Monday, April 29, 2013

Sam's Desk

In the first entry to this blog, I think I observed the tendency for old men to have more difficulty with remembering their stories. In particular, separating the important and germane from the irrelevant details. Also, I have found that they repeat themselves. So, ...if you've heard this one...

I'm sitting at the desk my paternal great grandfather brought to the farm when he moved there in 1884, which means that next year the farm will have been in the family for 130 years. Quite a ride for a piece of furniture. It sat in our "front room" for all of my childhood and eventually was in a flood at Marcee's apartment in Minneapolis in the late 1990's. Then to Kansas City, Portland, across the country to its current home in Virginia Beach.

It bears a resemblance to a lot of us who sat here behind it; kind of weathered, a bit worn, dented and wobbly, but still serviceable.

The original purpose of this blog was to pass along some stories, mostly about family and my experience, and I have of course digressed to offer opinions which is either the curse or the privilege of us older guys. Here are some things about "Grandpa" Sam.

I have it somewhere, but don't exactly know his date of birth--somewhere in the middle of the 19th century in Sweden, and he came to America as a young man, probably about 1870. The ship's captain was the only law on the open seas, and this one, as was somewhat common, decided to exact additional "fees" from the passengers. Those fees were extortion, basically all the money they could steal, so that Sam arrived in New York's harbor, probably near where the memorial sits today at the end of Manhattan Island in Battery Park with 25 cents in his shoe. He intended to walk to Illinois where he had relatives, and basically did so.

Marcee and I visited that place in Battery Park where the immigrants arrived before Ellis Island was opened in 1892, and it was an emotional event for both of us.

He apparently soon made it to Pennsylvania, took some odd jobs, caught a few rides, walked a lot and made it to Illinois. In the next few years, he amassed enough money (and this is somewhat of a mystery, whether he earned it, borrowed it or got it from an inheritance or something) to take the train to Nebraska, intending to buy something near the Salem Church, east of St. Edward, where there was a Swedish community. He looked at the piece of land where the Nebraska capital sits in Lincoln, but dismissed that as a useless, salty place. And he also looked at the farm he eventually bought from a man he met on the train.

The name of that person escapes me right now, it was something like Hoskins, but in any event he sold it to Grandpa Sam. Nance county was originally an Indian reservation for the Pawnee Indians, but when Nebraska became a state, they rescinded that grant and shipped the Pawnee off to other places, principally Oklahoma. The state then sold the land to investors, versus the story that I always heard that it was homesteaded, who speculated on the land by improving it. For instance, the house where I grew up was at least partially built by the investor. Sam's purchase was more than the 160 acres usually associated with a homestead.

Eventually, Sam came to own over 1,000 acres, mostly contiguous in the valley and south. My dad, Wallie, was always so grateful that he decided to settle in the flat, fertile valley instead of "those damned hills up by Salem." Anyone who plodded behind horses, used old tractors with little horsepower and old trucks disliked hills, but he was passionate about it. "The Lord must have liked hills and homely people because he sure made a lot of them."

The one-room school where I went to school was attended by four generations of my family, my grandfather, my dad, my brother and me and my brother's children, Kevin and Peggy. It was called Big Cut, Nance County District 12. Presided over by my teacher, Mrs. Lucille McKillip, for eight of the nine years I attended it, and the Nance County superintendent of schools, Jesse G. Kreidler. An imposing woman who supervised all the rural schools in the county.

Funny, I remember both of those women wore similar shoes, a sensible shoe that looked a lot like a man's wingtip with a small heel. No fashion, all business. Watch out, wandering into irrelevant details!!

During Sam's day on the farm, he assisted in carving the cut out of the hill for the railroad, the cut that gained the nickname for the school, Big Cut. Not much of a construction project in our time, but back then it was a big deal and Sam was hired to do a lot of the work because he had oxen, and they were more effective than horses, I guess.

I always heard that he built the barn, but I suspect that it was at least partly built when he bought the place as it was in the most unlikely place to put livestock, in the far northwest corner of the farmstead. He immediately moved it to its current location. Added on to the house. Bought land. It was the heyday of the farm and the farmer in that part of the world. Very prosperous.

