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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Philosopher’s Scales

I love stepping back in time.

Do you doubt me?

Do you doubt it can’t be done?

My favorite doorway into history is fragile,  thread bound, sometimes ink stained, original editions books… (before the politically correct crowd has had a chance to get their little hands on them.)

Back in 2007 I was doing  research for a local history project and wanted to immerse myself in the 1830’s….

On a lark I purchased an assortment of  original edition school textbooks from 1833 up until late 1800’s …McGuffy Readers, Ray’s Arithmetic,  etc. on e-bay.

And it worked.  I was able to re-enter the world of 1839 through the eyes of a teacher, and the scholar.  (Students were called “scholar” back then.)

Well, the  last few nights I have been pulling  the  First Class Reader compiled by B.D. Emerson  1833 off the shelf  and discovered several keepers.

Pause.

I am an educator.

Not formally trained but, an educator, never the less.

A teacher friend of ours, who  has a  degree, and who has sat in my class room on numerous occasions, once said something to me about my teaching ability  that removed all doubt in my mind of that concern. (Could I teach?)

Anyway, back to the book…I  wanted to share a portion of a poem by Jane Taylor (  link) entitled The Philosopher’s Scales… (She died in 1824.  She was a prolific writer and poet, most famous for her poem Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. 🙂

I’m going to only share part of it.  Some of the words and her analogies may require a little digging on your part if you want to suck  the marrow out… DM

The Philosopher’s Scales

What were they? – you ask:

you shall presently see;

These scales were not made to weigh sugar and tea;

O no; – for such properties wondrous had they,

That qualities, feelings, and thoughts they could weigh,

 

Together with articles, small or immense,

From mountains or planets to atoms of sense;

Nought was there so bulky but there it could lay,

and nought so ethereal but there it would stay;

And nought so reluctant but in it must go: –

All which some examples more clearly will show…….

 

Next time he put in Alexander the Great.

With a garment that Dorcas had made- for a weight;

And though clad in armor from sandals to crown,

The hero rose up, and the garment went down….

 

By further experiments (no matter how)

He found that ten chariots weighed less that one plough.

A sword, with gilt trappings, rose up in the scale,

Though balanced by only a ten penny nail.

A Lord and a lady went up at full sail,

When a bee chanced to light on the opposite scale.

 

Ten doctors, ten lawyers, two courtiers, one earl,-

Ten counselor’s wigs full of powder and curl,-

All heaped in one balance, and swinging from thence,

Weighed less than some atoms of candor and sense;-

A first-water diamond, with brilliance begirt,

Than one good potato just washed from the dirt;-

_______________________

Pause

Sometimes I wrestle with whether or not my life is accounting for much….compared to, let’s say, someone in politics,  certain professions, etc.   And after immersing myself in a poem (like this one)  my heart is again re calibrated, and tracking as it should.

(Like when you take your car into your mechanic and he does a front end alignment.)

 

Question for you the reader….

Are there certain authors, poets, books, poems, quotes etc. that you love, that helps you to stay on track?   I would love to hear about them.  If you have a link, post it.   DM

 

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

 

 

Stories Of Hamlet Folk and Such

“I like the story line and the characters. There is mystery, romance and drama. It feels like I am sitting down to visit and catch up with people I know…. My husband who doesn’t usually like this type of program stops to watch it.”

Review on Amazon

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BBC meets Little House On The Prairie = Larkrise To Candleford.

Set in 1840 northern England.   Wife and I stumbled across the series a couple of weeks ago.   The review that clinched it for me, was someone saying “Best thing they’d ever seen on TV, in their entire life….and I (DM) would tend to agree. 🙂

Here’s a link to the first episode:

The website (Dailymotion.com) has all 38 episodes on it, and they are free.

Too good to keep to myself.

You are welcome. 😉

__________________

Are you familiar with the series?  What did you think?

Well, time to call it a day.  We’ve had lots of wind here the past couple of days.  Got an e-mail yesterday regarding a roof I shingled last Fall. Seems some of the shingles blew off, so that’s where I am headed first thing in the morning.  Couldn’t have happened to a better roof (not.)  2 story/ 9 on 12 pitch/ about the middle of the roof…the toe holds are no longer there so I have to figure out a creative way to reach the area.  It is a good thing I love my job.

 

 

 

 

My Book Manuscript

My grandpa  used to tell me stories from his days when he was a kid growing up on a farm a mile from where I grew up.  One of the stories he told was about a train wreck just south of town.  If I heard that story once, I heard it fifty times.    When my son John was 10 years old, I took him over to interview Grandpa and record him.

 

train wreck

Picture of the train wreck south of my grandpa

That was in 1999.

In the interview, I asked grandpa about the train wreck, farming with horses, the story about his brother and him making moonshine…was it really true?

It was.  In fact, Grandpa and the boys had an actual route where they delivered the stuff, and on this occasion, Grandpa told me something I’d never heard before.

He gave me the family recipe for making moonshine.

The interview lasted about 40 minutes.

It is priceless to me now that he is gone.

In 2007 I came across that tape and listened to it again.  You can hear the coffee pot percolating in the background the first several minutes.   After the interview was over, I decided to do an Internet search on  local history.

I found a gold mine.

I came across an account of two men retracing a hundred mile long, early pioneer trail on foot in the early 1920’s, that passed right through our area…this was 75 years after the fact. It stirred something in me.  The desire to retrace that same route myself on foot…but before doing so, I decided to immerse myself in local history.   I purchased old maps, out of print county history books, anything I could get my hands on which might give me clues into life in Eastern Iowa from 1839 to 1900.

Through a chance conversation with a woman who owned a local antique store one day, as I was looking for old books, she told me me  her dad,  had also spent considerable time researching that same route.  She asked me if I would be interested in looking through the many newspaper clippings and personal correspondence he’d had with various people he’d interacted with.

I have included several of those things in this book.

I came across enough material to make  several movies. (Think Little House On The Prairie.)

Last Winter, I finally finished the rough draft of a book.  A compilation of many of the stories I read, plus some of my personal reflections.  A friend of mine lined up two different people to edit the rough draft, and just last week I finally finished making all the corrections.

All I have left to do is find someone to help create the cover, tidy up a few loose ends then send it to the printer.  I plan to create a small Kickstart or Gofundme page in a few weeks.  Print on demand publishing prices have dropped considerably since my last book. With any luck it should be in print by this May.

It is an act of love, 9 years in the making.