2016 Story Collection
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by Fred Wickert
When I was in the first grade, my route to and from school took me past a row of fraternity houses associated with Colgate University. Every winter the fraternities had a competition to see which one could construct the best snow sculpture. There was always some sort of valuable prize or trophy given for the winner.
At that time there was a popular comic strip character called Ferdinand the Bull. Ferdinand was a disgrace to the reputation of bulls because he was a lover, not a fighter. Also at that time my father had some stationery he used at the school with the heading, “Fred W. Wickert, BS Instructor.” The BS stood for Bachelor of Science. He had obtained his Masters Degree but did not want to waste the paper so he continued to use it. There was a joke going around declaring that the BS stood for "Bull S**t Instructor."
As his son, the bull part of it became attached to me also, and the Ferdinand was put with it so that I was known by some, including the members of one of those fraternity houses, as Ferdinand the Bull. They told me they were going to construct a snow sculpture of Ferdinand in my honor. They did indeed construct one of a bull, put a sign saying "Ferdinand" in front of it, and won the competition. I was very proud of that. A prize-winning sculpture in my honor. WOW!
On the advice of the doctor, my Dad gave up his teaching job and the family moved to a farm just outside of Syracuse. My parents already owned the farm and my maternal grandparents lived there. Here was a part of my life that was going to play a big role in shaping me.
In this new life, I began to learn about animals and life on a farm. At the age of eight I learned to drive a pair of mules and to milk cows and goats. These were also the years of WW II and ration books, blackouts, and practicing for air raids. These were years when Dad worked all night in a war factory and farmed in the daytime. These were the years I went to a one-room country school for two years before going to a city school in Syracuse. These were years when I began to learn things like how to use tools, how to build things, and how to take care of animals.
These were also the years that perhaps, just perhaps, the glimmer of learning to write began. As a farm boy with chores to do at home, I was deprived very much of the opportunity to play with the other children my age. Wanting to play, I did rather than come home as told. Each day I came home late, causing my parents a great deal of worry; of course, I made up a story as to why I was so late getting home. They were all fiction, but not very good ones for my parents always saw right through them. They punished me first for not coming home and then again for telling the lie.
Those were also the years my love of figure skating began. There was a country club called Drumlins nearby. We drew hay from their land adjacent to their golf course. They had an outdoor skating rink in the winter and I spent a lot of time watching figure skaters practice there. I also learned a lot about overcoming difficulty during those years. I came down with polio and both of my legs were paralyzed from the waist down. I learned a lot about perseverance. I also learned about broken noses, broken ribs, stepping on rusty nails, and so on.
During the time I was in high school I worked on farms, worked for the state conservation department, and as kitchen help and later a camp counselor at the state Future Farmers camp. In my senior year in high school, our house burned from an explosion in the kerosene space heater. Dad built a new house and I helped with that for the summer after finishing high school, in addition to driving a farm pick-up milk route from 4:00 to 10:00 A.M.
I was always very interested in girls, played basketball and ran on the track and cross country teams. I suppose one could say I was boisterous, and I was frequently in trouble at school. That was due mostly to my big mouth. I just couldn’t keep it shut.
Even though I still can't keep my mouth shut, I write a lot these days to make up for it.
November In Chicago
by Nancy Julirn Kopp
The crisp, sunny days of October somehow slid into damp, gray ones during November in the Chicago area where I grew up. The sun played hide-and-seek in the late autumn and winter months, mostly hiding. Wind swept across Lake Michigan, bringing a chill that seeped through warm, woolen jackets and into the bones. Fallen leaves swirled around our feet with each new gust and naked branches dipped and swayed like ballerinas. We walked faster on our way to and from school. Once home, Mother often commented that we had roses in our cheeks, nice way to describe chapped skin. We paid little mind to our rosy cheeks once inside our warm apartment.
Each of the five rooms had a large radiator with an on-off knob on the side, and a deep, narrow pan for water that hooked over the back to increase humidity. We had steam heat, fired by a huge coal furnace in a garden level basement. The coal man inserted a chute from his truck into a window. He sent the coal rumbling down the chute while several kids gathered around. The apartment janitor stood at the delivery end of the chute in the basement. Once this scary looking, coal-blackened man finished, the kids ran to the basement door to witness the next step in bringing heat to all our apartments. The janitor, grabbed a big shovel and fed the furnace from that huge heap. He let us watch for a few minutes, then snarled at us. “Get out of here now. No place for you kids.” His fierce look sent us scattering. During a coal strike, we wore coats and hats inside, waiting for the hissing sounds of heat coming through the radiators.
We celebrated Armistice Day every November 11th, commemorating the armistice signed to end WWI at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918. Even after WWII, Armistice Day remained as November 11th. Now, we call it Veterans Day and it’s celebrated the second Monday of November. There are still parades and meals to mark the day but I like the original date best.
At school, we studied the Pilgrims first Thanksgiving—history and art class rolled into one. Some classes had replica feasts.
