Friday, February 26, 2010

Pennytown, Missouri National Historic Site

The Saline County silence is broken by buzzing honeybees and birdsong. The Pennytown Freewill Baptist Church, sitting on a sloping piece of Missouri prairie, is petite but regal. A white privy rests under the protective branches of a spreading Osage Orange tree.

Clarence “Book” Lawrence looks at the small one room church with appreciation. “I only wish my mother could have seen this church,” comments Lawrence.

Josephine Robinson Lawrence, instrumental in saving the Pennytown legacy died in 1992, four years before the church was restored. She had worked tirelessly trying to save the historic spot for future generations. She met one of her goals in 1988 when Pennytown was named a National Historic Site.

After the Civil War, freedman Joe Penny established Pennytown with an eight acre tract of land he had bought for $160. Other Black families joined him amassing about 64 acres making the hamlet, south of Marshall, one of the largest Missouri African-American settlements. By 1886 a nearby white landowner allowed a plain frame church to be built on his land. That land was paid for eight years later when the church trustees paid $20 for ownership. The frame church burned in 1924 and was replaced with a sturdy red brick structure by 1926.

By the 1950’s most families had moved away. Eventually this brick building was the only remaining structure left of the original Pennytown settlement. It was in bad shape and Josephine Lawrence knew it had to be saved soon. “Bricks were coming loose, rafters were rotting,” says Tracy Lawrence, a daughter-in-law. “Mrs. Lawrence lured us all into getting on board with the project.”

Sometime after W.W.II, Book Lawrence’s grandmother Nellie Jackson, Rev. Leonard Alexander, and Penelope Lewis started a yearly Homecoming with a basket dinner and church service. The annual celebration was scheduled for the first weekend in August which was near the traditional Black Independence Day. As people moved away, the celebration drew fewer people in attendance. Years later, Mrs. Jackson’s daughter, Josephine, resurrected the event’s popularity by drawing attention to its historical importance. Josephine Lawrence also went to work to have the church recognized nationally as a historic site while gathering donations of money and manpower.

Now on the first Sunday in August people once again gather for food, fellowship, games, and remembering, including a non-denominational church service. “After Mrs. Lawrence passed away, Book’s sister, Virginia Huston, kind of stepped into her shoes,” explains Tracy. “She plans the service, and it has become tradition for us to sing a hymn called Sweet, Sweet Spirit at the end of the church ceremony.”

“We have had some interesting and varied guests over the years,” explains Book. “Debbie Miles, a former Miss America, came and played piano for us. Panhandle Slim, a Black cowboy from Oklahoma was a guest one August, and five aging Buffalo Soldiers attended another year. David Haley, Roots author Alex Haley’s nephew and a Kansas senator, visited in 2002.

“And then there was Warren Reed a few years ago,” adds Tracy.

Warren Read wrote a book called The Lyncher in Me: A Search for Redemption in the Face of History. The book details the 1920 lynching of three black men in Duluth, MN. One of the victims was born at Pennytown in 1897, and Read‘s great-grandfather was involved in doing the lynching. The last chapter of the book relates his visit to Pennytown in August of 2006.

Read, a fourth grade teacher and father, lives and teaches in Bainbridge Island, Washington. When he came, he brought along a donation raised from the sale of seedlings propagated from Osage orange and oak seeds from Pennytown. “He was a very nice man, and it was quite an emotional visit for him and some of the Pennytown descendants,” says Tracy remembering quietly.

Although many people are involved in Pennytown, it is a family affair for the Lawrences. Jon Lawrence, Tulsa, Oklahoma, represents a third generation that is involved in Pennytown’s revival. He has helped the Board of Directors with  raffle in the past by gathering donations from supporters. Some past raffle items have been  prints by Missouri artist Jerry Ellis, an autographed poem from Maya Angelou, and books signed by Desmond Tutu and Dr. Cornell West.

Jon explains, “The money raised is used for maintenance projects to ensure that the church is not in disarray. These projects include, but are not limited to, roof repair, painting, electrical outlet additions, and general building upkeep. Past raffle money has also been used to purchase a historical site marker and develop a memorial brick garden.”

