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At the request of daughter Julie, the following is my recollection of the summer of 1946…

It was the “Best of Times”

The “Worst of Times” had ended several months before with the ending of World War II, but the transition of a 100-percent war and defense economy to a civilian economy would be painfully slow. Men and women of the military were returning home and factories had to be closed to restructure themselves for production of civilian goods that had not been available for over five years. There had been no new autos, washing machines, refrigerators, etc. built since the end of 1941. Nothing but food and essentials had been available and most of those were either substitutes or synthetics. Unemployment was extremely high, and there was great labor unrest as job selection and wages had been frozen during the war and many unions were threatening strike. Shortages were the order of the day and lots of rationing of food, gas, tires, clothing remained; however ,there was expected improvement coming and a pent up demand and desire to shed the concerns of the war and return to normal times.

Amidst the confusion, I still was a somewhat rebellious teenager experiencing the usual conflict with parental rules and regulations. Older siblings were either in the Service or away at college and I was the only child remaining in our home. I felt that my parents were a little more strict than most of my friends’ parents. I am sure I made life a little more than miserable for them and perhaps that was the reason they agreed when I asked permission to work somewhere out of town during the summer following my sophomore year of high school.

As it turned out, the family of one of my friends had moved from Iowa to Oregon before his senior year and he remained in our hometown of Mount Ayr, Iowa to finish school. Our families belonged to the same church, and were good friends for many years. Don planned to join his family in Oregon upon graduation in May of 1946, and between the two of us ,we decided that hitchhiking on the “open road” would be the very best way for him to get there — and of course I was looking for an escape and might as well join him. My friend was 18, but in reality, I appeared to be the older of the two of us.

The Great Day Arrived

The last day of school in late May 1946, was met by an unseasonable cold, snowy day. That should have told us something. After receiving our final report cards, Mother reluctantly drove us to Creston to have the advantage of a slightly busier highway. This was long before Interstates The highways throughout the United States were narrow two-lane highways, and the preferred mode of travel was by train or bus. The newest vehicle on the road was a 1941 or older model except for a few WWII Jeeps converted for sale to the public. With gas rationing and only an occasional cabin camp to accommodate tourists, one would understand that there was little traffic except for locals moving from farm to town, a few salesmen, and a few local delivery trucks.

My father had written a letter of permission with a reference to his membership in the Masonic Order stating that any assistance to his son would be greatly appreciated. I dutifully placed it in my one small travel bag. After a few rides of a few miles each, the next ride would prove the wisdom of my father. We were picked up by an Iowa Highway Patrolman who seemed quite sure that we were runaways. Remembering the letter, I presented it to the officer who just happened to also be a Mason and was impressed with the letter. Nevertheless, he spoke on his radio to various authorities and after being convinced that we were “legals,” decided to transport us to the end of his assigned territory, our longest ride of the day. “Hitching” was not at that time considered as dangerous as it became by the mid-1950s. People were good, friendly and generous, and by nightfall we had reached Omaha, Nebraska. At that point we decided that we could afford a night bus ride to Cheyenne, Wyoming and not spend much more than we would at a hotel.

Day Two

To our surprise upon arriving in Cheyenne, the newspaper announced that there was a nationwide rail strike and there would be no trains running within the United States. Therefore, all rail passengers were dropped at the nearest bus station which meant that the already full buses were totally overwhelmed. Long lines were already in place and the overflow had joined us as hitchhikers. We found a city bus that would take us to the edge of town where we hoped to get a ride along with at least a hundred or two others hoping for the same thing.

Someone or something was in our corner that morning as a 1936 Oldsmobile drove past many “hitchers” and stopped in front of us. The driver, about 65, motioned for us to get in. In this day and age one would well imagine the worst if this were to happen. He announced that he would be going as far as Reno, Nevada, but would stop early each day enroute. We were welcome to complete that journey with him, or we could try to hitch a quicker ride if we so wished. The well dressed and very courteous man turned out to be a well-positioned Chef in a famous San Diego, California hotel. He was traveling across the nation alone and apparently we appeared to need him at that time. Our new friend was prepared for the worst, carrying spare everything, in the event of auto trouble: extra fuel, tires, automotive tools, and whatever. In addition, he had ice chests containing real butter, real sugar, bread, lunchmeat and various condiments in the event we found no restaurants in the wild west when needed. When a food establishment appeared at a needed time, we took our own butter, sugar, etc. in with us because he did not want oleo, sugar substitutes, etc. which were the order of the day because of shortages. Destination for the first night was Rock Springs, Wyoming. This meant that we would be stopping about the middle of the afternoon. We were dropped off on the highway near a cabin camp where we could stay the night. He told us that he would be at that spot by 8 a.m. and that we could ride the next day if we did not get an earlier ride.

