From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Monday, January 06, 2014

The Weather Outside is Frightful

Mighty cold


Finally, it has arrived -- the blast of cold weather we've been reading, hearing, and thinking about for the last week. The wind is howling through the trees, and the thermometer on the porch says +5°F. By morning, it will be zero.

Of course, the cold temperatures in southern Kentucky are nothing much, compared to states north of us. Some of our rain and sleet was "flash-frozen" on our roads when the cold air arrived tonight, but we didn't get enough snow to cover the ground. I'm thankful.

Yesterday was a mild sunny day. The sky was blue until sunset when a low gray bank of clouds appeared on the western horizon. It was the sort of day that once might have lured a pioneer into hitching up his team and setting off on a long trip to town for supplies. We've all heard the sad stories of people who perished in winter storms that appeared from nowhere. Now we have an entire weather industry that keeps us warned about dangerous weather we might not otherwise anticipate.

About 3:00 pm yesterday, one of my ears suddenly began to ache. I didn't recognize that as a weather omen but Keely (my personal scientist) pointed out that the barometric pressure was dropping rapidly, and my somewhat stuffy head probably wasn't equalized yet. I think she was right. Six hours later, the earache was gone.

My father's cattle must have been good at reading the weather signs. When a winter storm was near, they always gathered at the windbreaks closest to the buildings. Remembering them makes me worry about the livestock and other animals that are outside in this weather, and the people who are working outside doing important, necessary things that are made very difficult by the cold.

I'm also a little worried about the electricity which has blinked six times tonight so far. Wind gusts are blowing something against the wires and creating a short circuit somewhere, I suspect. We have plenty of flashlight batteries and lamp oil, but I hope we don't need them. Pennyrile Electric posted on Facebook a few minutes ago that they have power outages affecting over 1200 members.

Earlier today, a Sunday School song (Psalms 118:24) came to mind: "This is the day that the Lord hath made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." I am glad tonight, most of all for warmth and shelter. And, while it's a little hard to rejoice, I do respect and honor the Creator who put the mighty forces of nature in place and set them in motion.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mr. Crawford Remembered

And a vintage sign removed...


This photo was taken in 2006.

Mr. Crawford's parents had operated a little country store in our neighborhood at one time, and Mr. Crawford inherited the property. One day, he quit his bank job in town and moved into the store building.  He lived a very simple life there, without running water or electricity. In the yard around the old store, he had lots of little gardening spots where he grew grapes and flowers and heirloom tomatoes.

During those years, I worked part-time in another little country store in the neighborhood (also now closed), and Mr. Crawford came to the store every now and then to eat a sandwich and visit with anyone who was there. I passed along to him a big stack of old Organic Gardening magazines that my brother-in-law had given me, and he read (studied!) them cover-to-cover and loved to discuss the gardening ideas in them.

Then Mr. Crawford moved away. He said that he couldn't take the stench of the big new chicken barn across the creek any longer. About that same time, I started working in town. So our paths didn't cross anymore, and I don't believe I ever saw Mr. Crawford again. He passed away last Christmas. I read about it in the newspaper.


Not long after his death, someone removed the Pepsi-Cola sign from the old store building. Maybe the sign was kept by a family member -- I hope so. Or maybe someone took it for their private collection, or maybe, since it was a metal sign, it ended up at a salvage yard. Whatever the case, I doubt it will be seen again by the general public.

I still see the little store building as I drive down the road to and from my home, and it always makes me think of Mr. Crawford. He was kindly and intelligent, and I'm sorry that he's gone on.

Monday, November 04, 2013

The Little Graveyard on the Ridge

"Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."


Perhaps a quarter mile off the road, a small country graveyard sits at the top of a little ridge. When I spotted that old family cemetery not long after we moved here, I decided that, "one of these days," I was going to walk through it. But time flew by, as it does, and so it was five years later, when I finally stopped one day at the house below the cemetery and asked permission to visit.

The silver-haired lady who answered my knock was pleased about my interest in the graveyard. She walked to the pasture gate with me, showed me the least "washed-out" route to take up the hillside, and cautioned my sidekicks, Keely and Isaac, to beware the poison ivy around the graveyard fence.

We bounced up the hill on a trail that was obviously more traveled by cattle than vehicles. As we pulled up to the cemetery, I saw immediately that it was well-maintained and very tidy.  An overgrowth of vines had made the fence into a solid wall of tangled foliage, but the grass inside was neatly cut, and the gate was in good repair. No graves were embarrassed by fallen headstones or weatherbeaten artificial flowers.

