Chapter 41- Billy and Dorothy Visit New York

March 1, 2012

This is a Leap Year and yesterday was the big day. Folk lore says that on February 29, women may propose marriage to men. We won’t name any names, but there is a certain young lady in town whom we all hope took advantage of the custom!

Mayor Combs is back on the job and he invites everyone to come to the next Town Council meeting. There will be a special announcement about the Post Office and the restoration of the WPA mural.

The Excelsior Book Club will meeting next Wednesday at Flossie Wentworth’s house. This month’s book was The Help. Sherri Brown will also lead a discussion of plans for “Walnut Shade Reads” for this fall.

Lance Graves, director of the Aeolian Acting Company, reminds local thespians that auditions will begin April 2 for the 2012 season. This year, the Company will stage Romeo and Juliet and A Very Potter Musical.

Two big community dinners are coming up in the next few weeks: the Erin Go Bragh potluck on the 17th and the Wizard of Oz dinner on the 24th. Dorothy Westover reports that our old friends, Connie Dover and Kelly Wertz, will provide music for the EGB dinner.

Harry Morris was spotted at the Miller County landfill last week, looking for items for his big art show at the Kemper Museum in Kansas City in May.

Inez Harris had a meeting with Governor Brownback in regard to the arts funding he is trying to delete from the budget. Inez reports that he is rethinking his decision. He may be the Governor, but Inez is Inez.

Dr. Cramer gave a lecture at the Vet School at K-State on treating chronic urinary tract infections in rescue animals.

The Barnett household was the site of a rather large party on Saturday afternoon. The final regular season game between KU and Mizzou provided immense drama and entertainment and ended as these thing so often have with a one-point difference in score, in overtime, no less. Everyone agreed it was a great game.

Gretchen Watkins called her parents on Sunday to let them know that she has been offered a post-doctoral fellowship at KU to continue her research on Transcendentalism in eastern Kansas before the Civil War. She’ll be moving to Lawrence with the start of the fall semester.

Glenda Singleton is hard at work on a new book of essays that highlights the contributions women made in education during the years just after the Second World War.

Principal Shannon Jeffries reminds parents that the spring elementary band concert will be held on Sunday, March 11 and that students are asked to wear western-type clothes in keeping with the musical theme of “Rodeo.”

The Willing Workers 4-H Club met on Monday and enjoyed a visit from Rhonda Graves, K-State’s International Exchange Coordinator, who told them about the opportunities to host a student from abroad. Several families in Walnut Shade have expressed an interest in hosting, perhaps this fall.

Lori Mendenhall has recovered from her bout with the flu and was able to join Anna Brady and Ruth Stanford to play Mahjong on Tuesday at Walnut Rest. This week, however, Ilene Wick was not feeling well, but hopes to be back with the girls in a week or two.

Hazel Bradford has bounced back from her cold and is making cookies for the Erin Go Bragh dinner. “Eight dozen, so far,” according to Millie.

Hazel, if there is nothing but your cookies at the dinner, that will be enough for me, but until then…

I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

I was sitting in Shirley’s on Tuesday morning with Mike O’Rourke and Ralph Thompson chatting about the KU-Mizzou game this past Saturday and whether it is last one we’ll ever see, now that Mizzou has departed for the SEC, when Billy Thornton walked in wearing what we used to call a “Full Cleveland”: polyester faux-denim leisure suit, white belt and white patent shoes.

“Ah, it’s a wondrous thing, it is,” Mike said in his unselfconsciously-affected Irish brogue (despite the name O’Rourke, Mike’s family was actually Greek; it seems that when his grandfather reached Ellis Island in 1902, the immigration official misunderstood him when he said that his name was Oriakus and wrote O’Rourke on his documents, so the family has been O’Rourke ever since and Mike has enthusiastically embraced his bureaucratically assigned nationality).

“Billy, Halloween isn’t for six month. What in the world are you doing in that get-up?” Ralph asked, laughing, after he finished wiping the coffee from his chin that had come spewing out seconds before.

“Dorothy and I are headed to the airport. Going to New York for a few days.” Billy began. “We haven’t been there since 1978. We went to Studio 56, you know.”

“I think that was Studio 54,” Mike said, also wiping coffee from the front of his shirt. “You went to Studio 54? And I’ll bet you wore that same outfit.”

“As a matter of fact, I did. Nobody gave me a second glance, there.”

“I suspect you are going to get a few strange looks this time around. New York has changed a bit since disco days.” Mike and Joyce, before they moved back to Walnut Shade in October, had lived in Brooklyn for several years where Mike was a policeman and Joyce worked at The New Yorker in Manhattan. Mike had risen to the position of captain in the 75th Precinct when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After thirty-five years in the big city, he took his retirement and they decided to move back to the “Little Apple” where they had graduated high school, but then Joyce’s mother died and left them a house in Walnut Shade that belonged to Joyce’s grandmother.

“Joyce had no idea that her mom owned the house here or who her real grandmother was. She thought her grandmother had died when her mom, Grace, was born. Apparently, her grandmother and her grandfather split up right after the birth and Grace was raised by her stepmother. Joyce’s mom found out who her real mother was sometime in the late 1950s. At the time Margaret Hart had been living in Walnut Shade since 1949. Grace and her mother reestablished their relationship and when Margaret died in 1962, Grace began taking care of the house, eventually renting it to Bill and Sandy Boyd until they moved to Walnut Rest last year. That’s when we found out about it and decided to move over here to make sure the house is preserved.”

In a few weeks, I’ll fill in the details of this story, but for now, let’s just say, “Ah, it is a wondrous thing, it is.”

But back to Billy for a moment.

“Dorothy is going to that big beauty supply convention she won on Facebook and I’m going to explore the city. We hung out a lot in Greenwich Village when we were there. Saw Elvis Costello at CBGB. Patti Smith was sitting in the back with… what was his name?”

“Robert Mapplethorpe,” Mike volunteered.

“Yeah, that’s right. Weird guy. But they were all weird,” Billy said, with a little bit of a grimace on his face.

“So why are you going back, especially looking like that?” Ralph asked.

“Oh, those were good times. Dorothy was a wild chic back then.”

Ralph almost did another spit-take, and he and Mike looked at each other in amused amazement, if there is such a thing.

“Billy, as long as I’ve known you, I’ve never heard you talk like this. What’s gotten into you?” Ralph was seriously perplexed.

“Well, you know sometimes, you just need to pretend you’re twenty-five again. Walnut Shade’s a great place to be seventy, but not a great place to be seventy going on twenty-five. People look at you strange.” Billy had a wistful tone to his voice.

“I guess we can all identify with that,” Mike said.

“I wish you old geezers would stop talking like that and just drink your coffee. You’re making we feel old,” Shirley said, refilling our cups for about the sixth time. Refills are free so we take advantage.

“Why, Shirley, you don’t look a day over…” Ralph began.

“Watch it; I’ve got a pot of hot coffee in my hand.”

“I was going to say thirty,” Ralph said, grinning.

“I knew you were losing your memory, Ralph, but now I know you’re losing your eyesight, too. But I appreciate the compliment.”

Shirley returned to her spot behind the counter and we all just kind of looked at each other, sensing there wasn’t anything else to say. We got up silently and left, walking as carefully as we could because, you know, at our age, broken hips…

~.~

News from the past:

Fremont, May 18, 1928 — Harry Willard, a mechanic at the Ford dealer, was slightly injured when the car he was attempting to steer into the company’s garage hit a rock and broke an axel on the way down the hill to the garage, throwing Mr. Willard from the car. The car then veered off and crashed into Mrs. Edythe White’s living room. Mrs. White was not at home at the time, but one of her cats was slightly hurt by a Fiesta pitcher which fell from a shelf and broke. Chief of Police Chester Pollard classified the incident as a “routine calamity.”

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Chapter 40 — The Correspondents’ Lunch

February 23

It’s been a slow news week in Walnut Shade and in Miller County generally. The boy’s basketball teams at both high schools have been losing the last couple of weeks after getting off to a great start. On the other hand, the girls’ teams have been winning against everyone. Congratulations to the girls and we hope for a resurgence of the boys.

The correspondents from around the county met for lunch in Fremont on Monday and exchanged gossip.

Jim Fillmore and Melody Watkins had a visitor over the weekend. Pat Metheny dropped in on Sunday after his concert at K-State Saturday night. Jim briefly played with Pat’s band back in the late ‘70s and they have stayed in touch over the years.

Rachel Watkins called from Paris where she is studying architecture. Betty says that Rachel spent a week in Eze studying the church of Notre Dame de l’Assomption, which was built in 1764.

Michelle Clemons reports that Holly House is booked for most of the spring and summer. She and Tom will be very busy until Labor Day.

The Convent is booked for a week-long retreat beginning March 22. A startup technology company from Overland Park is coming up to do a “creative thought process,” whatever that means. Jerry Hall will probably make some creative meals for them.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham and Jessica’s mother, Lillian, were the guests of Stan and Lois Adams for dinner on Sunday. Lillian is enjoying meeting people in town.

Lillian got a note from “Bobby” on Tuesday saying how much she was missed in Park City, Utah.

Rev. Katherine and Les Derby had lunch with Sandy and John Cramer after church on Saturday. Les and John enjoyed seeing K-State beat Baylor. It’s been a frustrating year for the team, beating teams they were supposed to lose to and losing to team they were supposed to beat.

Speaking of which, Eddy Barnett is still smarting from Mizzou’s second loss to K-State this year.

Millie Bradford had lunch on Monday with Miss Cecilia Davenport. Hazel was feeling a bit under the weather and decided to stay home. Miss Cecilia reports that her cousin, Grace Estes, from New Haven, Connecticut, called while Millie was there and the three had a delightful conversation over Miss Cecilia’s speakerphone.

Craig Duffy spent Saturday afternoon with Bill and Pam Heath while Teresa was in Manhattan visiting a friend. Craig is looking forward to fishing in Bill’s “water retention structure” once it is full and stocked with fish. “Bill says it will be good to go next spring, but I don’t think there’ll be much meat on those minnows.” Craig is ever the pessimist. Knowing how impatient Bill can be, he’ll probably just buy full-size fish to put in there.

Everyone in town is excited for the St. Patrick’s Day Dinner and the delivery of the Erin Go Bragh cookbook, especially Dorothy Westover, who has put months into its preparation.

Dorothy, we salute you for your perseverance and I know that all of us who helped you by taste-testing the recipes will think of you every time we step on the bathroom scales and see how much weight we have gained over the last few month.