Day Three

Of course the same conditions prevailed in Rock Springs and we gratefully accepted a ride with our new friend. As an aside event, in Rock Springs we witnessed a single coal locomotive train traveling at a high rate of speed with whistles blowing and no intent of stopping as it passed through the city. We assumed that rail traffic had resumed, only to learn that the locomotive had been stolen and for all practical purpose was a runaway train. After another day or two, President Truman seized the railways, and operated them with drafted employees or with Army personnel. Thereafter, the public transportation congestion was somewhat relieved.

Our day’s destination was to be Salt Lake City, Utah and again we were dropped off at a reasonably priced, clean tourist court, and again were told where to be if we wished to continue on with him. We were in Salt Lake by noon, and we soon decided we would just scout out the city and accept a ride with him in the morning.

Day Four

Another short drive day would take us to Elko, Nevada. We drove by the Great Salt Lake and across the Great Salt Lake Desert into the Nevada deserts. This was my first trip west of Iowa and of course I was in awe of newly seen territory, but mostly of the expanse of nothingness. We rarely saw any other traffic and can’t imagine how we expected to hitchhike across that forsaken land, but fortunately we were in good hands and were never hungry or in danger. We arrived in Elko on a Sunday and elected to go to the casinos instead of church, but we had no money for that sort of thing and of course were underage. We had already made the wise choice of sticking with the sure ride to Reno rather than attempting to proceed on our own.

Day Five

Our fifth day resulted in a change of fortune, bringing the kind of fear I had never known before. Well before reaching Reno, we came upon another vehicle driving very slowly along the shoulder with a flat tire almost to the point of driving on a bare wheel rim. Our benefactor, as mentioned previously, carried a supply of extra tires among other things and was of course, of a mind to lend a helping hand. The tireless vehicle was occupied by two men and a girl all about 25 to 30 years of age. Our friend inquired as to where they would be going. San Francisco was their destination and they indicated that they intended to drive straight through. Our good friend agreed to provide them with a tire if they would agree to take his two passengers to Sacramento where he had already determined would be our best route north to Oregon. They accepted and set about to mount and air the tire (everybody had a hand tire pump in those days). Our friend wished to spend a week or so in Reno. He provided us with some candy bars and snacks, addressed a couple of post cards to himself at his San Diego hotel, and instructed us to send them upon our safe arrival in Oregon. With that he bade us farewell.

The transfer was made with the instruction by the driver that the two of us were to sit in the front seat and one of the guys and the girl would occupy the back seat. These people were neither neat nor well dressed, and did not appear to be especially friendly. Shortly, I was tapped on the shoulder by the fellow in back and asked to reach under the front seat and hand him an item that I would find. Much to my surprise, the item was a revolver, the specifications of which I did not know. I had never held one in my hands before and I am sure that I was shaking and visibly frightened as I followed instructions.

There was little or no conversation on this trip. We passed through Reno, left the desert and begin climbing into the beautiful wooded mountains along the California, Nevada border in the Lake Tahoe area and famed Donner Pass. I had heard about the Donner Party from history and silently wondered if we would ever make it or also be eaten. Sometime in the mid afternoon with little or no traffic and passing through very few towns, we came upon a lonely, desolate mountain gas station and small cafe. We had gone through the snacks and were hoping we might stop for a bite to eat; however, an attendant filled us with gas and we were instructed to remain in the car with the girl. Our driver discreetly placed another pistol weapon in his pocket and entered the station and cafe. The other male positioned himself somewhere outside between the car and the station. Shortly, the driver ran from the station to the car and the other man leaped into the back seat. Off we went and I will never know exactly what took place inside. Free gas at least, I was sure of — and whatever else, I did not wish to know! Frightened beyond anything I had ever experienced, I fully expected to soon be pursued by California Highway Officers, a gun fight would ensue, and we all would be dead.

Down the mountain we went at a higher rate of speed than I was entirely comfortable with. Many years later as an over the road truck driver on splendid interstate highways in that area, I would learn that you descend the Pass for about 50 miles or so, all the while hoping your brakes won’t fail. However, as nightfall came, we were told that we would not arrive in Sacramento until around midnight. Also, they said the highway we wanted to go north on (Old U.S. 99) would go north from Roseville, not Sacramento, which was about 25 miles before you get to Sacramento and that was where they intended to let us out. I had never heard of Roseville and knew nothing of the area, so immediately began to feel that it was probably a remote area where we would surely be relieved of anything we had of value and then disposed of in an unfriendly ravine — or worse!

Day Six

Indeed we did arrive around midnight. Roseville turned out to be a fair-sized town and on spotting a Greyhound Bus Station, I suggested we go there for an inhabited shelter and possibly some badly needed food. Our new friends obliged without incidence, wished us well, and Don and I heaved a great sigh of relief. Counting our depleting funds, — and good fortunes upon not being slain — we determined that we had about enough to reach Oregon via Greyhound. We didn’t have quite enough for the full trip to Corvallis, but could get within about 120 miles at Roseburg, Oregon. From there we would try to hitch the rest of the way, or if that failed, we could call for someone from his family to come and get us. Arriving in Roseburg in mid afternoon, and with more traffic and frequent towns, we quickly got a series of rides to Corvallis arriving almost in time for supper, as we called it in Iowa.