My Thanksgiving menu now remains the same as when my mother or aunts prepared the dinner—turkey roasted to a golden brown and stuffed with a moist dressing redolent with sage. Aunt Adeline made French dressing, a spicy sausage added to it. We savored mashed potatoes and rich gravy, sweet potato casserole, homemade yeast rolls, cranberry sauce, a salad called Seafoam made with lime jello, cream cheese, mashed pears and whipped cream. Our vegetables were usually green beans. Pumpkin pie with real whipped cream finished the feast.
We alternated the dinner with my dad’s two sisters who lived near us. My five cousins, three brothers and I had a wonderful time together, despite the wide range of ages. After dinner, we were shooed outside to play, even when it was very cold. I suspect the adults sat around and drank more coffee, nibbled on the leftovers and did all they could to put off the dish washing time.
No dishwashers, so all the women cleared the table, washed and dried the dishes with towels made from flour sacks. When my female cousins and I got older, we were drafted to help. Chattering women and clattering dishes, that’s what was heard in the kitchen after dinner. The men plunked themselves in comfy chairs and listened to the radio and often napped.
Once married, I thought about asking my extended family to our house for Thanksgiving. I hesitated for fear of upsetting my mother who had cooked countless Thanksgiving turkeys. My aunts had passed away, so Mom was always the hostess. One year, I worked up the courage to suggest it, and Mom threw her hands skyward and said, “Finally! I’ve been waiting for someone to invite me for Thanksgiving for years.”
Now, my children sometimes make the trip to Kansas for Thanksgiving. We use a few shortcuts and we load the dishwasher instead of drying dishes with flour sack towels, but the grandchildren revel in being with cousins just as I did all those years ago. The faces around the table may be different, but the same warmth of a family gathering to give thanks and spend time together is there. May it ever be so.
My French-Canadian Christmases
by Joseph Laframboise
I am a first generation American whose parents emigrated from Canada to the United States a few years before I was born. Even though the language we spoke in our household when I was a youngster was English, we always celebrated a French-Canadian Christmas. My mom had been raised in a household consisting of a bachelor uncle, his sister, and his sister’s husband. My dad, however, was raised in a traditional household: mother, father, brothers and sisters. However, both households had Canadian French as their primary language, even though they lived in a part of Canada where English was the majority language. Canada is officially a bilingual (English and French speaking) country. Both of my parents were fluently bilingual. When they spoke English it sounded as if that was their native tongue. But when they spoke Canadian French, it also sounded as if it that was their native tongue.
From the time I went to grade school until I graduated from high school, I looked forward to our special celebration at Christmas. We would get up and my sister and I would have a short period of time opening our presents. Sometimes I would pose for photos to record these moments for posterity. As a boy I really enjoyed watching road races. One of our neighbors worked on the auto line. He allowed us to buy an electric road race set through his union membership. It was thrilling and a lot of fun to use my two car road race Christmas present. One year I received a delayed gift; namely the promise of a National Hockey League game. Less than a month later my dad took me to my first NHL game. I was able to see my boyhood heroes. In particular, I saw the now deceased “Mister Hockey”, Gordie Howe. The team made the playoffs that season and luckily for me they won the game that I attended. After photos, the four of us would eat a hearty breakfast, consisting of cereal, bacon and eggs, toast, and juice, although my father and mother drank coffee. After brushing our teeth and getting dressed we would go to our local church. After church services, we would spend the rest of the day visiting with our many relatives.
One year we almost missed our French Canadian Christmas. My sister contracted pneumonia. I remember my mom asking me to switch bedrooms with my sister as this would make it easier for her to nurse my sister. I also remember the “fever smell” in the room. It is something that I would rather forget. However, my sister did recover in time for a French Canadian Christmas.
Sometimes Christmas landed on a Saturday or Monday. Since we always went to Mass on Sunday, this would mean attending a second Mass again on Christmas Day. After attending Mass, we would cross the border and begin our French Canadian Christmas. In no particular order we would visit my mother’s father, my father’s parents, the two uncles and aunt who raised my mother, and my mother’s sister and her family. In addition, my unmarried aunt lived with my father’s parents.
After my paternal grandfather died, my aunt took care of my paternal grandmother. Depending on where they were living at the time, these stops were sometimes in the same city. There was no problem if they lived in different cities because these were nearby. I found there was always a French Canadian joie de vivre (joy of life) at each stop. The adults would sip a glass of wine, and everyone indulged in food, especially treats. The conversation would invariably involve the latest events involving our relatives, as well as local news and national politics. Since there was no internet at the time, mom and dad found it difficult to keep current on Canadian affairs. I am sure my parents appreciated the news, but I was content to watch television or socialize with others who were in the same room.
Actually, while I attended grade school I had no interest in American politics. I was also not interested in international affairs and consequently did not pay close attention to the adult conversations. However, after I graduated from high school I did take an interest in American and Canadian politics.
As a point of interest, Canadians are much more attuned to world affairs and in particular to American affairs. For example, the death of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, received as much press coverage in Canada as it did here. Typically, we Americans know much less about Canada and Canadians than Canadian do about the United States.
