Winter Sketches

I have two stories that rumble around in my head  each winter, when the weather gets testy, this year I added a third.

First story

(And you may have heard this one before).

Growing up, my Grandpa would talk about a train  that derailed south of his farm in the dead of winter, January of 1929.   The train derailed and “turned turtle”  (went over on it’s back)  when it hit a hard snow drift.  One of the engineers (Roscoe Stevens) was trapped in the wreckage for over 3 hours.   Grandpa said, (and I have this on tape) ” I can still see that man…had a damn rod as thick as my arm over his arm…he was laying there, couldn’t move. Both engines were lying in the ditch. then the doctor hollered,” Does anybody got some whiskey??? Come on, get some! If you got nothing, get some! We’ve got to have whiskey for this guy.” they poured the whole pint in him. He was suffering….It was 35 to 40 below. You don’t ever forget those things…”

Here are a couple of pictures of that train wreck:

 

Second story

You may have heard this one before too,  that can happen around here.  😉

Back in 2011 I  stumbled across the poetry of Elsie Strawn Armstrong on-line. She was a pioneer mother who lived from 1789 to 1891.  She wrote a series  poems called “Sketches Of My Life.”  One of the most powerful accounts happened in 1831.  They lose their provision of salt, which in that time apparently was a life and death situation. ( I know it had to do with food preservation for the coming year, but not sure how that all works…)

“Our salt was in a gum,

And was standing on the loft,

But met with a bad accident,

when the cover got shoved off.

I had some in a box,

That was standing down below,

Not enough to last till spring,

And we knew not where to go…

Elsie asks  a man who had been selling salt if he had more to sell?  He didn’t, and didn’t know when more would be in.  He said...”If I go for salt, I’ll freeze to death, and perish in the snow.” 

She goes home,  and tells her children the situation.

When I got home, I told my children

What the man had said,

Then William said, I’ll go myself,

And take that big old sled.

“Mother do not be uneasy,

None but lazy people freeze,

Because they will not exercise,

They are so fond of ease.

There is no fear for me Mother,

I will jump and kick the sled,

I will keep myself in exercise

Run, and kick the wagon bed….

Their team was good and active,

All four year olds and strong….

The account goes on…

Fifteen year old Will and his little brother take off on a 90 mile trek in the dead of winter with their team. They have to cross a frozen river, deal with winter storms, not get lost, be on guard for  roving Indians, (all while mom is at home second guessing herself, with the rest of her brood).

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This week, just to make sure I was on my game  because the weather man said we were in for it, we were going to get a “Polar vortex”,what ever the heck that was, I decided to add a third story to my winter attitude folder.

I decided to reread a portion of  novel The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

It was perfect!

It was just what the Dr ordered!

+++++++++++++++++

Pause.

I am torn.

Torn because I love winter.

I love winter storms.

I love being snowed in.

I love busting through drifts with my 4 wheel drive pick up.

Last thing I want to do is mock someone to whom the winter storms are a heartache.  (My parents are in their 80’s and I know it can be hard on both of them).   The thing is, from my vantage point, all of the negative, naysayers are the only voices I hear.  Fellow lovers of winter weather  seem to be either a dying breed or keeping their thoughts to themselves.

++++++++++++++++++++++++

I grew up on a farm.

On the farm, when you have livestock, you don’t get to stay in the house when it gets cold.  Sometimes just the opposite.  Those are the times when stuff starts to break. Water lines to the cattle get frozen or the pilot light to the tank heater won’t stay lit, etc. etc. Christmas morning if you have milk cows (like we did)  the cows still need milking, haying,  might even have more manure to pitch than normal if you keep the cows in the barn overnight so they don’t freeze their utters off. 🙂

So here I am now in the year 2019.

All of our children are grown.  No longer have cows to milk, tank heaters to keep lit. none of it.

Predictions of winter storms stir up within me feelings of thankfulness.   I feel like some little creature tucked away deep in my burrow,  Cozy.  My larder is full.  The house is staying warm. Smell of freshly baking bread is in the air. Garden seeds have started coming in the mail.  The new little heating pad that goes under the seed starting tray is working like a charm.

