Friday, June 23, 2017

Toad Buddies--More than Meets the Eye


           
While my sixth grade classmates loved listening to our teacher read Wind in the Willows, I found it silly. Toads talking and acting like people, no way. This attitude toward anthropomorphic creatures was a childhood peeve. I wanted critters au natural.

To this day, I find stories about talking animals silly. Despite my curmudgeonly attitude toward this popular genre, I like toads. Fortunately, summer provides daily opportunities to observe toads residing in patio planters and garden beds.

Looking at a toad, you wouldn’t think it overly bright, but one summer, two caught my attention because they were so clever and entertaining.

Before the solstice officially arrived, these fellows demonstrated their smarts. Our section of prairie made growing anything a challenge. Instead of investing in a big flowerbed, I decided a few well-chosen pots with bright blooms would make it seem summery without demanding water necessary to grow a lush flower garden. These neighboring green gents quickly determined which pots stayed cool and damp longest and moved in. Initially, they lived separately, one in my mixed bloom bucket and the other in a geranium pot. 

As May days lengthened and warmed, the geranium toad must’ve investigated the mixed bloom pot because next thing I knew, two amphibians rose, gasping for air, out of the same toad hole when I watered. They dug their cavern deep enough one could rest on the other’s head while leaving the top toad covered to his bulging eyeballs in potting soil.

For a while, they found their bliss in the mixed bloom pot, but as summer grew hotter and drier, both toads abandoned it for my herb garden. That soil must’ve stayed cooler, maybe due to the insulating brick border. Watering time became an adventure. I never knew where I’d find my garden buddies.

In addition to requiring cool, damp living conditions, these guys exhibited hearty appetites. As a result, their bodies grew wider and longer than my palm--a result of their canny hunting skills. 

While other toads in our yard gathered nightly under the yard light, these discovered the much closer patio light drew insects equally well and didn’t burn nearly as many calories making the journey. Patiently, they waited until evening temperatures dipped before emerging one green amphibian limb at a time from moist earth. Then they let the beam from the porch work its magic. 

One night, I interrupted their fashionably late supper to see why they were so plump. Both warty lads had rooted themselves directly under yellow lamp rays, gobbling beetle after beetle as freshly toasted insects sizzled and plopped to the patio. While I watched, these big boys didn’t move more than a couple of inches as they went through the equivalent of a twelve-course meal. I wish I'd stayed long enough to see them lug distended, white bellies back into the flower pot  where I found them the next morning.

As much fun as I had watching those toads, I may give Wind in the Willows another chance. Obviously, there’s more to that story than I realized in sixth grade.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Ol’ Swimming Hole


When the calendar flips to June, small town youngsters know it’s time to spend days at the local pool. Decades ago, this wasn’t a water park with a variety of fountains, burblers, and lazy rivers. It was a shallow baby pool and the BIG pool where water depth varied from three to twelve feet. It meant gutters to cling to when you first learned to swim in the deep end. It meant belly busters that made those tanning on the hot, cement deck groan in unison with divers who didn’t get quite into position to slice painlessly into the water. Talk to any adult who lived near a pool in western Kansas and watch their eyes light at the memories. This was the place to be whether you were three or sixteen.

To this day, I still see that cinder block bathhouse and smell bleach-scented locker rooms where we showered before entering Meade’s summer hot spot, the public pool. Lifeguards collected fees at a sun-warmed metal counter. From that point, males turned left and gals right into dressing rooms. Then everyone hotfooted across a sizzling cement deck where moms in sunhats watched youngsters, teens mooned over one another, and school age kids dare one another to jump first into frigid water. Accompanying shrieks of glee echo in my mind.

As kids, the blind hollering game Marco Polo was our chosen activity if we weren’t challenging one another to swim across and back without surfacing for air. The person designated IT, closed his or her eyes and maneuvered about using sound to locate and tag other players. A few minutes as the pursuer made you wish you had dolphin-like sonar.

Tiring of the chase, we tested our lungs. I still feel the sensation of mine screaming for me to surface. I ignored it and kicked even harder to reach the concrete ledge. Once there, gasping survivors clung to the rough concrete lip and refilled aching air sacs.

Accomplished underwater swimmers who’d crossed the pool and returned without taking a breath next challenged one another to climb the high board ladder and dive into the deep end. More than one youngster discovered the ascent wasn’t as scary as the board’s end, where they gazed into crystal blue water 10 feet below. Those who steeled themselves to face that plummet hoped they entered hands first. A minor shift meant excruciating pain. You knew you were okay when you saw smiling lifeguards still perched on their stands. Lucky divers swiftly surfaced, sputtering in front of laughing friends.

While the pool challenged adventuresome young swimmers and teen boys, it provided a stage for maturing females to display their charms. They sucked in stomachs and applied baby oil mixed with iodine over skin to enhance tans. Those with perfectly teased doos made sure their hair didn’t muss despite others’ efforts to splash them. Despite wishing they could join taunting males grabbing knees to create massive cannonball waves, they posed prettily on beach towels, cheering on favorite performers.


During summer, the pool was the town social magnet. Scents of chlorine and suntan lotion drew even the faint-hearted. Memories and legends waited to be made. Drive by your local watering hole and note that some things never change.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Visiting Grandma’s Meant a Dalton Gang Hideout Adventure


Most families keep their black sheep a deep, dark secret. Following this unwritten code in the late 1880s and early 90s, Eva Whipple, sister of the notorious Daltons,  didn’t announce to fellow residents of Meade, Kansas that her brothers robbed banks for a living. However, a hidden tunnel between her house and nearby barn supports the theory her outlaw relations secretly visited her. Apparently, citizens of this little Southwest Kansas town on Highway 54 didn’t know about the connection with these infamous characters until the Whipples moved and the home’s new occupant discovered a hand dug, three-foot diameter secret passage, just big enough for grown men to crawl through. It conveniently linked  house and barn.

During the Works Progress Administration, an administrative entrepreneur-at-heart arranged to stabilize and expand this shaft, so paying tourists could walk where the Dalton Gang once crawled. It worked. My cousins, brother, I, and every other kid visiting Meade finagled a dime,  quarter, or dollar (depending on the decade) in order to tour the small Victorian era home with gingerbread trim, heavy drapes, and carved furniture. The best part came when visitors trailed their fingers over damp, dimly lighted stone walls through the improved tunnel to the old barn. Renovators had turned the floor above the ancient horse stalls into a museum showcasing pioneer era Meade. Sounds of awe and delight announced that kids had discovered the stuffed two-headed, newborn calf display.