And adding another notch to my belt, I remain…

Your faithful correspondent

~.~

Several months ago, I described how I was recruited for this job. At the time, I thought it would be a nice way to spend a few hours a week chatting with people around town and writing a short piece for the Ledger for which I would be paid a handsome sum. For the most part, I was wrong about all of that. First of all, it takes an infinite amount of time to track down information about what is going on around here. Oh, don’t get me wrong; people are really good about calling to let me know what they’ve been up to. It’s a good thing I have an unlimited data plan on my phone because I probably use up a hundred gigabytes a week. No, what takes the time is figuring out what to use and what I can legitimately get away with not using. If Sally Fields (not her real name; well, it is her real name, but that Sally Fields doesn’t live in Walnut Shade) has had lunch with Cher (again, that Cher doesn’t live here, although I’m told she’s thought about it; probably just gossip) every Tuesday for the last two months, that isn’t really news. But if Sally Fields misses a week with Cher and has lunch with Meryl Streep instead, now that is news!

Second, about that handsome sum…

I have to admit, too, that I didn’t think I’d do this for more than a couple of months. I was pretty sure that Stan Hawkins would find someone more qualified (almost anyone in town) and that there would be a general community-wide groundswell to help him find someone more qualified. Now, Stan has never said anything about the first part, knowing how easily my feelings get hurt, but he has said that not a single person has complained about my being the correspondent for Walnut Shade. That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t gotten comments about what I’ve written over the months I’ve been at this. That lunch Sally Fields had with Meryl Streep caused a minor tiff between her and Cher. Apparently, that part wasn’t for publication. Stan heard about that from Sally and from Cher. But Sally and Cher patched things up and now the three of them (Sally, Cher and Meryl, not Stan) have lunch every Tuesday, so that doesn’t get in the column.

Speaking of lunch, every two or three months, Stan has all his correspondents up to Fremont for lunch and a chat. Lunch is always good; the Pioneer is one of those county seat restaurants that has to cater to the local farmers and merchants at breakfast and lunchtime, and to the “big city” lawyers from places like Topeka and St. Joe and Marysville who are in town for court and who think they have refined palates. Jerry Waters, the owner, has been serving folks for forty years, so he knows his clientele and has his menus down pat: meatloaf on Monday; fried chicken on Tuesday; chicken pot pie on Wednesday (made with the leftover chicken from Tuesday, if there is any); smothered steak on Thursday; and, catfish on Friday. On the weekends, when mostly the locals eat there, you get whatever Jerry feels like cooking and those are usually the best, and sometimes most unusual, meals. I was there one Sunday when Jerry decided to do an English breakfast, for some strange reason, complete with eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, grilled tomatoes, toast, marmalade and tea. Regular customers who come in every Sunday complained that there was no coffee that morning and there seemed to be a lot of beans left on plates when they finished, but the next Sunday, I’m told, everything was back to normal, with Jerry’s famous biscuits and gravy and all the coffee you could possibly want.

Stan has correspondents in all the towns in Miller County, which just about fills up the Ledger every week. Here’s the current lineup:

Sharon Miller — Blue Valley
Freida Miller — Donner Crossing
Lydia Marks — Guitar
Sarah Graves — Longwood
Ruth Harwood — McDougal
Joyce Hanks — Parkersburg
Sandy Miller — Spring River Crossing
Mabel White — Tillman
Patsy Buchanan — Willow Springs

Now you may have noticed a couple of things about this list. For one, it’s all women. I’m the only male correspondent in the bunch. The others treat me accordingly. In the beginning, they all kind of gave each other a look when I walked in for lunch, the kind that says “Well, he may be Stan’s friend, but he won’t last.” It took me about six month to prove to them that I could do the job and now they  think I’m just “one of the girls.”

The other thing you might have noticed is that there are three correspondents named Miller. Well, that’s only a little coincidence. You see, Sharon, Sandy and Freida are all sister-in-law, having married the three Miller boys from just outside Blue Valley. Sharon lives on a farm with Frank; Sandy’s husband, Gus, is a rural postal carrier; and, Marv Miller is the best auto mechanic in Miller County. Everyone always asks, but no, they have to connection to the person for whom Miller County was named.

Our occasional get togethers are supposedly to let Stan know if we are having any problems and to let him know if anything has changed in the way we are reporting the news from our respective towns. He lets us know if there are any issues at the Ledger and if he has heard from any of his readers about the job we are doing. But mostly, it’s just a chance to gossip about what’s going on in our little corners of the world.

Every now and then, Stan does hear from a reader about a column one of us has written. Usually, it’s to complain that we left out their names in the list of people attending the dance at the VFW or forgot to say that they had had lunch with Mr. and Mrs. X on Sunday. It’s easy to make those mistakes, but we usually only do it once.

“I once forgot to say that Muriel Sparks [not her real name] and her husband had played bridge with the Andersons [not their real names, either], and I heard about that for six months,” Sandy Miller said.

“Yes, and I heard about it for another six months,” sister-in-law Freida commented with a laugh.

“This is a really small county, so when something gets missed, several of us hear about it,” Joyce Hanks pointed out.

Sometimes, news travels from far away. I’m always amazed at how many subscribers Stan has that live in far-flung parts of the country. When people move away from here, they leave behind friends and sometimes family. Reading the Ledger keeps them up-to-date on what’s going on. Stan told me one time that he has subscribers in forty-nine of the fifty states (oddly, there are none in Nebraska; he has no explanation for that, but now that Hal Dane is living in Omaha and working at the Durham Museum, perhaps that will change and it will be a perfect fifty), and seven countries world wide.

Stan started giving free subscriptions to any college student from Miller County and he now sends papers to fifty-seven schools.

“I always wonder if those papers really get read, but every now and then, I get a note from a kid who has seen something about his or her hometown and it keeps them connected somehow.”

The Ledger has not yet gone to an on-line edition, so a written note is something special. The act of picking up the paper means that someone is paying attention.

One of the topics at every lunch is how to make sure that we get the news that’s really important to people.

“Most of the time, people call me to let me know what’s happening with them, but sometimes, I hear something second hand and it’s then that I pick up the phone and make a call. That’s usually when someone is sick or there has been a death. I hate to intrude, but I think most people appreciate knowing that someone is thinking of them.” Mabel White is one of the most senior correspondents, having reported the news from Tillman for forty-two years.

Self-reporting is usually about a birth in the family or extended family; weddings; trips; and lunches and dinners. The latter two get the most coverage in all our columns. I’m always amazed at how much people eat out, especially at someone else’s home. Some people, it seems never cook for themselves. That’s an exaggeration, I know, but only a little bit of one.

“There’s a woman in my town who once had lunch out every day in a month, with the exception of a couple of Saturdays when I suppose her husband insisted she fix something for him.” Now, I won’t identify which correspondent related this because then the culprit would know that she had been discussed. But maybe she wouldn’t mind. The only bad publicity is no publicity, right?

“What we do is keep a record of the history of our communities as that history is actually happening. People like sharing their everyday lives and stories with us. The headlines on the front page might seem to get most of the attention, but what do people turn to next? Our columns.”

Sarah graves, the second most senior correspondent, reminds Stan of this every time we get together, lest he get the funny idea to use our spaces for more ads. Stan always nods and says that he wouldn’t think of not including our contributions in his newspaper. And he wouldn’t. He’s been at this long enough to know what his readers want. Like Jerry, he’s got his menu down pat and he’s not going to change it. He’s not about to start giving people an English breakfast when what they really want is biscuits and gravy.

~.~

A little news from the past.

Donner Crossing, March 22, 1917 — Mr. Harmon reports that there was a big commotion out at his chicken coop Wednesday morning. It seems that a raccoon and a fox got into a fight over the chickens, none of which were harmed. Apparently the raccoon and fox were too tired from the fight and left hungry.

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Chapter 39 — Our Buddha in a Bathtub

February 16, 2012

Lorene Robertson decided to retire from the ASCS office after 33 years in that post (minus the three months she was “on leave” at the Farmers Bank in Fremont). During that time, she amassed 3,424 hours of unclaimed sick leave. She admits that after she had been on the job for a couple of months, she came down with a cold and took one day off. Ken Olin, the ASCS supervisor, said that he is trying to determine if that is a record for being on the job. At any rate, Lorene is going to get a nice little check for that unused leave. Congratulations, Lorene, but we will miss see in you in the office.

Hazel and Millie Bradford visited Ruth Stanford on Monday at Walnut Rest. Ruth had a minor fall on Saturday, but is doing fine. “Nothing broke, which at my age is saying a lot,” Ruth reports.

The St. Valentine’s Day Dance was great fun this year. We all celebrated the Dixieland Stompers’ addition of Melody Watkins to the group. The band played all the old standbys, but added several pieces that featured Melody on vocals and piano. We look forward to more concerts in the future.

Marie Combs reports that Grant was back at KU Med Center for some tests last Friday. He had a bad cold that he just couldn’t seem to shake and Marie was afraid that it would turn into pneumonia. We’re all hoping for a speedy return to city hall.

Carl and Jessica Cunningham took Jessica’s mother, Lillian, to Marysville on Saturday to play bingo at the VFW. It was the first time for Lillian and she won $6.

Susan Hall is trying out some new recipes at Bach’s Lunch. She invites the adventurous eaters in Walnut Shade to stop in and take a chance on something new. We know it will be good, Susan. You’ve never let us down.

Sally Oswald says that the Main Street/Pride committee decided to sponsor an all-town garage sale the weekend of April 6 and 7. “We thought that that being the weekend before taxes are due, we would help put a little money in peoples’ pockets.” We hope that’s true but we remember that Billy Thornton says that garage sales are just a way to move junk from one garage in town to another garage in town. Always the cynic, Billy.

Patsy Powers got a call on Sunday from her great aunt, Virginia O’Halloran, who moved with her husband, Pat, to Scottsdale, Arizona in November. Patsy reports that they are both doing great. Virginia’s arthritis is not causing her as much trouble, it seems, and Pat is playing golf every day in the Arizona sun.

Inez Harris had lunch with Cordelia Beck in Topeka on Monday. She then stopped by the Capitol to visit with Rep. Adams about funding for the arts in Kansas. It seems the Governor is determined to reduce that item in the budget and Inez is just as determined to not let that happen. My money is on Inez, so to speak

Glenda Singleton got the galleys of her book of poems last week and is busy proofing them. It should be on the shelves in April, if all goes well.