In addition to the original Homecoming every year, an Old Fashioned Gathering has been held on and off in the month of June, trying to make two summer dates available for Pennytown events. The Gathering is more informal. Book often brings his large grill, smoking meat for the crowd. One year they planned games and sang songs residents of 1930 Pennytown might have participated in. Door prizes were handed out; horse shoe pits and checker boards were set up under the trees, along with areas for dominoes, marbles, and string games.

The trustees rely totally on volunteer labor and financial donation for maintenance and improvements to Pennytown. Looking to the future, Tracy Lawrence observes, “We would really like to add some plumbing out here. It would allow us to plan more events or longer days at our Homecomings.”

For information on this year’s Pennytown Homecoming, go to

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writing Burnout

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ~Albert Schweitzer

After the first of the year, I made 18 submissions to contests and publications. I found myself making it to second round judging in three contests from earlier submissions. However, two I lost. The third was to be announced January 31. On February 10, I was told they were working on it and to be patient. Today, on February 22 there is still no word of a winner.

During this same time I have had three incidents of positive encouragement. One was from a woman who had been a student when I substituted her class almost twenty years ago. She said she remembered a story I wrote and  read to them, that she had been so impressed she became a writer. Hum, I had no idea that I had wielded that power!

I saw a picture in the St. Louis paper of a nun holding an apple slice. It was Sister Mary Lapping, an Ursuline nun I had worked with on my side of the state fifteen years ago or more. I had wondered often what had happened to her. I did some Googling and found an address; I wrote her a letter. I got a nice email in return telling me about her recent move to live near the Kirkwood office. She said that in moving, she found a letter I had written telling her goodbye when she left Webb City, one she had kept.  She encouraged me to keep writing now.

I also got a note from poet Andrea Hollander Budy, a Writer in Residence this spring at Westminster College in Salt Lake City and poet with connections to Arkansas where she once lived and wrote. She had judged a Persimmon Tree contest where I had sent three poems. She sent me an email in spite of my losing because she wanted me to know how close my poem Nicodemus, Kansas had come to winning. Hum, sounds like I am getting close but doing a lot of missing! Among other things, Ms. Budy wrote:
Whether or not one’s poems win contests, the act of writing matters. As you know from your own experience, poems enrich the lives of those who write them as much as it does those who read them.

I am not sure, but I think I am getting the message to keep writing, to not let my fires burn out. I believe I will keep going for a while longer.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Scab Collecting?

Love Spoon gift from Gay Hardy's collection

I remember when I found a box of strange looking things in my young son’s room, and when asked what it was, he answered, “I am starting a scab collection!” After a sort discussion, I got him to transfer his enthusiasm to baseball ball cards. I guess he learned from his mother to keep things of vague value.

I am not a pack rat, but I do collect things that interest me. Sometimes the interest is only for a short while like the advertising tins that eventually got tiring. Others have been a lifetime love like Blue Willow dishes, an affection that started with a childhood set when I was five years old. I have knife rests, egg coddlers, tea cups, tea pots, tea paraphernalia, hat and shawl pins, and turquoise jewelry dotting special spots in my house. But one of my favorite collections is the varied friends I have met in my lifetime. It is a collection I have continued to add to without tossing any away. Besides classmates and neighbors, there have been an assortment of people like Wanda who I met when my four year old threw up near her at a preschool play, Deidra in New Zealand who had lost her husband to mesothelioma and walked me through my dad’s cancer in daily emails, and Ginny who I met on a L’Engle online discussion group and later met for lunch in Aztec, New Mexico. Then there is John and Gay Hardy, residents of Wales.

Although I have never actually met Gay, I met John as part of trio of engineers from Wales and Belgium who were visiting DH’s company. The three men stayed over a weekend, and DH and I took them on a brief tour of the Ozarks. I was no fool, DH is not much of a talker and he needed a mouthpiece for a whole weekend. John from Belgium did not speak much English so that was hard, but I kept John from Wales and Stefan from Belgium busy answering questions. I learned a lot about their countries while showing them ours. We took them riding through the Ozark countryside showing them Capps Creek, Roaring River, Eureka Springs, and Branson. It was shopping, eating, and shows. It was fun for us all, and we would stay in touch with Stefan and John from Wales for years to come.