 Even today, my relatives and I fondly recall good times on the south side of town. It was close enough to Grandma’s we could walk. She  directed us to behave ourselves or she’d hear about it. I’d visited often enough  to know this rural community kept no secrets after revealing the Dalton’s hidden passage. Keeping my hands to myself, I walked on the sidewalk where possible and didn’t smart mouth anyone along the way. I paid my fee and responded politely to a local, retired woman dressed in a long pioneer dress to set the mood.

Recently, I reviewed Meade, Kansas on Trip Advisor. Not surprisingly, Highway 54 travelers still visit The Dalton Gang Hideout. Most report excellent or very good ratings. It’s wonderful to know adults and children still find their way to that little house with a big yard. It’s fussy furnishings counterbalance that trip into the tunnel where every sense goes on alert.

Nostrils still quiver at earthy scents as shoulders brush rough, stone walls. Tall people must duck to complete their journey. Naturally, imaginations picture outlaws with bandanna covered faces and whinnying horses waiting to speed their escape at the end of the passage . 


If the Dalton brothers actually used this tunnel when it was merely three feet high and carved dirt, I suspect they worried more about a cave in than getting caught visiting their sis. Nowadays, a ticket to see that two headed calf lightens wallets considerably more than it did when I was a youngster. Today’s visitors shell out a whopping 5 bucks to navigate the tunnel and examine that oddly formed calf. I bet the Dalton boys wish they’d raked in that kind of loot.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Repeating Cycles


Since humans first walked this planet, cycles have connected their pasts, presents, and futures to intrigue and inspire them. All cultures have revered rotations of days, months, and seasons as well as life through death progressions. Those sequences fascinate Homo sapiens enough to make them search for them in odd places. Folks who track history and have internet access report that modern marketers are repeating old traditions.

A decade ago, I edited an uncle’s biography. His story caught my interest when I discovered grocery stores operated very differently than they did during my early adulthood. During his early life, customers delivered lists to a clerk who then moved up and down shelves to fill orders. Choices were limited to what was available. No one wandered aisles searching for an exact combination of cough syrup ingredients or Green Giant approved no-salt green beans.

For those who find themselves obsessively reading labels as they cruise canned good, pharmacy, and baking aisles, my uncle’s example of shopping appears ridiculously simple. There’s no way that would work today when consumers determine whether they want organic vegetables or one of the nine types of flour. Heavens, aspirin selections alone can drive shoppers batty. They have to know whether they prefer enteric or regular, high or low dosage, generic or name brand, or . . . the list goes on. Once they reach the wine aisle, matters go downhill.

In the old days, choices were simple. Flour and sugar came from barrels. The only choice involved ordering a specific quantity, and finances often dictated that. Even after stores sacked such staples, space limited brand preferences for canned fruits and vegetables. Consumers bought what was available since my uncle’s store was the only one around in those horse and buggy days.

The little town I lived in as a newlywed still had its old store with high ceilings and wood plank floors. Over time, the owner updated it to include rows of shelving arranged along narrow aisles so customers could carry a basket and collect their own products. Lack of space limited selection so shopping was simple. At a back counter, a fine butcher cut meat to order. Folks could call in their order or drop off a list if they desired. Though it’s only memory, it remains my favorite market.

Recently, a newscast reported major internet vendors sell groceries online. Shoppers log onto sites, review options, select product, pay electronically, and either pick up their items or have them shipped to home addresses. Apparently, robots can fill orders and drones make deliveries. Despite the Jetson-like cartoon angle, this practice follows my relative’s old grocery store shopping model. You wonder if the brainchild behind this had an uncle who collected orders for old-time mercantile patrons.


Mull the possibilities. Will this innovation simplify consumers’ lives? They order what they want and skip competing choice or will someone devise a companion site to reveal exact ingredients and cheapest sources? Will algorithms unveil exactly what shoppers desire before mathematical functions suggest substitutes? Despite its high-tech twists, this shopping technique strikingly resembles my uncle’s first job in a small town grocery store. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Mentioning Unmentionables

Talk to most women today, and they don’t remember not wearing pants or slacks to work or school. Visit with ladies past a certain age, and they’ll tell about a time when schools required little girls to wear dresses or skirts to class and employers mandated females do the same at work. Moms even cleaned house in a dress. Most mothers didn’t go so far as TV stars who wore pearls and heels to vacuum, but they made certain they could answer the door without causing the neighbors to gossip about manly apparel. Granted, such fashions weren’t the cumbersome Mother Hubbard gowns or flowing long skirts pioneers wore, but they complicated daily life unnecessarily.

Some would say mid-century housewives and schoolgirls didn’t have it so bad. Unlike travelers across emigrant trails, they didn’t have to worry about their hems catching fire while they cooked outdoors or tripping on them, crossing uneven surfaces. Gals of the 30s - 60s revealed ankles and calves and enjoyed freedom of movement their grandmas never knew. 

What folks don’t think about is getting to work or school during frigid temperatures and snowstorms. Some families solved the problem the way pedestrians in large cities do today. Individuals wore slacks under or over their dresses on the way to their destination and changed after arriving.  

What no one took into account was the playground dilemma little girls faced. As public schools added more recess equipment that involved climbing and twirling, females struggled to prevent others from seeing their bloomers and singing risqué songs involving London, France, and underpants. Learning to read, write, and do arithmetic was hard enough without worrying about peers knowing the color and condition of personal garments.

Keep in mind, these were days either before or soon after WW II when most families couldn’t afford a week’s supply of lacy undies for their daughters. Frequently, one sibling handed clean but pre-worn clothing to the next in line, causing more than one playground confrontation resulting in a bloody nose or black eye.
With the advent of monkey bars, girls who wanted go head to head in acrobatic challenges wore summer shorts under dresses. This added to mom’s laundry, but youngsters trying to perform a flip while tucking hems under or between knees meant re-stitching seams or patching fabric on a daily basis or worse, a broken arm. It was easier to wash extra clothing.

Certainly, women who grew up wearing dresses learned decorum regarding sitting with knees and ankles pressed together. Today’s females frequently discover the necessity of such postures the first time they publicly wear a short dress. More than one teacher or boss has observed lack of awareness concerning this detail.