Jody Tyler flew to Minneapolis on Friday to be with her mother and father for a few days.

Tom Clemons received word that the documentary being done by the Australian film crew that was in town in October and again in December has been selected to have its first screening during the Toronto International Film Festival in September. Walnut Shade plays a prominent role in the film so perhaps we should all make plans to go to Toronto.

In the mean time, I’m just going to hang around town, but I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

Anyone who has driven through the eastern or midwestern United States has probably come across what is affectionately known as “Mary in a bathtub” or “Mary on the half-shell,” that curious grotto that holds the Virgin Mary in what may or may not be an actual bathtub. Apparently, the shrine was invented by devout Catholic immigrants from the Azores. According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica (yes, there still is such a thing and I’ve got the seventy-five pound set in my basement to prove it), they first showed up in New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts around 1950 but quickly spread to the upper Mississippi River valley as that part of the country had a large contingent of German, Polish and Irish Catholics. In the early ‘50s, people were beginning to remodel their homes and the clawfoot tubs were considered old-fashioned, so there were lots of used bathtubs around.

Until recently, Walnut Shade had its own bathtub Mary. It was in the yard of Doris and Ralph Wright. You might remember that the Wright’s house burned in 2007 and they moved to Colorado rather than stay in town and rebuild. It was not an unexpected decision as their daughter and son-in-law live in Boulder. Doris said at the time that she was hoping to be closer to grandchildren. For some reason, though, they hung onto the lot and it wasn’t until last August that it was sold to Norm and Jeannette Oh who were living in a rental next door. The Oh’s are in the midst of building a new house on the lot.

Well, about that bathtub Mary. When the house burned, the lot was cleared of everything except that shrine. No one really knows why. The Wrights weren’t Catholic, so it didn’t have religious significance or sentimental value for them. It had been installed by the people who had owned the house prior to the Wrights. The Hastings had moved to Walnut Shade in the 1940s from Kentucky, from an area where bathtub Marys were quite common. Now some of these shrines are not really bathtubs, but are commercially-produced versions with scalloped edges or other decorations. The one in the Wright’s yard, though, was a real, live bathtub sunk in the ground. Those old cast iron tubs weighted a ton, so maybe that’s why it was never removed, either by the Hastings or the Wrights.

So, for five years, Mary was alone in the yard, waiting for someone to either move her or for new owners to appreciate her. Then, one morning, she was gone. Jeannette Oh first noticed it when she walked next door to check on the progress of the construction of her house.

“It was a beautiful November morning, the 1st, as a matter of fact. I was stopping in to meet the electrician who was finishing up the installation of the service panel when I sensed something in the front yard was different,” Jeannette related. “I’m not sure what made me glance at Mary, but there it was, an empty bathtub. Since it was the night after Halloween, I just figured that some of the kids in town had decided to move Mary somewhere like they do Mr. Baker’s outhouse. But when she didn’t turn up a couple days later, we decided something else had happened to her. We asked around town, but no one had any clues. I hope whoever took her will be good to her.”

As I’ve mentioned, despite having three churches, Walnut Shade is a town of free thinkers and variously-spiritual people. At one time, there was a fairly large Theosophical Society in town, during the late 1800s. Before that, Richard David Owen began a Transcendental Society here, which lasted until the 1930s. At various times, we have had Unitarian churches, Eastern Orthodox Catholic groups, a brief spell of Mormons, Scientologists, Christian Scientists, Sufis and Jehovah’s Witnesses. There were several Children of God living on a farm outside town in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, but they moved to Japan to witness like the Hari Krishnas in airports. The Masons were an important part of the town until their temple burned in the downtown fire in 1920 and the chapter moved to Fremont. Most of the members that lived here are long since passed. The Quakers played a big role in the lead-up to the Civil War and chances are there are more atheists here per capita than in any town in Kansas. Besides Muslims, Sikhs, Jews and Hindus, the one group that hasn’t been numbered among the burghers of Walnut Shades has been Buddhists. Until Norm and Jeannette Oh moved here last summer.

Norm teaches comparative religion and sociology at Washburn University in Topeka and Jeannette owns a holistic health center there. They moved to Walnut Shade from Boulder where they got to know Doris and Ralph Wright.

“It was a chance meeting,” Jeannette says. “Doris came into the shop I ran there looking for some herbs to ease a pain in her back. Her chiropractor had suggested she give some a try and we got to talking about where she was from. She mentioned that she and Ralph owned a piece of property in Walnut Shade that they were thinking about selling. Norm had just been offered a position at Washburn and we decided to give Walnut Shade a look. Being so close to Topeka made it a real possibility, so we rented the house from Frank and Anna Mae Bundy and bought the lot from the Wrights.”

Ok, but what about Mary in the bathtub? Or Mary that wasn’t in the bathtub?

“Norm and I are Zen Buddhists and when Mary disappeared, it seems like a good time to create our own shrine, so on December 8, which was Bodhi Day, or the day that the Buddha attained enlightenment, we installed a likeness of him in the place previously occupied by Mary. We didn’t think she would mind since she was an enlightened one, also.”

So that is how Walnut Shade got its own Buddha in a bathtub. We think he fits in very nicely in this free-thinking town that celebrates diversity and enlightenment, and so far, Buddha seems to agree.

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Chapter 38 — The No Bell Prize

February 9, 2012

The Ecumenical Handbell Choir returned from Kansas City on Wednesday, where they placed second in the “Under 100 Church Members” category of the North American Bell Choir Competition. Congratulations to conductor Arlene Cornett and all the members from St. Stephen’s, St. Brendan’s and the 1st Baptist Church for a job well-done.

Taking advantage of the mild February weather, Sherri Browne and Connie Thompson drove to Overland Park on Monday to visit Sherri’s sister, Violet Sparks. They had lunch Johnny Cascone’s and then went to Half Price Books. Connie was looking for another copy of “The Paris Wife” to replace the one she left the airplane when she and Ralph flew to Denver to attend Ralph’s niece’s wedding.

Pastor Paul Powers is about to complete his Master of Divinity degree from the Midwest Theological Seminary. His Master’s thesis is an exploration of the symbolism of Jesus turning water to wine.

Speaking of wine, George Finley says that a recent inspection of his vines show that they are coming through the winter just fine. He’s hoping for a good growing season. As are we all!

Dorothy Westover reports that the proofs of the 100th Anniversary Erin Go Bragh Cookbook have been returned to the publisher and everything is on schedule for the unveiling at the St.Patrick’s Day dinner.

Curt and Amanda Jackson went to Topeka Sunday afternoon to see We Bought a Zoo. Curt said it was definitely not research for a new business. “Deliveries have been a bit slow lately, but tax time is heating up, so Amanda is going to be bringing home most of the bacon for the next couple of months,” Curt said. Ah, yes, tax time.

Sandy Cramer says that she got an email from John, Jr., who is in Santa Cruz, California, attending the University of California. The semester started a month ago on January 9, and Sandy reports that John, Jr. is off to a fast start, with eight hours in astrophysics and four in robotics. “He’s also taking water polo and lacrosse, if you can imagine that. He’s into California culture.”

Alvin Begley spent Sunday doing some work at the VFW hall. Marj said he was trying to shake off KU’s loss to Mizzou on Saturday night.

Hal Dane, who defended his dissertation on the Oregon Trail and graduated in December from KU, has been hired by the Durham Museum in Omaha to increase its research related to overland travel, especially in the years 1840 to 1870.

Roxie, Pat and Alice McManus, puppy who is now a year old, worked very hard to become a therapy dog and she is now visiting Walnut Rest and Miller County General on a regular basis. I hear she likes to be there when Mahjong is being played. Somehow, extra treats are involved those days.

Rusty Higgs was in town over the weekend. He dropped off samples of his salt that changes colors after it’s added to food at Bach’s Lunch, Shirley’s and the Stop and Go.

Harry Singleton and Jason Glen had lunch with Tom and Michelle Clemons on Sunday after church. They are working with Sally Oswald on the new brochure for the Main Street/Pride committee.

Craig Duffy is testing ice cream flavors again. He admits that his Margaritaville flavor didn’t get the reception he thought it would, but Walnut, Walnut, Walnut was a big hit at Shirley’s. The patrons of Bach’s Lunch were partial to the Meyer Lemon Sorbet, but they have refined palates, as we all know.

For me, I’ll take plain old chocolate any day of the week and until my next bowl…

I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

Every year during the week of February 5, the North American Bell Choir Competition is held in Kansas City at St. Agatha’s Catholic Church. February 5th is the historical date of St. Agatha’s martyrdom. She’s the patron saint of bells (also other martyrs, wet nurses, breast cancer patients, bell-founders, bakers, fire, earthquakes, and the eruptions of Mount Etna; some years, she’s a lot busier than others, especially in California). The competition has been held every year since 1951, the 1700th anniversary of her death, though it’s only been in Kansas City since 2001. Before that it was located in Chicago, but there were several years that it had to be delayed because of weather issues. Chicago is a bit “iffier” than Kansas City at the beginning of February.

Walnut Shade has had a choir in the competition from the beginning. In the early years, it was made up of just members of St. Brendan’s, but as time went on, there were fewer members there and to supplement the choir, several people from St. Stephen’s UCC and the 1st Baptist Church were recruited. Eventually, it became known as the Ecumenical Handbell Choir of Walnut Shade and over the years, it has made quite a name for itself, no more so than in 1986 when it was awarded what has come to be known in the NABCC as the “No Bell Prize.” Here’s the story.

The winter of 1986 started out as a typical winter in the Midwest. There were periods of extremely cold, snowy weeks, followed by thaws and dry spells. Around Martin Luther King Day, a massive storm hit the upper Plains, closing down most everything for a couple of weeks. Walnut Shade received just over fourteen inches of wet, heavy snow during that time, making it very difficult for the choir to get together to practice, though they had been diligent about it beforehand, so no one was particularly concerned about missing a few days. Two weeks before the competition was scheduled to begin, another thaw arrived and the forecast was for above-normal temperatures and below-normal precipitation until the middle of February. Organizers of the event in Chicago breathed a sigh of relief and Sarah Chapman, the conductor of the Walnut Shade choir, made sure that her charges were ready to perform.

