Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Flowers in a Berlin Park

Old photo, scanned

Spring flowers in a city park.  Berlin, Germany, about 1990.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Overheard at the Grocery Store

Preschooler humor

In the cereal aisle, I saw a little boy walking hand-in-hand with his mom. The little boy was having a giggle attack. "I'm going to call Daddy 'STUPID'!" he announced.

"That wouldn't be very nice," his mother said.

Another giggle attack. The little fellow could barely sputter out the rest of his joke. "I'm going to call Daddy 'Stupid' and I'm going to call you 'THE BUNNY RABBIT'!"

I didn't get to hear Mom's response to that.

Floods of Downtown Hopkinsville

High waters on the North Fork

These concrete lily pads provide a dry passage across Little River's North Fork. They are located just below the library in Hopkinsville, KY, near the intersection of Ninth and Bethel streets.

When my kids were little, they loved to leap from one circle to the next at this river crossing. I think one of them fell in the river once, but I don't remember if it was Keely or Isaac. Or maybe I just remember that I thought they were going to fall in. I'm really not sure.

Fortunately, the North Fork isn't very deep here, except when rainfall has been heavy. When the stream is high, the stepping stones and the walk approaches are covered by flood waters. Sections of the river walk may be inundated as well.

Before the watershed lakes were built on tributaries north of Hopkinsville, the North Fork (sometimes called the West Fork) came out of its banks whenever heavy rains fell.  When flood waters filled downtown Hopkinsville, water sometimes stood on Ninth Street as far east as the area of the old post office (the current Pennyrile Area Museum.)

In the big downtown flood of 1957, five feet of water stood at the intersection of Ninth and Main.Troops from Fort Campbell and National Guardsmen helped get people out of low-lying areas. Christian County suffered so much flood damage that President Eisenhower declared it a disaster area.

In a column about major Hopkinsville floods  ("Watching the Parade", Kentucky New Era, January 23, 1984), Joe Dorris wrote that the January 1937 flood was the worst one of the 20th century. Over 20 inches of rain fell in Christian County that month, creating recurrent flood conditions in Hopkinsville. Schools were closed and a typhoid epidemic was feared

High waters were not limited to Hopkinsville. Heavy rainfall across several states caused widespread flooding in the greater Ohio River valley and on down the Mississippi River.  Hopkinsville provided emergency shelter to flood victims from other cities, including Paducah and Louisville, and sent emergency supplies to the hard-hit towns of  Eddyville and Glasgow. I am impressed that Hopkinsville's citizens assisted other communities, even while coping with their own disaster.

Photos of the 1937 flooding in Louisville, KY can be seen at the website of the National Weather Service at Louisville.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Seen at the VA Medical Center

Quiet spots in a very busy place

Water garden at one of the entrances

Glowing Coke machine
Courtyard renovation
Dennis had two appointments at the VA Medical Center in Nashville today. He saw a physical therapist about his back and also got his eyes tested. I went along to take over the driving after his eyes were dilated.

Dozens (hundreds?) of people were traveling through the ground floor of the Medical Center. Some offices had lines that stretched down the hallways. Our first two waiting rooms were small and crowded. On the 4th floor, the elevators opened to a quiet, spacious waiting area. "I'll stay here," I told Dennis.

I had a stack of magazines in my bag, and I looked through five of them while I was waiting. I tore out the few pages that I wanted to save. Then I passed on the magazines by leaving them with the other reading material on the table. I also left several magazines in the waiting rooms downstairs.

Getting rid of those magazines in a good way and being there to drive my husband home were my two best (and only) accomplishments of this day.

No Shrinking Violets Here

Where did the idiom, "shrinking violet," originate?

These violets lift their pretty faces to the sun.

William Safire wrote that the earliest usage of the term "shrinking violet his researcher (Elizabeth Phillips) found was in the 1827 play, Sylvia, by George Darley. Fifteen pages into Darley's lyrical drama, Morgana, Queen of the Fairies, praises Floretta, Queen of the Flowers, for her kindness:

The shrinking violet thou dost cheer; and raise
The cowslip's drooping head: and once did'st cherish
In thy fond breast a snowdrop, dead with cold...

If Elizabeth Phillips could have searched Google Books, she would have found several earlier mentions of shrinking violets. In 1826, a poem by James Gates Percival, titled "The Perpetual Youth of Nature - A Soliloquy" was included in the book Miscellaneous Poems Selected from the United States Literary Gazette. Here is the relevant portion:

The wind is very low—
It hardly wags the shrinking violet,
Or sends a quiver to the aspen leaf,
Or curls the green wave on the pebbled shore...

