Monday, December 25, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 9

The weather stayed beautiful that first fall until after Thanksgiving.  Then suddenly we had winter snow and very cold weather.  There was an older couple on the section cornering us on the northeast who had come out from the east to be near a son who had a little store and a post office in a place about 15 miles east of us.  Clyde and Mr. Haines had made  couple of trips to Keystone together and Mr. Haines had helped in the Sunday school so when their son planned a turkey shoot in early December, the Haines asked to go over to it with them.  It turned out to be much colder when we got out in the valley and when we got to the Haines place, Mrs. Haines had a supply of nice turkeys on hand and a Blue rock machine.  They didn't shoot the turkeys, but shot the rocks and they were shot out of the machine.  Clyde had done that kind of shooting back in Kansas and was lucky enough to get three turkeys, which he won by good shooting.  Gene Wilson had ridden over, but he didn't get a turkey, nor did Mr. Haines, but we kept one and gave the other two to our neighbors.  Mrs. Haines cooked hers for Christmas and had the Wilsons and us to dinner.  Then I had them all for New Years and cooked our turkey, and Mrs. Wilson followed with her turkey dinner a week later.

Our First Christmas in the Sand-hills

Getting together with our older neighbors on Christmas was ok for Clyde and me, but the children were expecting Santa Claus.  We had a little program at the tiny tar paper school house and Ruth sang her first little solo, accompanied by her father on the violin.  She had been practicing around home so loud that we had to quiet her but before the little audience she started out almost in a whisper but soon got her voice and sang all four verses very well.  All the way home she especially talked about Santa Claus coming and we were just heartsick for the few things that we had ordered for they hadn't come, nor a package from the grand parents.  I had written to my mother in Illinois or a doll head (we could buy such things then) and some overshoes for both children around Thanksgiving time.  My folks were living near Peoria, but I didn't realize how hard it was for them to get to the city.  Anyway, nothing had come.
When we got home from the program, Clyde saddled his horse, picked up a big sack in hopes for some mail at the box, two miles away.  He was playing for a dance at Arthur that night so had to hurry.  When he saw the packages piled up around our box he realized that he would have to make a second trip to get everything.  We put all of the boxes in the frame room which we used for a bedroom that winter, and after the second trip it was time for Clyde to leave for Arthur.  Ruth was so excited to see so many packages, so I let the children stay up for awhile.  In my mother's box, there were many flat packages of Japanese paper holly when opened and out I really decorated our living room.  We festooned strings of paper holly from the center of the room to the corners and hung a big red paper bell in the center.  My mother had included some of the lovely ornaments that we had used on our xmas trees when I was child, but we had no tree so I took the books out of the shelf over the double window, lined the shelf with cotton and pretty Christmas scene with the decorations, a couple of little deer and a sleigh.
By that time Ruth was tired and little Richard asleep, so I got them to bed and unpacked the rest of the boxes.  I put the head on the doll body.  There were dolls from Aunts for Ruth and toys for Dick, and clothes for both children - the overshoes that I had asked for full of hickory nuts from my father's trees.  I worked until midnight putting things together and enjoying the first Christmas that was a complete surprise.   Clyde was surely surprised when he came home.  He hardly had a hours sleep until the children were awake and having to show him what Santa had brought, then the chores had to be done, too, but he slept some before we went over to the Haines for dinner which was a real treat for me especially.  I so seldom had a meal I didn't cook. 
And a very Merry Christmas to you, dear reader.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Monday Musings

Merry Christmas! 

We are back from a miraculous trip to Morocco, North Africa and trying to catch up on sleep and recover from a cold we caught during our last days there.

Home is absent a tree, lights, any seasonal adornments whatsoever.  And I don't care.  It has been a pleasure to be out of the states during the month of December.  The absence of Christmas decorations, carols and sugary sweet desserts has been a great relief.  There was a moment, in our hotel in Marakech, where I detected Christmas carols on the outdoor PA system by the swimming pool.  Ack!  I shut my window quickly and installed my ear plugs.