No doubt, about it, females and pants go together from infancy to old age. Who needs to worry about a skirt rising in a breeze or during a cartwheel, offering a peek at undergarments. Too bad pioneer women never got to find out how much easier their lives would have been if they had worn trousers.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Laundry on the Trail




I love to read historical accounts about settling the West. After finishing a book or primary source, I can’t wait to see visit the locale mentioned. Recently, I’ve driven an eighth of the approximately 2100 mile Oregon Trail where it winds along the Platte in Nebraska and Wyoming. During an overnight stop along the way, I read a pamphlet explaining that settlers camping along the river near modern day Guernsey, Wyoming, named that site Emigrant Washtubs. I easily imagined dust-coated women eagerly awaiting a chance to scrub dirty laundry.

Modern travelers quickly learn that a day in a car where windows magnifying sunrays and fine prairie dust sifts through cracks and crevices leads to funky odors and gritty skin. Imagine folks walking long hours under summer sun as they trailed wagons that raised a perpetual Pig Pen-style dust cloud. The resulting scents and filth had to have been atrocious. To make it worse, those nomads didn’t have multiple changes of clean clothing to start their days. Babes in diapers had it even worse.

 Lillian Schlissel’s Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey helped me understand these pioneer journeys. The diarists’ words and Schlissel’s commentary bring their travels to life. The author explains women couldn’t maintain regularly scheduled washdays. Instead, they laundered when they camped for more than a day near a substantial body of water. If they were lucky, they’d find enough fuel to heat water. If not, they settled for cold. Without clotheslines, bushes or rocks served to dry wet clothing. One writer mentioned they wore their clothing as it dried.

One diarist, a Rebecca Ketchum, bemoans her skin condition prior to and after laundry day. “Our hands are blacker than a farmer’s and I do not see there is any way of preventing it, for everything has to be done in the wind and sun.” She explains that washday only compounded the damage. “Camilla and I both burnt our arms very badly while washing. They were red and swollen and painful as though scalded with boiling water.”

Jane Gould Tortillott offers another example of laundry difficulties. One Saturday, as her party made camp along the Platte, she tells us, “Gus and I took my clothes to the river to rinse them. Was a little island covered with wild bushes nearby. Gus tried to wade over to it—to hang the clothes but it was too deep so we were obliged to hang them on some low bushes close to the river.”

Catherine Haun, an emigrant from Iowa, anticipated problems and wore a dark woolen dress through most of her journey. She tells us it “protected her from the sun and wind and economized in laundrying which was important considering the lack of ‘wash day’ conveniences.”

My stop at Emigrant Washtubs and subsequent reading of these diaries made me better appreciate  these uprooted women who followed their men west. Not only did they live for months under open skies in unfamiliar and frequently dangerous landscapes, they also managed their laundry without the conveniences of home. I’m more than grateful for my automatic washing machine.


Monday, May 1, 2017

Hanging Clothes Outside: a Prescription for Good Health

A friend recently sent me a cartoon that struck my funny bone. In it, two women stand near an old-fashioned clothesline as one ironically tells the other this device dries her laundry using the very latest solar and wind technology. It made me think about people who’ve never hung clothes outside to dry. It also helped me recall helping mom and grandma pin wet laundry on the line and then remove and fold it afterward. Grasping sun-warmed fabric and breathing in breeze-scented sheets and towels is a heady experience, even in a technology-oriented world.

I suspect if more of us depended less on dryers and more on clotheslines, we’d be healthier. Several recently published articles suggest older Americans need more sunshine to help with vitamin D absorption. I’m guessing the amount of time it takes to hang a basket of wet laundry and then retrieve the dry result delivers that daily requirement.  

Not only are many folks in need of more vitamin D, they also suffer from anxiety. Experts who deal with such issues remind us fresh air and exercise are good medicine for such ills. It would be interesting to know if our grandmothers fretted less because they spent more time with their clotheslines. After hanging a couple of loads of sheets and towels the other morning, I see how time outside listening to birds sing and feeling warm breezes caress skin contributes to a peaceful disposition. In addition, you get exercise by repetitively bending, reaching, and pinning wet fabric. Once my basket was empty and the laundry fluttered in the breeze, my concerns seemed to shake away as well.

Add that repetitive action to sunshine and fresh air, and you have the ingredients necessary to generate a good mood. It satisfies the soul to see a clothesline weighed down with clean linens and clothing. The reverse efforts of unpinning dry objects and folding them to put in the basket just as effectively reduces stress. Listening to and watching birds multiplies these positive effects.

In fact, once those fresh sheets and towels are ready to go back on the beds and in the cupboards, you discover another boon. What feels and smells better that sun-dried bedding or terrycloth? Perhaps it’s my imagination, but I swear line-dried sheets freshen a whole room. When I crawled between them that night, that outdoor scent plunged me into deep slumber the minute my head hit the pillow. The fact I’d labored to hang, fold, and put away king-size bedding and towels may have contributed to my exhaustion.

Humans have so many labor saving devices that make life easier. Despite such convenience, we should consider what we lose in terms of physical and mental health. Do some of our grandparents’ old- fashioned housekeeping techniques aid in vitamin absorption as well as connect us to the outdoors where sunlight, fresh air, and exercise renew spirits without requiring prescription drug use.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Things We Keep


Tim O’Brien, a favorite author, wrote a powerful collection of short stories about his tour of duty in Viet Nam. He titled it The Things They Carried. Every time I read it, those young men who walked daily beside death remind me that humans treasure the logical and illogical. The personal items these soldiers added to already heavy equipment loads reveal that humans make room for talismans connecting hearts and memory. This trait isn’t singular to warriors. Those packing moving boxes must choose what to purge or save. What we keep tells our story.

We’re downsizing for the second time in five years. I hope our daughters appreciate that we’ve given away, donated, or sold numerous earthly possessions, saving them hours of labor when it’s time to move us into long term care or the cemetery. That said, we still own more than when we married four decades ago. After another move or two like this, I’ll have unloaded anything I never use as well as items of only sentimental value. During this process, I’ve discovered freedom exists in jettisoning belongings I think I might need vs. those I actually utilize. While I’m not yet a minimalist, I’m getting there. Why keep four pretty platters when one does the job?

Unfortunately, some belongings defy logic. I’ll never have a newborn baby again. I don’t require 35-year-old infant dresses. Yet, several went in the save pile. The moment I opened that crumbling box, impossibly small clothing transported me to those first days of motherhood when everything was so scary and miraculous. Looking at tiny dresses that fit our daughters for one or two wearings, I swear I felt the weight of little girls nestled in the crook of my elbow. Who knew that gingham and lace was a time machine?