A couple of months after high school graduation, my family and I moved and the French Canadian Christmas as we knew it came to an end. As a point of interest over the years I have not only studied French but also French Canadian culture. We always hear of Quebec and Quebeckers. But every province and territory in Canada has French Canadians residing in it. Parts of New England, especially Maine, have a sizable population of Americans of French Canadian descent. I am sure that if any of those Americans read about my memories as a youngster, they would probably smile. They would inevitably, recall those same magical Christmas traditions that I experienced.
Today I enjoy our American Christmas celebrations, but those memories of the way we celebrated Christ’s birth as French Canadian Americans will always be with me.
A Picture Perfect Little Girl
By Marylene Rhyne
One of my favorite memories is when I was six years old. The day before we were supposed to have our pictures made, Dad rolled my hair on paper shreds from a brown paper grocery bag. I slept that night with my hair rolled up in paper. Next morning, Mom fixed my hair so pretty I felt like a princess. Before I left home Mom told me not to run and play before I got my picture taken. But by the time I got to school I forgot all about that and I ran and played with my friends. I had my picture taken and fortunately, Mom didn’t ask me if I played before I had my picture taken.
Well, the photos arrived and when Mom took them out of the large envelope, her mouth dropped open. What she saw was her little girl with a kinky head of hair. I still laugh about that day. I wish I had listened to Mom because every time I look at that photo I can’t help but notice what a mess my hair was.
I was always a bashful child, and kept my head down. I was afraid what was ahead of me, so I always hid either behind my parents or under my aunt’s dress. I loved visiting my aunts, when once a year all the women and girls got together and to do canning all summer. We even had a creek where we went swimming during the summer. Once I got quite sick and had to go to a doctor. I was fascinated by this since I had never been to a doctor before.
At school the kids made fun of me because I had skinny legs and their comments hurt me. I would cry about this, and my Dad made me feel better. I recall at the house where my aunt lived there was a well near her back porch from which we could draw water. I used to be afraid that the bucket would pull me into the well and it would be bye bye world for me. I would overhear comments my Aunt Geraldine would make to Mom about my growing up fast. I was no longer a bashful young girl but a young lady. I never imagined myself as a young lady because I was a tomboy at heart. I loved playing cowboys and Indians or climbing trees. I was quite energetic and no one could keep up with me. Living back in those days was great. We went and played wherever we wanted. I loved swinging on the vines of the trees. We would crawl up the trees, break off the branches, and swing over a ravine.
Mom tried hard to make me a young lady, but it was hard. When it came time to have my picture taken, I was never ready because I was always running around, playing with my siblings. However, I did love school and learning new things. I always loved to read. I enjoyed playing at school recess, no matter what game we were playing. I recall getting in trouble in the first grade when I was only six. I kicked the teacher because of something she said. She ended up spanking me, and then called my father to tell him what I did.
I was daddy’s little girl, of course, and when he met with the teacher he ordered her not to spank me again. However, I learned my lesson from that incident, and I respected the teacher and took a greater interest in school. It was a place where I could learn and imagine I could be anyone and go places.
As I look back I can see the goodness, love and a life filled with Jesus that my Dad and Mom gave me. I turned out to become the young lady which my Mom wanted, and I still hold her dear to my heart.
Pictures are not always perfect but if you look into the eyes of that person in the picture, you will see her heart and understand her soul. As I look at my picture as a little girl, I saw the young lady I was about to become one day.
Always Hit Your Best Ball
by Gregory E. Larson
I remember those weekends I spent with my dad at the Garden City Public Golf Course in Garden City, Kansas. It was a small 9-hole course with un-watered buffalo grass fairways and small sandy greens. I always felt my dad and I could do anything together, and these treks down the fairways with him were memorable. Since at that time I was a gangly teenager who lacked self-confidence, I found Dad to be an inspiration. As we walked side-by-side, I began to believe we could do anything together.
Dad was an even-par golfer, having played college golf in Emporia. I stood in awe when he hit the ball down the fairway, causing it to sail out of sight. He spent considerable time showing me how to hold the club and to focus on my goal of hitting the ball where I wanted it to go. When I think about it, he not only showed me how to become a better golfer but the importance of having concentration and persistence in any challenges I faced in life.
Each weekend I began feeling a slight improvement in playing golf. I had been using a beginner’s set of Spalding clubs that Mom and Dad had given me for Christmas. These consisted of a signature Johnny Palmer set of four irons, three woods, and a putter. I suppose I should have been impressed with these clubs, but I didn’t know who Johnny Palmer was, but I figured with a last name like Palmer, they had to be pretty good clubs.
One Saturday my dad announced that, in his opinion, I was ready to try out another course. We loaded our clubs into the car and drove to a small course somewhere in Southwestern Kansas. By the time we arrived, my confidence level had dropped to a new low. I feared that in the new surroundings I would forget all that Dad had taught me.
We played a few holes into the round, and as we walked up to the next tee box, my dad informed me that this hole had a water hazard. Hazard? That’s not something I wanted to hear. I looked at the huge irrigation ditch which crossed the fairway, and observed water flowing to the alfalfa fields beyond. In those days, most water hazards in Southwestern Kansas were just big mud holes, but this had actual water in it. I knew Dad wasn’t going to hit the ball for me, so I searched in my bag until I found a worn-out, beat-up practice ball and set it on the tee. The muscles in my legs and arms were trembling. I just knew I was going to hit the ball in the water.
