Thursday, March 29, 2007

Spring Beauties and Toothwort

Thanks to Karen Frailey, I found out the plant in our woods Sunday was Toothwort. The very next day Joe Crabb of Golconda sent a lovely photo of a flower from his woods and a little story about Cherokee Tears, a legend which various states on the Trail of Tears route credit to different plants on the Trail--supposedly planted there by the tears of the Cherokee as they passed by.

I got all excited and thought our flowers were some of the Illinois Cherokee Tears. But after opening the attachment of Joe’s photo, I saw his flower had five petals while the ones in our woods had only four. The color and blossoms resembled each other--but the leaves were radically different. So I still did not know the name of our flower.

I had gone back last night into the woods to get a fresh plant to press so I could show Karen exactly what ours looked like. Only one plant was at the spot where several were on Sunday (and I had only picked one), but then I found a new patch a little way away. I felt guilty Sunday even picking one flower because Bruce Beasley taught me to leave wild flowers alone--but I think he meant not to dig them up, and I did not.

Oddly, in the Sunday spot, however, now there was some of Joe's Cherokee Tears with the five petals. The flowers of both plants were closed last evening as it was almost after dark, but I put them both in the dictionary to press to send Karen, but now I don't have to, because today Karen sent Joe and me these two websites: and

The answer was clear. Joe’s “Cherokee Tears” were Spring Beauties, and my jagged- tooth leaved plant was Toothwort. And the second trip to the woods showed me we had both plants growing side by side as Karen said they often did.

Our Spring Beauties were whitish-pinkish as Joe's picture was. Not as pink as on the website, but Karen say they vary. Our Toothwort blossoms were about the same whitish-pinkish color as the Spring Beauties but definitely the same four-petals as the photo on the website. The leaves are so distinctive that they cannot be confused.

So then I had to look in dictionary and find out what this "wort" meant--old English word meaning "herb" or "plant." I definitely like the name "Spring Beauty" better than "Toothwort." Sounds too much like a cure for toothache.

The highways and byways in Southern Illinois are stunning with redbud abloom replacing the white blossoms on the now-greening pear trees. Where yellow daffodils lined one spot on a country road last week, there are now white narcissus instead. However, we still saw a few daffodils yesterday as Gerald and I drove to Hafer on an errand before the Johnston City softball game with Warren High School. Everything was so fresh and green that it was a beautiful drive on an early spring day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Springtime Begins

Daffodils are blooming along our country roadsides where someone long ago planted them, and now they have spread over great areas. We are drinking sassafras tea. Gerald has found two duck nests with a single egg in them. The martins have returned and are perched on the houses chirping happily. Spring is definitely here.

I guess yesterday was the first day of spring this year. One of our dictionaries says the equinox occurs around March 21; another dictionary says March 22. But on someone’s website, I saw that yesterday was that first day of spring this year.

Regardless of the exact date, I welcomed spring today by cleaning out the henbit from the day lily bed and re-mulching it. Fortunately henbit is easily pulled. The occasional wild onion had deep roots and was harder to pull or dig out. Almost impossible to get out is the grass I allowed to establish itself in some of the clumps of day lily. Not only do I have trouble distinguishing between the lily leaves and the grass, but the grass roots wind around the day lily. It is tough to remove. It was past suppertime, so I finally gave up on the last clump. I will have to try it again at another time.

We are watching the end-of-the-season volleyball games and first-of-the season softball games. Switching over from winter activities to the new season’s responsibilities makes it yet another busy time on the farm. And tomorrow is Gerald’s birthday, so he and the brothers are deciding where they will eat breakfast in the morning.

Ken won’t be eating with them yet. He had to return for more chemo last Friday after a week at home. This time there was a bed at John Cochran Veterans Hospital, so he and Opal are there this week. Although he has done extremely well, this continued chemo is standard treatment we understand. He was started with two bags of the milder chemo. Right now he is the harsher chemo, and as often happens, he is running a temp. Nevertheless, so far, so good. He hopes to be back home again this weekend. He still has one of the same doctors that he had at Barnes.

Gerald and I had talked that we could take any of the local children, who could go, to supper for Gerald’s birthday after we watch the Johnston City-Nashville softball game at Johnston City tomorrow night. We’ve just realized, however, that the Salukis will be playing at 6:10 tomorrow night, so we don’t think anyone will want to go to supper right then. HMMM.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Sad Loss in Southern Illinois: Jim Jung

Last night I was tired and did not have anything special to write about and needed to finish another writing assignment, so I decided I'd blog tonight instead. I knew tonight was our Southern Illinois Writers Guild meeting, and I was looking forward to hearing Dr. Ronald Ray Schmeck speak on his novel about the Pennsylvania Dutch--the fancy Dutch that he grew up among, so I figured I would have lots to write about.