A second reference to shrinking violets is found in "A Song Over the Grave of a Lover", in the same 1826 collection of poetry.

And I have sought
The lowly violet, that in shade appears,
Shrinking from view like young love's tender fears,
With sweetness fraught

And Dorothea Lynde Dix, in The Garland of Flora which was published in 1829, has a chapter about violets. From her collection of quotes about violets, I found an even earlier mention of the shy nature of violets (in Lalla Rookh by Thomas Moore, published in 1817).

While she who sung so gently to the lute
Her dream of home steals timidly away,
Shrinking as violets do in summer's ray...

Safire thought the violets might be shrinking from the still-wintry winds of an early spring, based on a bit of poetry by John Byrne Leicester Warren from 1893. However the phrase by Moore, "shrinking as violets do in summer's ray," predates Warren's use of the idiom by 75 years and suggests that violets were said to shrink from the heat of the summer sun.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Little River of Christian County, KY

A story of branches and forks

If you're not at all interested in the path of Little River through Christian and Trigg Counties in Kentucky, you should skip this post and make better use of your time elsewhere. If you would like to know a little more about the origins and course of Little River, then please read on.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Towns of Western Kentucky in 1847

Populations compared

Historical Sketches of Kentucky by Lewis Collins was published in 1847. It includes a short report on each county of Kentucky -- the towns, the topography, the industries, the history.

In his sketch of Christian County, Collins wrote that Hopkinsville's population was 2000. Hopkinsville seems to have been the largest town of western Kentucky at that time. I suppose it was because of the excellent tobacco grown here.

Here are populations of some other county seats in the region, as cited by Collins.

Princeton: 1200
Cadiz: 500
Elkton: 750
Madisonville: 450
Russellville: 1200
Franklin: 300
Greenville: 400
Bowling Green: 1700
Murray: 200
Mayfield: 100
Marion: 120
Smithland: 1000
Henderson: 1500
Owensboro: 1000

Paducah was the only rival in population to Hopkinsville that I found. Collins wrote that Paducah's population was "...in 1845, 1500 -- in 1847, presumed to be nearly 2000." I wonder what made Paducah's population increase by 25% in just two years.

And I wonder what percentage (if any) of the slaves who lived in these towns were included in these numbers. I think it's unlikely that Collins' population figures are accurate, but they are interesting.

Above: A portion of the U.S. map that accompanied Doggett's Rail Road Guide of 1847. "The working lines of railroad are shown in color." I don't see anything but towns and rivers in these parts.

Update: This is quoted from the Wikipedia entry for Paducah (italics added).

Paducah was incorporated as a town in 1830, and because of the dynamics of the waterways, it offered valuable port facilities for the steam boats that traversed the river system. A factory for making red bricks, and a Foundry for making rail and locomotive components became the nucleus of a thriving River and Rail industrial economy.

After a period of nearly exponential growth, Paducah was chartered as a city in 1856. It became the site of dry dock facilities for steamboats and towboats and thus headquarters for many bargeline companies.

Hopkinsville, KY in 1847

A thriving town

Dennis acquired an 1847 history of Kentucky for me: Historical Sketches of Kentucky by Lewis Collins. The title is short, but the subtitle goes on and on -- "Embracing History, Antiquities, and Natural Curiosities, Geographical, Statistical, and Geological Descriptions; With Anecdotes of Pioneer Life, and More Than One Hundred Biographical Sketches Of Distinguished Pioneers, Soldiers, Statesmen, Jurists, Lawyers, Divines, Etc."

The book that Dennis brought home is only about 50 years old. It's a 1968 reprinting of the 1847 original. Unfortunately, it is just a loan, so I will have to give it back before long. The original version of the book can be viewed at Google Books, and it's free to download.

Here's what this book says about Hopkinsville:

Hopkinsville is the county seat; situated near the centre of [Christian County, Kentucky], on Little river, in a gently undulating, fertile valley, and presents a neat and flourishing appearance[.]

[The town] contains a large and commodious court-house, market-house, branch of the Bank of Kentucky, six churches, (Baptist, Presbyterian, Christian, Cumberland Presbyterian, Methodist and Episcopalian), a part beautiful and well finished edifices; two male and two female academies; one printing office, (the Hopkinsville Gazette), eighteen dry-goods stores, three drug stores, five groceries, three hotels, with nineteen lawyers, thirteen physicians, and the following mechanics' shops, viz : four blacksmiths, four saddlers, seven tailors, six carpenters, four cabinet and chair makers, two tinners, two hatters, five shoe and boot makers, four wagon and carriage makers, two silversmiths, three house and sign painters, one gun smith, two tanneries, one barber, one carding factory, and three large tobacco factories. Population 2,000.