Dad’s spoke up at once, “Put your best ball on the tee,” he commanded.
I was shocked. Surely he didn’t want me to waste a good ball. I turned and gave him a quizzical look. “My best ball?” I asked.
He looked me square in the eye and said, “If you think you’re going to hit the ball in the water, then that’s exactly what you’ll do. I want you to visualize the ball going all the way over the water. Hit it like you mean it, with a good follow-through.” He paused to let me think it over and left no doubt as to what he wanted me to do. “Make it your best shot.”
I had only two new balls left in the bag. I pulled one out and put it on the tee. My knees were weak when I swung the iron and plopped the ball right into the flowing water.
I whined, “Dad, I’ve only got one good ball left.”
“Well, go ahead and hit it. I’ve got more if you need them.”
Amazingly, my motivation improved as the adrenaline began to pulse through my body. I set the ball on the tee and gave it a good, strong swing. It was a glorious feeling as I launched the ball into the air and watched it land well beyond the water.
My golf game continued to improve after that lesson at the water hazard, and soon I was smacking the golf ball with authority over water and dried mud.
At the time, I didn’t understand that profound lesson of self-confidence that my dad had taught me. I’ve thought of that day, many times. When a big task lies ahead, I can hear my dad’s voice in the recesses of my brain: “You can choose to be afraid or to go forward with strength and confidence. The choice is yours to make.”
All I can say now is, “Thanks, Dad.”
My First Love
by Douglas McLaughlin
I came home after high school football practice, tired and aching. When I looked up, I saw her. I was stunned. She was black, and she was drop-dead gorgeous. My heart pounded, and I froze in disbelief at the sight of her. She was all I ever wanted in my life. I rushed over to her, hoping she would be mine. I never believed in love at first sight, but now I did.
I walked slowly around her, examining every inch of her body. Then I took a few steps back to take in the entire enchantment of this black beauty. I finally found the nerve to touch her, delicately at first, but then I ran my fingers over her entire body. Words cannot describe how I felt about this dream of my life. I wanted her.
With my hand still resting on my beloved I heard a sound. What is it? A voice. A man’s voice. He called out my name. It was my father talking to me. “Well, Doug, what do you think of it?”
I was speechless and looked at him with an open mouth and eyes of gratitude.
“Well, this is it,” he said. “Your car to drive when you turn sixteen. But not before.”
A few days earlier he told me he had a chance to buy a car for $40. A black as the blackest midnight, three on the floor, no radio, a loud muffler, with the passenger side window missing. It was a two door twenty-five-year old 1936 Plymouth. But I had to wait five months until I turned sixteen and got my driver’s license.
I told all my friends at school the next day about “my car.” They were impressed and wanted to see and ride in it. I told them, “You can see it anytime you want but I’ve got to get my license before I can drive it.” I spent the next week washing, waxing, cleaning, and sitting behind the wheel of my car speed shifting. Driving my car became an obsession, but I knew I couldn’t, not sixteen, no license. The obsession became a reality one week later.
All our football games were played on Friday night and this one was an away game one hour away, and we got creamed. On the bus trip back a couple of bench warmers and me heard about a party down by the river, so we asked the quarterback if we could go.
“Sure,” he replied, “but my car’s full of girls.” A moment later he laughed. “Sophomore boys have to walk.” Well, he had nothing to laugh about. He was a terrible quarterback.
We discussed how we could get to the party and came up with a plan as we walked to my house. I carefully crept into the dark house. Everyone was asleep. I got my car keys and escaped unnoticed. My car was parked in front of the house facing a small upgrade but beyond that was a long downgrade where I could pop the clutch to get her started. We pushed the car uphill about fifteen feet and then we all jumped in. I was asked, “You do know how to drive, don’t you?”
I answered as I popped the clutch, “Do tractors count?” I learned how to drive a car that night. We had a great time. I made it home around midnight, turned my car off, and coasted the last block. As I wrapped the bed sheets around me before I went to sleep, all I could think about was how well I handled the car.
I borrowed my car a couple of more times during football season. The last trip was the hardest. It was parked in the gravel driveway instead of at the front of the house. The incline was a lot steeper; it took twenty minutes because we kept slipping. After we uttered a few unmentionable four-letter words we laughed as I parked the car.
My 1936 Plymouth became a fond memory the following Monday. I arrived home after practice but the car wasn’t there. I entered my house and saw my dad sitting at the kitchen table. I asked, “Where’s the Plymouth?”
He put his cigarette in the ashtray and answered, “I saw you and your friends stealin’ the Plymouth. I sold it for 50 bucks. You’re buyin’ your own next time. You blew it.” He picked up his cigarette and walked out of the room.
I lost my first love.
The GraceTime Project
By Dan Stark
As a child, I remember my grandmother Geiger holding me close to her chest, in front of an old gas stove, in the middle of a very cold winter. She rocked me while softly singing and patting me on the back. I recall when I was five how I woke up one morning to the smell of bacon and eggs frying on the stove. A breeze flowing through the screen door wafted the scent of wild onions and clover.
