Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Kestner Wallace: A Dollar the Hard Way

For many years I've read articles by Kestner Wallace about his life near Womble Mountain in Saline County, but I had never met him. I was delighted when his son Ray and he showed up at the group book signing at Cata's on December 17 and I had a chance to buy his book A Dollar the Hard Way: Growing Up in Tough Times in the Ozark Foothills.

As a surprise for his 85th birthday, his son Ray and his daughter LeAnn Wallace had published a collection of his stories in a beautiful hardbound book with a beautiful book cover. The book is dedicated to his beloved wife of 55 years--Evelyn. The truth is most of the people who come into Wallace's life become loved by him, and it is a worthwhile to read his shrewd observations on human nature.

This World War II veteran had lost his father at an early age, and he had assumed responsibilities early on that were daunting. Whether he is off to Michigan to get employment to help the family, hitchhiking to high school to get an education, or going fishing to have a good time, Wallace has a way of attracting interesting episodes with interesting people that he can share. Despite the family and the nation's poverty during the 1930s, Wallace, who begins teaching school with only a high school education, goes on to SIU where he completes not just a college education but advanced degrees even as he continues his career as an educator for for 42 years.

He and his son Ray lives on the land that has been in the family for five generations. His daughter LeAnn lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Lewis and Clark Two Hundred Years Later

Probably everyone has experienced walking up to two women excitedly talking about someone else's lives and listening in trying to get oriented and figure out if you know these people who have such dramatic happenings going on. Then you find out the two women are talking about the latest development in their soap opera.

At our house right now, we must constantly realize that no matter the topic, when Gerald joins in the conversation with an appropriate anecdote or observation that he is talking about William Clark and Meriwether Lewis. He is so into their adventures two hundred years ago that he is making the men very real to all of us.

He is fascinated that these scholarly men--truly brilliant men--spell words several different ways in one paragraph. So he likes to share their spelling with us too. He is amazed at their medical practices, which the rest of us don't always feel make the best meal-time subject matter. But most of all, he is impressed with the the hugeness of their accomplishment going into uncharted land and finally reaching the Pacific Ocean despite illness, accidents, hardships unimaginable today, and extreme dangers.

They were accompanied on their trip by Sacajawea (also spelled Sacagawea and Sakakawea by some people and probably other ways). It can hardly be considered anything less than providential that she was along. She had been kidnapped from her Shoshoni tribe by the Minnetaree Indians on the Great Plains. A French-Canadian trader named Toussaint Charbonneau, who lived among the Minnetaree, bought her as a wife when she was 13. Lewis and Clark recruited them for the expedition and their son Jean Baptistte or "Pomp" was born on the journey. It was from the Shoshoni Indians that Lewis and Clark knew they must obtain horses when they left the rivers behind and had to cross the Great Divide. Amazingly when they met up with the Shoshoni, Sacajawea recognized the chief as her lost lost brother. They got the horses. Her parents were dead and so was her sister, but she was able to immediately adopt her sister's son. Clark much later took in Sacajawea's son to live with him in Saint Louis so Pomp could obtain an education. What a story!!!!

Although they were only here through lunch yesterday, our son-in-law Rick and our granddaughter Leslie got to hear quite a bit about Lewis and Clark the same as the rest of us. Rick had gotten out of bed early despite the few hours' sleep and taken the van to be checked out. As he thought, it was just a mis-cueing warning light and not a problem, so he felt comfortable for them to continue their journey to Nashville. While I fixed lunch, Gerald took Les and Samuel up to see their cousins Erin and Geri Ann yesterday morning, so that was neat. Erin got another of Leslie's songs recorded to share with roommates back on campus.

I'd managed to take the children's presents and hide them at their Freeport home, but we hadn't gotten Jeannie's and Rick's presents to them yet. So Rick brought in presents for us and took theirs. One gift he carried in was a huge wrapped box that turned out to be Cecelie's handcrafted martin house project. With the help of her mother, I am sure, Cecelie had done quite an astounding research job, excellent paper and beautiful poster plus made the model of a multicompartment martin house--all for a first grade project. Gerald and I also got a clay-like molded bird made by Cecelie also--mine was a yellow finch and his was a blue-black purple martin. My living room coffee table is now decorated with a rather large cardboard accessory, and Jeannie's problem of what to do with the painstaking martin house creation is solved!

