air Brake."  Most of us have been trapped in a conversation when we were in a hurry but couldn't seem to get away from our friend in the middle of a story.  We might even have been able to identify with Betzer's wife Julia, who slipped away and left Isaac alone to listen to her longwinded husband.  

Unknown May-Dec. Couple
Those of you who follow this blog, or who have read Prairie Bachelor already know that I researched Isaac's neighbors and acquaintances as part of authenticating the story of 'Isaac Werner and the Populist Movement.'  That included William and Julia Betzer.  I found them in the 1880 Census as husband and wife, living in Clear Creek Township, William age 53 and Julia age 30.  Also in the household was William's son Frank, aged 20.  In short, husband and wife were 23 years apart in age, and Julia was closer in age to her stepson than to her husband.  In the 1885 Kansas census they had a 6-year-old son, Franklin, who must have been born soon after the 1880 Census, and Frank was still living with them.  By 1900 Julia was widowed.  Isaac's overnight stay with them was in 1889, so although there was no 1890 census to consult, we know that in February of 1889 William was still living.

It was not unusual for older men to marry much younger women.  Joseph A. Cooper, a highly respected member of the community who had served in both the Mexican American War and had advanced to the rank of a Union breveted Major General at the close of the Civil War, had married his wife Mary Jane when he was 52 and she was 22.  My own Great-grandfather Beck, who also fought for the Union in the Civil War was 19 years older than my Great-grandmother.  Even Isaac made a tentative attempt at courtship of the younger Prohibition speaker, Blanche Hazelett. 

Sometimes these younger brides were widows, although I don't have reason to know that about the three women mentioned in this blog.  In other cases, these older men have achieved some financial stability that younger suitors might not have had.  Because of the Civil War, many of these men were older when they married because their lives had been interrupted by service to their country.  Whatever the reason, it was not unusual for these May-December Weddings to happen, or as my title for this blog reads, parties to the marriage were often 'Old Enough for Remakes.'

That brings me to my own surprising recognition that I am 'old enough for remakes!'  Granted, I was young when "West Side Story" was released in 1961, but I certainly saw it at the time of its release, staring Natalie Wood as Maria, Richard Beymer as Tony, Russ Tamblyn as Riff, and Rita Moreno as Anita.  I also remember the handsome George Chakiris as Bernardo, the leader of the "Sharks."  A bit of trivia for those of us who saw the original movie: among those considered for the role of Tony were   Warren Beatty, Burt Reynolds, Richard Chamberlain, and Robert Redford.  Even Elvis Presley was considered, but his manager Colonel Tom Parker turned it down.

I confess, when I learned that "West Side Story," directed by Steven Spielberg, was being remade, it came as a shock to see that I am old enough for remakes of one of my favorite films!  I grew up in an era of blond female movie stars, so brunette Natalie Wood was my favorite movie star.  Everyone behind the scenes in the making of that movie was a giant of my youth--Leonard Bernstein's music, Stephen Sondheim's lyrics, Jerome Robbins choreography--these were the giants of my time.  Yet, so is Steven Spielberg.

The pre-release reviews were great.  I was pleased that the casting now includes more accurate ethnic casting and less tan grease paint.  Spielberg has expressed his respect for the original film, and Rita Moreno is the executive producer on the new movie and a major character, switching from the young girlfriend of Bernardo to the role of Valentina, a gender and ethnic change to play the soda shop owner   in the new film.  Given all of those things, I could hardly wait to see Spielberg's "West Side Story."  

I must admit, like those Civil War Soldiers who accepted the fact that although they had postponed marriage to serve their country, they were not too old to make a delayed life with a young wife and children born when they were in their senior years--Old Enough for Remakes--I too have accepted the fact that I am old enough for remakes, and Larry and I went to see Spielberg's West Side Story.  It was fabulous!!!

As the last credits rolled, my husband leaned over and whispered, "What did you think?"  I replied, "I never thought I would say this, but it's better than the original!"

Go see it--whether you are young or old enough for remakes.  The overhead view of the demolition of old New York to make way for Lincoln Center will pull you into the movie and never let go.  For a moment you may not like Ansel Elgort who plays Tony, but only for a moment.  He is fabulous.  He owns the movie.  Adding Rita Moreno as Doc's widow running the soda-shop is brilliant.  The dancing is better integrated to fit the plot.  For those of you old enough for remakes like me, take Kleenex!  I'm not sure if Spielberg made me cry, or if some of those tears were for the real people who made the original movie, but I certainly shed enough tears at the end of the movie for both. 


Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Kansas Political Roots


My Great-grandfather was a Union Soldier, and he served for 3 years.  For the rest of his life, he voted republican, as many Union Soldiers did, for the republican party was the Party of Lincoln, and having served him for those three years as a soldier, it was because of Lincoln that he continued to serve his party.

He passed that tradition down to his son, my Grand-father, who did not serve in the army but who did serve in the Kansas House of Representatives as a republican.

Continuing the family political tradition, my father was also a republican, serving as a County Republican Chairman, and like his ancestors, voting republican.  Although my mother's family voted democrat, Mother accepted the Beck tradition of voting republication when she married my father.

Kansas was populated after the Civil War by many men who had served the Union during the war, taking advantage of a year's credit for each year of service for the Union toward the 5 years required to mature a homestead claim.  Like my Great-grandfather, many, if not most, of those men voted for the rest of their lives for the party of Lincoln, as did their descendants, down to the present time.