A similar experience occurred as I opened a chest full of afghans and baby quilts my grandma and mom knitted, crocheted, embroidered, or cross-stitched. Even without the sensation of knobby yarn or tidy stiches beneath fingertips, I visualized these beloved women sitting in their favorite chairs, watching Lawrence Welk or visiting as they created family heirlooms. A person can use only one coverlet at a time, so a cedar chest protected them for posterity. The future keeps getting shorter, yet I still haven’t used all these treasures.

Who moves worn, scratched pans? A crumbling handle on its last leg and with more dents than a golf ball reminds me of decades of homemade mashed potatoes and chicken n noodle dinners. Whipping up a fresh batch of spuds in that shabby container works better than consulting a medium to connect me to the grandma who taught me to cook. Decrepit as it is, that well-used cookware goes with me.

Tim O’Brien’s characters carried girlfriend’s panty hose, letters, photos, and other non-essentials into battle. Until I’ve moved a few more times, baby dresses, handmade blankets, and Depression-era cookware will make the trip as well. My heart’s not ready to let go.







Saturday, April 1, 2017

What’s the Real Tumbleweed Capital?

Several years ago, mom gave me a sweatshirt advertising Hooker, Oklahoma, as the Tumbleweed Capital of the world. After a recent drive across the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandle, I’m certain Hooker is not the only center point of Russian thistle abundance. Winds that day blew an average of 40 mph so we saw droves of prickly Russian immigrants racing pell-mell across three states. Fence lines trapped enough to fuel miles of potential prairie fire. Clearly, this transplant’s adjusted well to arid western soils.

These herbaceous invaders adapted to the Great Plains environment better than many homo sapien immigrants who hit American shores during the same era. The tumbleweed’s human counterparts often left for easier pickings that included more moisture and less wind. This forb, however, took root and multiplied like creatures mentioned in biblical plagues. It prefers disturbed soil—so farmers breaking virgin grassland and then abandoning their efforts unintentionally supported the hardy newcomer. Aridity doesn’t hurt them, and winds strong enough to deform trees and make flags fly at 90 degree angles guarantees each plant sows its 250,000 seeds.

Think of that--one plant produces several hundred thousand potential offspring. Scientists have documented how many actually take root, mature, and reproduce. By the 1890s, researchers reported the first of these Ukrainian hitchhikers arrived in Scotland, South Dakota, in the 1870s. Before 1900, the government assigned U.S. botanist Lyster Hoxey Dewey to investigate this curse to western agriculturists. Dewey, wrote, “The rapidity with which the Russian thistle has spread, both in infesting new territory and in thoroughly covering that already infested, far exceeds that of any weed known in America.” According to writer Doug Main, the only two states that don’t have tumbleweeds are Alaska and Florida. That’s a record-breaking invasion!

The day I drove across the Panhandle, herds of rolling thistles bounded over barbwire fences, surging across roads. This dark force made me think of millions of roaming bison 150 years ago. Due to sheer size, these mammals halted train travel. The tumbling seed-sowers I encountered didn’t halt traffic, but they slowed it.

Due to wind speeds, thorny orbs, small and large, rocketed across flat grasslands. I was glad to travel protected in a vehicle and not afoot like pastured cattle or wild critters. A thistle scouring of this magnitude would leave a being picking stickers for weeks. Unfortunately, these dried plants came in numbers so enormous I couldn’t avoid whacking one after another and dragged several beneath my vehicle until friction shattered and scattered them.

While I smacked some, others slammed into the sides of my Toyota hard enough I felt vibrations through the steering wheel. I’d like to think these collisions halted their seed dispersion, but that’s a vain wish. In fact, I’ve probably introduced Oklahoma thistle DNA to Kansas varieties.

Hookerites may disagree, but that sweatshirt’s claim to fame limits the scope of this invasive plant. The entire Great Plains is the Tumbleweed Capital of America.







Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Worst Brings Out the Best

While last week’s high winds were unpleasant for anyone living in Western Kansas, Oklahoma, or Texas, they changed life for many. Our hearts ache for families learning to live with only the memory of lost loved ones, ranchers who’ve lost livestock, and those who’ve lost homes and possessions. Despite  the tragedy, Plains people  once again saw that catastrophe reveals our best nature.

Social media offered a peek into individuals, families, and communities who share this landscape. It’s comforting to see relatives supporting loved ones who traveled wherever necessary to battle raging flames or evacuate threatened residents. One post shared a photo of a young girl who fell asleep praying for her daddy and his squad working 24/7 outside of Hutchinson. You know she was concerned, but her peaceful face and clasped fingers revealed such deep faith. Her innocent confidence reveals how those affected by this firestorm will rebuild their lives.

In addition to individuals, communities contributed help. In short time, groups organized supply drives, collecting water, Chap Stick, eye drops, clean socks, and other necessities to support those willing to leap into an inferno. While many battled flames, others took their places at work or at home, so firefighters could focus on immediate dangers. Hundreds wrote heartfelt thank yous to men and women who dropped what they were doing  to protect distant towns. That said, you know these warriors are sad about homes and property they couldn’t save. Supporters' kindnesses offer a balm for those heartaches.

In other photos, junior high and high school students readied sleeping and eating areas for evacuees in gyms and cafeterias. These kids modeled what they’ve seen parents and grandparents do repeatedly during crises. They made certain people had shelter and food. School buses transported nursing home and hospital patients to safety. In this case, that wasn’t always enough. Due to uncontrolled winds and flames, some evacuation centers relocated. You didn’t hear complaints. People continued ministering to others experiencing the worst time of their lives.

Now that the most urgent firefighting efforts are winding down, truckers are hauling hay and fencing materials into fire-ravaged regions. Churches, clubs, and other organizations are collecting supplies and funding for those who’ve lost everything. First responders and others are reviewing their procedures. Those who weren’t affected are wondering how best to help during future events. Many are donating to local fire volunteer fire departments to enable them to repair and replace necessary equipment.



No matter what, it’s good to know we live where people sacrifice to keep one another safe. It’s worthy to note that residents support firefighters, first responders, and law enforcement. We let them know in various ways that their and their families’ sacrifices are appreciated. As more stories emerge, it’s clear that living on the Great Plains is a challenge. Those we call neighbors make it worthwhile. 