Monday, December 26, 2005

December 26th--A Great Holiday

Always I have loved the time between Christmas and New Year's Day. My responsibilities as a housewife are over. Gift getting and wrapping are behind me, dinner has been served, and at least by New Year's the extra dishes are all put away--even if all of them aren't yet today. Yet the Christmas trees are still glowing and I leave them up to New Year's Day at least. (One year when it snowed during break and the children couldn't go back to school, I left the tree up through Old Christmas and the twelth day of Christmas. This week cards will still be coming in from friends and loved ones. I usually have time to look through and enjoy the ones already here. Because there are leftovers to eat for awhile, cooking time is reduced. It is a lovely mellow time of the year where it is proper to give oneself a rest and a true holiday from working. December 26 is a lovely holiday indeed.

Gerald and I spent the morning drinking coffee together, talking, and each reading on our current book. Not only has he been reading the daily account of Lewis and Clark in the Southern Illinoisan, he has also been reading the journal of Lewis and Clark that we bought at the gift shop two springs ago when we took a carload of grandkids to see the movie at the theater at the Arch in St. Louis. I have been reading Kestner Wallace's book and finished it this evening before I fixed us all a bite of supper.

Christmas morning was the first morning in 49 years that Gerald and I woke up alone in a house without a single child or grandchild present. The Eilers were waking up in Freeport since they come every other Christmas, and they were here along with the rest of the families on Thanksgiving. Then there were heading to Naperville yesterday afternoon for celebration with Rick's mother. The Taylors were in Florida with Brian's mother, who has just moved there from the New York area. This was their first Christmas not here, but they don't usually get to come on Thanksgiving, so it all worked out well.

The two local families are usually only here for the dinner and gift opening and visiting, and that was true this year also. On Christmas Eve, after the Cedars had gone to David's family for their Christmas get-together, they then went in the rain to their house--still in process of being remodeled--and slept on the floor just so Samuel could wake up on Christmas morning in his own home again. It has been hard on Samuel, since his parents were originally told by the contractor that they'be be back home in September soon after school started. Then they were told they could move back in by Thanksgiving. They have spent the month of December working much too hard--doing themselves what had never gotten done. Yesterday morning after they had their family time together opening the few presents they had at their house, they came back to Woodsong before noon and welcomed the beds here last night. Samuel was very pleased with their celebration. I think Samuel finally has some hope that someday he will be back home in his own room again. Today friends off work poured into their house to help David, and they are working yet tonight.

Gerry had come in from Mexico on Friday and Vickie met him in St. Louis and took him back there this morning to catch his plane to the border and back to the lodge and his hunting business. It is always good to see him after he's been away although he is always cold in our climate after Mexico and he will be distracted by what may be going on while he is away. Erin was still chilled out from her new cold and snowy environment at Notre Dame. When Gerald took Samuel and Geri Ann on the mule for a ride in the little wagon around the lake in the chilly air, Erin declined to leave our cozy house. Jeannie had dreaded the Northern climate for her knowing how she felt the year they moved to Freeport and the snow started before the Halloween parade and their first winter there was colder than any year since. It was strange not having Tara here on Christmas Day. But appropriately she and fiance Bryan were in Chicago area with his family. So with only nine at our dinner table, we were able to all sit at one table, and the dishes were fewer.

Rick just phoned from Naperville with their change of plans. He and Leslie are going to check out Belmont College in Nashville, and they were scheduled to be here on Thursday only to find out that was also the day we were leaving for Brownsville, Texas, for Tara's wedding. But the Cedars would welcome them here, and I had the upstairs guest room ready for them. However, with a little light flashing on the new van, which is driving fine, Rick decided he would like to have it checked out in Marion tomorrow morning. Therefore, I will be leaving the porch light on and the door unlocked for two tired travelers arriving around 3 in the morning. I am pleased that I am going to get to see them on this trip through here after all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Enjoying the Lights and Attending Programs

Gerald has the outside lights up--something we never did over at the other farm house--and we enjoy the beauty of them as we come up our lane. I've done all the decorating inside that I plan to do. And with the attack of sciatica, I decided to not do anymore Christmas shopping. One minute I am fine, and the next I am in pain, so I don't get too excited thinking about running around stores. I had bought some gifts last summer, and I've wrapped them--even taken some to the houses of the two daughters who can't come to Woodsong this Christmas. Gerald kindly chose the men in the family their gifts--including the one I am giving him. That was a tremendous help.