It was indeed a good meeting and the program very interesting. I learned a great deal. It turns out that the "fancy Dutch" are Lutheran or Moravian, and the "plain Dutch" are the Amish. The German origin seems to be their connection. I have just checked out Dr. Schmeck's website--by following his instructions and googling his name, which took me to his website. I had not realized until tonight that the Pennsylvania Dutch were as distinctive as they were in language differences. It was only after I'd heard Dr. Schmeck talk about his book at the Union County Writers Group fest that I knew there were "fancy Dutch."

Some of the cultural differences that Dr. Schmeck talks about did not strike me as that different from the rural culture here in Southern Illinois. Many of us related to the hog butchering chapter in his book that he read from. And the thriftiness and making things last and enjoying hard work.

But these Pennsylvania immigrants seemed to have hung onto their language differences more than many have done. People occasionally spoke German in my mother's home too, but there was no trace of it in her speech. Perhaps because her father had left his family behind in Evansville, Indiana, and with her mother's early death, the father did not have occasion to speak much German.

Although much younger than me, Dr. Schmeck sounded as if he went to college with a very distinct dialect. Now he has reproduced it for us in his novel. Our Amish friends in Marion, Kentucky, speak beautifully perfect English even though their family language in the home is a form of German, and their children do not learn English until they start grade school.

My heart was very heavy tonight, however, so it was difficult to enjoy our meeting in the normal way. We had just gotten word from Ruby Jung that her husband Jim Jung, publisher of the local nature almanac, passed away at 11:30 this morning. Ruby, our treasurer and our anthology editor for the past two or three years and one of our most diligent and faithful members, had let us know not much over a week ago that Jim had finally gotten a diagnois: Stage 4 lung cancer. Last week he had completed his first two chemo treatments, and I had dropped by their house to pick up covers for our latest anthologies to keep Ruby from fretting about them. I did not stay very long because she was listening for Jim every minute I was there and then friends came by--one of them a young woman who was one of the 21 "nieces and nephews"--children of friends that Jim had mentored down through the years. Jim loved children. He had just completed his latest book and the new almanac was out. Many hearts are heavy tonight at this great loss in our region.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Trip to Saint Louis: More on Ken

Speaking of medical research, Gerald got to be a part of it today since his cardiologist connected him with some lovely folk at Washington University who were doing cat scans and MRIs today to train doctors from all over (Puerto Rico, Peru, many states on some newer stronger machines).

We traveled up for that experience, and I felt good Gerald was helping in research. One nurse told us that procedures that used to take four hours now take less than an hour. There is no question that research has brought some amazing results. We met in the Cortex building, and it was beautiful. This was their first time in this building, and the nurse told Mary Ellen and me that they were working out all the logistics, but we were impressed at how the training/testing seemed to be running. Mary Ellen and Brian came in for a brief visit and lunch with us.

After lunch we drove over to Barnes to visit with Ken and Opal at the Siteman Center. Ken looked good. And so did Opal, who sleeps on a couch in his room and has been right there almost every minute during the treatment. They’ve been hospital bound for a month now as of today. Ken’s fourth week of treatment is almost over. He may be going home this weekend.

Unfortunately their daughter Joyce will be having two surgeries on an eye on Monday at Barnes: cataract removed and a retina repaired. Kyna will be taking her up. Fortunately, Kyna will be on spring break as all our Williamson County schools will be next week. Opal stayed with Joyce for her last surgery--she has had many because of diabetes. The doctors tell Joyce she needs to have both these surgeries on Monday for the health of her eyes--even though they will not make her see any better. (And as Opal said, hopefully they will not make her see any worse.)

Good News for the Glasco Family

A phone call from our brother Keith last evening reported that the “main honcho” had visited Ken at Barnes yesterday afternoon to give a report on the blood marrow tests given last Thursday. The news was good.

I am so ignorant about all this blood stuff--white cells, red cells, blood marrow, chemo--I am not going to say any more than that for fear of being incorrect. The important thing is it was good news.

I have always been embarrassed when friends talked about this sort of thing because I knew I did not understand what they were talking about, and furthermore, I knew the fact that I did not understand was one more piece of evidence that life is unfair. So many parents and grandparents know all about this. I have always been very grateful for my ignorance although ashamed of it.

When our oldest daughter was three or so, we took her from the Illinois side of the river where we farmed in the Mississippi bottoms to Cape Girardeau to shop for a new winter coat. It was an exciting expedition for us because she had older cousins on both sides of the family, and we were fortunate to have beautiful clothes handed down to us. On our tight budget, we were grateful. Nevertheless, it was fun to shop for something brand new.

Suddenly, however, our sales clerk was in tears and had to rush away from us. She came back in a few minutes apologetically explaining that her niece just our daughter’s age had cancer. I still get a lump in my throat when I think of that little girl I never knew. Nor have I forgotten that recognition of the unfairness of life. Unfortunately, many events since then have reinforced that awareness.

The first death I was aware of as a child was my grandmother’s when I was six, and I first heard the word cancer. During all my grade school years, I wanted to be a scientist/doctor, and I wanted to help find a cure for cancer. But childhood ambitions fade, and I did not enter that scientific world. I had an aunt on both sides of my family have cancer and a cousin, but all three lived away and I learned little from their ordeals.