Some Things Do Get Better With Time

In the rush of daily life, it’s easy to forget indoor toilets are relatively new to housing construction. Those who’ve never relied on an outhouse don’t understand how relieved residents were when they had a solid privy resting on a concrete foundation. Thanks to Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, 600,000 American families enjoyed stable, sanitary facilities behind their homes.

The WPA focused on projects that improved life. Few communities could fund band shells, picnic houses, and swimming pools without federal dollars and the necessity to provide jobs. However, those weren’t the only projects that enhanced the USA. Health organizations had insisted from the early 1900s that Americans needed higher sanitary standards. Shallow pits and poor outhouse drainage led to epidemics related to fecal exposure. Scientists determined that concrete vaults at least 6 feet deep reduced such risks. This was a perfect goal for this department.

Most of us have visited WPA pools, buildings, and other monuments to hard work and hopes for better times. Depression era toilets add to the projects local labor teams and resources constructed. With so many built across the country, remains of facilities must still exist in western Kansas.

This information might help find them. Bureaucrats selected a standardized design that involved a poured underground vault planned so the top served as the outhouse foundation. Wisely, someone included a surface level concrete pot and vent hole. Cement flooring and seat construction offered better sanitation than wood construction did. Wisely, this design required screened vents to prevent fly-borne disease. Such models significantly improved public health.

While the vaults and seats were standardized and mass-produced, the actual wooden shelter depended on local materials and preferences. The plan called for a 4 x 5 frame and braced wooden door. While building crews followed similar plans, researchers note structures varied throughout the country.

Although labor teams installed over 600,000 outdoor commodes during that era, few remain. If you want to visit a Kansas WPA outhouse, you must get permission to search old homesteads for concrete foundations. Once you find one, don’t fall in the hole.

 If seeing the wooden “house” satisfies your curiosity, a landowner in McPherson County moved one onto his property years ago. The Sherman House Bed and Breakfast in Elk County transported another one to a site near their flower garden and named it “The Flower Pot.”

A trip to Franklin County Indiana offers the opportunity to check out ten such relics. For your reading pleasure, their museum has an edition of the “Indiana Community Sanitation Program Regulation Manual, Sponsored By United States Public Health Service, Indiana Division of Public Health Works Progress Administration.” This would be helpful if you want to install a reproduction on your homestead. In addition, they’ve posted official outhouse maintenance rules tacked to a surviving privy door.

Personally, I want to observe one of these as an historical object. While WPA construction has many charms, I’m happy with my indoor toilet.



Sunday, February 26, 2017

Sandbox Bliss

Temperatures dropped and snowflakes flew long enough to blanket our yard and the field behind it. Despite a chilly reminder that winter isn’t quite over, I have spring on my mind. Recent days warm enough to wear short sleeves reminded me to deliver our grandkids’ sand and water table so they could enjoy it over spring break. Our youngest grand has already tried out hers out. Seeing a photo of that little blonde dumping shovels full of sand into her bucket recalled memories of her mom and aunt’s happy hours in their sand-filled tractor tire.

While we weren’t farmers with our own big equipment, friends who made a living driving a big John Deere offered us one of their gigantic discarded tires. We rolled it to a spot close to the back door so I could do dishes or cook while listening to our youngsters’ cheerful chatter as they sifted sand, wetted it, and used old measuring cups and bowls to mold castles and other fanciful structures inside their three-foot-wide rubber moat.

When I had time, I joined them in creating architectural wonders or baking luscious desserts concocted from ingredients available within their tire and the surrounding yard. Each of us selected a dainty plastic pan to form our pastry. Once we finished packing dampened dirt, we’d slowly remove our creation, hoping it didn’t crumble during the process. Using leaves and flowers we found in the yard, we decorated our culinary delights. The girls were wizards at designing inedible works of art. As good as these looked, only a chicken pecking for a little gizzard grit would enjoy eating them.

Every now and then, I’d hear wild shrieks and race outside to see sand flying. This signaled the girls had found a live bug in their dirt. Shovels flew like windmill blades to eject unwelcome intruders. Enough insect protein found its way into the sandbox so I didn’t have to worry a wayward amphibian would starve if it managed to fall or be placed inside that deep walled tire. I did intervene the year baby toads infested the yard.

Unbeknownst to us, the girls collected dozens of miniature toads and corralled them in their sandbox. These mottled -skinned creatures dug themselves shady holes and waited for flies and beetles to land within eating reach. At dusk, I discovered our daughters leaning over the tire to say good- night to their captives. This population was too great for the available resources so I intervened and made the girls relocate their livestock to a less restrictive environment. As they carried handfuls and pocketsful of toads to freedom, I heard them talking to them like I talk to my dogs. Gadfrey. Toads as pets in the sand box.

I suspect our grandkids will soon weary of bright colored sand and water tables. They live on ranches where discarded tractor tires abound. It won’t be long til our daughters join their tots to once again bake sandy confections and check for insects and toads. Heck, Grandma might have to see if she can still whip up one of those pies.





Sunday, February 12, 2017

Learning to Read a Vanishing Landscape




Archeological training teaches students to look for human-altered landscapes. This includes out of the ordinary coloration, unusual shapes or formations that don’t match surroundings, or obvious construction such as cliff dwellings. Southwest Colorado’s sagebrush plain schools the eye to distinguish differing hues of greenery indicating soil disturbances or recognize mounds with donut-like collapsed centers. In western Kansas, students of vanished cultures work harder to identify signs of earlier occupation. That said, historic and prehistoric signs tell stories for those who care to read them.

A trip over Hwy 9 between Highways 281 and 183 is a good place to look for historic construction slowing melting back to the earth. This two lane parallels the old Missouri Pacific Railroad that wound through Gaylord, Cedar, Claudell, Kirwin, Glade, Speed, Logan, Densmore, and Edmond. Each little town had a depot where farmers picked up deliveries or shipped grain, cattle, milk, and other produce. In most places, those distinctive rooflines have gone the way of horse and buggy. However, locals in Cedar and Kirwin preserved their whistle stops in bright yellow that provide interesting photo opportunities.


From the beginning of this route, observers note an undulating rise out of place from the surrounding prairie. If they recall their history accurately, they realize Jay Gould’s Mo Pac crossed here, stopping at each hamlet. Humans and beasts scraped surrounding soil to build the foundation supporting those clacking wheels. Folks with metal detectors and permission to go on private property occasionally find their detritus at sites where these workers rested and ate. Until the line folded, train cars carried grass- fattened cattle and sun-ripened grain to market.