I meant to bake cookies early in the month for the "Cookie Crumble"--an annual affair where churches take homemade cookies for international students at SIUC. I was disappointed when I was not up to it, but was relieved when our church's representative said there was more than enough without my contribution. I did manage to bake some brownies and one batch of cookies to take some goodies for the trays we take to our church shut-ins when we go carrolling. That was a fun event with a couple of youth going with us to especially please the ones we visited.

Next there was our church's Sunday afternoon youth Christmas program, an evening musical with Katherine and Samuel at their church, and then Samuel's third grade Christmas musical.

Last Sunday morning, I sang in our adult cantata and then again that evening when we presented it at the Carrier Mills Nursing Home. We went to that home this year because one of our dear and long-time members recently went there to live. Her husband is with her every day, and we wanted to give the concert there in her honor and to show support for his bravery. She was wheeled down and looked dignified as always soberly listening to us, but she didn't know us. We hope the hugs from those of us who have loved and admired her for so many years benefited her in some subtle way. It benefited us to know we did this for her. She not only served as a teacher in our church but served as an outstanding teacher at a nearby university as well as traveling all over the nation teaching servicemen. One of our teens laughingly recalled that she always called him prescious in those years she taught him in Sunday School before her illness made it impossible to continue. A large crowd of her fellow residents were there in the attractive hall with her, and it was a pleasure to see their smiles and enjoyment. We were given applause after every song and a multitude of compliments at the program's end. They joined in with great participation when our pastor led us in congregational singing of "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World." When we finished, we were urged to come back again soon. Their graciousness and enthusiasm was a wonderful gift from them to us.

Finally yesterday Gerald and I traveled to Lake Saint Louis for the purpose of seeing Brianna's fifth grade musical and Trent's junior high fall band concert. Trent's concert had been snowed out last Thursday, and we were disconcerted when it was rescheduled the same night at his sister's musical. But Bree figured out that if we got there at ten in the morning to see the fifth grade's presentation to the younger students at Green Tree Elementary School, then we could all attend Trent's concert that night. It was a push to get there that early, but we would have made it.

Except Mary Ellen phoned that she had no sooner delivered both Trent to junior high yesterday morning than the school phoned that he was sick. Although Brianna had been ill over the weekend, Mary Ellen was hoping he wasn't that sick, but of course he would not be allowed to be in the concert that night since he was not at school that day. So she told us that we could slow down and go straight to their house and only have one program to see in Lake Saint Louis. Contrary to her expectations, Trent was even more ill than Bree had been over the weekend, so we felt very sorry for him. Bree's fifth grade musical was called "Lighten Up!" and was a tribute to humor. We heard a lot of jokes and saw some cute song skits, and enjoyed how pretty our blonde granddaugher was. And again we did some group singing that made it seem a lot like Christmas.

Today Gerald and Mary Ellen took me to a nearby mall so I could shop for an outfit for the upcoming wedding of our oldest grandchild on New Year's Eve. Stopping for groceries on the way home, it was late afternoon by the time we got back to farm and turned on the Christmas tree lights.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Snow, Sciatica, and Crab Orchard Open Houses

Plans fall by the wayside when snow makes our country roads slick and dangerous. I had to cancel lunch plans with Deb Tucker when Gerald phoned from Route 13 telling me about the cars off the highway there between Murphy and Carbondale. We just try to stay home as much as possible. That isn't hard to do for me right now since my sciatic nerve has been attacking me ever since the day after Thanksgiving. I am getting better, but I do a lot of moaning. When I move just wrong or stand up, I do some breath taking and sometimes screeching. I never know when I stand up if I will have to walk bent over grabbing the furniture or if I will bounce along without a pain in the world. I finally got up my courage to get down on the floor and do some of the exercises on the sheet the doctor gave me. Our groceryman said it took his wife six months to get over a bout like this. I hope I am faster.