This year John and Gay sent us a lovely box at Christmas packed full of precious goodies. Wouldn’t you know, the box didn’t arrive. Besides all the lovely teas, tea accoutrements, and calendars, this year Gay had included something from her own collection of love spoons. The spoon had been carved by their neighbor who has since died; it was irreplaceable. Then after two months, the box showed up here last week on our porch!

Love spoons are mostly a Celtic item, and Wales it the primo place to find a love spoon. Love spoons were carved from one piece of wood and included decorative features like hearts, bells, anchors, or doves among other things. They took time to carve, and often sailors carved them with their time out to sea. In early Welsh history, love spoons were made by young men who gave them to young women they were interested in, thus love spoons. In early times, the Celtic people used wooden spoons and bowls for daily eating and much carving of eating utensils occurred. Love spoons were evidence that a young man could carve and provide good spoons for his sweetheart, but the love spoons themselves were more for decoration than use.

The love spoon that Gay gave us from her own collection has a heart at the top, expressing the common theme of love. While most love spoons were made from sycamore, oak and popular were also used. We are not sure of which wood was used to make our love spoon.

I wonder if I can get DH to chop down a tree for heart wood and try his hand at carving a love spoon? Hum…move over egg coddlers, I think a new collection might be forming!

                                                                                                   Tea things from Wales

Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Visit with Gladys

Imagine opening a wooden screen door and stepping into a bright kitchen. A Blue Willow plate covered with shortbread and cluster of fresh picked tulips standing in a Mason canning jar rest on an oilcloth covered table. Your friend smiles, beckons you to sit as she pours tea. This is the warm and comforting feeling readers get from picking up a Gladys Taber book where they are lifted away to a quieter, gentler time.

I have most of Taber’s books, the collection started when I inherited a couple from my Granny’s things. I set them aside to read later, long after her death, as I wanted to enter her world and taste in books with leisure. One long winter I picked up one of the Stillmeadow volumes and loved it. After reading all Gran’s books, I began to search for more. My mother-in-law also was a lover of Taber works, so I picked up copies for her along the way.

Taber wrote about 50 books including cookbooks, and she was regular columnist for periodicals like Ladies Home Journal and Family Circle during the 1960's. As I girl, I used to read her column “Butternut Wisdom” where she talked about her daily life in a Connecticut country home raising gardens, Cocker Spaniels, and Irish Setters. Yes, her writings are dated. There are no cell phones, computers, microwaves; cars had fins, women wore head scarves knotted under their chins on windy days, clothes were hung to dry on a line outside to flap in the breeze. Her recipes used loads of butter and cream, fresh vegetables, and cakes were made from scratch.

I like visiting Gladys Taber’s world. I try to reread one of her books every winter. This year I have failed to so yet because of too many other commitments. I have missed her, but if I can get there yet this winter, I know Gladys will wave, invite me in, and will already have the kettle on!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A Day With Sunshine!

Although today has surprised us with more sun than expected, yesterday was to be the only day with sunshine this week …or next. We grabbed it to take a ride in warm sunshine. Although it only got to about 45, that was a heat wave to us, and sun through the glass of truck windows made it feel double that temp. We had no real goal and did not want to venture far. So we got on the highway and headed to the border, southern one that is. With the new highway being added to here and there at different times, it is now like a string of old fashioned sausages strung together. The long strand makes getting to the border of Arkansas a little less than an hour. The trial is getting through the urban sprawl of places like Bentonville (think Wal-mart). One strip mall, office building, car wash, hamburger joint, quick lube right after another. Now Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale, and Fayetteville are almost one city.

We did not want to do all that and took the old highway into Bentonville. A new Goodwill store had just opened up. If you haven’t considered Goodwill for inexpensive books, do so. In Kentucky I found a nearly new copy of Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia for a dollar. In this Goodwill I ran into yet another Pipher, The Shelter of Each Other. This book had never been opened other than to be signed by the author. I got it for $2. Of course books are not arranged in any order in a Goodwill;you have to be willing to peruse the shelves, but it can often be well worth the effort.

On to a couple of flea markets that were full of the usual. Hubby found a German drafting set with all pieces in tact, but he would not add it to his collection because it was too pricey. I found a round Blue Willow serving platter. Although I have several platters and a round cake platter, sometimes they aren’t right for a large cake or a yeasty bread ring. This Willow was pretty new, but it was priced not much more than a mere dinner plate. It came home with us.