The competition was scheduled to commence on Wednesday morning, February 5, with the various categories of choirs performing for judges in venues close to Holy Name Cathedral, where the final performances of category winners would be held on Friday evening. On Monday, February 3, the choir members boarded a chartered bus to head to Chicago. Normally, in addition to the luggage for  a week for twelve member, there would be three cases filled with music, handbells, and all the accouterments necessary for a special musical performance. Somehow, the cases with these essential components were never loaded on the bus. You know how it is: trying to make sure that everything is accounted for at the last minute inevitably leads to something not being accounted for.

It was not until Sarah Chapman was helping choir members check into their rooms in the Warwick Hotel that evening that she discovered that the bell cases were missing. A second check of the bus turned up nothing and so Sarah called her husband back in Walnut Shade. Harry, Sarah’s husband, drove over to St. Brendan’s, where the choir had assembled to leave for Chicago, and sure enough, there in the vestibule were the bell cases, along with a piece of luggage that one of the member had also left behind. Harry agreed to start out the next morning to deliver the precious cargo by car. The worst that would happen was a loss of a day of rehearsal, but Sarah was confident that that would not affect the choir’s performance. They were prepared!

Bright and early, Tuesday, February 4, Harry Chapman loaded his 1982 Ford Escort with the three cases of bells, music, etc. and started off for Chicago, not having listened to the weather forecast. By the time he got to Des Moines, it had begun to snow and when he reached Iowa City, the roads were beginning to be snow-covered. It seems that a freak winter storm had developed over southern South Dakota and northern Nebraska and then had moved with a vengeance into Iowa. Harry got as far as Davenport and could go no farther. He called Sarah to give her the news.

Now, anyone who knows handbell choirs knows that the instruments they play are very special pieces of metal, leather and wood. Whether you are a Schulmerich or a Malmark aficionado, you swear that your bells make the difference in a performance. The EHC happens to be players of Malmarks, having switched to them in 1975 when Sarah Chapman was invited to visit Jake Malta’s workshop in Bucks County, PA. Malta was just getting started in the “bell trade,” as it is known, and he was trying to market his new bells to choirs that had been winners in the NABCC, as the Walnut Shade group had been the year before. Sarah had seen his bells demonstrated at one of the workshops that occur as part of the competition/convention. She was intrigued by the concept of a “tangless” bell and the somewhat softer sound it made, but wasn’t convinced at that time. But Malta offered a free trip to Pennsylvania, so how could she decline?

Sarah and Harry decided to drive and they made a vacation of it, stopping in Indianapolis to see Sarah’s grandmother and in Dayton to visit the Air Force Museum. Ironically, though he was afraid to fly, Harry was an avid model airplane builder, having won prizes for this planes in shows across the Midwest. The Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has one of the major collections of scale model airplane, so Harry was excited to visit it again.

After a leisurely drive over the course of three days, the Chapmans arrived in Doylestown, PA and met Jake Malta as his workshop. At the time, he was still working out of a small storefront in town, but had a production system that could turn out two full sets of 25 bells a week. Sarah was so impressed with the sound and quality of Malta’s handbells that she was determined to convince the choir back home to make a switch, which necessitated a major fund-raising drive in Walnut Shade.

Now in addition to being an excellent director, Sarah was also a persistent salesperson when it came to making sure her choir had what it needed, so within a month of returning home, she had raised the $2,200 to buy the set. To say that the choir members were thrilled is an understatement. They had loved the handbells they had used for decades, but there is always something special about getting something new. You could see the joy on their faced at their first performance with the new bells.

Well, that’s a bit of digression from the main story…

So, Harry was stuck in Davenport and wouldn’t be able to make it to Chicago for the start of the competition on Wednesday. In fact, it was doubtful that he would be able to make it by then end of the week. Sarah was crestfallen. What would she tell the choir? While she was sitting in the lobby of the hotel, looking despondent, Grace Hartigan, the director of the Williamsburg UCC Church choir in Oak Park, stopped to chat and saw Sarah’s distress. Over the years, Sarah and Grace had become good friends and friendly, if fierce competitors in the NABCC competition.

“Sarah, if you want to borrow our bells when your are ready to perform, we’d be happy to loan them to you,” Grace offered. “I know it won’t be the same, but at least you won’t have to drop out. You just have to promise not to win, right?”

At first, Sarah was hesitant, but she said, “Grace, that is a wonderful offer. Let me talk it over with the choir and I’ll let you know. You are a true friend.”

One of the reasons Sarah was a bit reluctant to perform with Grace’s choir’s bells was that they were Schulmerichs, not EHC’s beloved old Malmarks. The difference in sound would, of course, affect the performance. When Sarah talked to the choir members, their reaction was unanimous.

“What do we  have to lose? We’ve come this far and we know the music forwards and backwards,” Andrea Evans said.

“Give us five minutes and we’ll have those bells down pat,” Olivia Jane Johnson chimed in.

“Let’s go for it,” Glenn Miller agreed.

So, that being settled, Sarah talked to Grace and the offer was accepted. The choir was able to get in one short practice before the performances began, but that was enough. And while they didn’t win, they did manage to get a special award. It seems that the news of their bells being delayed and the necessity of their performing with borrowed bells had spread through the other choirs. Not surprisingly, these groups are pretty close and when misfortune falls to one choir, the others commiserate and help however they can.

At the closing banquet, at which competition winners are announced and celebrated, the president of NABCC, Harriet Morrissey, asked Sarah Chapman to come to the stage.

“Sarah, we know that this has been a difficult week for you and your choir and I’m not sure how most of us would have risen to the occasion the way you have. In recognition of your perseverance in the face of the obstacles you encountered, we have created a new award in your honor. Ladies and gentlemen, to Sarah Chapman and the Ecumenical Handbell Choir of Walnut Shade, Kansas, we present the “No Bell Prize.”

At that moment, Harry appeared on the stage beside President Morrissey and hugged Sarah, to thunderous applause from the combined handbells choirs of the NABCC.

Sarah retired the next year, saying that the pinnacle of her career had been reached, winning the “No Bell Prize.”

~.~

Here’s a little tidbit from Ledger in times past:

May 21, 1938 — A Miller County Sheriff’s Deputy was called to the home of Horace Crockett of rural Parkersburg on Thursday. A neighbor reported seeing a body in a hammock in Mr. Crockett’s back yard. The body turned out to be a mannequin that had been stolen from the Parkersburg Mercantile sometime in the previous week. Agnes Reed, who called the authorities, said she hadn’t seen Mr. Crockett since the beginning of March. After a short investigation, Mr. Crockett was reached in Wichita where he had been visiting his sister. He was relieved to learn that his hammock was not damaged.

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Chapter 37 — A Little Fiber in the City Diet

February 2, 2012
The Town Council voted at its January meeting to invite Google to install its fiber system in Walnut Shade. The company had been looking for a small community to expand to and we stepped right up. Once final negotiations are completed and a contract signed, Google says we could be seeing high-speed Internet by the end of the year.

Shirley says she will really be happy to have reliable wifi for her customers and the ability to post her daily menus online. However, that means she’ll have to actually have a menu and not just a “whaddya want today?” ordering system. You have to be flexible to eat at Shirley’s.

The weather the last few days has been… well, balmy. So much so that an impromptu cookout was held in the park on Sunday afternoon. The Lions brought their big cooker and grilled hot dogs for everyone who showed up after church. Sometimes, winter’s like that in Kansas. But Miss Cecelia Davenport still keeps a watchful eye on her weather station.

Anne Porter, Miss Cecelia’s niece from Marysville, visited on Monday, which was also a beautiful day.

After several months of being legume-free, Jason Brady was at it again last week. Dr. Oswald did a bean-ectomy on Jason’s nose. “I don’t know where he gets the idea to put beans in places like that. We never had this problem with his sister,” Sue Brady said.

Stacy Long, Walnut Rest administrator, reports that for some reason, many of the residents have been requesting pumpkin soufflés for dinner lately. She thinks its just a little joke that they are playing on the cook because almost no one there like pumpkin.

The All-Miller County Jazz Band will hold a concert next Thursday at the elementary school. The band tries to make an appearance at most of the schools in the county at least once a year. They are also practicing hard for the regional music competition with the hopes of going to State again this year.

The South County High School Eagles basketball team has had a good season so far, with a record of eleven wins and two losses. Their next big game will be against Jefferson County North, which is undefeated.

Marie Green heard from her friend, Monica Reece, who lives in Santa Barbara. Monica is planning to make a trip to Walnut Shade sometime in April or May.

The Excelsior Book Club had a lengthy discussion about “The Paris Wife” at their meeting on Tuesday. “I learned a lot about my great aunt Hadley from the book,” Flossie Wentworth reported. “She was a saint putting up with Earnest for all those years.” Their current book is Bossypants, by Tina Fey. “We haven’t read a funny book for a long time, unless you count that book by Donald Trump,” Elaine Hunt volunteered. That one was a real mistake, everyone agrees.

Stan Adams reports that he discovered that the twelve new flags the American Legion ordered to replace several that had worn out were made in China. “We sent those right back to the place we bought them. We are looking for a company that promises only American-made flags.”

The Master Gardeners are already at work planning their spring garden tour. This year, they are going to be featuring gardens in the northern part of the county since the fall tour was down this way.

Charles and Jennifer Singleton, from Manhattan, joined Eddie and Glenda Singleton for lunch in the park on Sunday. “We weren’t expecting hot dogs, but they were great,” Glenda said. Luckily, the potato salad she brought from Manhattan was a perfect complement to the meal.

Marshall Green says that the county is looking at a lot of road work this year. “We’ve got several bridges that are in bad shape and are on the priority list.” For the most part, the county does a good job keeping up with repairs, but nothing is maintenance-free these days.

Don Cornett’s brother, Jeff and sister-in-law who live in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, were involved in a minor accident last week. Both are OK, but they were shaken up when heavy snow caused part of their front porch to collapse just as they were heading out to work.

Folks around here who still have landlines couldn’t make phone calls for a couple of days last week. It seems that the switching controls at the phone company shorted out when a leak developed in the roof. The leak was fixed and everybody has phone service again. As far as I know, only a couple of people have gone cell-only, but I’ll bet that changes pretty quickly. We are a pretty tech-savvy community.

Speaking of technology, today is Groundhog Day and we are all waiting to hear if Punxsutawney Phil has seen his shadow to know if we can put away the coats and boots in a few weeks. Whatever that outcome, shadow or not,

I promise I will remain…
Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

On Tuesday, I had lunch with Dr. Craig Hollowell, a professor of history at K-State, and the grandson of Helen and Oscar Baker. Craig has been studying changes in communications technology and how that has influenced the development of northeast Kansas. His dissertation was on the role Walnut Shade has played in that development over the years.