With such thoughts in mind, curious wanderers might turn off the main highway to investigate Kirwin Refuge. Just before their detour, those visitors passed well-constructed ductwork carved into a high hill’s base. Such conduits carried run off from the rail bed crowning the rise. After they turn, a straightway descending from the crown and vanishing into the west compels attention. It seems it has no purpose. Now a mowed bed bordered by wild plums, this was a section of the old track.

Over time, farmers have plowed portions of earthen foundations until they blend into surrounding fields. Inattentive passersby won’t notice the on/ off again appearance of the old Mo Pac. Then a couple of miles past Speed, a bridge abutment rising from the middle of nowhere draws attention. This structure is so out of place. Without knowing this was a once a busy avenue of commerce, curious sightseers leave wondering.

I hope that mysterious man- made formations will interrupt the rises and flats between Highways 281 and 183 well into the future. Historians and photographers, amateur and professional, can spend happy hours traversing what began as a game and Indian trail, evolved to a stage road to Colorado goldfields, then became a leg of the Mo Pac route. For now, it’s a quiet byway broken by unnatural colors and unusual formations out of place on a native prairie. Here’s to the stories those disturbances tell.




Skating: a Path to Great Memories



Those who’ve recently had to shovel snowy sidewalks probably aren’t thinking of these concrete trails in terms of fun. However, any kid who grew up near such a path knows it took little more than imagination to turn that simple structure into hours of fun. Old timers who let their minds wander down memory lane quickly recall happy memories involving metal shoe skates with keys.

The other day, my mom’s old sidewalk caught my attention. Time’s taking its toll on that decades-old fixture, yet a short walk along its divided squares triggered dozens of memories and the imagined sounds of metal wheels rolling across its gritty surface. I suspect more than a few old skate scars still decorate its mottled exterior.

I spent happy hours skating down similar lanes throughout my early years. I can still sense the feel of plopping onto a sun-warmed, pockmarked sidewalk while I clamped a pair of metal skates to my shoe soles. The length adjusted so a kid could wear them for two or three summers before needing a bigger pair. They came with a skate key designed to be worn on a string around the neck. That kept it handy to tighten skates after a particularly rough stretch shook them loose.

As a skater’s confidence grew, speed increased so trips around the block grew took less time. If several kids joined the fun, it looked a lot like later Roller Derby action on TV. Brave kids tucked elbows and squatted low to zip past slow moving friends. A neighborhood bully occasionally showed up and intentionally tripped skaters and sent them sprawling. Not every kid could respond. It took a cool and skilled character to fist fight on roller skates.

Unlike my experience with blocks of city sidewalks, our daughters grew up in a country home with a very short slab. To compensate, they adorned themselves in floofy tutus or their dad’s huge tee-shirts, turned on their record player, strapped on plastic shoes skates, and spun around our concrete basement. It lost much of the effect of whizzing down a city sidewalk, but they enjoyed hours of whirling around this makeshift rink. These practice sweeps prepared them for more fun at a real roller rink in a nearby town.

Mention skate rink and older people fondly remember weekend visits to the nearest one. It doesn’t take much prompting to get stories flowing. They recollect events like the Hokey Pokey, Limbo competitions, obstacle courses, and backward skating. One friend was a gymnast as a kid and loved doing backflips to astonish less agile participants.

The games were fun for everyone, but junior high and high school kids looked forward to the infrequent couple skates. For a few minutes, potential sweethearts could hold hands and circle a dimly lit rink. It would be interesting to learn how many romances began during doubles skating and then turned into long time marriages.

The old stories are so engaging it might be worth starting a skating resurgence both down the sidewalk and at the roll rink. Dig out those old shoe skates and keys; clear a path or an empty city building. Count on making great memories.










Friday, January 13, 2017

Best Bosses



I’m guessing a good number of readers in my age group, folks entering their 7th decade, grew up as I did, believing humans were intended to boss their pets. Over time, as I have, they’ve reinterpreted those early views and accepted that four-legged companions actually run our houses. 

A friend stopped to visit the other day. After we spent a couple hours catching up, she observed my little terrier sitting on my toes, staring intently at me. Unbeknownst to her, he was informing me it was nearly 3 p.m., aka his dinnertime. Noting his wrinkled brows and unblinking gaze , I excused myself to mix up his bowl of kibble. She teased that he had me well trained. I answered, “You have no idea.”

I’ve reluctantly acknowledged she stated pure truth. A fourteen-pound, thirteen-year old-canine dictates my actions from first thing every morning to mid-afternoon and just before bed. As soon as I awaken, his no nonsense path to the back door directs my mission to let this little guy and his furry, white sidekick outside for their morning constitutional. If I’m slow to respond, the toe-tapping pee- pee dance encourages me to attend to business. There’s no tolerance for this human to dress or brew coffee.

As the day goes on, my pointy-nosed guard dog perches at the edge of the sofa to survey the backyard. If he observes anything out of the ordinary—say a visiting German shepherd sprinkling his chain link fence or a brave squirrel creeping onto the grass—he races to my lap and implores me with sharp yips and pitiful whines to let him out to handle the situation.

Once he’s driven off the invaders, he directs his fuzzball partner to bark until I let them in. Once through the door, he examines the kitchen floor to see if I’ve dropped anything while he secured the premises. Usually, that’s a no, so he gives me the sad eye to tell me he’d really like a snack. If he happens to catch me eating a cheese stick, he plants himself at my feet until I give him and his begging buddy a nibble.

How this unschooled pooch tells time, I’ll never know. But he does. Once I wash and put away lunch dishes, he monitors house and yard--that is--until the little hand creeps close to the three and the big hand to the 12. Then this bundle of energy paces back and forth between his bowl and me. By 2:50, my self-ordained tyrant situates himself in my lap and begins a world-class stare down. If I haven’t looked at the clock, I know it’s officially doggy dinnertime.

If I want to read a book or write, I’m forced to serve my dictators . Both critters follow me to ground zero and strategically place themselves so I can’t leave the room until I’ve set their filled bowls before them.

It’s ironic I thought I’d train these dogs when they first moved in. I understand now that they meant all along to whip me into shape using those deep brown eyes and pitiful whines. I can’t imagine better bosses.


Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Recipe to Cure Winter Doldrums




Doldrums is a mariner’s term for windless conditions that becalm sailing vessels. For many, icy Januaries trigger a metaphorical emotional state. To help the winter-bound outlast every new year’s first two months, weather-induced blahs require creative solutions.