I  feel better.   Now you know.

I got into a conversation yesterday with a young mom  about this past weeks weather.  She asked me what I thought about it.  I paused, looked her in the eyes and told her the same things I’ve just told you here.

She smiled and said, “I feel the same way.”

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Here’s a picture I took earlier in the week in front of our house:

Got to run.  Need  to go to the bank before they close.   Take care. DM

 

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The Persuader

A couple of Sundays ago a tour group from  Northern Germany was in our area.  The expressed purpose of the tour was to connect with long lost cousins who had immigrated to our area from about 1880 into the early 1920’s. My great grandfather and my grandmother, both on my dad’s side had done that very thing,  ( immigrated from Ostfriesland) so I asked  dad if he was interested  in attending a meet and greet  that Sunday.

Picture of my grandma on the deck of the Dresden  immigrating to America in 1929.  (She is 2nd from the right)

As we walked up to the pavilion, half a dozen older ladies that I didn’t know and a guy I did were sitting on a rock wall.  The German tour group hadn’t arrived yet so we stopped to talk.  Turned out the ladies were all 1st cousins to each other. The Barker clan.

I mentioned I’d worked with a John Barker back when I was 16. He was framing a house for my dad.  Turned out John was their uncle, one of ten brothers.

(Can you imagine???? One of ten???!!!!)

The wheels in my head began to spin.

I wasn’t sure how much to say about old John B.

These were all ladies, and John was long gone.

I remembered his thick German accent, his bib overalls, his big belly…He had a short temper and an infatuation with a word that started with “f”.   He lived on an acreage on the edge of town.  I graduated with his daughter Kristi.

His wife had the sweetest disposition.

It was always a mystery to me why in the world she’d married him.

I ended up telling them the following two snippets of information:

First one had to do with the  German word for sledge hammer that John had taught me. He called it the  “uben-schlogger”. 

Right away, one of the ladies (Barbara)  got excited, grabbed her German/ English  dictionary and tried to look up “Uben-schlogger.”  I knelt down beside her.  We found something close, but  weren’t quite sure.

Another snippet  I told them was about time John was roofing a big barn.

His helper was nervous.  Didn’t know if he could do it.  John, in his thick accent barked:

“Get up on the roof!  I command you!” 

You would have thought I was a rock star.  Everybody sitting on that rock wall was soaking up every morsel of those details of good old uncle John.  One of them (Denise)  was writing everything down in a spiral notepad.  She “couldn’t wait” to get back home to Texas  and share these stories with her sisters.

+++++++++++++++++++

The next Monday @ work, I was telling Jason about my encounter with John’s nieces.  He looked at me and said,  “John was not the one who told you about the Uben – schlogger…and besides, it’s not pronounced Uben -schlogger…it’s Uben schweiger” (the persuader).  We learned it from Thomas.” (Another young German who worked with Jason and I back in the early 1990’s)

I told him I liked my word better. 🙂

We had a good laugh.

There I was, a lover of local history,  blending stories.  Something funny and not quite right about all of it at the same time.

In the end, I was able to track down Denise on Facebook.  Sent her a message, told her the story. Just in the nick of time she said. She hadn’t had a chance to talk to her sisters yet.

Early picture of me showing off with an uben schweiger:

The goal is to touch your nose with the sledge while keeping your forearm straight.

 

My cabin in the woods

In 2011 one of my regular customers asked me to help build  a new loafing shed for his dairy set up.  The first phase of the project  was for him to tear down an old limestone barn, dating from the 1800’s.  Wish I would have taken a picture.

There is something about old limestone buildings that stirs something in me.  I asked him what he was going to do with the old stone…long story short.  He gave it to me.  13  dump truck loads worth.  The only investment I had, was my time and the fuel it took to haul it home….

So this pile of limestone has been sitting there patiently waiting for me to do something with it…

That something has finally begun to stir…

We have a quiet spot out in the windbreak that looks north… In June, the wild black raspberries make an appearance.

One of my favorite places.

It is very easy to slough off the clamor when I’m out there.