On weekends when I wasn’t in school, my aunts and their families gathered at the farm just outside of town. My older cousins Emit and Cleo would go to the chicken pen to gather up two plump hens for the afternoon lunch and hand them to the ladies to take care of final preparations. Then we would chase ducks and explore the creek that ran behind the cabins.
I have been blessed with a wonderful family and some superb story tellers. They had great tales to tell about their heritage, especially the experiences and lessons they had learned along the way. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until decades later that they realized the value of their memories as youngsters when they recalled their past experiences.
When my father passed away and our family gathered together, the stories of the older people attending my father’s funeral began to resurface. My siblings were delighted and surprised because they had not experienced the treasures these older relatives and friends had given them—stories which they had residing all those years in their memory vaults.
Each of their stories related to different life experiences. Some of the older folks had forgotten certain details while others recalled only specific aspects of their past. Some people, sadly, were not able to recall their youth. But my younger relatives pressed them for more details about their past. They seemed to have a thousand questions about what, where, and why those experiences occurred.
It occurred to them that these older folks should have written their stories down—or at least have done a voice recording. Today, digital story telling has become popular and affordable way that many of us should be able to master. It is a great way to create a story about your family and make it available for the extended family and their connected world to see.
Typically, we seniors end up saying that we wished someone would have saved our stories in some way, perhaps by writing them down. Or, we wished we would have jotted down information pertaining to each photo that was taken of us, our friends, and our relatives. We all have regrets about information that was lost after our friends and relatives are gone. Yet, nobody seems to take the time to do it. That is why I invented the GraceTime Project service to solve this problem.
After ten years of assisting families in recording individual video interviews, creating memorials and doing on the spot product interviews, I was surprised to learn that thousands of folks from all walks of life come to see and learn from these recordings which are available from the GraceTime Project.
When I started my father’s memorial video project I soon realized there were very few pictures, no video or voice recordings and only short vignettes of memories about his life. It was then, that I planted the seeds of the GraceTime Project. I somehow wanted to organize, save and perhaps even publish those memories. I had given a lot of thought on how to do just that.
During my last ten yen years of semi-retirement, one of my experiments was to find out who really cares about the experiences and memories of others. Consequently, I did a series of interviews at the Good Samaritan Senior Living Center in Olathe, Kansas about seven years ago. I thought that the relatives of these individuals would appreciate having access to the past memories of these senior citizens. I assumed it would be similar to attending a funeral that displayed pictures, artifacts and other reminders of the past. I also assumed after that event was over everyone would go their separate way and this would all be forgotten. I was wrong about that.
While all interviews were of interest, I was especially fascinated by the stories told by women who reminded me of my wonderful aunts. For instance, one of the subjects for my interview was Rose Erington, who was interviewed in 2007. To date almost 8,000 people have visited that interview.
More information about The GraceTime Project may be found on these two locations:
Going to School
By Duane L. Herrmann
I began my formal education in a two-room schoolhouse in a small community. It once housed the entire elementary population, but by the time I arrived only the first four grades were there. The upper eight grades were in the original high school building just next door.
I remember my first day of school. Since I was raised on an isolated farm (meaning no neighbors near enough to walk to), and I since I was the oldest on both sides of my family, I saw only a small group of children my age at Sunday school class held at my church in town. But here at school, I saw more children my age than I’d ever seen before– all in one room, all moving around. It was chaos and I was overwhelmed!
There were not enough desks for all the children, and there was no pre-enrollment. Neither the school nor the teacher knew how many children to expect. As a desperate temporary measure the teacher instructed me to sit at a desk with an older boy. He had already been in the first grade and was comfortable there. I was scared and clueless, but I was reassured by his self-confidence as he talked to me. It was odd when later I learned he was a distant cousin of mine. He and my grandmother had the same last name.
He was the first person my age to engage me in conversation. I found the experience to be strange and to this day I am still uncomfortable with casual conversations. My mother ordered me not to respond when she talked. Any reply I might make when she talked to me was often considered backtalk, a punishable crime. When we siblings talked to each other, our mother demanded we talk louder. If we told her we weren’t talking to her, she would get angry. She insisted on her right to monitor any conversation we had.
At school the outhouse was unusual because it had more than two holes. We had an outhouse at home and both sets of my grandparents had one as well. The school had two outhouses, and each one had a privacy fence, whereas none of ours at home did. Inside the boy’s fence was a round container filled with sand. The girls didn’t have one of those (I know because I peeked). This container was low enough so that the littlest boy could just get over the top of it. I was curious because I had never seen such a thing in an outhouse. When I saw the other boys standing in a circle around it, I looked closer to see what they were doing. That’s when I learned it was a urinal. Decades later, I concluded that it was a clay drainage pipe set on end.
The schoolhouse had two rooms for the first four grades. I was there for the first and second grades, taught by the same teacher. Near the end of the second grade we had a parade. Out of the room we went, out of the building, across the school yard, up the slight rise, past the new high school, across the driveway and into the brand-new, just completed grade school building. The first and second graders, (including me) carried the chairs of our desks while the older boys (fifth graders or older) carried our desks. It was a wonderful yet serious, parade. We sat down the desks and chairs in the same order as in the old classroom and resumed class. However, I don’t believe much class work was done that day because we found the day too amazing.