Not a very big man, he was short and wiry, he apparently had a lot of energy. It is said that when the men came in for dinner at noon, they would rest along with the horses or other stock for more than the customary "noon hour." They were walking behind the teams, it was probably hot, so rest was a good idea. Sam couldn't sit still, so he would mow the grass on the lawn in front of the house with a reel-type push mower that was still in the shed when I was young, 50 years later. That lawn stretched 1/8 of a mile, over 200 yards from the western edge of the property beyond the cattle pens.

Still standing on the property are many of the trees he planted. There were no trees on the prairie in Nebraska when the white settlers came--the prairie does not tolerate woody plants, it is a place for grass. The prairie fires in particular would wipe anything out before it was mature enough to last, except for the rare tree that was established in an ox bow bend of the creek. So, he took a team and wagon 25 miles to the Platte river near Silver Creek and harvested some trees from the islands in the middle of the river. Those are the ones around the farmstead today, although the cottonwoods have mostly died of old age. The maples are about the only ones to survive long term.

The farms were bequeathed to his children upon his death, and the large enterprise was broken up. When my dad graduated from high school in 1930, my grandfather and he bought more of the place and started farming--just in time for the Depression and the Dust Bowl. More on that elsewhere.

My brother's son, Kevin, and his family live in the Omaha area, and his son, the sixth generation, is named Samuel (his daughter is named Emma, and she shares a birthday with my paternal grandmother, Emma).

The sixth generation of our family will visit the farm over Memorial Day weekend. My oldest granddaughter, Anna, wanted to visit the farm, so she and her mother, my oldest daughter, Amy, will do so.

My ties to that place are strong. It is important to me. There is a sense of place, of roots. So much of my life has been sort of transient, but that is the place that speaks to me of home.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Abuse of women and girls

My friend Gerry Martin posted this as a book to put on your list:

"From the book Half the Sky, by the husband/wife team of Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn:
The global statistics on the abuse of girls are numbing. It appears that more girls have been killed in the last fifty years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the wars of the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine "gendercide" in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century"
"Numbing" may be the correct word. Can you imagine this? It is beyond my ability to contemplate, and when you consider the size of the "slaughters" in the genocides of the twentieth century, there is the Holocaust, but then Nigeria, Congo, Cambodia, Bosnia/Serbia and so on.

I asked Gerry if this included abortions of female fetuses, and it evidently does not.

Whenever I think of the injustices of the world, I consider that my mother was nine years old before women in the US were allowed to vote. People do amazingly cruel things to each other.

Sorry for the thought of the day to be of this nature.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Some folks just have a knack

For languages.

Tom Westphall sent me a picture and said it reminded him of a story I tell about an acquaintance from several years ago.

Ed Lutkevitch (real name, although I think it might have been the second or third one in his lifetime, and it is pronounced loot kay' vich) recounted an experience from his younger days, when he was in the Coast Guard stationed in Hawaii. It was sort of in the early years of the Viet Nam war, but not yet to the peak, so the Coast Guard in Hawaii had a pretty good duty station.

In fact, when they were on "standby," they were even allowed to leave the ship, according to Ed. Ed and his buddies were on shore, in a bar, when they were notified that they had to report back to the ship because there was a South American pleasure vessel in distress. They staggered back to their posts and intercepted the South America boat.

Only a few times in my life have I found something so amusing that I either snorted liquid through my nose or laughed so hard that I couldn't breathe. One of those times was when I first heard Ron "Tater Salad" White tell about when he had been arrested for public intoxication and said, "I wasn't drunk in public. I was drunk in a bar! They THREW me in public. The New York police told me that I had the right to remain silent. I just didn't have the ability."

That "...I just didn't have the ability" part comes so close to home that it makes it even more hilarious to me.

Well, Ed was not drunk in a bar or in public any more, he was drunk on a Coast Guard ship.

The skipper was having difficulty communicating with the people on the boat, so he asked over his loudspeaker/intercom whether anyone knew Spanish.

I can remember the circumstances clearly. We were in a Chili's restaurant in eastern North Carolina waiting out a hurricane. It wasn't dangerous or anything, but raining like crazy, windy, stormy-looking, so we couldn't be outside looking at properties. All we could do was eat burgers, fries and drink beer.