I do not know the ancestry of Bob Dole or whether he had ancestors that served in the Civil War.  What I do know is he bravely served his country in W. W. II and that he carried the physical consequences of that service for the rest of his life without bitterness, and with the desire of continuing service for his country.  That service was done as a Republican--in the House, in the Senate, as a Vice-presidential nominee, and as the Republican candidate for President.  His sense of duty to American Soldiers never waned, nor did his loyalty to Lincoln's Party.  In fact, many of his sayings share a strong resemblance to Lincoln's quotes.

Me with Elizabeth & Senator Dole; photo credit: Larry Fenwick

In honor of the passing of Senator Dole, I would like to share some of those similar quotes.

Dole:  "You don't go out and hurt somebody's feelings, we have opponents and not enemies in this business."
Lincoln:  "Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?"

Dole:  "Those who cultivate moral confusion for profit should understand this:  we will name their names and shame them as they deserve to be shamed."
Lincoln:  "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

Dole:  "I think voters believe that when you become president of the United States, you have a higher obligation and a higher standard than anybody in the world, ...and if you violate that standard, they're going to remember it on election day."
Lincoln:  "Character is like a tree and reputation its shadow.  The shadow is what we think it is and the tree is the real thing."

Dole:  "Something is wrong with America.  I wonder sometimes what people are thinking about or if they are thinking at all."
Lincoln:  "America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."

Although Senator Dole's sharp tongue and absolute commitment to the Republican Party sometimes led to criticism, this quote from Dole at the 1996 Republican Convention left no question about the Party in which he believed.

"The Republican Party is broad and inclusive.  It represents many streams of opinion and many points of view.  But if there's anyone who has mistakenly attached themselves to our party in the belief that we are not open to citizens of every race and religion, then let me remind you, tonight this hall belongs to the Party of Lincoln.  And the exits, which are clearly marked, are for you to walk out of as I stand this ground without compromise."

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Memories from 1976

By now, those of you who follow my blog know that I love history. It is not just the history of a Kansas homesteader named Isaac Beckley Werner nor the Populist Movement of which he was a part.  It is also the history that I was present to experience. Some of the readers of this blog may not have been born in time to celebrate the Bicentennial of 1976, but many of us were.
If you were a young man in 1976, you may have had the poster of the beautiful Farrah Fawcett on your wall.  When my cousin, who went to school in Corpus Christi, Texas, told me that Farrah had attended her high school, I was very impressed.
If you watched the 1976 Olympics, you were probably among the countless Americans who cheered for Bruce Jenner as he crossed the finish line to win the gold for the USA.
And, although by 1976 Elvis Presley may have had a somewhat older crowd cheering for him, and there may have been a bit more of Elvis to love, he was still filling arenas.  

You may have enjoyed these memories, but you may be wondering why I am sharing these stars from 1976 with you.  To explain, a friend, who knows my interest in history, discovered a Wichita Eagle & Beacon newspaper following his father's death, kept for all these years.  After looking through the old newspaper, he passed it along to my husband and me.  I used the three personalities from the 1976 era to help transport you back in time before quoting a segment from the front page of the newspaper our friend shared. 

The Wichita Eagle and Beacon, Sunday, July 4, 1976, a Commentary by Davis Merritt Jr., Executive Editor:

"We have been working at it for 200 years now, this nation, and after another 200 it still won't be perfect. We've been through war (and victory), depression (and recovery), despair (and vaulting optimism).  We'll do it all over again as many times as it takes.

And it will take forever, if we are successful.  For self-government is not an arriving at a constant.  ...  
For 200 years now, we have managed to keep our national course running between the unchanging and deadly rock cliffs of oppression and the open, uncontrolled sea of anarchy.  We have done it arguing all the while over just where we were in that perilous strait.  Our national mood at this moment of 200th anniversary, for instance, is clearly not one of confidence that we are in command.  ..."

Near the conclusion of his Commentary, Mr. Merritt reminded his readers to consider the achievements of America. "And look where we have come since then, arguing all the while.  ..." 

I began the blog with personalities that may have recalled happy memories, but 1976 was not all pretty pin ups, gold medals, nor love songs.  Editor Merritt pointed out that never in our national history have we managed to reach perfection.  Are you curious about what was happening the year of 1976 when we celebrated our Bicentennial?

There was a gale that caused 82 deaths and cost the U.S. $1.3 billion in damages.  A Swine Flu outbreak began at Fort Dix, New Jersey.  The Teton Dam in Idaho collapsed.  The "Son of Sam" began his murderous rampage.  The yearly inflation rate was 5.75%.  And in Viet Nam, where so many American soldiers had given their lives and bodies, South Vietnam fell and North Vietnam declared their union to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

In contrast, Apple Inc. was formed by Steve Jobs, Concord service began between London and Washington, D.C., and America's 'Viking 2' spacecraft landed on Mars, as America celebrated its 200th Birthday year.

Today, nearly 45 years since David Merritt Jr. wrote his newspaper Commentary, we continue to keep our nation "between the unchanging and deadly rock cliffs of oppression and the open, uncontrolled sea of anarchy" he described, but it isn't always easy.  As he warned, the genius of the American system depends on each of us to "have the patience and courage to steer that difficult course, rather than surrender to the rocks or the open sea."  As Thanksgiving of 2021 passed, perhaps some of us reflected on the troubled times of Covid, school shootings, and political strife and found thankfulness difficult.  Perhaps it will help us keep some perspective to reflect on what America faced in the year of our Bicentennial Yet, as Mr. Meritt reminded us, no one guaranteed that preserving a democracy is easy.  The challenges of freedom may be the very thing for which we should be thankful.