Aside from its newness, this classroom had two extra doors, one in the front, one in back. These doors, most astonishingly, opened to tiny, private toilet rooms--one for boys and one for girls. Our very own bathrooms! They weren’t exactly private since each had two doors, the other opening to the adjoining classroom. Down the hall were more classrooms, regular bathrooms for the general school population, a gym (with a small kitchen), and tiny offices for the principal and nurse. This new building was huge, compared to the old school.
Soon the “new” high school was closed when small school districts were consolidated and the upper grades moved into that building. Decades later, before my children attended that school, the space between the two buildings was filled with a library, more classrooms, and a connecting hallway. The last place I taught was as a substitute in one of those newest classrooms – in the driveway! I found it to be a strange experience. I kept expecting to see former teachers, students, or other staff walking in the halls but, of course, they were long gone. It is unlikely that my grandchildren will attend, and my children have scattered to their own lives.
But I often drive past the school when I go back to the farm.
A Matter Of Taste
By Michelle Langenberg
On a bright September morning in 1912, Rusty Baum waved goodbye to his mama and set off for his first day of school. Paper lunch bag in hand, he skipped along the sidewalk until he reached the large double doors of Allen Elementary in Kansas City’s Westport area. It was a tall, two-story brick building, and Rusty felt intimidated by it. But once inside, he found nothing but friendly faces.
Louisa, Rusty’s mother, had plenty to do while her son was gone. Her chores included baking her own bread and rolls every day but Sunday; washing, wringing, and hanging wet laundry and then starching and ironing. Every workday Louisa also prepared sack lunches, and a sit-down dinner for family and boarders seven days a week. Yet still she had time to wonder how Rusty’s first day went.
Rusty was excited as he returned home from school. “Mutti, Mutti,” he called out in perfect German as he ran up the driveway.
"Wie geht’s, Rusty?"
"I got something to show you, Mutti."
"Sehr gut. But first come in and have milk and cookies. Ich habe pfeffernuesse."
"Maybe you should speak English more, Mutti," he said, his eyes downcast.
"Why? Why you say that?"
"Read this note."
Louisa noticed a note pinned to the five-year-old’s jacket.
"Ich werde. But only after you have glass of milk and cookies."
She removed the note, poured his milk, and told him to choose a handful of her spice cookies.
"Now I vill see note," she said after she planted herself in a rocking chair. It was from his teacher. "Dear Mr. and Mrs. Baum," she read, "We do not speak German in the classroom. It is not fair to the other children. Please speak only English when Russell is home.”
Louisa nodded in agreement. "Er sollte Englisch in der Schule sprechen.“ She then directed her attention to her son. "Yes, your teacher is right. We need to speak English everywhere. We live in America, and we speak English here."
"My teacher say I do good in school."
"I so happy you do good.”
Rusty hugged her and ran outside to climb the cottonwood in the backyard.
Each morning that week passed much like the first: Rusty would leave with his lunch and race to school. On Friday, Louisa packed thick slices of leftover roast beef on her homemade bread and, as any proud cook might do, she asked her son later that afternoon if he enjoyed it.
"I didn’t eat it," he replied.
"Was ist das? What did you do with it?"
"I traded with Jimmy," Rusty said. "Jimmy’s mama makes gut sandwiches, Mutti. You will make some like his? Bitte?"
Louisa knew that Jimmy’s family was struggling to keep a roof over their heads. What could they provide that was better than her own sauerbraten? She asked Rusty what kind of sandwich Jimmy had traded him.
"Fat and white it was."
She questioned that. Fat and white? Could it be cheese?
Rusty took his mother’s arm and helped her from the rocking chair. Tugging on her hand, he led her into the kitchen.
"There, Mutti, over the stove—what you make pie crust with."
"Gott in Himmel," Louisa exclaimed, lapsing into her native speech. "Lard?" She sat heavily on a straight-backed wooden chair and pulled her son close. In a mixture of German and English, they discussed the matter of lunch—for Rusty and Jimmy. "From now on, I will give you two sandwiches. One for you, one for your friend. And we’ll save the lard for pastry, ja?"
"Yes, mama. Teacher tell us to say ‘yes’.”
"Ja, ja, I will say yes." Louisa laughed and began to set the table for dinner.
Russell “Rusty” Kenneth Baum was my maternal grandfather. He lived beyond those first days of school to work in the Kansas City stockyards—with a shovel, for two dollars a day—during the Great Depression. Rusty was a hard worker. Eventually he established his own packing plant, SaHaBa Meats, whose slogan was Eat the Meat that Meets the Taste. All his life he practiced the generosity he learned from his parents, whose own parents were the first German Christian Jews to settle in the Westport area of Kansas City, Missouri. Grampa’s generosity included sponsoring children’s surgical operations at the Shriner’s Hospital in Minneapolis, and sending me home with a cooler full of meat when I was an unemployed college graduate. The harshest thing Grampa ever said to me was, “Never let me hear that you’ve gone hungry again.”