The Rest of the Summer

It seems that I have told this story through the years and remember saying that we rode with the same guy for three days from Cheyenne to Reno, but as I recalled the events, it appears that we were actually with him for the better part of four days to travel a distance of about 950 miles (Good Wife Pat and I would later make that trip many times in about 18 hours with fuel and food stops included). I regret that I am no longer able to remember his name, but I would have to say that gentleman was one of those most unforgettable characters I have ever met. I did remember the hotel where he worked and attempted to contact him after entering the Navy in 1951 while training at the Navy Training Center in San Diego; however, that attempt proved unsuccessful. Also, I will not forget the other characters either. They did us no harm, but scared the bejeesies out of us!

The remainder of the summer was spent working on a farm about five miles out of Corvallis. I bought a used bicycle for about $7.00 and biked the trip daily. My employer, Mr. Grover Smith, who could have easily doubled for actor Percy Kilbride who played ‘Pa’ in all the ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’ movies, paid me the handsome salary of 75 cents per hour and I saved at least half of it. I had a room at Mrs. Giddings’ house for $4.00 per week. We grew mostly tomatoes on the farm with a hefty supply of other vegetables, and acres and acres of English walnuts — and no restrictions on the benefits of eating those healthy food items. Grover drove me over to the ocean at Newport a couple of times on weekends. I suppose there are other stories in here somewhere but this will be enough. I met numerous good people, and at the end of summer my parents and my sister Jean, home from the University for the summer, drove to Oregon and picked me up for my return trip to Iowa. My friend and co-hitcher Don, unfortunately died many years ago at an early age, so I am unable to ask him for other memorable details.

Yeah, it was pretty darn exciting for a 16-year-old kid in 1946.

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Somber and emotional thoughts and feelings have dominated my weekend.  I had many eloquent thoughts racing through my mind but seem unable to put them down in writing so shouldn’t even try.  I’m sure that I reflect more on the meaning of this day in my older years than I did as a younger man.  There have been numerous wonderful tributes on TV.  I especially have been impressed with some of the Public Television presentations, particularly the annual Memorial Day Concert from Washington D.C.

Joseph Stalin reportedly once said “a million deaths is a statistic, a single death is a tragedy.”  I guess he dealt more with statistics.  This weekend we see many images of very many cemeteries in very many places with rows and rows of white stones with thousands of flags representing the ultimate sacrifice.  Each burial site represents a tragedy for the loved ones.  In addition we will be reminded of the thousands of wounded still suffering in so many instances with countless injuries and amputation, and one can only ponder, why you and not me.  Caring for them and relieving them and their families of personal financial catastrophe must be the first priority, ahead of anything and everything  including credit card relief with National Park gun privileges.

This is just me speaking but I never had much empathy for those who disagreed with their country and chose to flee or otherwise refused to serve, or chose to protest by burning the flag or draft card while upholding their rights under the Constitution.  They would as quickly burn the Constitution if they felt it denied their precious rights.  I have come to believe that we really have no choice in the matter.  None of us chose by birth to be American, we just are.  That imparts certain patriotic obligations.  We can believe the country is wrong, as I sometimes do, but we each are required regardless of politics, religion, race or creed to answer positively when called to serve militarily.   I understand that not all will agree.

Daughter Julie’s genealogy studies and the Civil War stories and others reported, reinforce my feelings that things have always been and always will be, and the short time we are here requires us to continue the process as well as attempt to improve life for those who will follow.  In every case, the fallen have preserved the opportunity for the nation to continue in a positive way.  It’s up to the remaining to take advantage of that opportunity in a positive way.

Take this day to honor the fallen Veterans of all wars and the families who have endured.  Thank the surviving Veterans who willingly gave years of their lives as well.  The WWII vets are almost gone, and the vets of the next two wars are getting old.  Especially, remember and thank those presently serving.  Then, in spite of the lack of stellar present economic conditions,  be proud to be American.

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I thought I had ceased blogging but here I am.  I do not do FaceBook or Twitter.  I really don’t know how or why they exist, and I see no reason in the foreseeable future why I would need to acquire those abilities.  Good wife, Pat allows me to observe photos and such that only seem to be available there.  Thus, I am somewhat covered and will not need to learn those things before they are no more, and are replaced by something else.  Digital citizens in our great digital universe move on,  without me.  Thank goodness I left teaching over 30 years ago, or I might be expected to understand it all.

The weather is improving in Iowa.  There are heavy thunderstorms this weekend, which can always bring the threat of floods.  I have not yet had to mow the grass but expect to within a week.  Then I’ll have to see about some plants in a few pots, and clean and prepare the screen patio for a few months of enjoyment.