We talked about how the introduction of extra high-speed Internet access will continue Walnut Shade’s tradition of being on the cutting edge of communications and Craig said he wasn’t a bit surprised to hear that Google is coming to town. Walnut Shade has always been an early adopter sort of town. And entrepreneurial. You might even say that communications is the reason that Walnut Shade exists.

“When the town was founded in the 1840s, news traveled mainly by horse or wagon train,” Craig said. “The trails that came through here not only brought information about what was going on back in the east, but some folks went the other way and took the news of the frontier to friends and relations in places like Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts, where most Walnut Shade settlers came from.”

The reports of fertile land and abundant water led to a population “explosion” right before the Civil War. From about 124 people counted in 1850 Census to the time Kansas became a state in 1861, Walnut Shade grew to 243 inhabitants.

“The years right before and right after the Civil War saw several innovations in communications. The Pony Express had a brief, but important place in Walnut Shade history. We all know that Henry Dane’s blacksmith shop and stables was one of the first stop on the riders’ route from St. Joseph, but ironically, the Pony Express fell victim to another early technological advance: the telegraph.”

Craig’s research showed that a decade before the Pony Express was established, companies began to string wires for the telegraph in eastern Kansas. The St. Louis & Missouri River Telegraph Company extended lines to Weston and St. Joseph and in January, 1859, the line crossed the river to Atchison. In the spring of that year, a local company, the Miller County Telegraph Exchange, was formed to bring the telegraph to Miller County, and Walnut Shade, being the county seat at that time, was the logical terminus.

“The men that formed the company were already thinking ahead,” Craig said. “At about the same time the telegraph was finally extended to Walnut Shade, the Company began exploring the possibility of developing a rail line from Wathena. Had the war not intervened, Walnut Shade might have become an important rail center, but two of the principles of the Telegraph Exchange were casualties in the battle of Prairie Grove in Arkansas and the company never recovered. After the war, the Central Branch Union Pacific Railroad determined that building the rail line north of Walnut Shade would be more feasible so we missed that opportunity. At the time, it was called the Atchison and Pike’s Peak Railroad.”

The loss of the rail line did not deter the local entrepreneurs, though it took several years for the right opportunity to present itself.

“The next development in communications came with the invention of the telephone by Bell and his associates back in New Jersey and the formation of the Walnut Shade Mutual Telephone Exchange, which resurrected some of the old structure of the Telegraph Exchange,” Craig said. “The Exchange was started by a group of farmers who were familiar with the structure of cooperatives and they used that as a model to develop the telephone service here.”

The system began operating in the summer of 1910 with about fifty customers, most in town and a dozen outside. The exchange building was located on Main Street in the still-functioning telegraph office, relatively close to the power station which supplied electricity to the equipment.

“It’s interesting that one of the major breakthroughs in the development of telephone service came from the invention by a Kansas City undertaker, Almon Strowger, who invented a switch that could connect multiple lines at one time,” Craig explained. “Before that, customers had to have lines running to every other customer they wanted to talk to. That wasn’t very practical, but the switch Strowger invented made telephone service more feasbile and relatively affordable. Who would have thought that an undertaker was as important to the industry as Alexander Graham Bell?”

When you think about, the telephone was the invention that made instant two-way communication over a distance possible. The telegraph was essentially a one-way process requiring time between message. The telephone decreased social distance.

“Making a phone call, sending a text or email these days requires so little effort, or thought, that we’ve forgotten that calling someone in the early days required an intention that we’ve lost, I think. Just consider what it took to place a call on a crank phone in 1910,” Craig said. “To begin with, you had to know the other person’s ‘number’ which might be a short ring, two long rings, and a short ring. Everyone on the party-line, and everyone in the beginning was on a party-line around here, knew that you were making a call, because all the phones rang. The person receiving the call knew his or her own ring, but everyone could listen in on the call if they wanted to, and I’m sure a lot did.”

We laugh about that now, but the party-line was the CNN of the day. The operator on duty at the telephone office often acted as the “voice mail” for the community. If Dr. Short was going to be eating dinner in Fremont, he could let the operator know and she would relay that message to Mrs. Williams who was calling Dr. Short because Ronnie Williams was running a fever. If someone on the line knew that his neighbor was out in the back yard in the garden, he might step out the door and let her know that her phone was ringing if she didn’t hear it.

“For a couple of year, the operator on duty at seven o’clock in the morning would ring everyone on the system and give the weather forecast, scores of the high school sports team, market quotes, and other local news. People could go about the rest of their day feeling like they were up-to-date on the world. At least this little corner of the world.”

Craig related this with something akin to wistfulness in his voice. Perhaps he was feeling nostalgic for what we think of as a simpler time, though I’m sure if you could talk to anyone at the turn of the twentieth century they would think of it as anything but simple.

“I’ve got to get back to Manhattan. I’ve got a class at 3:30. The students hate that time almost as much as they do the 8:30 classes. But, then, so do I,” Craig said as he prepared to leave. We made plans to meet during spring break to talk about recent developments in communications, such as radio, TV and to catch up on the progress of the installation of Google Fiber.

“Walnut Shade is a marvel,” Craig remarked as he headed to the door. “While other little towns are dying, this place just keeps innovating itself alive! See you in a couple of months.”

“Innovating Itself Alive.” That would be a good town motto. I’ll have to tell Sally Cramer about that. The Main Street/Pride Committee has been looking for a new advertising bit. That one has possibilities.

~.~

Visitors to Walnut Shade invariably remark on our beautiful park and the pathways leading to and from it. Besides the terrific care the park gets from the city maintenance staff, there is a good reason why the park was written up in the The WPA Guide to 1930s Kansas.

“WALNUT SHADE, 65 m. (1,189 alt., 395 pop.) Located at the confluence of Vermillion Creek and Walnut Creek. One of the most striking features of this small town just off U.S. 75 in eastern Kansas is the unusual shape of its city park and the “courthouse square” (the town is not the county seat but was at one time; the residents still refer to the place it stood as the courthouse square) both are circular and are connected by a five-block pedestrian walkway, all of which was designed by John Charles Olmsted, son of the designer of New York’s Central Park. An important stop on the Oregon and California trails, Walnut Shade was also a relay station for the Pony Express. Today, it is an agricultural trading center and intellectual hub for Northeast Kansas.”

In the fall of 1900, Charles Olmsted spent a week with his cousin Owen Frederick Bryant, who was staying in Walnut Shade during one of his entomology field trips. Bryant was a naturalist and collector of a variety of insects, and that fall there was an infestation of Sitophilus granarius, or wheat weevils. Olmsted had been working in St. Joseph on plans for a parkway system and before returning to New York, had stopped in Walnut Shade for a short visit with his cousin. While there, he got to know the mayor and park superintendent, who had been talking about renovating the “courthouse square.”

As we all know and the description above points out, Walnut Shade is not the county seat of Miller County; that distinction falls to Fremont. But from 1855 to 1867, we were the seat of government and boasted a two-room courthouse at the intersection of 4th and what is now Park Street. One room of the courthouse was the administrative center and the back room was the sheriff’s office and jail. For a reason that is not entirely known, the courthouse was built in the middle of the intersection and the area around it was re-platted in shape of a circle. One explanation was that one of the county commissioners thought people had a hard time negotiating ninety degree turns with their wagons and suggested a circular street to facilitate visits to the courthouse. Whatever the reason, the courthouse and jail sat on a circular plot of land in Walnut Shade.

When the Atchison and Pike’s Peak Railroad decided to go just north of Fremont, the city leaders there started agitating to move the county seat. Naturally, folks in Walnut Shade resisted the idea of losing the prestige and revenue that being the county seat brought, but the commissioners at the time thought the way to settle the argument was to hold an election. The result was a vote of 78 to 75 in favor of moving the county seat. As you might expect, the northern part of the county voted overwhelmingly for the move (truth be told, people in the southern part voted almost unanimously to keep Walnut Shade the county seat; since then, there seems to have been a north/south split on lots of county issues).

A few days after the election, a group of men in masks entered the courthouse at closing time and at gunpoint, removed the records and a safe that held the county treasury. Some people thought the men were part of the James gang, but a rumor circulated saying that they were residents of Walnut Shade who wanted to thwart the move of the courthouse. An investigation proved that the robbers were thugs hired by the railroad as part of an attempt to turn opinion against Walnut Shade and the records were later discovered in St. Joseph in the home of the brother of the Miller County presiding commissioner, who was at that time from Fremont. When this all came to light, the commissioner resigned and within a week had left for Wyoming. The safe was never recovered, but everyone believed that the money in it mysteriously moved to Wyoming, too.

Well, this is a bit of a digression…

Anyway, with the move of the county seat, the Walnut Shade courthouse lost its original purpose and was sold to local merchant who ran a dry-goods business for several years. A fire in 1898 destroyed the building and the lot was empty at the time of Charles Olmsted’s visit. At a dinner at the mayor’s house, he asked that Olmsted consider drawing up a plan for the “square” and a park that was to be located about five blocks north, on the edge of town. Olmsted was naturally reluctant to take on any additional jobs for his firm, but he had just received word that the work he had been doing in St. Joseph had run into political and financial obstacles and he was open to a small job in eastern Kansas.

Over the next six months, drawings and discussions flew back and forth between New York and Walnut Shade, with the result that a circular park with a tree-lined walk to the courthouse square was agreed upon. The plan also suggested the planting of American Elms along the perpendicular streets radiating from the square and the new park. Fortunately, the town leaders being somewhat protective of the name, decided to plant walnut trees instead, thereby avoiding the disaster that befell many cities in the 1960s and ‘70s when Dutch elm disease wiped out the trees in many cities in the U.S.

Interestingly, you can still find residents and visitors strolling along the streets between the park and the courthouse square on a quiet Sunday afternoon, even in this age of the automobile. Maybe instead of occasionally lamenting the move of the county seat we should be celebrating it. Had those masked robbers not seen fit to ply their suspiciously-financed trade here, we might just be known as the governmental center of Miller County and what kind of a distinction is that, really?
~.~
A news item from 1920:

McDougal — Dr. Wells was called to the farm of Hiram Mason on Tuesday. It seems that Mr. Mason and his wife got into a bit of disagreement that resulted in Mr. Mason receiving a blow to the head that required six stitches. “I just told her that all this voting stuff was nonsense, but if she wanted to go out and dig ditches, drive the mules or even grow a mustache, I wouldn’t stand in her way.” Seems like the mustache remark was just a bit too much for Mrs. Mason, who might be a bit touchy on that subject.

