Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Please Mr. Postman

We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.  ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

My mother and I were into genealogy.  We spent many hours in county offices lifting huge dusty books full of birth, marriage, and death certificates, wills and real estate information and even more hours walking old forgotten cemeteries.

This Saturday one of the chores that took us away from the opening day of fishing was #2 daughter and I sanding down a dresser we bought at the thrift store.  Hidden behind the one drawer was a letter.  

The letter is dated April 27, 1982.   Twenty cents was the cost of a stamp back then that carried this letter from a daughter to her mother.   It was full of information on the daughter, her husband and their two children….asking about siblings that had recently moved away from home…discussing the weather…and oddly enough the first day of trout season.

For a genealogist this has a bunch of clues...where the daughter was living, where the parents were living, the names of the children so you knew their sex and clues to their ages, siblings names – one of which was going into the Army.

Most of our present day correspondence is done on line via email, social media sites or cell phone text messages.  There will be no letters to make the ancestors that the future genealogists is searching for more personable or to maybe see a side of a relative you didn’t know was there.  Instead of a love letter one’s great grandfather wrote to his future bride, they might find a place on line with ” I heart U”.  Somehow it doesn’t have the same ambiance.   

 Amazingly enough this mother and daughter lived less than three hours apart.  I remember instate calls use to cost more than interstate which is what probably prompted the letter...frugality something else long lost.  

On April 27, 1982 I was getting on my first plane for my senior class trip to Florida.  I remember buying post cards and mailing them knowing I would be home before they were!   I have sent cards but the last letter I wrote was to my uncle sending him new genealogical information and asking him more questions.  I wrote that letter over a year ago.  

There are days when I believe that as much as we have gained with modern technology we have left something so much bigger and more substantial behind.

When was the last time you wrote a letter?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Watch out Fish

The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.  ~John Buchan

Saturday was thfirst day of trout season.  Because of the lack of winter weather,  there had been no ice fishing so the menfolk were raring to go.  Out of staters arrive the night before and camp beside the river so they can stake their claim as soon as the sun rises, even though you can’t cast until 8 AM.  We are lucky to own land on the river so we don’t have to fight for prime fishing real estate.

The sons went to a lake fishing but the man, #2 daughter and I went to the river.  We had frost

and it was still only 33 degrees when we left but the sun was shining and expectations were high.

We go down to the river’s edge and begin to fish. 

I am an impatient fishing person.  If I don’t catch something within an hour I start to wander.  I found myself walking.  Most of the shoreline is rocky but there is a small sandy beach off to the left. 

Growing in the sand is horsetail

 and the dreaded Japanese knotweed. 

I found a blog with recipes for this.  If the zombie apocalypse ever happens and we need food at least I know where to find some.  For right now it an obnoxious weed over taking the native plants.  I do see some water iris 

and hopefully the cardinal flower that use to bloom down here will still show it’s self in the coming months.  Here is another weed, 

the dandelion growing out of the stone way.  Definite sign of tenacity!

I find evidence that others had been near the shore for one reason or another, leaving tracks to mark their presence…

Time passes, the son’s appear with two trout and my nephew gave us one.  We call it a morning as we have work that needs doing. 

After shopping and working in the fields trying to reclaim old pasture #2 son cooked the trout for dinner.  We returned to the river that evening to test our wits against the fish  and come back empty handed again.

Sunday dawns, the man and I sneak out of the house to fish alone, thinking maybe the kids are giving us bad luck.  After two hours of casting and reeling we leave skunked again!  

Back to the fields we go returning to the house for dinner.  My brother stops by with two more trout for the freezer.  It must be us!  After dinner they all leave to go fishing but I had enough humiliation and stayed at home to visit with a friend. 

There he stands, draped in more equipment than a telephone lineman, trying to outwit an organism with a brain no bigger than a breadcrumb, and getting licked in the process.  ~Paul O'Neil, 1965

Regardless of the humiliation, it was a great weekend.   Sitting by the river with eagles, ducks and geese flying over and turkeys calling in the woods, the warmth of the sun to keep you warm a slight breeze to keep the bugs at bay and spending time with family, what more can someone ask for.

Monday, April 02, 2012

The Barn

My paternal grandfather born on May 26,1899.  My paternal grandmother was born October 30,1900.  My grandparents married on August 26, 1923.  I never met my grandfather as he had died before my birth.  I am told he was a happy man and a practical man.  My grandmother wrote notes on her wedding certificate and from the gist of those notes he wasn’t the romantic type.  

In one picture I have of my grandmother she was 18/19 and while thin as ever she looked happy.  It is the only picture of her I can say that about.  From what I have heard/read she was a spitfire in her youth and not afraid of anything.  At one point she was the town butcher while my grandfather worked on the railroad.  In a picture of her when she was about 27 she already looks old.   She had several miscarriages before my father’s birth in ’26.  He just barely made it having been born weighing only 2 ½ pounds.  They stuck him in a shoe box and put him behind the wood stove like a make shift incubator.  Whatever they did worked because he grew to be hale and hearty!

My grandparents bought and combined several pieces of property on April 2, 1930 and started working on their house.  On July 6, 1931 at 9:30 AM, my grandfather paid $15.00 to buy the Ridgeway School House which was located on a piece of the property he had bought, a building he graduated from in April of 1915.  

This building eventually was turned in to the haymow for our barn and the coal shed is now used as my chicken coop.  I remember as a kid taking pieces of plaster and using it as chalk to write on the blackboards in the schoolhouse.  

Some scribbles can still be seen today.

The cloakroom (door on the left) was our feed room and the schoolroom itself was part of our hay mow.  Most of the windows were boarded up when additions were added to the right and left side to hold the  dairy herd. Whereas the builders of the school used mortise and tenon  construction

my family was all for nails, nails and more nails....