I’m thinking I’ll just run a garden hose and a drop chord out there for some basic creature comforts…Murphy bed, barn beam interior, small loft.  16 ft by 20 ft tops/ with a small front porch like this….

 

I plan to do this on the cheap, using all recycled materials.

Want to help?

Think… Thoreau/ Walden/ tiny house…

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

Stoke’n the fire

There is a fire that burns most days, way down in the depths of my soul.

Not just figuratively, mind you, but literally.

This morning as I was going over my notes for a series of speaking engagements this weekend on local history, I  could  literally feel the burner kick in…..

On the gas water heater and furnace that heats our house, you can hear both of them when they get ready to fire up. There is a distinct sound as the igniter kicks in….then after the flame lights/ the fan kicks in…..

 

That fire (passion) burns 85 % of the time when I am at work.

It also burns on days like today, when I’m talking somewhere.

Not even sure why I’m telling you this…. 🙂

I’m speaking this morning @ 10:30 and again @ 1:45.  I will let you know how it goes.

Can you see the fire in this guys eyes?

Photo compliments of google

Pay Dirt

 

Couple of years ago, my aunt Rosie gave me a a cardboard box filled with hundreds of 35 mm slides her aunt Annie had taken before she died.  The pictures are mostly from Germany, Ibiza and  who knows where else  ???  A handful are from her trips to America in the early and mid 1960’s.

If you’ve ever spent any time holding old slides up to the light, looking at images of old buildings, and people you don’t know, until your neck hurts, and your brain starts shutting down, then you’ll have an idea what I was feeling last night  until……

Until I hit pay dirt.

Bingo…I saw  some familiar faces.

Even found a few  new ones with me in them.

Here are a few of my personal favorites:

rockn-the-lederhosen

Rock’n the Lederhosen

(That’s my mom on the left, then me, my brother and cousin Carol.  I can still feel those stiff leather lederhosen chafing against my legs. )

pict0022

Picture of my dad picking ear corn 

Doing the math, dad would have been about 37 here…about the same age as my eldest daughter. That is just surreal. 🙂

Butch and Feedie

Butch and Fede  

These guys are my grandparents two farm dogs.   My aunt Rosie said this about Butch and Fede  when I posted this on Facebook last night:

“If either of them heard the word “Pickup” ; they would be there before we would… was funny… Butch was a b’day gift to Johnny for his birthday one year and Fede just happened to come around the farm and we adopted him”

pict0063

Re-thatching a  house roof in the old country

I have no idea where that house is or who is on the roof.  Not sure if Annie took that picture because there was a family connection or just because it was a scenic shot.  It doesn’t matter.  😉  It made the cut.

Good thing I didn’t just pitch the box.  You can’t tell who or where 95% of the pictures were taken..it’s that 5% that makes it all worth while.

I’ll close with one more.  If you’re a long time reader, you may have seen it before:

pict0017

That’s me on the left, Aunt Annie and my brother Steve.  Same trip to America…1961?  Out on Grandpa and Grandma’s farm house porch.   Looks like they were still trying to dress me up.  Probably the last time I wore a bow-tie.

 

On Writing…(2)

Memorial Day morning someone stopped by our place for a visit.  During the course of our conversation,  our guest brought up my newly published book.  They’d read it, and wanted to get two additional copies.  Can’t remember who said what next, but the next thing I knew, we were talking about several things they’d wished I’d done differently.

I genuinely wanted to hear their thoughts, because after the dozens of times I’ve been over that manuscript, revising, editing, deleting, correcting, etc.  my brain has become jaded.   Back in 2008, I’d shown the first chapter of my rough draft to someone else who considered themselves a writer of sorts.  After I listened to their input, I ended up with a writer’s block for three years. 😉

Lessen learned.  Be very careful with whom I share my rough drafts.

As we sat at our kitchen table Monday morning,  my guest told me he wished I’d spent more time talking about such and such.   Then later in the book, he wondered what book it was he was reading?  I seemed to be spending much more time talking about certain people than I needed.   I’d included the lyrics of a song by Alison Kraus half way through the book..He felt that I’d stolen the thunder for the story it was supposed to be introducing, not to mention, in the song, the  story happened on a mountain, whereas, in my book, the incident took place on the plains…..