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Chapter 36 — The Return of Sgt. Hunt from Afghanistan

January 26, 2012

Sgt. Jared Hunt was laid to rest in Mt. Olive Cemetery in Fremont on Saturday. Jared was the son of Elaine and Dale Hunt. Jared’s wife, Lisa, and children, Chris, ten, and Matthew, seven, who live in San Diego, returned to Walnut Shade for the memorial service. We send our deepest sympathies to Jared’s family and many, many friends.

This has been an interesting winter, to say the least. Miss Cecilia Davenport reported that her weather station recorded a morning low of 9 degrees on Friday and a high of 60 on Sunday. There have been more highs in the 60s in January so far than lows in the 20s. Perhaps we’ll have an early spring.

Eddy Barnett was very happy on Saturday when Mizzou beat Baylor 89 to 88. Jeff said “Big deal. KU beat them 92 to 74 on Monday.” It’s a divided house, but mostly peaceful.

The Main Street/Pride Committee met last Thursday evening. It was the first meeting of the new year and the group began making plans for the monthly events to come in 2012. Sally Oswald says that the committee is particularly excited about working to implement the design guidelines for downtown buildings that were adopted in December.

Daphne Wolfe is enrolling new piano students. She currently has seven second and third-year students and says she can take three first-year learners.

Despite the fact that there has been very little snow this year (except for a couple of storms in early December and that huge one on Christmas eve), Hannah Tucker and Victoria Cramer have been doing very well with their snow-removal business. The girls remind everyone that aching backs can easily be avoided by giving them a call.

Ilene Wick, Anna Brady and Ruth Stanford played Mahjong on Tuesday at Walnut Rest. Lori Mendenhall was unable to join them; she’s had a bad cold for a couple of weeks and didn’t want to passing it along.

The Willing Workers 4-H Club will meet on Saturday morning at the 1st Baptist Church. Members will share a story about their Christmas holiday.

Don Norman has lost five pounds on his new BLTB (Better Let That Be) diet devised by Dorothy. She said she’s thinking of franchising it, though QVC hasn’t called yet.

The Dixieland Stompers will be adding a singer to the group, according to Al Higgs. As soon as Melody Watkins and Jim Fillmore get back from their honeymoon in Bend, Oregon, the quartet will become a quintet and begin practicing for the St.Valentine’s Day Dance at the Elementary School.

Harry Morris is hard at work on planning his art installation, which will be at the Kemper Art Museum in May. He was also contacted by the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha about doing a show sometime in 2014. Harry said he doesn’t think that far ahead, but appreciates the invitation.

Eric Weston is leaving for Vancouver in a week to begin filming three episodes of Rizzoli and Isles. Eric, as you may remember, will be cast as a “criminal impersonator” who actually commits the crimes he’s in the police line-up for. Confusing, right? As they say, stay tuned.

Alvin Begley reports that the VFW will be back open this weekend. The electrical work has been completed and the offending bat that caused all the problems has been given a proper “burial.”

Lillian Reeves, now a member of the Walnut Shade community, is getting settled in her new home with her daughter, Jessica Cunningham and son-in-law, Carl. Quincy, her standard poodle, is having fun meeting the other dogs in town. He’s gotten to visit Dr. Cramer at the vet clinic and Carl has taken Quincy on several trips around town. They appear to be becoming best of friends.

The first round of pesticide certifications was completed at the Extension Center last Thursday and the final day to take the test was today. Nathan Crane reports that everyone in the first group passed with flying colors and they enjoyed a bountiful lunch provided by the Miller County Extension Clubs.

Speaking of Extension Clubs, Inez Harris reminds all members that they will hold their semi-annual meeting next Wednesday. It will be a pot luck and members are encouraged to share something about their just-passed holiday activities.

Inez, are non-members invited to the pot luck? I know the food will be delicious and bountiful, as always. If not, I’ll get a sandwich at Bach’s Lunch and then…

Until next week, I’ll remain…
Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

It’s always a surprise when someone who has been gone for years and years from a place they once called home decides, voluntarily or not, that they want to spend eternity right back there. That’s probably the reason that small town cemeteries often have ten times the population of the town itself. And you can quickly tell the social order of the town by the landscape and architecture of the cemetery. Look for the highest point and you’ll usually find a stately, but often gnarled oak or evergreen or an imposing granite monument announcing the name of the town’s founder or most prominent citizen, surrounded by his or her dearly departed family members. Radiating out from this focal point will be the lesser lights of the community until one comes to the edges of the territory where the denizens of the town find their rest. The hierarchy in a cemetery is sometimes more rigid than that in the living town; there is no flaunting or overcoming one’s circumstance of birth in a burial plot, but when you are just ashes, you can be anyone you want.

The death and funeral of Sgt. Jared Hunt brought to mind for people in Miller County a similar circumstance from almost a century ago, captured in a memorable painting by a local artist, John Steuart Curry, entitled The Return of Private Davis from the Argonne. The painting shows a large gathering of family and friends around the grave of William Davis, a high school friend of Curry’s. Davis was one of the first casualties from Kansas in the trenches of World War I; indeed, he was killed on his first night on the Western Front. Three years after his death, his body was returned to Winchester for burial. Curry started the painting as a memorial to Davis and as a statement about the ambivalence that he, Curry, and so many other Americans felt after the so-called Great War.

Initially, Curry was enthusiastic about the “adventure” that the war in Europe presented, but while he was studying at the Art Institute of Chicago he somehow missed the opportunity to volunteer for service, and by the time his draft number was called, the war was over. As the years beyond the war passed, though, and ominous signs of another war were being felt, he became more skeptical and isolationist in his attitudes. When he went to Europe in 1926 to study in Paris, he visited several cemeteries of American soldiers who had lost their lives in France and Belgium. He also spent time with ex-pats who had stayed in France after the war and probably had long discussions about the meaning of the millions who had died. After a visit to London, where he saw John Singer Sargent’s painting, Gassed, he began making plans to paint a picture that would represent how he felt about the war.

Some of us who went to the interment of Sgt. Hunt were struck by the similarity of the events surrounding his death and that of Pvt. Davis. Like Davis, Jared Hunt was killed on his first day in Afghanistan when the vehicle in which he was riding ran over an IED on the way to his base camp. He and five of his squad members were killed instantly. Because of the remoteness of the base camp, it took nearly a week for all the bodies to be recovered. Sgt. Hunt’s body was not returned to Kansas for five weeks after that, just as Pvt. Davis’ body was delayed in it’s return.
No matter the cause, a death in war is a terrible waste. We all so hope that this conflict will end soon so no more of our family and friends will have to stand shivering around the new graves of their loved ones.

~.~

As I mentioned, John Steuart Curry was a local artist, having grown up in Dunavant, just over in Jefferson County. He was well-acquainted with Walnut Shade, having visited many times with his parents who attended many of the “salons” hosted by the Theosophical Society. His artistic skills developed early, as he spent most of his time while here wandering around town, drawing local residents and rural scenes. Over the years, he returned many times to paint and draw, often creating sketches for canvasses he would complete later on. Two of his most famous paintings were based on sketches he did here: Baptism, in 1928, and Tornado Over Kansas, in 1929.
Curry’s parents were quite religious and they were known to follow the revival circuit in northeast Kansas. It was after one of these gatherings that a mass baptism took place on the Dane farm outside of town. Normally, baptisms were performed in a stream or creek, but the summer of 1912 was particularly dry and the revival preacher had to use one of the Dane’s large stock tanks. Curry, then fifteen years old, did a number of drawings of the scene and later referenced these for his painting. Baptism was his break-through paint. It was purchased by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney in 1931 for her Whitney Museum of American Art.

In the summer of 1927, the year after he return from Europe, Curry was staying with his sister, Mildred Steuart Fike, in Walnut Shade for a couple of weeks and it was here that he witnessed the tornado that leveled her neighbor’s farm. Tornadoes are a common spring and summer occurrence around here, but that one, certainly, is one of the most famous of all, perhaps second only to the one Dorothy experienced.

~.~

Last summer, Hannah Tucker and Victoria Cramer started a lawn-mowing business to earn money for 4-H camp. It was amusing to see the boys in town making fun of the two girls doing what has usually been their job, but Hannah and Victoria have been so much more successful than the boys because of the attention they pay to their work. The boys around here see mowing lawns as a get-it-done-as-fast-as-you-can kind of operation. No matter that they sometimes cut down a few flowers that somehow get in the way or miss a couple of spots in the front yard that are painfully obvious to anyone who happens to be passing by. The girls, on the other hand, take care to edge the flower beds and sidewalks, rake up the clippings and put them in the compost bins that everyone in town has in their back yards, and not charge extra for mowing in neat, straight lines. The boys seem to love to mow in any direction that strikes their fancy, figure eights, being a preferred pattern, it seems.

Toward the end of the summer, the girls had lined up so many yards to mow that they had to put on help, moving partly from labor to management. They hired a couple of the more reliable boys to do a few yards, but when school started in the fall, the boys turned their attention to football. By then, though, the mowing was easing up and fall cleanup was starting. Walnut Shade, as you can imagine, has lots of trees and where there are lots of tree, there are lots of leaves. Hannah’s dad decided to buy one of those riding mowers that doubles as a vacuum and mulcher, so some of the leaf cleanup got a little easier (truth be told, Fred Tucker didn’t buy the riding mower/vacuum/mulcher just for Hannah; he had been trying to talk Sandra into letting him buy one for a couple of years, but the Tucker/Cramer mowing business presented the perfect excuse, so Sandra couldn’t really say “no”).

Through October and November, the girls were very busy after school and on week-ends. Their experience with trying to hire the boys taught them that they should be more selective in picking their “employees” so they added a couple of other girls to their working crew, which turned out to be just the right number. By Thanksgiving, they had practically cleaned every leaf from every yard in town and were ready to take a break until spring when another opportunity presented itself: eight inches of snow the first week in December. People who had had their yards mowed and leaves picked up began calling Hannah and Vicky to come shovel their walks and driveways. Hannah wasn’t sure she wanted to get into that game since there were lots of school activities going on, but her dad and Dr. Cramer came up with a solution. Fred was able to mount a blade on the front of the mower/vacuum/mulcher and Dr. Cramer invested in a snowblower, so the girls went to work clearing the snow from one customer after another. Mind you, these were smallish jobs for those older residents who didn’t want to get out on the snow-covered sidewalks on the off chance that they might fall and break a hip. But the girls did them cheerfully and expertly. Not a speck of snow was left when they finished.