The two faces of Iowa are locked in deadly editorial combat.  The current issue of course is Gay Marriage.  Our farm state image is not always portrayed complimentary by the Eastern Press, nor understood by most of the rest of the country.  First thoughts are often that we surely have been left behind by a lack of understanding of those things deemed important.  How shocking it must be to learn that Iowa with a 1 Percent Black populace, launched our first Black President on his way to victory,  or that a perceived Conservative Farm State would be one of the first states after Massachusetts to legalize Gay Marriage.

We are of two faces, and either face can emerge at any given time.  Not always too slowly, but surely there is a steady movement to the Democrat, Liberal, Left.  We continue to elect our two United States Senators, one far right and one far left.  One by Unions, Labor, Teachers and University intellectuals with the superior minds — the other, wins election by support of Farmers, Preachers, and Business, Insurance, and Banking execs.  And of course, don’t forget those with inferior education and redneck qualities.  Lots of us vote for both.  Anyway, the daily papers are filled with the pros and cons of gay marriage.  This spills over to the supporters and detractors of our new Administration.  Now that the government has taken over the banking, auto and insurance segments, most seem to be in favor, but hope they give them back after they get them fixed. Others believe we have already surrendered to Lenin and those that followed and our world is gone forever.  As for me, I don’t like gay marriage, but surely do not want to deny them any benefits  that they perceive they will gain from a marriage versus what they might have under a civil ceremony.  I doubt if we will see any great disaster from this decision, but do not understand why a little compromise might not result in an acceptable situation for all.  As for Obama, I feel he already is a great President.  That doesn’t mean I think he will necessarily be a successful one.  I am frightened by all that is happening and at the same time feel he just might succeed.  And I have always felt that our Constitution does not prohibit in any way, a little Socialism.  I suspect we may like it once we get used to it.  And nothing should prevent us from moving to the right and returning again to our greedy Capitalist ways if we do not like the Socialist style.

This gay marriage thing has presented me with another quandary.  I recently reached my 79th birthday (practically 80, and that’s 4/5 of a hundred).  I have observed that within my family and certainly many others, (our street is full of them) most wives outlive their husbands by some ten years or more.  Certainly I have been stressed as of late, because of the fear that good wife Pat (age 77) may not have much more than 10 or 15 years left.  That surely puts a crimp on my own expected life span.  Geeez.  Now the quandary.  Whatever is the answer for the gay marriage.  Will they be required to specify for insurance purposes which one will be expected to live the additional 10 years.  They do want to be just like the rest of us.  Of course they are not just like the rest of us, and so it goes.

While we are at it, I will just mention another situation that sometimes irritates.  While I want to care for our handicapped citizen companions, why is it we have to go so overboard in providing for their convenience that the rest are sometimes so inconvenienced.  The Hy-Vee (supermarket) seems to be 7/8Th’s handicapped parking.  I myself am just a hairs width of being a helpless cripple.  Not really, but kind of close.  Thus far I have refused to obtain a handicapped parking tag, likewise my nearly physically impaired good wife Pat.  Thus we end up parking in the next county and by then after I enter the market I generally have to take care of bathroom issues only to find that the formerly three stalls have been reduced to one wheelchair accessible stall, which is occupied (Thank you, Depends).  I have always said the kindest thing you can do for any handicapped person is to make them realize they are not just like everyone else.  Then they will learn to do things the very best way for them, and we surely will always extend assistance when needed.  It reminds me of the story of the King who did not like to step on pebbles when walking, so ordered the entire Kingdom to be covered with leather.  Fortunately, one of his aides suggested shoes.  Our government has covered the Kingdom with handicap conveniences, without considering shoes.

I will sign off in just a bit.  I do despair at the anger between our two political parties and those that profess to have all the answers from the far right and the far left.  I can’t take much more of the bickering between MSNBC and Fox.  The business channels report terrible economic conditions.  So I switch to the Science and History channels and discover that we have only three years left anyway.  The Mayan calendar ends in 2012 with many dire consequences, already beginning to appear in the form of global warming, expected hurricanes, volcanic, earthquake, and tsunami catastrophes.  Now the Mexican Swine Flu will surely be pandemic.  And if that isn’t enough, we still have Pirates the world over to deal with, not to mention Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.  Or will we just run out of oil and gas or maybe food?

Before we all get out of joint at World Series time or when the Super Bowl rolls around.  Instead of them being brought to you by General Motors, General Electric,  AIG Insurance, or Bank of America, I’m sure they will be brought to you by your friendly United States Government, maybe at Nancy Pelosi Stadium on Barney Frank Field.    Love and Live the best you can.  Guess I am getting old just about the right time.  Good luck to all.  Have a good one.

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Our state has been wracked with tornadoes and heavy rains, something not uncommon for those in Florida and Texas and elsewhere. Our immediate area has been fortunate up to now, but our turn appears to be coming. I am reminded of 1993 which has to be one of the worst years of my fairly long life. I weathered the Depression as a child, WWII as a teenager, my years in the service and several lean and difficult years economically for our family. 1993 was the year of the 100 year flood (meaning we shouldn’t expect another like it for 100 years). It is now 15 years and we may well be experiencing another in many areas. We were in the Laundry and Dry Cleaning business with two locations within the flood prone area. The rains started in June, and the flood arrived on the Fourth of July night and both stayed with us for about 6 weeks.

Our town is a river town and floods have always been a threat and I have filled sandbags as a volunteer on a number of occasions but had not had our business locations seriously threatened. The whole town became a war zone with trucks hauling soil night and day for a week to build berms and levees. Several locations were stocked with sand and bags and nearly everyone worked daily to fill bags for their own use or to help others needing assistance. We sandbagged our own businesses daily and at night had to bag the drains and prepare for the time we would not be there. In the morning we would remove the bags so that customers could have access.

The reward for the hard work in our case was that our businesses were the busiest ever in our 16 years. It seemed the whole town had flooded basements, etc. and had to use our services. As well, we worked at least 2 1/2 shifts until nearly midnight doing laundry for the packing plant whose normal source for laundry was flooded, and other commercial businesses needing service, as well as the Red Cross. Our machines were busy all day by residential customers and we provided the commercial business at night. I’m sure that good wife, Pat and I have remarked many times that those 6-8 weeks were the hardest we worked in all our lives. With the 15 years added to our bodies since then, we could no longer begin to do what we did that year.

As mentioned, our town has been fortunate up to now. However, the rains and flooding up stream will now be coming our way and the call went out today for volunteer sandbaggers. We have two lakes and dams protecting us up river. Saylorville lake will be overflowing within 24 hours at a level equal to 1993. The city of Des Moines is closing all bridges tonight and expects downtown flooding from overflowing Saylorville thereafter. Further downstream, Lake Red Rock will begin releasing additional water tomorrow to make room for the water coming from Saylorville. We have been warned to expect flooding soon as the river is already over flood stage.

We all have our weather. We worry about hurricanes and fires in Florida for Tim and Merry, and now we can add concern for Joel, Blake, and Zoe in Houston. Steve, Julie, Jenna, and Ali, in Dallas, have tornadoes, flooding, and heat. We expect our home to be safe and hope Merry’s Mother’s home in Ottumwa, will be safe as well. Merry has a sister living in an area that will require evacuation. Hopefully all of us will endure. Stay tuned.

Gram and I were forced last Sunday evening to Dive! Dive! Dive! after tornado warnings were issued and finally the area sirens sounded the order to take cover. About 25 minutes later we received the all clear. The city was largely spared with the exception of numerous uprooted trees, downed wires, power outages, etc. A couple of homes received damage. Getting Gram to the basement was an experience in itself. Interestingly, it was the first time she had seen our new furnace, installed about a year and a half ago. Hence, the following depiction:

Dive-Dive-Dive!

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Oh no! That’s Submarine talk. Fire in the paint locker! Abandon ship! No, that’s not it. Evacuate! Evacuate! Take Cover! Take Cover! Never mind. This is a drill. Just trying to get my Florida family members ready. Today marks the beginning of Hurricane Season. While I know there are certain advantages to living in South Florida, you can rest assured that we are concerned about you having to endure the fire season, drought, tornadoes and water spouts, the alligator and bear season, other creepy crawly critter season, certainly the hurricane season, beach erosion, and the dreaded snow bird and impossible traffic season. Incidentally, we turned the furnace off a couple of days ago, and other than our own state’s frequent tornadoes this season, we are having a beautiful day should you choose to vacation Iowa this year.

Further, after my last posting and defining those times when Grumpy’s Rules take precedence, I felt compelled to address son, Tim and his good wife Merry. Merry, you were the first addition to our family and immediately seemed more like a daughter than an in-law and it has always been such. Therefore, by Grumpy’s rule, we are privileged to call you daughter whenever we wish. There now, I feel better. I didn’t want anyone left out. We have been privileged and blessed. We are proud and love the whole darn bunch of you.

Seriously, and most certainly, I hope that all of Florida, the Gulf States, and the East Coast avoid serious hurricanes this year and that we can still make light of it in November, but I will weather watch anyway. That’s what I do best.

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May was a definite improvement over the previous months, weather-wise, but nevertheless we have only been totally without the furnace for about three days and we haven’t yet used the air conditioning. No doubt we soon will be using it and complaining about the heat and humidity.

But this is mostly about the upheaval at Daughter Julie’s home. Talk about empty nest. Usually things kind of progress toward that state over a longer period of time and there can be a gradual adjustment. This time it looks like there will have to be a more sudden adjustment.

First, our love and congratulations to Granddaughter Ali for her third place academic standing in her graduation class of over 500. And for my money, she was so close to second that it could be called a tie. Grumpy (grandfather) rules are always used in these cases. She will be going to Northwestern University in Chicago in September. Way to go Ali.

Secondly, Granddaughter Jenna is to be congratulated for being accepted at Texas Tech in Lubbock, Tx. and will be simultaneously fleeing the nest in September. She also finished high in her high school class a couple of years back and has been attending classes in the Dallas area and earning spots on the Dean’s List while living at home. Way to go Jenna.