The Great Snickerdoodle War
by Janet Stotts
My husband, Dave, and I crossed the floor of the new gym and found the tables of the Class of ’59. It was his fifty year high school reunion and streamers in the class colors of blue and white festooned the tables, but what made everyone laugh was the small table favor at each place setting, two snickerdoodle cookies tied up in net and ribbon. Some senior classes are known for their accomplishments, some for their mischief, but the Class of ’59 is still, after fifty years, known for the Great Snickerdoodle War.
I had heard Dave tell the story over and over, and I looked forward to this re-union to check on a few of the more improbable details. Had there really been a Senior Boys’ Home Economics class? The fifties were known for strict gender roles, and this was a real gender bender. Yes, I was told, the senior boys convinced the principal that such a class was necessary to prepare them for life away from mom’s home cooking. The teacher was an avid supporter of all the sports teams, and loved the idea of having a class of senior boys. The first few weeks of class went very well. The class met just before lunch and consisted of walking down to the town grocery store and buying all the available steaks. The teacher then showed the class how to prepare the steaks and a few simple side dishes, such as baked potatoes and salad. The first few weeks went so well, the teacher felt “her boys” were ready to learn to bake, and snickerdoodles were the easiest cookie to make.
If you have never made snickerdoodles, they are very simple, just a basic dough that is formed into ping-pong sized balls, rolled in sugar and cinnamon and baked. According to Dave, the dough was prepared without incident and twenty senior boys were forming the dough into balls, when the intercom called the teacher to the office. None of those attending the reunion would admit to throwing the first ball of dough, but soon a full-fledged war broke out. Dough splattered on and adhered to the floor, the ceiling, the walls, the appliances and the students. It was at the height of this chaos that the teacher returned.
“Oh, boys,” the teacher wailed, “how could you?” Twenty heads bowed in shame, and my husband, as class president, apologized for the whole class. He must have done a good job because the teacher’s only punishment was for them to clean up the classroom. The cookie dough was scraped from all the room’s surfaces and gathered into one big ball of dirty dough.
It was at this unfortunate juncture that the voice of the intercom again requested the teacher’s presence in the office. The boys continued cleaning, and all might have been well, but a student from another class poked his head in and said “Coach G is on the trampoline in the gym, showing off for Miss H.” The boys all had a crush on pretty Miss H, and none of them liked Coach G , the new football coach who replaced a retiring beloved legend. My husband wouldn’t say who came up with the plan to humiliate Mr. C. He also said that the class drew straws to see who would execute the plan, and he got the short straw. However, as I suspected, the rest of his class was sure he had volunteered to pitch the ball of dough over the railing in front of the bleachers and onto the trampoline on the gym floor twenty feet below. Two of his friends, one on crutches, agreed to hold the heavy gym doors open and keep an eye out for faculty or staff. Dave said he didn’t look over the rail or attempt to aim in any way; he just lobbed the heavy ball of dirty dough over the rail and ran. He didn’t see the dough ball knock the coach into the lap of the embarrassed English teacher. Running, he was passed by the boy on crutches, and all three were back in the classroom before the teacher arrived.
Fifty years later, the class reunion proved that the Great Snickerdoodle War is the glue that still keeps the class together, forming a cohesive group that defies time and distance.
By Evie Kalvelage
The Royals have given me back priceless memories of my days as a Milwaukee Braves fan. I can barely remember what I did yesterday, but the names of my heroes - Warren Spahn, Joe Adcock, Dell Crandall, Eddie Matthews, Joe Torre and Hank Aaron are forever in my mind. I was a tomboy in a neighborhood full of boys. In the summer if we weren’t playing baseball, we were listening to it on the radio. Earl Gillespie’s play by play was awesome allowing my older brother, Doug and me to imagine the action in great detail. The next day we poured over the sports page to check out the standings. Best of all we were able to attend lots of games at County Stadium.
Doug was rich, he had a paper route. He would let me help him “sub” (collate the ads and sub sections of the paper into the main part) and roll the papers so he could efficiently throw them on his customers’ porches. In nice weather, we pulled a wagon, and in the winter we dragged a sled through the snow. We were as reliable as mailmen.
I loved kids and babysat often once I was old enough. At fifty cents an hour, I didn’t make near what my brother did. If I was short, he covered me on our trips to Braves’ games. It was only fifty cents to sit in the bleachers. We never splurged on snacks. Water from a “bubbler” (Milwaukee’s term for a drinking fountain) was all we needed.
On game days, we grabbed our gloves, and took off early to get in on batting practice. It was a safer time, and Mom let us walk over three miles to the stadium from the time we were ten and twelve. Doug and I stayed on the sidewalks unless we were running late, then we cut across the Miller Brewing Co. property - scared to death we’d get caught and sent to jail.
I remember a game that went into extra innings. We had no way to let Mom know, but we certainly weren’t going to leave before it was over. Mom and Dad didn’t listen to the games so they had no idea the game was running late. The Braves won and we hustled out of the stadium. We decided to shortcut across Hwy 94. Back then it wasn’t as daring as it would be now, but we knew our parents wouldn’t approve. It had to be a secret.
As I climbed over the fence, my foot slipped and I punctured the side of my calf on a spike at the top. Punctures as I recall are scarier than scrapes. Just a little drop of blood appeared, but I was sure I’d get an infection and probably lose my leg. Doug was sympathetic, but there no time to waste on battle wounds. We added another secret so as not to let the first one out of the bag. Doug made me promise not to tell Mom about my accident no matter what.
I think we got a good scolding when we got home, but I was too worried about my leg to remember much. As a kid who rarely hid anything from Mom, I suffered terrible guilt. I kept quiet, afraid it I didn’t, we’d never be allowed to attend another game. A fate worse than losing a leg.
The highlight of our stint as Braves’ fans was picture day. All our favorite players, the ultimate “rock stars” of our world, came out to the fence and allowed us to photograph them. They signed autographs on anything you brought them. We had a baseball Doug caught during batting practice. That ball, signed by all our heroes, and painted with clear nail polish to preserve it forever, was our most prized possession. It was put away somewhere for safekeeping. We hoped to find that treasure after our parents passed. It would have been a bright spot in a job full of sadness, but it never showed up.
Children, divorce, and work took too much time to allow for baseball. It wasn’t until the KC Royals amazing run last year that I again paid attention. I thank Moose, Hoz, Escabar, Ben, Morales, Cain, Gordon and all the rest for connecting me to those remarkable memories.
How Green Was My Golf Course
By Donald Stuart Pady
After WWII my family moved from Manhattan, Kansas -- where Dad had taught biology and botany at Kansas State University and worked on a project for the U.S. War Department -- to Montreal, Quebec, Canada, during 1946 to 1952. The return of Canadian veterans required increased faculty at McGill University where Dad taught biology and botany. He commuted by commuter train to and from our home in Lachine every day, and I rarely saw him because he was so busy and tired when he arrived home. My mother took on small jobs, sang and played piano in a church choir, taught Sunday school, and tried to master the French-Canadian dialect which most neighbors spoke.
Since my parents were busy with their activities, my sister and I soon discovered that we could spend a lot of time away from home. Both Helen and I found lots of friends in our schools, and we played with them in sports and visits to their homes. Since I was 14 years old, I could take the train alone into Montreal to watch movies, window shop, watch the Montreal Canadians play hockey at the Forum, visit the city library--among other things. But one thing I really enjoyed during the spring, summer and early fall of 1951 was caddying at the Royal Montreal Golf Course west of Lachine in Dixie. The Royal Montreal Golf Course was originally established in Montreal in 1873, and since 1904 has been the site of the Canadian Open--even though its location had more recently changed several times.
Caddying brought good money because many famous golfers practiced the course during the summer in preparation for the Canadian Open held annually in the early fall. Caddies, too, secretly hoped to be hired by some of the world's best golfers. Caddies had to carry the players' clubs, just as they do, today. Riding a battery-powered golf cart was then unheard of. Hand-pulled golf carts or visual range-finders were not allowed in the Open, either. So the caddy had to pull the right club or iron when his golfer decided which one would send his ball closest to the flagged pin on the green.
On about the second day of the Canadian Open, I happened to be first-in-line; I was there at 6:00 a.m., at the caddy shack. By taking the number one card, I was entitled to be the first called for a golfer who needed a caddy. I didn't have to wait long, however; I was called to the caddy shack at about 7:00 o'clock to meet the golfer for whom I would caddy. Can you imagine my surprise when I shook hands with Ben Hogan, whose regular caddy, brought with him from the States, had a severe bout of the 'flu during the night, and was still bedridden in a nearby hotel.
I remember that my mind swirled that morning as I walked with Hogan out to the practice putting green. He had won the PGA Championship in 1948 and the formidable U.S. Open in both in both 1950 and 1951. Surely I thought to myself, he can win the Canadian Open, this year too. But it rained that morning, and the rain continued intermittently during the afternoon. Ben confided in me that rain and low atmospheric pressure hindered his game because his strength abated due to the near-death car crash that both he and his wife suffered in 1949. He was not expected to walk again; yet here he was! But Hogan's drives and fairway shots were long and straight, even during the steadily-increasing rain. All players and their caddies had to seek shelter during the heavier downpours, but strangely enough there was no lightning. I was thankful that I had brought my yellow slicker and rain hat.
One specific incident which had engrained its details into my memory of that inclement day, showed just how much Ben Hogan's display of character meant to me. On the 13th fairway he somehow shanked a 6-iron shot that landed in the rough in a small creek. He could have taken a penalty stroke and place the ball on higher ground. But he insisted on playing the shot with his wedge from its position in the shallow water. He took off his shoes and socks and positioned himself in the water's edge, and proceeded to make that very difficult shot, which landed on the green. And what did he say to me? "I knew I could do it!"
Ben Hogan did not win this Open, but he played well and the huge gallery loved him for his congeniality and determination. I was delighted to have had the chance to caddy for him--partly because he paid me $100, and partly because my rain-soaked feet did not cause my toes to cramp. He greatly inspired later generations of golfers from Arnold Palmer to Greg Norman to Tiger Woods ... and many more. It was a memory I will never forget.