I admire the resourcefulness and entrepreneurial spirit of Hannah and Vicky. I just hope the boys in town have taken notice. The girls are now too busy to shovel my walk.

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Chapter 35 — Jesus Sells

January 19, 2012

We received four inches of snow on Sunday and another two on Tuesday afternoon. People went about their business pretty much as usual. Shirley said that her breakfast crowd was larger than normal on Tuesday and Wednesday. Probably folks who decided they couldn’t get to work, but needed nourishment for the hard day ahead of shoveling snow.

Speaking of Shirley’s, she reminds everyone that her “It’s the Middle of January” breakfast specials are now available. Truth be told, the breakfast specials are the same as every other day of the week, but she says that people like to think they are getting a bargain even if they know they aren’t. Shirley is a marketing genius.

Prairie View Extension Club met on Tuesday in St.Stephen’s Church basement with Helen Baker and Lorene Hanson as hostesses. Teresa Duffy gave a program about cheese-making. The members decided to have a program about the food of other countries at future meetings. Next month, Patsy Powers will demonstrate making pierogi. Patsy’s grandmother was Hungarian.

This year’s Miller County Martin Luther King Day celebration was held at the elementary school gym here in Walnut Shade. The combined high school choirs sang a selection of spirituals and beloved Civil Rights era songs. Marcus Green, from Tillman Middle School, gave a dramatic reading of King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Stacy James’ essay, “Are Civil Rights Still Important?” won the American Legion essay contest and Stan Hawkins was selected to receive this year’s “DiversityAward” for his editorial asking the County Commission to review it’s hiring practices.

Dorothy Thornton received word that she won an all-expense-paid trip for two to New York City to attend the North American Beauty Expo in March. She said she answered a question on Facebook about shampoo. She thought it was just a way to get her email address, but the company sponsoring the trip is well-known and she decided it couldn’t hurt to enter. “Billy and I haven’t been to New York since just after we got married. I hope it hasn’t changed that much.” We hate to tell you, Dorothy, but it’s changed a little.

Harry Harris and his wife Pamela had Sunday lunch with his aunt Inez and headed back to Marysville before the snow started. Inez said that Harry called about 4:00 p.m. to let her know that big snow flakes were coming down by the time they got home.

Suzie and Norm Marks visited with Lori Mendenhall on Saturday.

Stephanie Barnett returned to Mizzou for the winter semester. She’s combining her love of science with her journalism studies and is thinking about becoming a TV meteorologist.

Curtis Reynolds, Ilene Wick’s nephew has taken a job with Verizon in Denver. His position with Sprint was eliminated in the latest reorganization. Ilene’s niece, Valerie Adams, also lives in Denver, so the cousins will get to see each other more often now.

Ann Davis’ sister, Grace Olsen, who lives in Blue Springs, called to say that her son and daughter-in-law just found out that they are expecting a baby. Ann is happy that she will finally be an aunt.

Liz Wells’ mother Nancy Craig, who teaches social work at the University of Iowa, has received a grant to study the affect of immigration on small town health systems.

Ruth Stanford’s brother, Hank, suffered a broken arm last week when he fell off a ladder while he was taking down Christmas decorations. Ruth said that this is the second time he’s done something like this. He sprained his ankle a few years back when he stepped off the ladder putting up the decorations. “I told him then that he didn’t have any business fooling with such stuff at his age, but he’s never listened to me,” Ruth said. Hank is Ruth’s baby brother, just seventy years old!

The Winter Art Show in Fremont was a great success, according to Mary McCready. Twenty-two artists showed their work in the Courthouse and Josh Norton from Westmoreland won the top prize for his painting of fire on the Konza prairie.

Well, since I didn’t win any prize, it’s probably time for me to get back to work and improve my skills, such as they are, so…

Until next week, I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

In his book Picasso at the Lapin Agile, Steve Martin has one of his characters comment on the idiosyncrasies of art:

“I know that there are two subjects in paintings that no one will buy. One is Jesus, and the other is sheep. Love him as much as they want, no one really wants a painting of Jesus in the living room. You’re having a few people over, having a few drinks, and there’s Jesus over the sofa. Somehow it doesn’t work. And not in the bedroom either, obviously. I mean you want Jesus watching over you but not while you’re in the missionary position. You could put him in the kitchen maybe, but then that’s sort of insulting to Jesus. Jesus, ham sandwich, Jesus, ham sandwich; I wouldn’t like it and neither would He…. Sheep are the same, don’t ask me why, can’t sell ’em.”

Sagot, the art dealer in the play, obviously never tried to sell art in northeast Kansas. Jesus sells pretty well around here, and sheep paintings just fly off the walls, so to speak. One of the artists featured in the Winter Art Show, Jerry Corbett, paints nothing but Jesus; sometimes even with sheep. One of his crowd-pleasers, and highest-priced, paintings showed Jesus on the cross with sheep grazing peacefully at his feet. He said that he listens to a lot of Bach while he’s painting and “Sheep may safely graze” is one of his favorite pieces of music, so he got the idea for the painting from the song.

Jesus, it seems to me, would be a tough subject for a painter, with or without sheep. I mean, he’s been done. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Giotto, El Greco, Raphael, Dali all had a go at him. Bouguereau did a painting called L’Innocence that featured Mary holding a baby Jesus and a baby sheep! Take that, Sagot!

What can you do new with Jesus that either doesn’t make him a cliche or a caricature? Gauguin’s painting, “The Yellow Christ,” is anything but cliched, but take a look at the 4827 pieces of Jesus art offered by Walmart! I rest my case.

~.~

Another artist in the show, Jake Weston, works with digital images of lights. Back in the late ‘40s, Picasso was featured in an essay in Life showing him drawing with light. It was a sensation then, but not really emulated or imitated by other artists; it was thought of more as a clever stunt than anything. After all, an artist really couldn’t capture the image except on film then so what could you sell? Today, it would be called performance art. But Jake has been creating images with his camera and computer software that capture those performances and memorializes them on paper.

I asked him how he does it and he said that this part of Kansas is the perfect place to work because it is so dark at night.

“I find a light on a house outside of town or set one up on a fence post and while my shutter is open, I move the camera in whatever pattern I’m trying to create. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a lot of trial and error, but a lot of the errors are better than what I set out to do. Of course, I discard more shots than I keep. But that’s the beauty of digital imaging; you don’t waste a lot of film.”

To be honest, Jake’s work doesn’t sell as well as Jerry Corbett’s paintings of Jesus, but I once heard someone say that people who eat at buffets prefer Thomas Kinkade paintings. I certainly don’t mean to disparage the artistic taste of the folks around here, but we do seem to have a lot of buffets in this part of the country.

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Chapter 34

January 12, 2012

County Extension Horticulture Specialist Nathan Crane reminds producers that the annual examination for pesticide certification will be from 9 am to 12 noon on Thursday, January 18 and January 26. If you haven’t picked up your study manual, you can stop by the office, download it from the KSU website or stop by the KSU bookstore when you are in town for a basketball game.

Speaking of basketball, the Wildcats had an up and down week. On Saturday, they beat #7 Mizzou and then lost to unranked Baylor on Tuesday. Looks like it’s going to be that kind of season for the ‘Cats.

Charles and Jennifer Singleton, along with Eddie and Glenda Singleton and Jerry and Susan Hall, returned from Dallas on Monday, smarting somewhat from KSU’s loss to Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl. “Dallas was fun, though,” according to Susan. Jerry got some ideas for new dishes to add to the menu at The White Marigold.

Hazel Bradford has been ill for the past week. Dr. Oswald says it’s a mild case of the flu, but Milly says her sister over-did it at the wedding reception. “She thinks she’s still seventy-five. I told her not to dance so much with that young man from the Buckinghams.”

Tom and Michelle Clemons went to Salina to visit Michelle’s sister. “We decided not to have guests for a few days and just relax.” Folks who run B&B’s rarely get that opportunity. Hope you had a restful time, folks.

Marie Combs took Grant to the KU Medical Center on Tuesday for a stress test and a check-up. He’s been feeling a bit tired since Christmas. Probably his annual stint as Santa at Walnut Rest that did it.

Bill Heath got good news last week. The leak in his pond has been fixed and it seems to be filling just as it should.

Dorothy Westover says that the selection of recipes for the Erin Go Bragh Cookbook has been completed. Editing and layout will begin this week. We are all excited to see this 100th Anniversary edition, Dorothy!

The Prairie View Extension Club will meet on Monday at the home of Helen Baker. Planning for the new year will begin. Members are encouraged to bring left-over holiday cookies and candy for “re-distribution.” “If any are left,” Helen suggested, with a wink.

Jason Glenn and Harry Singleton report that they are continuing to recover from Jim and Melody’s wedding. As a final tribute to the happy couple, Carl Giammarese and another member of the Buckinghams trashed their room in The Convent. Being the good citizens that they now are, they left blank check with Harry to cover the damages.

By the time you read this column, you’ll be finished shoveling the four inches of snow expected this week. Walnut Shade takes on a certain charm in the winter, one that we all appreciate for about the first six or seven days. But make no mistake, I do appreciate our readers and so…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

~.~

My review of Jim and Melody’s wedding included the description of the end of the evening’s festivities at the elementary school gym, where Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry did an acoustic version of “My Generation.” I called it “Our Generation” because that is how Roger announced it. He said that he has been referring to the song that way for a couple of years because he realized that it belonged not just to him and to Pete but to all of us who matured and endured during the ‘60s. There were an awful lot of us in the gym that night, just as there are a lot of us still around everywhere. A lot of us thought we’d “die before we got old” and a lot of us did. A lot of us probably don’t have too many more years left, but we continue to try to make the most of them. I always marvel at the number of “tribute bands” that are abroad in the land, playing the music of the “Summer of Love” and beyond. Many of us have missed out on the music of other decades because we stopped listening to the new performers about the time that disco emerged, though I have to admit that I get a bit nostalgic when I hear a later BeeGee’s song or something from Donna Summer.