Third, Fourth, and Fifthly, concerns Grandson, Joel, his wife, Blake, and Zoe, our first great granddaughter. We regard Blake as a granddaughter, (again Grumpy rules prevail). I guess granddaughter-in-law would be the correct term. They have been living nearby the nest for the past year and Joel has been working in the family business from his office within the nest and Zoe has spent much time with Daughter Julie while Granddaughter Blake (Grumpy rules) worked at her job in preparation for the next move. The family will be leaving the nest for Houston this month. We congratulate Blake for her acceptance into medical school at Univ. Texas at Houston. This will be a challenging move for them, but after the challenges they have faced during their six years of successful Army life, they will make it. Way to go Blake — and Joel and Zoe too. I forgive you, Blake for the addiction I have to Sudoku, which causes me to waste several hours weekly.

Sixth and Seventh, finds that Daughter Julie, and Son Steve (Grumpy rules), (technically son-in-law) have unveiled nest emptying plans of their own. They expect to sell their beautiful home by the creek in Garland and make a new apartment home in nearby Richardson, TX. I know the move is a practical thing, but for whatever reason, I feel somewhat sad that they will be leaving such a loving, beautiful place that the entire family has enjoyed so much. Way to go, I think. 😉

Eighth. Can’t forget the animal members of the family. Cats and Canines have always had a place in the Watt’s household. Some will need new homes and some may be fortunate to also make the move. Way to go Phoebe, and others to numerous to remember (no slight intended). I’m 78 and don’t have to remember pets names or eat broccoli. (Grumpy rules)

Thus, in a few months, if plans proceed as expected the nest will be completely empty, awaiting a new family, The new nest in Richardson will always have a place for the departed one’s occasional, but temporary visit back home. That will never change, and hopefully there just might be space for a Gram and Grumpy visit sometime. We always know we’d be welcome. Also, with a scattering of the birds, it is important to mention, that so far there is still a nest that can be visited in Iowa by one or all. We love you all.

Remember The Alamo, and Grumpy Rules.

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A May Basket

Here’s a May Basket to all my girls—Gram, Julie, Jenna, Ali, Merry, Blake, Zoe, and to my sister, all my nieces, and the wives and daughters of all my nephews. Cousins and in-laws too. Gosh, I hope I didn’t leave anyone out.

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In spite of war and pestilence, global warming, inflation, flooding, starvation and world wide food riots, tornadoes, Chinese problems with Olympic preparation, terrorism, Russian re-emergence as a cold war antagonist, the never ending Democrat Party nomination process, worldwide death and destruction, the impossible national debt, threats to maintaining Social Security and Medicare, outrageous health care costs, a failing housing market, bank and financial crises, uninsured children, polygamous cults in Texas, and the unfairness of allowing smoking in Iowa casinos but outlawing it elsewhere, there just didn’t seem like much going on today. Rev. Wright dominated the air waves, and freeze warnings with a 40 percent chance of snow greeted the new week.

Thus, just as it looked like a boring day, suddenly a nice thing happened. My calender indicated that this was the day several old high school class mates would be coming for a sort of mini “just guys” reunion. Three from Mount Ayr, IA., one from Washington, IA., and one other from Ottumwa besides myself met at our house for a pizza lunch and several hours of old and some new stories, and lots of reminiscing. Three of us started first grade and completed school together. The other three joined us at various times through the school years and all of us had been long time close friends and teammates in various sports and activities. In addition, four of us had shared experiences in the military and had made some contact several times when in the service. We all agreed that we each had suffered from the same somewhat strange unexplainable condition whereby our trousers seemed to grow longer each year.

Others who had been close with us but have gone on to the great beyond were fondly and respectfully remembered. Most of our wives were also classmates of the class behind us but were shamefully uninvited. However, it is believed, that won’t be held against us. Good wife, Pat stayed on her computer and pretty much allowed me to bake the pizza and care for my guests, but was available for consultation if needed. Our two classes both have class reunions (60th and 59th) scheduled on the same day at the end of May. We will not be attending, so it was nice to see those who were the closest friends. If we were to be going anywhere that weekend, we of course would be going to Granddaughter Ali’s graduation in Garland, TX., but it looks like because of health reasons, expense, etc. we will just be remaining at home.

Otherwise, my only concern at this time is that in spite of the unseasonable cold, the grass is beginning to need attention. As yet, I have been unable to get the goats down from the high country to keep the grass down so may have to use the goat in the shed if I can get it started. We hope “y’all” had a nice day too.

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Certainly others as well as me, after they pass the age of 75, may begin to sweat and fret as the period for renewing one’s drivers license approaches. Now I’m not suggesting my wife is in the “old folks” group but she did enter the high 70’s recently and this was the year for renewal. She hasn’t driven for well over a year but she did want to keep her license in the event an emergency required her to get behind the wheel, and besides she would only be required to pass the eye test.

First things first, it would be necessary to visit the hair salon first to be presentable for the photo that would adorn the new license. That appointment would be completed at 2:00 p.m. and it was off to the DOT Drivers License Examiners headquarters. Entering the testing area, it was obvious that we would be there for awhile as the waiting room was full. She received her number and prepared to wait. Inasmuch as it was going to take a while, I decided to go ahead and run a couple of errands to pay bills which we had planned to do after getting the renewed license. I was gone for perhaps 25 to 30 minutes and returned to find her missing. I searched the entire building, and parking lot and after sitting for a bit in the waiting area was beginning to fear that she might have fallen, as she does require a cane, and had been sent to Emergency. No one that I asked knew anything about her. Thinking that maybe she had noticed our car when I returned and seeing that I had to park in the rear of the building had decided to go out another door as I entered another. One more check at the car did not result in success and I went back to the testing area once again to find her sitting with a somewhat disappointing face and look of bewilderment.

She had not passed the eye exam to their satisfaction, particularly the peripheral vision portion of the exam. Now this lady, who used to stand tall at 5’2”, because of this “old age” thing, has shrunk to about 4’9″. The counter was probably over 4′ high and she was barely able to rest her chin on the counter. The machine that she had to peer into rested on the counter and then was even higher, making it nearly impossible to get her face close enough to satisfactorily complete the exam. At 76, she is not nearly as wide eyed as she once was. Anyway, as to her disappearance, she had been escorted to a private office to explain the options available to her, and perhaps compassionately not embarrass her before the waiting crowd.

She could be issued an ID card complete with photo for the purpose of purchasing beer, liquor, and cigarettes, etc. in case someone thought she was not 21. For this there would be no charge, until the Legislature decided how much revenue could be accumulated if various possible rates were calculated. In addition they would be willing to provide a temporary 30 day driving permit. If she could then get a Doctor’s statement that she was not a risk while driving, she then might be issued a regular license. They told her that Doctors would have more advanced technical equipment and might better judge her ability to be an Iowa driver. Otherwise, her present license was immediately suspended and she could use the temporary until May 17. Many forms and duplicates were signed, copied and filed to insure that laws were being followed and that no more than three trees would be used to satisfy efforts to meet the Paper Reduction Act.

Next came the photo shoot for the ID card and the questions and explanations as to the availability of voter registration in case she would want to switch parties and vote for the other guy (or gal) especially ones currently in control of State political power. She was instructed to advance to the other side of the counter to use the computer device for signing the remaining documents. Then she was told that there was a camera malfunction and she would need a second photo shot. Then a third shot apparently worked, and she returned to the signing area. Once again she signed on the device and immediately was informed that as the equipment was new and not yet fully understood or wasn’t yet working properly the operator would get some help, after which with a big Iowa smile, they would complete her ID and temp license. Lo and behold, after another wait, she was issued the ID and could then prove that she was “old enough” but couldn’t drive after May17.

After leaving the Exam Station, good wife Pat decided we should stop at the Eye Doctor’s office and make an appointment as 30 days can pass pretty quick, especially when you are already “old folks.” Fortunately, the accomodating receptionist believed that the Dr. would be able to work her in today, if we were willing to wait a bit. The Doctor (our regular Eye Dr.) was mystified, when shown the forms and information from the DOT Examiner, as to why they were concerned. Anyway he prepared to examine her and use his advanced high tech equipment consisting of one, two, or three fingers attached to his wrist and held to an area at the side of her face. He soon determined that Iowa would be relatively safe and signed the necessary papers and suggested that we return immediately to the DOT Examiner and obtain a permanent drivers license good for two more years. At some point we realize that this will become a yearly ordeal.

We did indeed return and were warmly greeted and instructed to take a number. Good wife, informed them also warmly, that she had already done everything and only needed to present them with the Doctor’s signed form and would like her permanent drivers license. Those previously involved in the testing immediately approached the counter, huddled, checked the re-play on the monitor and considered the situation. As in any important game, the Referees decision is final. The decision was that it had been a shot from three point range, not a two, there were no fouls, and only a delay of game was involved. After another wait the license was issued. After seeing the picture, good wife, was certainly glad she had gone to the hair salon. How bad would the photo have been otherwise. After an interesting afternoon, we arrived home just in time to meet friends at 5:00 p.m. for dinner. All’s well that end’s well.

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I have no idea why I choose to write about her house on this particular day. It’s just another very pleasant memory of my life at a very young age. Aunt Ollie Robinson was really a Great Aunt, a sister of my Grandmother (My Dad’s Mother). I never knew her husband John who I think died before I was born. Their two children were grown and gone also before I knew about the place, but I do remember them from later periods. However, there were two other sisters of Aunt Ollie who lived with her until their deaths. Aunt Emma and Aunt Delphine were residents of the home, but were somehow very quiet and rarely seen. Later, after the farm was sold and Aunt Ollie purchased a home in town, my Grandmother Louisa would also live with her sisters until her death.