A late lunch in the Tea Room at Vinson Square in a sunny window began to wind down the day. Done in a shabby chic motif and including an Arkansas Razorback Room for dining fans, the tea room serves usual tea room fare. Their two specialties would be a meal sized baked potato with choice of toppings (including a stroganoff one) and an orange yeast roll that is good enough to be considered dessert or a soup accompaniment. Lunch was followed by a trip around the corner into a very expensive antique store where I was afraid to breathe for fear of toppling some flow blue and a stop in a used book store run by a sweet little old fellow. The day was all the mid-winter excursion we wanted, and we headed home to wait for spring!

Vinson Square Tea Room can be visited on line at .

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spring, Are You Coming?

It is almost Valentine’s Day, but I am not feeling particularly bright and amorous today. I have heard that the last week in February has three possible storms for us, one a major winter storm. Try as I might, I am losing out to Winter Woes! I have wrestled with winter weather and withering writing all week; I can do nothing with winter and I am losing out on all writing fronts. It was hard work today to turn the mood, to keep thoughts from matching those cigarette ash-colored skies!

However, I spent the day with words again. I started by continuing reading East to the Dawn by Susan Butler. This is a biography of Amelia Earhart and is so much more insightful than the movie. I enjoyed the movie Amelia, but this book shows the woman’s true depth. She was much more than just a woman aviator. She was a social worker and a writer among other things. Fascinating woman!

Seeing the writer at work in this biography inflamed my own writing urges again. I wrapped and readied a submission; I wrote and sent a query. I dug out an old story I like but no editor has-yet. I will think about it this week, and maybe I will be inspired to find it a “home”.

In the digging of files, I found a special paragraph written by a member of my Madeleine L’Engle Discussion group years ago—me. If writing does nothing else, maybe it talks to ourselves when we need it, as we need it. It comforts, shakes, nudges us, or merely saves a “snapshot” of our inner selves to see later.

Other things I am homesick for are the musky smells of my maternal grandmother’s skin, the taste of my paternal grandmother’s fat, yellow homemade noodles, the sight of my dad loading up his gun and hunting vest for quail season, the sound a cry from my own babies, the feel of a little child on my lap for sharing a reading of books…how do I alleviate this homesickness and longing…by remembering that even as these experiences have passed never to be had again, today I am doing things and living ways that will also pass and someday I will long for them…I remind myself to live in a way so that I will remember these things also with fond memories and no regrets.

PS. And friends are our sunshine!!! Look what my friend brought me for Valentine’s Day, a new corn bag! Thanks, Bonnie, for warming my heart—and other parts!!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Knife Rests

I hear we had snow flurries early this morning; I am glad I did not have the drapes open in time to see them. The cold temps and tedious drab skies are enough for me today. Winter wears thin after six weeks or so, especially if there is no sun. The sun’s radiance on clean, bright snow makes bearing winter possible, but skies the color of a deep water submarine or battleship leave one feeling like they suffer battle fatigue!

Since we have not even reached Ash Wednesday yet, it seemed a little too early to be bringing out bunnies, eggs and baby chicks. But yesterday I gave in to putting away the last silk poinsettias and red tablecloths. Out came the silk lilacs while waiting on the real ones to even show a bud, and I searched for all the dazzling yellows and spring-like purples I could find. Once I had flipped on a new navy tablecloth and set out a garden of placemats, my knife rests showed up in a new light.

I don’t know exactly when or why I took to wanting to collect knife rests because no one has used them since the 1960’s; I never saw them used at home, and I am not a collector of crystal or glassware. But somewhere I picked up a glistening knife rest that spoke to me, and the hunt was on for more. Knife rests were used as early as the 1700’s for the very simple reason of keeping a dirty knife off the tablecloth. They could be wooden, horn, pottery, crystal, or any material and design that elevated the dirty knife. Since the first one I picked was a clear glass or crystal, I wanted to stay in that mood of material and design.