~.~

The celebrities who visited Walnut Shade over the last couple of weeks are not the only ones who have enjoyed the charms of our community. Not by a long shot. At one time, in the 1880s and ‘90s, the Opera House was practically inundated with notables, both American and international. I’ve already mentioned that Lilly Langtry and Oscar Wilde stopped here. More about them in another missive. During the presidential campaign of 1859/60, Abraham Lincoln made a brief visit to Walnut Shade on his rambling tour of eastern Kansas. Lincoln had a distant cousin who lived in Leavenworth, Mrs. Mark Delahay. It so happened that Mrs. Delahay was staying with a friend in Walnut Shade for a few days after Christmas when a telegram reached her that Lincoln would be in the region. Rather than interrupt her visit with her friend, Lincoln wrote, “May I presume to intrude upon your sojourn in a town I have heard about from my visit in Atchison?” Lincoln was probably referring to Walnut Shade’s reputation as a staunch abolitionist enclave, having been so cited in Freedom’s Champion, the newspaper owned by John Alexander Martin who would later become the Governor of Kansas. Nothing is known about Lincoln’s time in Walnut Shade beyond a brief account in the Miller County Ledger: “A candidate for the Presidency of the United States, A. Lincoln, made a stop in Walnut Shade on his way to a speaking engagement in Leavenworth. Lincoln is challenging William Seward for the Republican nomination. Seward is favored to win.”

The Ledger has never been known for its powers of prognostication. It correctly predicted that the United States would enter World War I, but thought that wouldn’t happen before 1920! Being a Republican newspaper in a Republican county in a Republican state, the Ledger backed Herbert Hoover against FDR; Alf Landon, of course, against FDR; Wendell Willkie against FDR; and, Tom Dewey against FDR. The Ledger’s sports editor picked the Kansas City Chiefs over the Green Bay Packers in the 1967 Super Bowl (officially the AFL-NFL World Championship Game; the term Super Bowl wasn’t official until Super Bowl III in 1969) and then the Minnesota Vikings over the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl IV. Winners? The Packers in ’67 and the Chiefs in ’70. Admittedly, the Ledger has had a better track record since Stan Hawkins took over ownership of the paper in 1980. While he is a not-so-secret Democrat, he saw the Reagan Revolution coming that swamped Jimmy Carter and he’s been right in every Presidential election since then. His predictions about the Chiefs, Royals, Jayhawks, and Wildcats have been pretty accurate, but then there’s nothing too unpredictable about those teams: football winners — Wildcats; football losers — Jayhawks and Chiefs; basketball winners — Jayhawks; basketball losers — Wildcats; baseball winners — yeah, right.

Besides the three appearances by Will Rogers at the Opera House in the 1920s and ‘30s, and the Glenn Miller Orchestra in 1941, perhaps the biggest visit of celebrities came in 1901 when Mark Twain brought Winston Churchill to Walnut Shade. Churchill, then only 25, had just been elected to the House of Parliament in England. Despite being from a relatively wealthy family, Churchill embarked on a speaking tour of North America, France and Spain in order to earn a living.

Why did Mark Twain bring Churchill to Walnut Shade? Two reasons. The previous year, Twain had given a lecture at the Opera House. The evening had not been a success. Halfway through his talk, a huge thunderstorm rolled into Miller County and knocked out the power generating station outside town (Walnut Shade was one of the first towns in Kansas to be electrified, having converted part of the mill on Walnut Creek to a power generating plant. I’ll write more about this at another time.) The crowd, which had come from as far away as St. Joseph, was understandably disappointed and never one to leave his audience anything but wanting more, Twain promised that he would return as soon as his schedule permitted and that he would bring “someone with much more notoriety than I could ever hope to have,” not really knowing at the time who that might be. An opportunity came later in the year, however. While Twain was in New York to celebrate Christmas with his family, who had come from their home in Connecticut, he was asked to introduce a speech by Winston Churchill at the Waldorf Astoria. Accounts of the evening generally agree that while good-natured barbs were traded by the two men, Twain had gotten the advantage of his young friend.

At one point during the back and forth, Twain presented a challenge. “You, sir, are rightly lauded for your facility with the English language. Why, everyone here in New York understands perfectly what you are saying, but I’ll give you five shillings if you can give this same speech in Missouri or Iowa or Kansas and make anyone understand. My relations back there mostly speak the Old English, which they learned from their grandpappies who fought your ancestors at Valley Forge.”

Not being willing to back down from a gauntlet thrown in front of New York society, Churchill said that he would be happy to speak anywhere Twain chose. So, for the second reason: as unlikely as it might seem, both Twain and Churchill had a relative in Walnut Shade.

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) had two siblings who survived to adulthood, Orion and Pamela Clemens. Orion was ten years older than “Sam” and they were the best of friends throughout their lives. Pamela married and moved to St. Louis from Hannibal when Sam was only seven, but they kept up a lively correspondence until Pamela’s death in 1904 and she provided the link between Mark Twain and Winston Churchill.

Pamela married William Moffett in 1851. They had two children: Annie, born in 1852, and Samuel, named after her brother, in 1860. In 1869, Annie married Augustus Wright Mott, grandson of Jordon Lawrence Mott, founder of the J.L Mott Iron Works in New York. Being the second son in the family, Augustus was expected to make his own way and had moved to St. Louis to try his hand at brewing, after graduating from Cornell with a degree in chemistry,. He was hired by Eberhard Anheuser and quickly rose through the company on the strength of his ability to make important adjustments to the formula then being used to produce beer. However, he did not get along with Adolphus Busch and after Eberhard’s death, Augustus and Annie decided to move, first to Hermann, Missouri and then to Walnut Shade. Augustus planned to open a brewery in Walnut Shade, but determined that the soil was more conducive to growing apples than hops and so planted an orchard, which later produced apples that won the first prize at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893 in Chicago.

So, Annie Clemens Mott was Mark Twain’s niece. But, what of the connection to Winston Churchill? Churchill’s American mother was the famous Jennie Jerome, who married Lord Randolph Churchill in 1874. Jennie was the daughter of Leonard Jerome and Clarissa Hall. Clarissa’s sister, Caroline, was married to the Rev. Dr. Fay H. Purdy, a well-known Evangelical preacher in the Free Methodist Church in the 1840s and 50s. They had three children: Louise, Catherine, and Sarah. Catherine married Jordan Lawrence Mott, Jr. in 1859 and had two sons: Jordan Lawrence Mott, III and Augustus Wright Mott, the same Augustus Wright Mott who was married to Annie Clemens, niece of Mark Twain. Mark Twain’s niece was… Winston Churchill’s second cousin by marriage!

As confusing and improbably as all this might seem, it didn’t seem to phase Twain when it had come to light back in New York. “Why waste your time looking up your family tree?” Twain wrote. “Just go into politics and your opponents will do it for you.” Churchill would find that to be especially true as his political career advanced. His mother, Lady Churchill, was embroiled in many scandals during her life, some of which, it seems, she purposely created, never the one to shrink from the spotlight.

When Twain and Churchill arrived in Walnut Shade, Annie and Augustus greeted them at City Hall, where, it seemed nearly everyone in northeast Kansas was gathered. After a few brief remarks, Annie and Augustus escorted the famous visitors to their home and gave them dinner before the evening event. One can speculate that an apple pie was on the menu.

Churchill’s lecture that night centered on his adventures during the Boer War in South Africa, and the status of the British Empire, which gave Twain the opportunity to express his disdain for empire-building and war. “I have always admired the superior cleanliness of Englishmen and Americans as compared with all the rest of the world. We are especially known for advancing, hand in hand, from land to land, introducing the bath tub wherever we go and so elevate reluctant nations to unwonted heights of civilization.”

No storms interrupted the evening and the next day, Twain and Churchill continued their journey, stopping in Topeka and Kansas City before heading to Chicago for the last engagement on Churchill’s lecture tour. Mark Twain never returned to Walnut Shade, but wrote in his autobiography about his two visits to the town.

“I’ve been run out of many cities all over the world. The first time in my dear niece’s community, it was a storm that did the trick; the next time in that beautiful hamlet, the inhabitants greeted me with true friendship, but by the time my traveling companion had regaled them with his dubious exploits for more than two hours, I feared they were considering breaking out the tar and feathers. Fortunately, the late hour persuaded them to take their rest and we were able to make our escape unscathed.”

We are certainly glad that Walnut Shade is not known, among other things, for being the place that rode Mark Twain and Winston Churchill out of town on a rail! But what a marvelous evening it must have been!

~.~

As I said some time ago, I found some clippings about events in Walnut Shade and Miller County from early in the last century. Herewith is another of one of the most interesting ones:

July 22, 1907 — Howard Maloney and Elmer Long traded horses one day last week. They both claim they got a bargain.

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Chapter 33

January 5, 2012

Happy New Year! We hope this finds you well and hard at work on your resolutions. Ours have already gone out the window, but that gives us more time for important things, like letting you know what’s going on in our little slice of paradise. So…

Jim Fillmore and Melody Watkins were married at St. Stephen’s Church on New Year’s Eve. The reception at the Convent and the dance at the elementary school gym were attended by about two hundred old and new friends of the couple.

The Convent was completely booked from Christmas Eve until the day after New Year’s. Jason Glenn and Harry Singleton are anticipating a nearly full house until March, at which time they say they will be spending two weeks in Los Angeles. Harry will be making his annual pilgrimage to the Getty and Jason plans to relax at Venice Beach.

Nathan Crane, Extension Horticulture Agent, met with the Miller County Agricultural Producers Association and reminded them of the up-coming Agriculture Census and pesticide license tests. The Ag Census will begin in March and pesticide license tests will be given on January 18 and 26. The Extension Clubs in Miller County will provide lunch both days for those taking the tests.

The Excelsior Book Club held its first meeting of the year on Wednesday at the home of Sherri Brown. The Club is reading “The Paris Wife.” Hadley Richards, Earnest Hemingway’s first wife, was Flossie Wentworth’s great aunt, so the book has particular significance for the group.

Jeff Barnett is still celebrating KU’s victory over KSU on the 31st, though the sting of defeat at the hands of Davidson hasn’t subsided. Jeff says losing to Kentucky and Duke is one thing, but Davidson? Not another loss on the season, right Jeff?

Speaking of KSU, Jennifer and Charles Singleton have been in Texas this week in anticipation of the Wildcat’s appearance in the Cotton Bowl tomorrow against Arkansas. Jennifer thinks it will be a blow-out considering how K-State has played this year. Charles, ever the pragmatist, says that he’ll just be happy with a win. Go, Cats!

Larry Long stayed in town for a couple of days after Jim and Melody’s wedding to spend time with his daughter, Stacy. He headed back to Philadelphia to be there in time for weekend performances of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The VFW will be closed for a couple of weeks while the electrical system is being replaced. