Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Visiting South Mound, Kansas

In one of our road trips to deal with issues this winter, we were less than ten miles from the small berg of South Mound, Kansas. The post office here was opened in 1870 and the Katy railroad made a small station here. The population was under a hundred and three stores at most, but it was a lively, thriving place though small. I remember going here for summer religion classes long, long ago.

When I learned I had family here once, some still in the cemetery, I had new appreciation for the hamlet. I am not sure how the years all fell, but my dad’s grandmother moved her family here sometime in the early 1900s. His paternal grandmother and her children moved here sometime after her 1929 divorce from an abusive husband. Oh, how hard a divorce must have been in those days. I am not sure when and how their children married, but my dad’s parents married and lived in South Mound too for a few years. So I after not seeing the place for over 40 years, I wanted to drive by. I knew it would be an almost ghost town.

The grain elevator was once a cornerstone in the community, gathering corn and wheat from local farmers. Now it stands, still tall enough to be seen across the prairie from miles away. But up close it is a sad affair. Old stores are gone or crumbling. The church is gone expect for the concrete steps that still mark where the foundation once stood. Most houses are in disrepair, groaning in the wind at memoires of what they used to be. However, one resident has painted his house with pure hope for better days ahead. It made me smile just to see it.

So many Midwestern towns are deteriorating, fading away one board and one shingle at a time.  It is sad. Progress has brought much, but still it is a shame to lose the lifestyles that involved not only hearty individualism, but of togetherness too. People needed each other then and had to get along to make a life. They did not have cell phones to call for help, but they did not get a voicemail when they called out for help either!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Some Rough Days

                                           Note Valentine tea cozy made by my friend!
The New Year started perfectly for me. I had tended friends and family, had house in order for winter, and was ready for writing. I wrote 9000 words furiously and had a strong beginning on a huge project, but life intervened. The next weeks were measured by dying, death, and divorce (just another type of death). Devastating days with heartbreak and exhaustion stopped all writing and reading. The only thing I managed to achieve other than support for others was a little family research here and there. Even that activity seemed circular and left me frustrated or disillusioned in what I learned.

While the distress is far from over, some events settled enough for a day away. The sun actually appeared and snow began to melt. Although it was an effort to move the Ruby Slipper another mile, I wanted to attend the Ozark Writer’s League meeting in Branson. So DH and I shoved ourselves out before dawn for one more day on the road. This time to Branson. My interest was in a critique group that was to occur in the afternoon. I was so brain dead (and so darned cold in the auditorium) that the speakers were lost to me. We ate a wonderful lunch with the most fabulous iced tea and returned for the afternoon meetings. The critique met but was shortened. However, it was a wonderful experience for me.

We left shortly after the critique group and headed home. The sun was still high and bright in the sky so we stopped in Ozark to take in a flea market. There is one special flea market there that I just love, better than most because it feels like a museum, a warm blanket of memories nicely displayed. I wandered among the housewares of a far earlier time and marveled at the stories they could tell. I saw mementoes from my childhood that conjured up memories of easier years.  A hand wrapped around a Howdy Doody glass transported me again to the year I was five!


I found a few tokens to tote home. One was a wicker bowl cover for picnics or outside eating. What fun since it reminded me to hope for the deck lunches that surely can’t be too far away now.  I found a cowboy handbag that was so clean and fresh yet so cheap…just for fun. Then I might have made a mistake by buying four plates. They are pretty but nothing like me at all! The colors are pretty but I have nothing coral here. How will I work these in to all my blue and whites? What shades go with these colors?  What was I thinking?

I can ponder colors and spring coming soon, but still February has to be wrapped up...only half way through the month with more winter and fate laughing at me from the wings!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Still Soup Season!

“Finally, from so little sleeping and so much reading, his brain dried up and he went completely out of his mind”   Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

This was on my calendar this morning, and I wondered if it were a warning from the physic world to watch myself! The weather keeps me in, but it does not cease the severe worry I have for both family and friends in dire situations. Some are facing death. My heart aches for them, and while we have been with them, we don’t want weather to keeps us from supporting them more.

Meanwhile, the map shows more ugly stuff coming! On Monday DH and I filled the gas tank, stopped at the pharmacy, got extra milk at Braum’s, and some gluten free Bisquick at the store. Then we took a Sonic and drove out by the river before going home to wait on the storms. The day was cold but oh, the sun was so bright! The ducks and geese were huddled near the bank of the river…life for the fowl and the river was going on as usual.

Yesterday while our families were in 9 inches of snow, we only got about three. Still streets were nasty and we stayed in for sure. Well, it was still very much soup season! So for lunch, the soup was a new one, Panera Kale. I made some alterations because I used what I had. Smoked Polish sausage became browned bulk sausage; red potatoes with skins became peeled Russets; cannellini beans became Anasazi beans, and I added extra chicken broth. It was so good!

Supper was a trusted and easy broccoli cheese soup. Today will be leftovers of both!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

I Am A What? (PartII)

So I developed abhorrence to Nazi soldiers. Just seeing those black boots even in a novel or movie sets my heart racing. I could not leave the literature about WWII alone. Eli Wiesel’s Night came on the reading list for my classes. I bumped into Simon Wiesenthal’s work on forgiveness called The Sunflower (I highly recommend this book.) and was disturbed by good meeting evil again on the page. I lost respect for a Germany that could spawn Nazis, for people that turned their eyes from what they saw, their noses away from what they could smell. Boy, was I glad I was not a German carrying all that guilt or maybe trying to deny the guilt.

I celebrated my Irish heritage on St. Patrick’s Day. I knew the names Lauder, Sparlin, McKinney, McCarty carried the lilt of the Emerald Isle. After all you can’t hear the cadence of an Irish tongue and not feel like tapping your toe a wee bit. But when I learned that in America there once were signs in windows that “Irish Need Not Apply”, I thought here was hatred and men with power again ruling others. (Although in time, the Irish were quite adept at wearing a policeman’s uniform!)

I looked at my Native American heritage and once again saw hatred and greed and power at work. (A pastor now wearing a uniform went seeking Indians to slaughter???) Family myth says my people were woodlands Cherokee infused with (French?) fur trapper’s blood. Were they on the Trail of Tears? But nary a signature card was signed that we have found yet. A paid researcher said my Oklahoma people certainly had worked hard to hide themselves among Whites in Indian Territory and newly formed Oklahoma, which was not uncommon then. It was dangerous to be an Indian, not something for pride. They hid in plain sight to save their lives…and they married Irishmen!

I thought I knew who and what I was, although there was little discussion among my parents. They were busy making and living a life, not a past. Now I am fascinated by family history. I want to know my people, where I can from for sure. I began to dig wishing my Dad were still alive for some help. My mother is still alive and warned me against what else I might find after I found one of her ancestors served time in a Federal pen for theft in Indian Territory, 1899.

Then I began to find the Germans: Westhoffs, Wagners, Schlappner, Dischkamp, etc.   I followed them, both sides of Dad’s ancestors right back to Hessen, Germany and Westphalia, Germany. Oh…my….gosh…!! How in the world did this happen? I couldn’t be German, could I? 

We think we know who we are, and underneath our skins is history unknown. How does this explain my fear of Germans and of uniforms? Do I have a past life myself? Did a relative experience the Nazi era brutality or some other power machine, passing the fear feeling along? What was life like in Germany in 1750 that caused them to leave for the wilderness of America? I have few answers, but at least the love of sauerkraut, sharp dill pickles, and salami that my Dad and I shared might make a little more sense now. (But I draw the line at Grandpa’s pickled pigs’ feet!)

As the snow flies and the air remains frigid, I will spent the winter looking for family tidbits that will warm me. I will search the few pictures I find and seek something familiar that I have seen in my parents’ faces or even in the mirror. How I wish I could visit with these people I have never met. Their stories would unfold like a great novel I am sure. And if I am shocked to be more German than expected, they might just be as horrified to be related to a Jayhawker from Kansas and Show Me Mule from Missouri!
I have read Picoult's The Storyteller...a wonderful story that I read straight through almost never shutting the book until finished.
Crossing the Border of Time: A true story of war, exile, and love reclaimed...Leslie Maitland
On Hitler's Mountain: Overcoming the Legacy of a Nazi Childhood...Irmgard Hunt                                 
The Soldier's Wife...LeRoy
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, martyr, prophet, Spy...Metaxas
The Nazi Officer's Wife...Edith Hahn
My Mother's Secret...J. Witterach
Skeletons of the Feast...Chris Bohjalan
Three Quarters of the Orange...Joanne Harris
Let Me Go...Helga Schneider



Monday, February 3, 2014

I Am a What? (Part 1)

Women are supposed to fall for guys in uniform, but not me. I am not sure when the fear, fascination, or phobia began, but a uniform brings to mind black-booted men with scowling faces.  The Kansas Highway Patrol came to visit my school when I was in second grade. I was afraid I would see the mean and sour looking face of Broderick Crawford when they showed up, but two tall and thin uniformed men spoke to us, thumbs in their gun belts…ah, and they did not smile much though.

By fifth grade I was under my desk doing practice drills for bombs that might be dropped by invading Russians. I was so paranoid by summer that any plane overhead that I could hear sent me running to the basement to put my head under the table. By ninth grade, I was reading Anne Frank, shaking with dread that the Annex would be found. When the uniformed men did storm the stairs, I was shaking so hard from reading with panic I could hardly read the page!

When I was newly married and substituting in an English classroom at Hazelwood, Missouri, the lesson plans called for me to join with another teacher to show the classes two days of a film called Night and Fog. I think it was a French film with English subtitles if I remember right. This was real footage taken at the liberation of German concentration camps. The story of the Holocaust was still fresh in 1970 and the horror was piercing, so much so normally rowdy students never said a word. I was young, had never seen such pictures before, and was horrified by the nightmare of Nazi Germany.

It was then I began to come across book after book of Holocaust tales. I usually did not search for them; they just appeared on best seller lists or on a library shelf or maybe in a box of used books bought at a sale. DH began to read them too. I remember one book that involved a character on a train trying to escape across a border while being pursued by black-booted soldiers and German Shepherds. I would read and my heart would pound so hard my chest hurt. I would turn out the light, go to sleep and have nightmares. (DH laughed until the next week he was reading the same book in bed and said he was sweating with panic as he read!) The night we went to see Schindler’s List at the movies, I cried when the little girl in the red coat appeared. After the movie was over and the lights came up, my tears were nothing to the sobbing of an elderly Jewish man behind us.

When I taught Writing Lab, I used a powerful essay written by a young Jewish girl who had visited a concentration camp on a trip to Germany. She wrote in a powerful way about being lighthearted with her school group until she saw the room with all the shoes in it from people once confined there. Each time I read the essay aloud, I was there with her, took my students there with me, shed tears with each reading.

I always high-stepped (was that goose-stepped?) to the power and authority in my life. A siren coming from behind or flashing lights in my car mirrors made my pulse race. A couple of years ago heading to Kentucky to see a new grandbaby, DH and I took turns driving into the night. About 10:00 pm I was driving on an Indiana highway with sparse traffic. DH saw a patrolman had a car pulled over and another driver nearly hit the standing patrolman by not getting into the proper lane. I changed lanes but in only a matter of seconds, the patrol car was flashing lights at me to pull over. He stuck his face in the car as far as his hat would let him demanding if I tried to hit him. I said no I had changed lanes. DH offered that he saw the white car and we were in a green car. The patrolman never apologized, ran back to his car, and raced down the road. He was angry and scared and frustrated himself as he nearly lost his life doing his job, uniform and all.

Now me, I nearly had a heart attack at the uniform. I could barely speak. I could not drive further and needed a ditch to be sick in. DH took the wheel and said he could not understand why I was so afraid of uniforms. I shook and felt sick for at least twenty miles before a giant weakness set in for the night.

Part II tomorrow.