In fact, I felt our family had been unusually free of cancer for many many years until our niece died on New Year’s Day 2002. Again, however, Trudi lived in Texas, and I learned little about the disease itself from that sad loss. Trudi had lymphoma and had been declared in remission and told she could go back to work just a month before her death. She applied and received a part-time job as a registered nurse, but never got to do it because almost immediately she was very ill. There was another completely different cancer lurking in her body that the doctors said they did not know about.

In a way since we have had so few cancer cases, we should not have been surprised to have a family member diagnosed with leukemia. But when a healthy person suddenly becomes ill, it is difficult for the mind to adjust to that knowledge. It seems unbelievable. Visiting a friend this afternoon whose husband has just been diagnosed with lung cancer, I sensed her feeling of wonder that suddenly this healthy man is now taking chemo and their lives are so altered. She is busy learning all that goes with this diagnosis.

Although I failed to do anything with my childhood ambition to find a cure for cancer, I am very grateful for those who stayed the course and have spent their lives studying, observing, experimenting, and discovering not one cure but many cures for all the diseases we call cancer. How much better the odds are today than they were five years ago. I can think of no vocation that deserves more honor from the rest of us than the medical researcher.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Sad Life and Times of Reverend Stephen Foreman and Other Humans

A sad rainy day in our nation with tornadoes killing a seven-year-old girl in Missouri and striking a high school in Alabama with young people still trapped there at dusk. While I did not watch TV a lot today, when I did, I usually ended up in tears.

Gerald was away from the farm all day as he had an appointment in Carbondale to receive a replacement for his new hearing aid that evidently fell out of his ear while on a walk all over the farm and into the woods a few Sundays ago. He also had his eyes checked and made the trip to Union County (where people just west of Jonesboro on the Berryville Road had awful wind damage) to figure out taxes with Doug Hileman. He lunched at the Kroger store in Anna with his brother Keith and nephew Tim. That was a new one to me--that you could sit down and eat a meal at the grocery store.

Here at the farm, it was rainy and overcast all day. I cheered myself up by starting the day sending brightly colored greeting cards to some shut-ins. And I paid a couple of bills. I walked down to the mailbox in pleasant weather to mail them even though puddles were abundant and the air was heavy with the morning’s earlier rain.

Next I went to the office and did some filing--with 20 or 30 more days of it, I would be caught up on my filing. Then I would need to start going through all the old stuff in the filing drawers and pitching out. Ah well.

I read through a couple of magazines in the afternoon and was able to start a give-away pile of them. Again, in 20 or 30 days, I could get ride of all the old magazines in the house.

I did a mite of writing on some small projects already started--thus, managing to avoid the hard stuff that I should really be concentrating on. I tell myself that the minute I get the large table in my office cleared off, I will be ready to go to work. And I think I will be.

I haven’t been completely off track. I have been doing some review reading and have also finished three books about Cherokee--two of them children’s books. One of the children's book was about the TOT but the other about a Cherokee boy in Tennessee in the 1930s. Since it was written by a white writer, who pretended to be part Cherokee, it is perhaps more accurate about a white child living in the mountains than about a Cherokee child. (I may want to review it sometime, but I am still contemplating this book.)

The new The Life and Times of Reverend Stephen Foreman by his great granddaughter Cooleela Faulkner was fascinating. I learned many new things from it and am still digesting what I learned. I find it impossible to understand how this man could accept human slavery with seemingly no fretfulness. At least he expressed no concerns in his dairy about slavery. Because the Cherokee census of 1835 did not show his owning slaves, I had not known he owned slaves, so he is less a hero to me than he once was.

Although his journal about the Trail was burned in a fire of his home, Faulkner’s book publishes his journal writing during the Civil War era in Oklahoma. Of course, I need the early journal for my work. Yet I am very glad to have read this revealing book with the valuable writings of this respected Cherokee leader.

The material in the book was originally submitted by Faulkner to the University of Oklahoma as her thesis for her masters degree in history. Fortunately, the work has finally been published in beautiful hard back book by the Cherokee Heritage Press, a division of the Cherokee National Historical Society. It can be ordered from the Cherokee Heritage Center, P.O. Box 515, Tahlequah, OK 74465. Their phone number is (918) 456-6007.

No one could have had a more difficult life than Foreman--and many other Cherokee. Yet the people in Enterprise, Alabama, tonight know the same human misery. And the people in Iraq and Afgahanistan and so many other places in our world including Walter Reed Hospital filled with brave young men trying to regain a semblance of normal life. There is no escaping the tragedies that cause grief to the human heart. I can keep the TV off, but I still know the misery is there. It is there everyday in many places. I do not want to be uncaring about the misery. Nor do I want to dwell on it so much that I become depressed and a burden to others with self-created misery. Learning to handle one's own pain and the pain of others and yet continue to be aware of all the beauty and goodness also all around us is one of the greatest challenges of human life.