It was always a special treat to get to spend a few days at the farm, and as I remember, those times would usually include my sister Jean, and would have largely been prior to my starting to school at the age of 6. After that, there would have been day visits for the next few years but I believe she had moved to town around the time I was 12. I’m sure the farm, home, and large lawn and gardens would have deteriorated today, if they even exist.

Rural electrification would not come to most Iowa farms until after WWII in the latter half of the 1940’s, but there, in the early Thirties and presumably several years earlier, was a fully electrified farm (with lights, radio, and other pumps and available appliances of the era) that greatly added to the other well painted, well maintained and manicured features of the farm and home. Fortunately for this farm, a power line which linked small towns passed by the farm and was available for connection. It was not uncommon to view numerous farm homes and barns that had never seen a brush full of paint in those days. The first thing seen as you turned in the long driveway, past the spacious front lawn would be the beautiful red barn with its neatly painted white weather strips carefully covering the seam between boards and the ever present rotating rooster weather vane atop the cupola.

A black wrought iron fence surrounded the spacious lawn of at least an acre or more. The lawn was conveniently reached throughout with stone paths and walkways, through the many Birch, and spreading Elm and Maple trees to the various colorful flower gardens, the fish pond and the gigantic century plant located nearby. These features influenced my own feeble attempts at lawn keeping in later years on a postage stamp size lawn, but would never in a million years measure up. While the cropland was obviously rented out to others who farmed and made use of the barns and other buildings, Aunt Ollie kept a full fledged vegetable garden for cooking and canning to provide for the household. She was indeed busy with outdoor duties as well as caring for the large two story home and her live in sisters.

The house certainly was not a mansion by any means but there were many features which impressed my young eyes. For some reason, the varnished woodwork was magnificent compared to the generally painted woodwork that I was used to. There were two stairways, a wider, open stairway with a landing, leading from the front living room, and an enclosed rear stairway leading from the kitchen. With electricity, there was running water and complete bathrooms just like in town. She was also an accomplished artist and her paintings adorned the walls of all the rooms and stairway. Just off the kitchen was the pantry and the place where the homemade bread and brown sugar, and graham crackers were kept. These seemed to be the afternoon treats which I remember. The other feature which impressed me most was the nearby cave which most farms had and served as both a cool place to store home canned goods and as a storm shelter. I never had to use it as a storm shelter but was often sent to retrieve a jar of something or other for the next meal. For some reason I think I remember a dumb waiter installed from the kitchen to the second floor, but Jean, my sister will have to confirm that. It may well have been somewhere else that I remember that.

The most outstanding event held at the home was the outdoor wedding of Aunt Ollie’s daughter, Ruth, who lived in Chicago. I believe I was four years old and had been selected as the ring bearer. I do well remember being absolutely terrified of the role. Embarrassed and scared, I guess everything went well. I believe I was reassured that the ring I carried was sewed to the pillow and couldn’t be lost, but indeed was not the real ring anyway and that it would be carried by the groom or whomever.

I’ll close this with a short story of one of those early Thirties summer when Jean and I spent a few days at Aunt Ollie’s and then were to spend a few days at Aunt Florence’s which was on another farm two or three miles away. Aunt Florence, my Dad’s sister, was a great aunt, (not a Great Aunt) and a wonderful cook, but I believe with no good reason, we were a little frightened of Uncle Oscar. Also, this was one of those farms that had never seen a can of paint, had no electricity, nor even a battery radio that I remember, if there were such a thing, and of course no indoor plumbing. Well water would be drawn for drinking and cooking, and the outhouse with the Sears catalog was forty or fifty yards away. Bedtime came early, up a narrow scary stairway to the attic where we slept and the days in the dirty grassless yard stepping carefully to avoid the chicken droppings just didn’t seem to be quite as much fun as the first few days at Aunt Ollie’s.

Even though the huge cast iron wood and coal burning cooking range in the kitchen spewed out magnificently cooked food and wonderful dark red chocolate cake (because of Aunt Florence’s quite red hair), we decided (although Jean was the oldest, so it had to be her fault) to leave Aunt Florence’s and return to Aunt Ollie’s. Run away, I think they sometimes call it. I remember Jean taking my hand (and I never let go) and heading down the gravel road toward Aunt Ollie’s house. I believe we had gone perhaps a half mile where we would have had to turn on to a dirt road for a mile or two and then turned on to another for another mile or so. Whether she really knew how to get there, I’ll leave to her. Anyway, about a half mile from our starting point, Uncle Oscar pulled up in his car, (I’m thinking Model A Ford) and took us back. I will also leave to Jean, how we explained our action and whether or not we completed our stay at Aunt Florence’s or whether they delivered us back to our parents or whatever

1/25/2017………9 years after original writing of my recollection at around age 77/78  to my present age 86,soon to be 87.

I’m now re-reading my own recollection of “Aunt Ollie’s Farm” nine years after it was written.  I have to say, that I would not change a thing already written.  It still brings pleasure to recall those childhood days I would label as wonderful memories.

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