The vacation is a bit of a blur, as we traveled to many cities as well as the High Atlas Mountains and the Saraha desert.  In the cities we were given tours of the old towns, or medinas, which are as crowded, hectic and hair raising as you could imagine.  I will never, ever again think of any big city in the U.S. as anything but orderly.  Not a lover of crowds at all, this medinas challenged me to stay alert, present and calm despite the motor scooters and donkeys brushing by my body in a 5 foot wide street crowded with shoppers and the hawkers of goods.  Aggressive salesmen who wouldn't take no for an answer.  Some women, too, but mostly men trying to make a living selling cheap silver ware and trinkets.  Everybody's gotta eat.

We are going through our many photographs, and I'm happy to say this was a good photographic trip for me.  Our fellow travelers on the tour were also delightful and interesting to talk with and get to know.

One of the highlights was our camel ride in the Sahara desert, despite three days of subsequent saddle soreness.  

More on the trip later.  I just want to wish you a very Merry Christmas and a fabulous 2018! 

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 8

Prairie Dogs and Other Animals

When we first saw the prairie dog "town" on the McNamara place we were very interested in the fat little animals, but as we saw the damage that they could do we were glad that there weren't any on our land, but by fall we were surprised on morning to see three or four of the little hills that they made when they made their burrows, and almost overnight there were a dozen of the hills.  A group from the big town had decided to start a new town.  After the first dozen or more they seemed to quit coming and Clyde didn't do anything to get rid of them until the next spring, when he poisoned them with liquid gas put on corn cobs and into the burrows and the entrances and exits sealed up.  We never had any more move in on us.  That fall when Lloyd was out there he spent hours trying to shoot one, but they were too quick for him.  He never got one.

Long billed Cerlew
We missed the little owls though.  They sounded so cheerful.  But we had meadow larks the year around, and they sang all winter, too.  Sometimes it seemed like there was a meadow lark on every fence post.  Then there were cerleews, a large bird with a wing spread of nearly two feet.  Once when we were riding along, Clyde spied some baby cerlews beside the road and brought one to the wagon to show the children and all of a sudden, out of nowhere, the mother bird flew a Clyde's face, snapping her long slender bill.  He put her baby down in a hurry.  I have read since that there are very few of them left.  There were chicken hawks to menace our nice big chickens in the summertime, too.
In the fall there were just millions of migrating ducks and geese.  Once in awhile a flight would light in our valley, but they mostly settled on the lakes ten or fifteen miles north of us.  Clyde used to take our dog Don with him to go into the water to retrieve the birds that he shot.  I had a big roaster that just held six small teal ducks or three big mallards or redheads.  I always pick the down off the birds and saved it for pillows.
Clyde had brought Don home when he was just a puppy when we lived back in Kansas.  He was a short-hair English pointer.  His mother was fine hunting dog and when Don was old enough Clyde used to take him down to Pottawatomie county to hunt quail with him.  He trained easily and I got my first demonstration of his skill one Sunday afternoon when we started up to look a the area that we were planning to build on.  We were horseback, Clyde riding one of the little grey team with Ruth on behind him and me riding the more gentle one with Dick in the big saddle with me.  All of a sudden Don made a point, nose straight ahead, right foot raised and tail straight out behind.  Clyde hadn't brought his gun, but he put Ruth on behind me and told me not to move, and tore back for his gun.  My horse stood still as Clyde thought he would and when he got back, Don was still standing in the same position.  Clyde walked up slowly behind Don and then Don too some steps toward the prairie chicken that was crouched in the grass, until the bird flew up and Clyde got it.  Then Don turned toward another chicken that he could smell and flushed it out.  He did this until he had raised eight birds.  When there were no more, he obeyed Clyde's order to pick them up and bring them to him.  I had never seen such work by a dog.  He wouldn't work for anybody else at first, but we had a neighbor, the young man who had drawn the section that joined outs on the north, who spent a great deal of time and our home and seemed like family to Don.  His name was Jim Matusy, a railroad man for Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Jim had built a little one room sod house, that he lived in the required seven months until he proved up on his land.  He loved our kids, read the funnies to them.  He made a deal with Clyde to let us run our cattle on his section in exchange for help in fencing his place.  Clyde had wire and posts enough to fence three sides of his section and our adjoining north fence served his, too.  We were expecting a carload of cattle in the spring.  Clyde wanted to run them on Jim's land during the summer months and use our pasture for winter grazing.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 7