But I was surprised when I could not find more knife rest of any kind around me. I could order online, but it the hunt that makes collections fun, not just ownership. On a tour of Kentucky, my one “bring on home” item was to find a new knife rest, an affordable one. I just knew this land of antiques, Kentucky Derby, fine homes, great food and Southern lifestyles would yield an interesting piece. I was surprised to find nothing. Finally, just before crossing the border into Missouri at Cadiz, I found a whole set. The town was loaded with antiques and flea markets, but only one place had a set for four knife rests. They were marked down from the original price but still very pricey. They did not want to break the set and sell just one. I thought and walked and thought. I had just sold a poem that would pay for the entire set, but while on this trip, the bottom was falling out of the stock market. Finally, I decided if I were headed to financial disaster, I would take four nice knife rests with me!

Sometime later, a friend learned about my knife rests. She had two of slightly different sizes that she had inherited. She wanted me to have them. How generous she was! How thrilling to find two more similar to my own. They are lovely and perfect when added to my others. Two more showed up in a flea market in southern Missouri. In an Arkansas store, I found a master knife rest, one that would be at the head of the table, but I chose to walk away from that one.

I probably have enough knife rests now since I rarely use them. Large dinners are rare here anymore; our friends and we favor a good fire pit with hotdogs or chili supper. I do enjoy seeing them out resting on the table though, watch them pick up the light and share their beauty. Sometimes I pass by, pick one up feeling the weight in my hand, and wonder at what table they sat at before mine. What meals did they see, what conversations did they hear? What secrets could they tell if only they could speak instead of glow!

Monday, February 8, 2010

A Short Story

The weather forecast was ominous --not music to our ears. So we were glad to dodge snow storms a few hours for dinner and music on Saturday night. It was a full house and every round table was surrounded by folks eager to get out before the next sleet and snowfall. It was called a Sweetheart Supper when a local restaurant and esteemed celebrity Duke Mason joined for an evening of food and songs. The buffet meal was ham and chicken with all the trimmings; Duke and his boys sang love songs, some peppy Elvis and closed with the hymn “How Great Thou Art”.

Although Duke stands less than four feet tall, his musical talent is gigantic. His deep, melodious voice resonates when he starts to sing. His strong suit is singing Elvis songs, and if you close your eyes, you could claim the voice out sings Elvis tunes better than the King himself. Duke jokes and banters with the audience, bordering on silly at times, but his music is for real and worth the ticket.

Duke comes from a singing family and has performed with many major talents in the fields of country, pop, and gospel. He had a long association with the musical productions at Precious Moments Chapel. You can read more about Duke or buy CDs at

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Tiny Bit of Sunshine with Melting

After postponing some blood labs for a couple of weeks of snow and ice, we made it to Springfield today. Freezing fog was forecast, but the morning was clear when we started out. The fog had visited and vanished, leaving and the trees, fences, and high lines all flocked in a brilliant white coat. About halfway to our destination, we ran into a serious fog, as dark and smoky as dragon’s breath. We pushed on. At the city’s edge, the sun came out and temps rose to 44 degrees, melting snow and sludge away. DH and I were like these turtles under a warm lamp at Bass Pro. While we had no lamp, gurgling water, or log, we basked in warming sun that steamed in through the windshield for a couple of hours. About the time we headed home, clouds began to gather reminding us of the new front coming for tomorrow.

After labs, we hit Breadsmith, Bass Pro, and looked up the Walnut Street Historic District. We have never driven down this area with any leisure time, and the warm sun made the ride delightful. We meandered around viewing the Victorian homes, some now bed and breakfast places, spas, law offices, and even a restaurant or two. Then it was on to Zio’s for Chicken Piccata followed by a stroll through Barnes and Noble where I looked for new writing markets. There were a jillion magazines it seemed, but few offered much for me. I did notice some new literary magazines and a couple of new poetry ones.

Today I learned about the squabble between Amazon and MacMillan publishers over how to handle sales of their e-books. I enjoy using Amazon and love the story that says the company started in a man’s garage. I like to see the little guy win. While I am no fan of e-books (yet anyway), I don’t like to see the now big guy bully the market of another big guy-as in MacMillan. The people who lose out are the writers and readers in this squabble over who controls the price and the windowing of books. I already think too few people control what the masses read now anyway. I like independent books stores (only a few left in this country!), and I like books with pages that I can hold in my hand (read here close to my heart!). For a better explanation on the issue between publisher and seller go to:

This evening I feel like yesterday’s groundhog. I may have seen my shadow this afternoon, but facing more winter that is coming will be a mite easier with this tiny fix of sunshine today!