Photographs by Melissa Wiesse.
Many of the surnames on the stones were from a half-dozen families. I recognized some names as possible ancestors of families who still lived in Christian County. The dates on the stones spanned nearly two centuries, from a birth in 1778 to a death in l971.  Many of the tombstones stated that the loved one was "Asleep in Jesus." One man was a Confederate soldier. Another was born in County Down, Ireland. In all, there were 50 or 60 graves.

I decided that the cemetery was officially established in the 1860s or 1870s. Perhaps there were already unmarked family graves there when the first graves with tombstones were made. Looking over the cemetery fence from the hillside, I tried to imagine the valley when the blacktop road was a dirt trail, the fences were made of split rail, and the log cabins were marked by plumes of smoke. Surely the cemetery's site was chosen for its fine view in addition to its high-and-dry location.

Photo by Tony Alter.
A majestic old oak grew in one corner. The ground under it was covered with acorns and early-fallen leaves. A half-dozen squirrels were shocked, just shocked, when we interrupted their nut harvest with our presence.

Near the center of the cemetery, a huge stump bore witness to another tree that once grew there. It was a good six feet in diameter at its widest point. This estimate was provided by Keely who stretched out full length across it. At one time, this giant's branches must have shaded most of the little cemetery.

Keely and Isaac were impatient to return to modern life well before I finished reading the stones. When we finally drove back down the hill and closed the gate to the pasture, the little lady came out to talk again. She had been waiting for us. "Did you see anyone you knew up there?" she wanted to know.

I told her that I had recognized some of the family names, and she said that most of the people in the cemetery were from her husband's family. Had I seen this gravestone and that one? One young fellow had commited suicide after World War I. Her husband's mother was the young woman buried with twin babies. Another man and his wife had lived in a big log house that she remembered from childhood. She knew the life story beneath each headstone.

I commented on the huge tree stump, and she told me that it had been another oak tree. It had fallen in the cemetery during a windstorm, but her son had cleaned it up. Then she began to talk about her great fear -- would the cemetery be cared for in future years? Her son, in his late fifties, did all the upkeep. It seemed he was the main person who was interested. Though most of the graves "belonged" to families who still lived in the county, no one else helped with the maintenance. She had buried her husband in town a few years ago because she feared his grave wouldn't be tended up on the hillside.

Photo by Justin A. Wilcox
The thought of brambles and trees taking over the graveyard grieved this lady. I was touched by her desire to honor the graves of her husband's people. Talking to her was a memorable and moving experience. Most of my visits to old graveyards don't include the opportunity to speak with someone who has a personal connection to the people buried there.

When I got home that day, I wrote a short account of my visit to the cemetery on the ridge. A few days ago, I stumbled upon that little story in some old computer files, and I thought that the things I had written still spoke to my heart. I decided to edit it a little and share it. That's the story behind this story.

Related photos on Flickr:
Squirrels in cemeteries
Gravestone details
Historic cemeteries

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Video about the Rose Church

Community of Rose, Nebraska


Here's a short video about the church I attended during most of my growing-up years. I went to Sunday School and Vacation Bible School in the basement, played on the swings in the church yard, and took piano lessons in the parsonage. I know the people who talk about the church in the video. They are the parents of my childhood church friends.

It's so good to see that the Rose community is working together to preserve the little church!

I know that I have a few photos of the Rose Church that I took while visiting up there in 2002, but apparently I've never scanned them. The photo below shows the Rose Cemetery, right across the road from the church. Like the church, it has served the people of Rose for many years, and it continues to play an important role in the community.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Railroad Building, 1875

Old engraving


I found this image of railroad building in America, Our Country by Smith Burnham and Theodore H. Jack, published by the John C. Winston Company of Philadelphia in 1934. I searched but couldn't find any copyright renewal for this title, so I decided the image was in the public domain now (as well as already being in the public domain when included in this book.)

(Large image: 736 KB)

After doing all that research on the copyright, I drug the picture into a Google image search and learned that there's a zillion copies of it on the internet already. I should have googled it first!

Originally, the image was a wood engraving by Alfred Rudolph Waud (1828-1891,) printed in Harpers Weekly on July 17, 1875. Images like this helped eastern readers imagine the West and the challenge of railroad building.

The Library of Congress describes the scene as a "...large work crew laying tracks for railroad, several covered wagons and other carts and wagons, work camp in the distance, and some soldiers and Natives resting in the foreground." My husband says that if anyone lived in those house-cars, it was the bosses.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.