The windmill that was in our valley when we arrived was still there after our well was operating, and we really needed one.  Clyde talked to the rancher who owned it, hoping to buy it, but he said, "Go ahead and use it this winter," so Clyde and Bob moved it up over our well and pump.  We had never heard of borrowing a windmill before.  We had to buy a new one the next spring, the kind that controlled itself so that we could leave it on all of the time.  Clyde ran the water into a covered barrel for house use, then into a big galvanized tank for the horses and our few cows.  Later he build a big low cattle tank of cement and wooden staves.
The garden that we had planted that first spring hadn't done much.  We didn't really know how to plant in sod, but we did think we had a good crop of watermelons, but just as fast as the watermelons ripened the coyotes broke them open and ate them.  We were able to buy potatoes, dry beans, cabbage, rutabagas and beets very cheaply from neighbors to the east who had learned how to garden out there.  It was necessary to have water available during the hottest weather and to build up the soil.  The next year we really had a wonderful garden, even tomatoes, which others didn't really grow, but my aunt in eastern Colorado sent me some very early seed which produced ripe tomatoes by the first of August which were a real treat out there.  Clyde built a really good cold frame to start the plants, which helped a lot.  Tomatoes took the place of fresh fruit.
By Thanksgiving time we were pretty well ready for cold weather, but didn't realize how close it was.  Clyde had picked up loads of chips and piled and covered them with some pieces of canvas and he made his last trip to the railroad, we hoped.  We ordered necessary warm clothes from Sears in Omaha to be delivered parcel post and delivered to our mailbox, which was two miles east of our east line.  Hopefully it was delivered twice a week.  There were four mailboxes standing together on a lonely trail.  Ruth had learned to go for the mail when the weather was good.  She had to get off Molly to open and shut a cattle gate, but Clyde had taught her to close the gate so the cattle could not open it and she never failed to do it right.

Next week: Prairie Dogs and Other Animals.