Since I have been afraid to make any kind of plans for book signings this month because of the sciatica, I thought I would at least take in the Crab Orchard Open Houses today. I couldn't get up my nerve to go to the morning concert at the Methodist Church for fear I would not be able to walk after I got there. After lunch with the family, it took me till almost time for the concert at the Baptist church at 2 to decide to attempt the fun outing. I was glad I went when I heard Jeff Beasley and daughter Krista singing the Christmas songs. Jeff's "White Christmas" is more beautiful than Bing's. I finally met Rosalee Mocaby Fields, who sang and played the piano so beautifully for us, and it was fun singing carols with neighbors and friends.

The big reason I wanted to go to the open houses was to see the Poordo Store. When we first moved to Crab Orchard, our youngest two daughters were invited to a birthday party there as the birthday girl's family lived in the living quarters behind the store. The store has been closed a long time now, and Bill Jones has built a beautiful house beside it. An huge old-fashioned cedar Christmas tree was set up inside the front door. A group was sitting in a circle enjoying the talk and coffee and hot cranberry tea when I got there and they were still talking when I left--just like the olden days. All kinds of refreshments were served as well as goodies and crafts displayed for sale to benefit the community. I brought home some home-made candies and peanut brittle. On the wall were framed clippings of newspaper accounts of the history of Atilla--now called Poordo--and wonderful ancient photographs of the Welborn family and their two-story house that burned in the 1940s. (It sat where Bill Mandrell's house does now.) Bill Jones' mother Pearl Jones was the Welborn's daughter if I got that family history understood right.

I managed to squeeze in a visit to Larry and Kay Woodson's lovely lakeside home filled with family furniture and memories. I enjoyed thinking of our late friends Bill and Altha Brown while there. By then it was almost 4 p.m., when the events were to shut down. So I hurried to Gary and Faye Ellen Chamness's newly remodeled home that I am been eager to visit all summer as the porch is so inviting--even more so with all the lovely Christmas trim. Everything was beautiful, and the living room tree gorgeous, and the tall rustic cedar tree in the back sun room brought back memories of our trees in Jonesboro that Daddy always cut from the farm at Goreville.

Although there wasn't time to visit the library, the business open houses, the quilt show at the Methodist church, or to see the Montgomery log house I've always wanted to see, I had a good time, enjoyed visiting with other Crab Orchard folk, and went home in the Christmas spirit to turn on our lights on our trees and sit and look at today's Christmas cards.

The snow is too dry for snowmen making, but somehow Geri Ann and Gerald found wet snow on our picnic table on the deck and made a snowman there yesterday while she was out of school. It wasn't fair that Samuel had to go to school yesterday when Marion schools were in session and everyone else in the county were dismissed. But at least he got in on the sled riding with Gpa after Gerald and Geri Ann picked him up from school. Today Sam figured out that he too could use the deck snow, which for some reason was wetter, and now we have his snow man also atop the picnic table.

The Crab Orchard School Christmas program had to be cancelled with Thursday's snow, so I understand it was tonight instead. Bet that played havoc with the families that had tickets to the SIUC name tonight.

Our church children's program is tomorrow afternoon at 2 at Center. Neither snow nor sciatica stops the approaching Christmas. I better find time for cards and finishing my shopping soon.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Christmas at Jo's

For the women in Center Baptist Church, going to Jo's for our December meeting and annual Christmas party is part of our life's tradition. We know we will be greeted by luminaries in the yard as we get out of our cars as well as other outside lights. Inside will be old and new decorations--two gingerbread dolls were new this year--one from a niece and one Jo bought at the first Extension Bazaar recently.

I especially cherish getting to see the annual display of tiny ice skaters from Jo's childhood. Each year they skate on a mirror on a table in the living room. After we have sung from song sheets that are so old no one knows who typed typed them, we will hear a devotion and poem or two and have a business meeting before we move into the family room to enjoy the fireplace and beautiful Christmas tree there. In that room those who have drawn secret sisters will try to guess who they are before gifts are opened to reveal the sister. Last but not least, there will be excellent food because Jo Barger is one of the top cooks and most knowledgable persons about foods in the Midwest. We will move to the game room and find the pool table transformed into a large serving table filled with pretty and delectable choices. Most of us have a hard time choosing between the lime sherbert punch served in Santa Claus cups or the hot cranberry tea, and some of us indulge in both. Doing things mostly the same way from year to year has a certain comforting quality that makes such annual events special enough to bring back former members as well as new. Jo might decide to use a different punch some year, but I hope she doesn't!

