All the News from Walnut Shade, KS
July 7, 2011
The 4th of July celebration was a great success and the weather cooperated wonderfully. The high temperature was only 85, with not a cloud to be seen in the sky. Al Higgs reported that the VFW sold 372 chicken dinners. The car show attracted thirty two automobiles, seven trucks, and this year, five antique tractors. Craig Gilbert’s ’63 Ford Fairlane took first place and Don Norman’s ’52 International won the truck competition. For the first time, an import, a ’65 MGB, placed in the show, winning second.
Jimmy Gilbert and Andrea Duffy won the three-legged race and Mark Derby came in first in the sack race despite being quite embarrassed that his parents made him enter. Les says that Mark’s friends have been unrelenting in their ribbing of him, but the $25 prize for being overall leader in points in the games assuaged his feelings somewhat. When asked what he intended to do with the $25, Mark said that he would either add it to his college fund or spend it on iTunes. His grin seemed to indicate that new music was perhaps more in his future.
Dr. Reinholdt was not able to conduct the band concert this year. Marie said that he has been feeling tired for a couple of weeks. We all hope to see him again next year. Jim Filmore filled in for Dr. Reinholdt and did an admirable job.
The fireworks show was more spectacular than ever, just as promised by Ray Evans. Particularly inspiring was the light banner at the end spelling out “America the Beautiful,” a fitting end to a beautiful day.
The long weekend was spent with family and friends, kids home from school, and former residents of Walnut Shade returning to renew old acquaintances. Next week, I’ll try to catch up with all the news…
…from patriotically renewed and chicken-fed Walnut Shade…
But for now, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent
Holidays are milestones in the lives of residents of small-town America. How would we make it through the summer without the 4th of July celebration, or prepare ourselves for the long winter without Thanksgiving. April isn’t the cruelest month, as T. S. Eliot said because of the unpredictable weather (now my literary friends will probably say that Eliot wasn’t talking about the weather, though I’ll argue that my lilacs get zapped on a regular basis by an early spring frost; maybe T. S. was luckier with his in England), but because there are no holidays in April, except for the years when Easter falls then. Well, okay, Easter is in April 85% of the time, but since it is always on Sunday, it just doesn’t seem like a holiday; I suppose if you add in the activities on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services, and new dresses for the women and new shoes for the kids, there’s some holiday-like feel to it; but give me a good old day off as the real measure of a holiday. Of course, since I’m retired, I never have a day off.
When I agreed to take on this column, Stan Hawkins gave me a banker’s box full of things that Arlene White, the previous correspondent, had collected over the years. Arlene was a meticulous record-keeper and the box contained the notebooks she had kept with the names, addresses and phone numbers of everyone she had talked to from the day she began the column. In addition to the contact information she kept, she also made notes about the people she interviewed. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI agents were slackers in their intelligence-gathering compared to the dossiers Arlene accumulated on Walnut Shaders. I’ve tried to be mindful of peoples’ privacy, but it is almost impossible not to look at Arlene’s speculation on why Mrs. X wouldn’t share her recipe for shortbread with the Prairie View Extension Club members, or why Mr. Y declined to teach 4-H woodworking. Why didn’t Mr. and Mrs. Z have Sunday lunch with the Q’s for three years and then agree to be the Z’s daughter’s godparents? Why did Miss K go away for the summer and come back three dress-sizes smaller? Why was Mr. P’s phone number the same exchange as Leavenworth? Ah, small-town life…
During the last six months of her life, Arlene knew that she was dying and she spent much of her time organizing her last notebook for the new correspondent, whoever that might have turned out to be. About once a year, in addition to washing and stretching her lace curtains and sorting through the canned fruit in her root cellar to make sure it was still good, she would update her contact list with new addresses and phone numbers. But for her last list, she took the extra step of alphabetizing the entries and numbering them, 1 to 413. When I took over the column, I was shocked that she could have a list of 413 people she contacted, in a town of 287. One day, I found part of the secret: she had numbered wrong! Arlene used common three-hole punched notebook paper for her contact lists, twenty-five lines to a page. For a list with 413 entries, she should have used seventeen pages, but there were only thirteen pages of numbers in her notebook. At first, I thought that some of the pages were missing, but after double-checking the alphabetization, it seems that Arlene had inadvertently skipped from entry number 200 to entry number 301 (the same mistake I make in my checkbook every now and then, the one that irritates Judy to no end).
OK, so that solved the mystery of how she could have 413 contacts, but it still meant that she had 313 at the end of her tenure as correspondent, twenty-six more than the population of the town! In searching the Census data for Walnut Shade, I determined that of the 287 residents, 210 were over 25 years of age; I imagine that Arlene didn’t talk to many children or very young adults (all of those under 25) and that she probably only called three-fourths of the remaining 210, or about 150 people. So who were the other 163? In looking over the list, I recognized a couple dozen who lived on farms or rural acreages around Walnut Shade, another couple dozen or so from Fremont and other towns in Miller County and perhaps fifteen to twenty who had moved from the county and state, leaving 75 unaccounted for. One day as I was taking Jerry for a walk, I passed the cemetery and a light bulb went off: many of Arlene’s “contacts” were right here in the Walnut Shade cemetery! For whatever reason, whether out of a reluctance to admit that they were gone, or perhaps because Arlene did consult them on a regular basis, a quarter of the people on Arlene’s list were people that she is still corresponding with wherever she, and they, are now.