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Ancestors, Part 6

Our barrel of meat that we brought didn’t last as long as we expected it to, because of the extra meals that I got for the travelers who stayed all night at the McNamara place, but Clyde found a very good substitute for it.  While we were haying they went through the cornfield that Bob had plated.  By that time the corn was just in the roasting ear stage and the young prairie chickens had founds them good to eat.  Clyde would take his shotgun, a handful of shells, and Don, and on the way home would get a half dozen young fryers.  Bob showed me how to skin them very easily, so there was no scalding and plucking and they were delicious.  Clyde really got enough for the Frosts, too.  Frostie didn’t have a gun or dog to point the chickens out and knew nothing about hunting.  He finally got enough lumber together to frame a one-room sod house.  When the haying was finished, Clyde, Bob, and another man by the name of Gunn too their tools and really built a sod house for the Frosts.  Little Mrs. Frost had been company for me and enjoyed rocking her baby in one of our rocking chairs every day.  They didn’t get their well down right away and had to carry water from the McNamara place, a full mile, so I loaned our baby buggy to push little Emma.  She wore it out pushing it over the rough ground and next year I wished that I had it myself.
Clyde and Bob spent week cutting hay on our valley for our stock and the stacks they put up looked so small in that big valley.  Then we chose our building spot, up in the northwest corner of our section with hills around on both north and west so we would be protected from the coldest winds.  The building spot was on a slight slope toward the narrow neck of our valley leading into the Wilson place.
Then the well had to be put down.  Clyde had the necessary pipe and a post-hole digger on hand, also some screens that they would need.  He and Bob hauled the materials over one morning and came back at noon very happy that they had reached water at 16 feet and only had to go a little deeper to get good coarse gravel so that the water was clear and cold.  They put a hand pump in and we had all of the best water in the world for as long as we lived there, and I hope it is still as plentiful now as then.  Not long ago I read something that makes me wonder if it will be as plentiful, for the writer said that the Ogallala Aquifer had been tapped for irrigation in three states.  They just called it sheet water when we were there but seems it is really a huge lake that is fed by underground springs.  I somehow feel that they have invaded the water rights of the cattlemen who still live out there and raise cattle for a living.
Theodore Roosevelt had had this land set aside for tree planting, and I really believe if the young trees had been taken care of for the first two or three years they would have lived, but nothing was ever done about his plan and the cattlemen rented the land for two cents an acre for many years.  Then a Nebraska senator by the name of Kinkaid pushed a bill through congress that resulted in the land drawing in 1913.  We who home steadied there were called Kinaiders.
When Clyde was busy one morning marking out his plan for the buildings, dear old Mr. Wilson came over apologetically to tell him that he was starting his buildings on the Wilson section.  Clyde had to take him up the hill to show him his corner pin.  Son Gene had told his parents of how our valley belonged to them.  Clyde hated to see the disappointment on the old man’s face.  Gene had misinformed them on many things.
Clyde built a small sod building, with the idea of using it for storage, but it took him longer to build and the more he worked with the sod the more he felt that it wasn’t strong enough to last.  There was just too much sand and too few grass roots to make solid building blocks.  But the small room would do as a kitchen so he floored it and plastered it and we moved our kitchen equipment into it the last of August.  Then he made a trip to Keystone and came home with lumber enough to build a big frame room that he joined to the sod kitchen.  Before he had it finished Grandpa and Lloyd, his fifteen-year-old grandson came out to see us.  Grandpa loved it.  The weather was beautiful and he would get up as soon as it was light.  He would get on Molly, the little mare that Bob had taught Ruth to ride, and he would ride all over the place.  We had bought Molly from Bob, and Ruth had been herding the four milk cows while we worked on the building.  We had put up the big tent and used to sleep in it and store thing, too.  When we brought the chickens up from the McNamara place we tried to get them to roost in a bi box that Clyde fixed for them, but the insisted on coming inside the new building every night.  They kept furnishing eggs for though, even if we did have to carry them to bed every night.
Grandpa was worried about the new frame room not being warm enough for the cold winter weather that he knew we would have.  He really wanted us to com back to Kansas with him, but there was no way we could get care for our animals and we wanted to get the fenced that fall before it got too cold.  Then he insisted that Clyde let him help build a sod living room between the sod kitchen and the big frame room.  So they cut for sod pulled the frame room away from the kitchen a built a comfortable room which we really did appreciate that very cold winter.  We had a big “Round Oak” heating stove that kept that room warm and comfortable but it took lots of chips and that was the only fuel we had that first winter.  While Grandpa and Lloyd were there they put up a small barn and fence a lot to keep the stock in, and they found time to hunt prairie chickens and wild ducks at some lakes north of us.  The ducks were flying south from over the Canada wheat fields and landing on the lakes over night.  They were fat and such good flavor.  Clyde too Don to retrieve them when they fell in the water.
As I look back, I realize how much help that Grandpa was that fall in getting us ready for winter, and in really warning us of conditions that we had never thought might exist.  The summer and fall had been so ideal, weather-wise.  But after they were gone and some of our neighbors went through our valley on their way home, we were glad that we had made preparations for a different kind of winter than we were used to farther east.

You Can Go Home Again

 I took a vacation in the first week of May.  I went back to my high school and college stomping grounds, still populated by many friends of...