Immediately in the vicinity of the town is a beautiful botanic garden and nursery, containing six acres, and supplied with choice fruit, shrubbery, plants, etc., together with a fine fish pond, well stocked with fish, the water of which is conveyed five hundred yards through pipes, and flowing up in the centre, forms a beautiful fountain. This garden is a place of very general resort.

Hopkinsville was laid out in 1799, on the lands of Mr. Bartholomew Wood, and called Elizabethtown, by which name it was known for several years. It was incorporated in 1806, by its present name, in honor of General Samuel Hopkins.

Quoted from Historical Sketches of Kentucky by Lewis Collins, p. 282.

The courthouse that is mentioned is the one that was burned during the Civil War.

I wonder if the "beautiful botanic garden and nursery" and the fish pond might have been somewhere near the intersection of modern-day South Virginia and Bryan Streets (near the "Keyhole House"; also see this article.). There was once a large pond in that area. In the early 1900s, the pond was filled in, and houses were built.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Traffic at a standstill

Parked on the interstate

Isaac and I got up early this morning and drove to Louisville for a meeting with his study-abroad group. (He is going to Berlin for about a month after school gets out and will take two German history classes there.)

We expected to arrive in Louisville with lots of time to spare, but fate intervened. Just north of Elizabethtown, we sat on I-65 for two hours, waiting for an accident to be cleared from the roadway.

It was a gorgeous spring morning. People got out of their cars,  walked their dogs, took pictures, and struck up conversations. One kid played with his skateboard. Isaac was wishing for a kite to fly.

The girls in the car beside us were driving back to Ohio after spending spring break in Florida. The couple in the car behind us was headed for Chicago.

Rumors were passed by people walking by. One lady said that someone had read on the internet that a family of six had been killed. Another time we heard that a tractor-trailer was on top of two cars. We also heard that two separate accidents were being cleared.

Suddenly, cars ahead of us began creeping forward. People jumped in their cars and immediately began trying to make up for lost time, As the two long lines of vehicles picked up a little speed, some people began weaving through traffic in truly reckless ways. I felt that another accident could happen at any second.

Eventually the traffic resumed normal speed and spread out. We ran into another traffic jam at our exit from the interstate, but we were only 15 minutes late for the meeting. We finally had lunch about 5 PM, and we were ready for it.

This evening after we got home, I read in the news that a tractor trailer and one car were involved. No one was killed, but one person was life-flighted to Louisville and another was taken to a local hospital. I hope they are both going to be all right. It was certainly a bad accident, but not as bad as we had heard. Isaac and I were both relieved that the rumors along the roadway were wrong.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The Johnstown Tornado of 1899

A twister in the Nebraska Sandhills

Wikipedia says that there are ten Johnstowns in the United States. Johnstown, Nebraska, the subject of this post, is surely the smallest member of the ten. Its population in 2000 was only 53. Nonetheless, this speck of dust on the map is interesting to me because it was once my address. Until I was six, my family lived on a ranch about ten sandy miles south of Johnstown.

I recently came across an account of a tornado near Johnstown, Nebraska, in 1899. Mr. A. H. Gale, a volunteer weather observer from Bassett, Nebraska,  recorded the event. He stated that the tornado started as a whirlwind about 5 miles northwest of Johnstown.

Gale reported that Mr. A. Brown witnessed the formation of the tornado, as he stood in his barnyard harnessing his horse. Mr. Brown saw a little whirlwind pass by, ruffling the straw eaves of his barn's thatched roof. As he watched the whirlwind's movement across the ground, it gained intensity, grew taller, and began to pick up plant debris and dirt. A "smokey veil" formed around the column of spinning air. (This was probably a swirl of fine dust.)

Mr. Brown observed with curiosity, but not fear. Then, as the whirlwind grew larger, darker, and taller, a funnel reached down to meet it from a low-hanging storm cloud overhead. The article says that "with this union the thing took on a terrifying aspect..."

Gale's report does not mention damage to Mr. Brown's property. Probably the tornado passed out of the immediate area before it was big enough to wreak havoc. It moved along slowly -- Mr. Brown estimated its speed to be 10 mph. Soon it passed through a cornfield, adding cornstalks to its whirling mass. Then it destroyed the buildings at Mr. John Strohm's homestead:

Mr. Strohm and his family saw it as it rose along the slant of the cornfield to his house on its edge, and dove for the cellar. The destruction at this place was complete; house of heavy logs, windmill, and tower, and stable, in all seven buildings, completely leveled to the ground, fences upset, broken down. Fence wire woven and interwoven with broken lumber, straw, debris of all sorts, plastered with mud. Every fence post standing in the track formed a dam around which was massed debris of everything imaginable, the whole daubed with mud; it was a picture of desolation and ruin -- dismal in the extreme.