A friend inadvertently brightened this normally dreary season when she gifted me a copy of our church’s 1971 cookbook. Afterwards, I spent hours examining old recipes and familiarizing myself with  cooking preferences of women I’ve recently met as well as their mother’s who’ve passed. In short time, wimpy spirits vanished. Instead of longing for spring, exploring new ingredients and ways to cook familiar ones energized me. 

Decades ago, churchwomen in Meade gave me my very first hometown cookbook as a shower gift. Sorting through it to plan meals for my new husband taught me much about these friends’ culinary practices. In addition to following their instructions to bake irresistible breads and savory casseroles, I discovered a sour cream blackberry pie so delicious family still requests it at holidays.   

Over time, my collection multiplied. Favorites include worn books with spidery handwriting noting someone’s Aunt Gertie’s favorite meatloaf and similar comments. Despite loving these tried and true treasures, I don’t ignore brand new editions full of gastronomic delights.

 I find amazing batter-spattered texts while attending garage sales and auctions. Online ads offer the best avenue to seek specific titles. It took patience to find an out-of-print People Chow copy, but one eventually turned up. Newspaper ads and church bulletins highlight newcomers hot off the press.

Local collections display favorite regional foods with recipes unique to ethnic settlements. Area books frequently include instructions for making homemade sauerkraut, pickled chicken feet, blood sausage, or bean and noodle soup. A treasure I bought in Wilson contains familiar bierock recipes but also suggests a half-dozen ways to make kolaches and tomato noodles unique to Bohemian cooks.

A New Mexico purchase intrigued me with recipes requiring beef stomach as well as 1000 uses for red and green chilies. An addition from a mining town in Idaho offers pasty (not pastry) recipes to make meat pies that miners carried to work inside the nearby mountain. It’s also clear that huckleberries are the fruit of choice for jelly and pie makers in that town.

Speaking of fruits, few prairie cookbooks fail to include more than one way to make sandhill plum and chokecherry jellies or fruit leathers. Cooks can also find guidelines to prepare pheasant, venison, and occasionally raccoon, possum, or rattlesnake. Good local cookbooks explain how to make indigenous ingredients edible.

Ironically, recipe ingredients may be the same from one town to another, but titles can vary. A nearby village listed the same ingredients and instructions for concocting a dish residents called party potatoes. A burg down the road labeled the same item funeral potatoes. Guess it relates to when you eat it.


For a month that began uninspired, it’s a wonderland of possibility now. More than a dozen new recipes beckon. First, I’ll explore a locally favorite butterhorn roll formula. The tidy note written next to a previous owner’s favorite promises “A delicious batter for sweet rolls as well as dinner rolls.” I can’t wait to find out.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Wish that Worked Out



This time of year is a good time to remember traditions that remind us of generations who came before us. One of the best culture keepers in this region was an Ellis County historian named Lawrence Weigel. He visited my classes each year in the early 90s to share tales about Volga German customs involving Christ Kind, Belznickel, and New Year wϋnsching  (winching) traditions with high school freshmen. Nodding heads confirmed that some youngsters’ families still practiced these Old World activities. At the same time, puzzled faces and blank looks revealed that others were clueless about such customs. My own Volga German family didn’t pass on these stories so I was thrilled to learn them. Every January 1, I think of Mr. Weigel’s anecdotes about families calling on one another on the New Year to share wishes for health, long life, good luck, peace and health, and eternal happiness after death.

As only a beloved grandfather figure can, our lecturer described a festive day of visiting, feasting, and a bit of tippling. Part of this practice involved parents teaching youngsters to recite a wish that ran something like this passage I found online, “ Ich wϋnsche euch ein glϋckseliges Neues Jahr. Langes Leben. Gesϋndheit. Fried und Einigkeit. Und nach dem Tod, ewig Glϋckseligkeit.” As families traveled door-to-door or farm-to-farm, children lucky to be the first visitor or a beloved relative earned a coin for their efforts along with a handful of nuts or sweets. I’ve listened to more than one elder tell stories of reciting this rhyme to collect spending money. Recalling such memories always brought a sparkle to their eyes and a lilt to their voices.

According to Mr. Weigel, this occasion was also a day for young men old enough to marry to court available local maidens. If I recollect correctly, he explained the Romeos announced their arrival with a shotgun blast to the sky. I’m not sure how romantic that was, but young women possessing several color-coded ribbons eagerly awaited noisy suitors. I can imagine girls biting lips and pinching cheeks to increase their rosy tint on an already cold morning. I’m guessing a certain amount of shy smiling and foot shuffling took place as well since adults and younger siblings stood nearby to supervise the show. Girls would pin their good will tokens on callers’ lapels, saving a particular color for a special fellow. I’d love to hear one of these stories firsthand.

Storekeepers certainly would’ve encouraged this custom since so many families produced much of their only holiday food rather than buying it. Despite their customers’ self-sufficient natures, demand for ammo and fripperies at the local mercantile would’ve increased merchant bank deposits during days leading up to this holiday.

This time of year on social media, I see folks sending one another this New Year greeting. I hope area families continue to share customs that crossed the sea and traveled overland with their ancestors. These are little traditions, yet they remind us of brave forebearers who left the familiar to offer descendants a better life. Many of us can honestly say this centuries old good luck wish has worked out well.


Friday, December 23, 2016

An Unexpected Cooking Lesson



It’s curious how common items either go out of use or their intended purpose alters. One of those is the nutcracker. Most people nowadays think this term refers to a seasonal ballet where they might enjoy watching children or grandkids dressed up as old-fashioned ornamental German nutcrackers wearing military-style hats or as dainty sugarplum fairies. Others may store treasured family heirlooms until they retrieve them to decorate their tree. I recently had occasion to realize that actual nutcrackers frequently found in auction boxes serve a real purpose.

As a kid, my family bought whole nuts at Christmas time and offered them in a decorative bowl along with a metal pincer-style device and a silver pick for getting at hard to reach nutmeats. This practice continued a custom both my parents grew up with during the Depression. Their frugal families passed on a ritual long followed by their ancestors.

At our house, one of those traditions included filling Christmas stockings with an orange, an apple, and either some unshelled peanuts or whole nuts. Knowing many generations practiced this holiday tradition reminds me of a time when fresh fruits and nuts were luxuries one enjoyed only on special occasions. Despite knowing I’d see nuts every holiday that required a special opener, I never considered the nutcracker tool an essential kitchen utensil until I recently received a 5 lb. bag of fresh pecans.