The skipper needed to let the boat know that they had to somehow reorient themselves versus the Coast Guard ship in order to accomplish the rescue. So the young Ed, after taking a class in high-school Spanish, decided he could help the skipper out. He took the bull horn, (here, Ed put his hands to his mouth as if to form a megaphone) aimed it in the general direction of the troubled boat and broadcast,

“El Capitán. El Capitán. Pull el boat-o along el side-o.”

When I recovered from the beer flowing through my nose and could breathe again, he continued the story. We didn't have anything else to do.

The skipper was not amused. The choice was, be assigned to a River Boat on the Mekong (although I have no idea how a Coast Guardsman could be given that assignment) or guard an island 750 miles west of Hawaii, the Johnston Atoll. It was one square mile and the assignment was for a year. He took the duty on the little island; decided to let someone else patrol the Mekong. He said he saw the flash of one of the H-Bomb tests from there.

Ya know, I don't know how much of that story is factually accurate, but in the last analysis, that doesn't make much difference.

Thanks, Tommy. Hadn't thought of that story for a while.

Air Travel

Just returned from a trip to California, left Virginia on a Tuesday, returned the next Wednesday. I think it is the first time I have ever traveled coast to coast, which is unusual considering all the air miles I have logged over the years.

The return trip was a bit of an adventure--I left the hotel room at 7:00 AM on Tuesday and arrived home a bit after 7:00 PM Wednesday. Thirty-six hours without leaving the area behind security. The first plane broke; the stay in Chicago was weather-related.

Linda told me that at least I would have a new subject for the blog, and so I am obliging. The trip was tiring, of course, and any time I lose a night's sleep, it is telling. My first reaction was the "woe is me" sort of thing, but we really need to recognize what a miracle air travel is. Pretty amazing that we can move that far in that time frame, and it would have been less than 8 hours if that 757 hadn't broken down.

The airline helped with some additional frequent flyer miles, some meal tickets and discounts. You think of all the equipment, people and fuel involved, and the $650 I paid round trip is a bargain. Yes, I feel guilty for contributing all that carbon to the high atmosphere. Ever notice how no one talks about the environmental impact of air travel? Yet, that CO and CO2 doesn't even have a chance to be sequestered (I think that conforms to the proper and traditional use of the word, not the newly invented one referring to across-the-board cuts in government spending), it is just plunked there in the upper atmosphere.

Glad to be home. Now I know what it feels like to take a trip to Fiji or some place, I guess. Actually, just looked up the time to Fiji...only about 24 hours, but on the way out, it takes two days because of the date line. Not so daunting, now. Good grief, you can even get to the Maldives in less than 36 hours. Having a hard time finding anyplace to go that takes more. Antarctica? But can you get there by air? Maybe some remote post in Siberia? What is the longest air travel experience you have had?

Monday, April 1, 2013

Opening Day

As most of you know, I really like baseball. When I was in college, the literature teachers told me that great literature imitated life. Well, baseball goes beyond that--life imitates baseball.

Opening day, everyone is enthused. Everyone is optimistic, and for me it means that all is right with the world. Even though the Royals lost, the Twins lost (I have a hard time, since I like both teams and they are in the same division). But the Yankees lost, so that defines a very good day, despite all else.

Last night, the Houston Astros debuted in the American League. Seldom do you see teams change from one league to the other. They are supposed to be the worst team in baseball this year, maybe the worst team in the history of baseball. But, they won. They beat the Rangers who are contenders. See this thing about life and baseball?

I don't know if he will hold up, but the centerfielder for the Astros, Justin Maxwell. Two triples in the first game? And a trapped ball in the outfield. Not bad.

The "Natural," came through. Harper hit home runs each of his first two at bats. Only been done on opening day something like 19 times in the history of baseball. I think I may have to follow the Nationals a bit since probably can get them on TV here.

That's all. The world is spinning correctly, baseball is back.


I sign my emails with a variety of signature blocks that include little quotes that amuse me. I know it is hokey, but at my age, who cares.

One of them reminds me of a whole bunch of things, besides the message--"One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been." A comment about today and our lives.

My cousin Jan has transcribed some of her father's diary from 1932 and 1933 that a lot of us find fascinating and her sister in law calls a treasure. Maurie used the word "splendid" sometimes, and whenever I hear that word, I think of him because he was a splendid man who lived a splendid life.

I don't hear that word much any more. It is a good one. Hope anyone reading this has a splendid day, a splendid evening, and reflects on a splendid life.