Source: The Making of America, by William Matthews Handy, Charles Higgins, Volume 7, page 399. Published in 1905 by John D. Morris & Company.

Before it dissipated, the twister traveled for about 18 miles in an east/southeast direction. It probably passed through or near the land that became my parents' ranch, half a century later. Its path varied from less than 20 feet wide to about 50 feet wide. The report does not mention any injury or loss of life, either of livestock or people. If true, that was fortunate indeed.

In the time period when this tornado took place, many areas of the Nebraska Sandhills were still being homesteaded. Tornadoes must have been especially frightening for immigrants who had never seen weather phenomena of this sort in their homelands.

Top ten killer tornadoes in Nebraska
A tornado funnel that may be like the formation Mr. A. Brown witnessed

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Hopkinsville Tax Day Tea Party

A non-partisan public assembly on April 15, 2010

Quoted from the Hopkinsville Tax Day Tea Party website:

Where: Parking lot of Dr. John A. McCubbin MD, Ophthalmology at 216 West 15th Street, Hopkinsville, KY,

Date: April 15, 2010

Time: Around 5:00 PM till done

Bring: A creative sign and a lawn chair

Events: A prayer, the Pledge, and a few short speeches

Map: Click here.

If I do not have to work that evening, I hope to attend.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Scrabble Rule Change

Proper nouns allowed

Well, this is earthshaking news. Mattel has changed the rules of the board game, Scrabble.

The rules of word game Scrabble are being changed for the first time in its history to allow the use of proper nouns, games company Mattel has said.

Place names, people's names and company names or brands will now count.

Source: "Proper nouns come into play in Scrabble rule change", BBC News, April 6, 2010.

Later in the article, Mattel (a Mattel spokesperson, surely) says that there will be no rules about right or wrong spellings of proper nouns. It's hard for me to understand how that will work, but I guess it will be all right for those who want to play by those rules.

Keely and I have already decided that we will continue to play by the traditional rules. In our house, that means that no proper nouns at all are allowed.

The appearance of Scrabble in world news gives me an excuse to share our Easter afternoon Scrabble game. It was a good one! At the end of the game, we both had three letters left, and the score was 680 (Keely) to 756 (me). In a stunning moment of pure genius, Keely saw that she could play all three of her letters (E, I, and W) in the following location on the board.

The blank letter is a T. Do you see the place where Keely played? Click here to see the word that earned her 102 points and moved her to the lead, 782 to 770. (In anatomy, an iter is a passage or canal, particularly in the brain.)

I played my last three letters and got another 27 points, making the final score 809 to 782 in my favor. Looking at the completed game now, I don't even remember the places where I played. I won, but it hardly seemed a victory after Keely's spectacular coup.

That's how Scrabble is supposed to be played. Proper nouns would spoil everything!

UPDATE: It turns out that the U.S. version of Scrabble, owned by Hasbro, has not changed its rules. See the comments below for a link.

Peace in the Valley

Comfort in God's promises

There will be peace in the valley for me, some day
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray,
There'll be no sadness, no sorrow,
No trouble I see,
There will be peace in the valley for me...

--Thomas A. Dorsey (1899-1993)

My father has been on my mind this Easter, as he always is at this time of year. He loved Gospel music, so I chose the song lyrics above with him in mind.

Daddy went to eternity with the Lord on April 3, 1996. We buried him on Saturday, April 6, and the next day was Easter. The scriptures of that Resurrection Sunday pierced to the heart: "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (I Corinthians 15:55)

On that intensely bittersweet Easter morning, we didn't know that we would lose my oldest nephew and my mother in the next 14 months. God in his mercy spares us the knowledge of what our futures hold. I was sustained during that dark period of my life by prayer and by the Biblical promises of heaven and eternal life for those who have a true, heartfelt trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Beautiful Weeds

Maybe they're flowers?

God made dandelions for little children. They needed a flower they could pick without anyone scolding them!

I think the small, purple flowers are henbit. The plant seems to thrive in fields where the ground was worked during the previous year.  This time of the year, some fields are purple with masses of the tiny flowers. It grows during cold weather, blooms in early spring, and makes its seeds fast. By the time the field is worked, henbit (if that is indeed its name) has already accomplished its life mission.
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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.