My grandmother was 64 when I was born.   I remember sitting on her porch swing snapping green beans, cutting limb wood for the kitchen stove, bringing in buckets of coal, taking the chamber pot out to dump in the outhouse if I had slept over and been unable to hold it till morning, and I remember walking down the hill with her to the ice cream store when all the work was done.

When her health became an issue, she wanted us to move in with her but her house had no insulation, a coal stove in the livingroom and a combo stove (coal or wood on oneside and propane on the other for heat and cooking, it only had one ceiling light in each room with the outlets in the light fixture .  The water came into the kitchen sink but there was no septic so it had to be carried outside in the dishpan or flood the kitchen floor….which also meant there was only an outhouse.  My mother having three kids and all the aforementioned missing amenities in her own house couldn’t see the sense of it so my gram moved in with us.  I remember her as being so stubborn.  She would try to do her own laundry and hang it out on the line.  We would come home to find her lying on the ground in whatever weather there was unable to get up and unsure how long she had been lying there. She wanted her independence and we wanted her safe.  The same thing some families are facing today.

Our small dairy herd was milked twice a day.  The milk was transported and sold.  My father worked nights as a guard in a state mental institution.  My mother helped on the farm and canned up most of what we ate from huge gardens they planted.  Potatoes were planted and sold to boarding houses, corn sold to who ever came to the house to buy some, hay baled from numerous fields to feed the stock over the winter.  My father was the type of guy who could walk into a bar and sit there for hours with the same drink in front of him because he was too busy telling a story to drink it.  Real whoopers were affectionately referred to as “Kuhn stories”. 

I remember my dad going and getting us birch branches to chew on when we were hot while baling hay.  I remember digging through the groundhog holes found while baling to find pieces of flint or if you were lucky an arrow head.  I remember throwing all that hay into the mow.  My grandfather had built a ladder right in the middle of that school house and we use to climb it to stack the bales higher.  I remember jumping from it into a pile of hay.  On the beam holding it up was a rope swing that when the hay got low we were able to swing on.  Life was indeed good then.

The ladder is now laying  out behind the barn.  Look how deep they drilled those rungs into the sides.  

My father died unexpectedly on March 7, 1974.  He had gone to check his trap line with my great uncle.  The weather had been warm so the ice was only three inches thick.  They were walking out to an island on the lake when they both fell through.  My job that week was to water the calves.  As he had not returned I decided to go up to the barn alone and do my chores.  I was trying to carry a five gallon bucket of water past a cow's head to get to a calf when the cow knocked the bucket of water from my hand and spilled it all threw the manger.  I ran home to tell my mom who knew that meant my father had never returned to the barn to let the cows out for water, something he would never do.  She called my older half brother to go look for him.  They found the vehicle and the police were called and a search ensued.  They were found  by a dive team and pronounced dead on March 8, 1974.

My mother, who always said she had loved my grandfather, respected my grandmother but I can’t say they had a very amicable relationship.  My mother was trying to raise three kids on my father’s social security, take care of the barn chores and the garden along with trying to keep an eye on my grandmother. They were two women from different backgrounds living together and mourning the loss of my dad but unable to really communicate with each other. 

My grandmother died in her bed in June of 1977.  My mother was shocked when she found out she had inherited the farm and the old house.  She thought of fixing up the house and moving us in but the money was never there.  She saved enough to  put a new roof on, then saved for the new bilko doors to the basement ,then saved to do some work on the electric but the house just kept aging and we grew up and moved away.

I moved back home in 1993 and started a completely different relationship with my mother than I had before.  She became more than just my mom bossing me around (how I use to see it) and became my mentor.  She showed me how to garden and how to can. 

The gardening and canning inevitably led to having animals.  Time had taken a toll on the barn and the left section had fallen down and taken out a chicken coop and then most of the old school house fell.  We started digging through the fallen part and burning it.  We built a small barn on the slab from the chicken coop and put Jingles, #2’s horse up there.  Then came the pigs, several steer, turkeys, sheep, chickens and ducks, with mom telling me how to train the pigs not to stand in their trough, what to feed, how to load them to go to the butcher and millions of other helpful tidbits…all the while sneaking them treats!

After a trip together to Puerto Rico, she was diagnosed with kidney cancer.  Three years later she lost the battle and I inherited the old house and the barn.

Until last year the right side of the school house where the feed room was and the right wing of the barn still stood.  It was unused but a reminder of those that came before us and the work they had put into the farm.  Then last year on a perfectly dry and wind free day it toppled under the weight of a grapevine planted by passing bird. 

Earlier this year we started to cut pieces off the fallen barn to burn.  This weekend while it was raining we set a pile of the barn on fire.  There will be several more piles before she is all gone. 

Random pics of the place...

FK, my great uncles initials.  A real character who once came home and told his wife he had sold the house and they had to be out the next day.  Way ahead of his time he subdivided all his properties and they still exist under that subdivision plan today.  

Back in the day my father use to patch every hole in the siding so that bee's, wasp and mice couldn't get in and build nests.  That practice wasn't kept up.  Happily the weather is cool and we didn't find this active.

It's proving to be a time capsule in it's self just with the nails used.

Hopefully in the future we can re-build on the site as I wish to expand and have a dairy cow.  And hopefully years from now my children or grandchildren  will return home and continue where the man and I leave off.  And that they have as much love and as many memories attached to this piece of land as I do.  

I hope Gerald O'Hara  was right when he told  Scarlet  " It will come to you, this love of the land.  There's no gettin' away from it if you're Irish"  

And mixed in with their German heritage is Irish , so here's hopin'.