An Oklahoma friend lives near the many groves in Eastern Oklahoma and shared his bounty. When I first saw lumpy grocery sack, I imagined it full of ready to eat pecans. When I opened this treasure trove, I realized my mistake. This freshly picked harvest had gone through a mechanical cracker to make it easier to extract the tasty center. However, I had to peel away shattered outer husks and separate the two pecans halves each shell once protected.  

It didn’t take long to understand why nuts are holiday treats and why some people esteem pies, cakes, cookies, candies, and butters made with them. As a person who considers walnuts, pecans, peanuts, cashews, and almonds edible only when served by themselves but not in baked goods, I missed this message growing up.

After I spent a couple of hours freeing nutmeats from shells, I understand why I find nutcrackers at almost every auction I attend. They were essential in old time kitchens. Cooks didn’t go to the store to buy a sack of already shelled nuts. They roamed creek banks to harvest nature’s encased proteins and then spent hours extracting meats from hulls. Knowing how my grandmas made use of everything, I’m sure they saved the inedible material to create fabric dyes or enrich garden soils.

This lesson humbled me. I’ve enjoyed preparing family recipes from scratch for decades. I never considered how I take for granted buying already-ground flour or churned butter quarters at the market. This nutty experience reminded me that not-so-distant family cooks would consider such easy access to ingredients an extravagance.





Sunday, December 18, 2016

Temperature Is Relative



It’s funny how different bodies react to weather this time of year. Take a gander next time you’re in a public parking lot and study folks wandering to and from vehicles. You’ll see eccentric sorts wearing Bermuda shorts and flip-flops like it’s the middle of July. Someone else will cruise from warm store to vehicle in jeans and a sweater-- lips and hands rosy with not a goose bump to indicate it’s below freezing. The woman shuffling to the car parked next to you might be covered Eskimo style so that you can’t tell a human is bundled inside that ski mask, sweatshirt, parka, snow pants, and boots. During your watch, you’ll see every fashion variable in between.

Each family has a mixture of these thermo-types to establish the range. Polar avoiders hate being cold and layer outdoor wear from top to bottom even on mild days. Auto-insulated folks, on the other hand, travel with a heavy coat in the car in case of bad weather but actually put it on only once or twice a winter. As long as those individuals wear long sleeves and pants, they don’t mind the cold wind’s bite, and they stride happily in brisk breezes that cause flags to fly at a 90 degree angle.

How two people with the same genes can have entirely different internal thermostats is a mystery, but it happens often. Schoolteachers see examples daily. Siblings arrive at school-- one in a tee shirt and no jacket while brother or sis sports long johns peeking from edges of multi-layered sweatshirts and jeans. 

Knowing this, remain alert to see who thrives in frigid weather. These folks are never happier than finding themselves somewhere that cool dawns and dusks require folks to wear jackets. Once temperatures go arctic, these individuals are in hog heaven. They come home from hunting, sledding, or feeding cattle with fogged up glasses, icicles hanging from eyebrows or mustaches, and Rudolph-style noses. As they peel away outer layers of clothing, they complain the house is too hot at 68 degrees.


Polar avoiders need to take advantage of such friends when temps plunge. Those early shiverers can stir up soup and cinnamon rolls while frostbite addicts cover heads with Stormy Kromer caps, zip insulated Carhartts, slip into heavy-duty mittens, and grab a big shovel. After an hour or so, the heat lovers can glance outside to see cleared driveways and evenly cut trails to garages and sheds. True cold devotees stay out long enough to scoop good size openings in the yard where pets can relieve themselves. They scrape snow and ice to the point wimpier loved ones could leave coats in the car because they won’t be outside long enough to need them.


This brings to mind a Wyoming road crewman. On a sizzling August day, he answered the question, “Do you prefer working outdoors in summer or winter?” After a moment’s thought, he grinned and said, “Winter. You can always add layers. In summer you’re limited to what you can take off.”










Sunday, December 11, 2016

Stories Are Important



I don’t know that celebrate is the right word for what Americans did December 7th, but we certainly should remember that date. Those who read news or social media were reminded throughout that day to recall military personnel who faced multiple enemy attacks at Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. History lovers followed up with FDR’s response to this event. What we can do less of these days is listen to stories of living survivors.

Western Kansas men and women answered duty’s call that December day. Hardly a family lived that didn’t send victory mail to loved ones serving in the European, African, or Pacific theaters. Those soldiers lucky enough to return lived among us. They labored as farmers, ranchers, teachers, entrepreneurs, preachers, law enforcement officers, bankers, and other occupations. They were our parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, spouses, friends, and enemies. Some shared recollections so others could better understand sacrificing for the greater good.

 As time passes, more of these heroes become memories. Over 16 million Americans served during WW II. By 2016, the Department of Veterans Affairs calculated that approximately 620,000 of those individuals still survived. As 2017 slides into view, that number drops daily. Unless families presently have a soldier in service, it’s difficult for children to understand the intensity that turned so many youngsters just out of high school into valiant warriors.

For us whose loved ones, friends, co-workers, and teachers wore a WW II uniform, their legacies influenced our lives. I grew up listening to an uncle’s stories of surviving the Pearl Harbor attacks. A Kansas farm boy, he never expected to experience such carnage when he joined the U.S. Navy in 1940. He returned to start a family and teach school. Two generations later, his granddaughter bravely served in Afghanistan.

Another uncle performed his duty on ships guarding the Pacific. He wasn’t a talker, but his service made his family proud and inclined my dad, his younger brother, to join the Marines and serve during the Korean Conflict. That, in turn, inspired later relatives to wear USMC insignia as they protected their country.

Getting out of uniform didn’t end a soldier’s service. Many filled post-war teaching positions. History classes in the not-too-distant past  included lessons from people who fought in hedgerows and survived torpedoed ships. I found t those instructors’ knowledge so valuable that when I began teaching, I asked my students to interview former veterans. Among those stories, we discovered a resident who’d seen the atomic bomb explode. Another pupil’s neighbor helped liberate Dachau. Interviewers learned a survivor couldn’t talk about some experiences without choking up even after 45 years.

These stories provided primary sources that taught the importance of protecting freedoms many take for granted. Suddenly, we’re discovering this information now exists only in books or on film. I hope Americans never forget such difficult times or citizens who left loving homes and comfortable lives to face unrelenting enemies. Their remaining messages remind us to capture the experiences of still living veterans. What they share is profound, necessary, and fleeting if it isn’t recorded.