Among the new ones attending this year were the two babies born to our church members this year. I know it was an effort for the young moms to bring the babies out, but we had lived and prayed through the two pregnancies with the mothers and we were thrilled to have Bobby Jo and Toby with us in their Christmas finery.

Getting back to our traditional song sheets with the words of carols and popular Christmas songs alike: I can always imagine some harried housewife or perhaps it was a working secretary already putting in a 40 hour week someplace laboriously typing the master copy for the memographed sheets. And then, she used green or red construction backs to staple the sheets on. Thus, they were sturdy and attractive. I wonder when she (or perhaps a committee) did the sheets if she wondered if this job had gotten out of control and she really shouldn't be putting that much time and effort into something for folks outside her own home. At this time of year, many women get trapped in those kinds of extra activities, and they sometimes find their pleasure spoiled by wondering if they should be involved at all. I am assuming whoever typed our song sheets not only must have moved from our community years ago but perhaps has already died. I am so grateful to that person. With the ease of computer typing, we could make new song sheets with half the effort--and someday we may have to--but I would never enjoy singing from the new ones as much as I have enjoyed using the old ones. I am grateful to that unknown woman who put herself out to make them. I think of her as I sing, and I wish I could tell her that her effort is still appreciated.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Christmas Is Coming--Ready or Not

Gerald came home from our friend "Bun" Handkins' house the other day and informed me that "Bun" has his candy all ready to offer the carrollers from our church when we make our annual call to his home to share carols and prayer with him. When his Rose was first shut-in, we began going there usually first on our carrolling night, and they always insisted we come inside and have a piece of scrumptious candy. For a few years now, it has just been "Bun" to sing to, but he does not forget our candy. He is 93 and very alert still going to town most days as well as keeping check on Gerald's crops and ducks. Gerald could not keep from boasting, of course, that he had already had the first piece of candy during his visit with "Bun." I still have the candy canes that Noami Richey gave us carrollers and place them on our tree each year in remembrance of her. Funny how much a piece of candy can mean to you when it is from someone you love.

There is a wreath on our front door and a few decorations set out. I meant to ask Gerald to get down the heavy box from top closet shelf tonight but forgot. Mary Ellen's manger scene (a gift from her one year) is set up. The tiny set from our children's babyhood is waiting for me to set it up on the floor by the piano in the living room--although most of our grandkids are getting too old to play with it anymore. (Actually the original set came into our marriage with me as I had bought it for my college dorm room for the Johnson Hall Christmas open house. So the original set is well over 50 years old.) When some of the little hollow plastic figures broke after years of handling, I replaced them with the same size chalk figures I found at a rummage sale someplace.

I am enjoying the lights going up around the community and feeling sorry for the homeowners who fight the blown-down balloon-type decorations each morning that I see when I drive Samuel into town to his school.

I am trying to decide what to do and what not to do during this season of celebration. I've written an annual letter for many years and always enjoy it. But I had been thinking that since I am moving slowly this week with the first bout of sciatica I've ever had that maybe I should not do so this year. Then today I got the sweetest email from a young cousin-in-law telling me she loved to read it when she was a little girl at home. Hmmm. Do I really want to drop that tradition? I started it when cards and letters were the main adult part of the season for me since I really couldn't afford to give expensive gifts. When Gerald got embarrassed after all the critical letters that appear in Dear Abby/Ann type columns each year, I dropped his name from the letters. But by then, I could not stop writing the annual letter because I received so many nice notes from older friends and relatives saying they cherished getting them. So I decided that if those types who hate the letters and consider them brag-sheets weren't smart enough to throw them away without reading them, I would just have to let them suffer. I was not going to disappoint those people like me who really love knowing what long- ago friends and far-off relatives are doing. I even like reading my adult children's annual letters as it helps me review their past years. Just as writing my letter helps me review our year.