My guest is a thinker.   I like him.

I said to him, “Where were you a year ago???!

“Next time, I write something, I  said, I would love to get your feedback.”

I  may have taken some of his suggestions into account if we’d had this conversation a year ago, but at this point, the book  is what it is.

I was thinking  more about our conversation this afternoon.  Before submitting my final (11th) revision  to the printer,  I had  eight different sets of eyes perusing all or parts of my earlier drafts.

Eight sets of eyes.

Some specifically, looking @ basic grammar and others,  giving input on readability and flow.

I gave it my best shot and I’m thrilled with the end product.

I’ve never had a class in writing.

Not that I wouldn’t be interested, but it would really depend on who was teaching.

I do read books and articles on the topic to improve my skill.  Couple of years ago, a young woman with a bachelor’s degree in writing spent a few afternoons trying to mentor me, but other than that, I am a work in progress.

Are there still details I might change, after listening to my latest guest…?

Maybe…

And maybe not.

Last night, a quote by Theodore Roosevelt kept coming to mind.

   ” It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is not effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”

 

Thanks to all of you that stop by this blog and interact.  Work is currently taking up  most of my creative energy  so I’ve not replied to several of your comments like I would normally do.

Good night 🙂

DM

 

 

Red Cloud

Tuesday morning we headed west.

Hit the road for Red Cloud Nebraska.

A month ago, we were kicking around the idea of taking a road trip to see my wife’s Uncle L.   He is the last living connection my wife has with the small town of Red Cloud Nebraska.  When we were first married we would stop there every couple of years to visit aunt and uncle L.  When her grandpa was still alive we would see him too.

L. is 94.   All of his siblings are gone.   His wife passed away in 2011. His son lives out-of-state. L is  hard of hearing and has been for years. Talking on the phone is out of the question.   I haven’t seen him in  years, but always enjoyed bantering with him to the degree we could.  He had his own plumbing and heating business for years, so our conversations tended toward construction.

When you have a relative who is 94, you know it’s just a matter of time until you get “the phone call” so I really encouraged my wife that we should take the trip now.

We decided not to let him know we were coming until the day before, just in case something fell through.   Tuesday afternoon, wife called  the  facility where L lives, and  talked with Melissa.   She was excited  and  promised to give uncle L a note, to let him know we were coming the next morning at 10.

He never got the note.

L’s neighbor, Lavae (who lives two doors down ) got a message to expect a Mr and Mrs DM  about 10 AM. ) Lavue didn’t know who that was, figured maybe someone working on genealogy so he placed an order with the kitchen for some extra ice tea to serve his guests.  He waited two hours but they never came. 

We found this out while we were sitting in the large dining room table over lunch with a dozen other 80 and 90 year olds…

😉

After we finished eating,  we checked uncle L out and  headed to his house to check on things. He moved into this facility this past December, so everything is just as he left it.

Just as I remembered it too…

The several dozen trophies in the trophy case he’d won racing go carts in his younger days. The cart still hangs from the ceiling in his garage.

The  Indian figurine in the hutch, the calendar still turned to  2015. The picture of his baby sister sitting at a desk when she was two, who has long since passed away herself.  A Christmas card on his desk from the nurses at the VA.

He has one of those walkers that has a fold down seat on it, so for a while we sat quietly in his living room, him on his walker seat, wife and I on opposite sides of the room in  stuff chairs.

You could hear a mourning dove just outside the window, singing that quiet mournful song they make. That bird’s song matched the emotions that were sloshing around in my head.  L said it felt good to just be in the house for a little bit.

We walked out into his garage.    We talked about a tool he wants to give his grandson when he’s gone.

I imagine, after living 94 years, to  get to the place where you are no longer able to live on your own, and have to leave 99% of your earthly possessions behind, it would feel good, even for a half hour,  to smell the familiar smells,  touch the old tools, look at old photos, and just sit.

I’m glad we went.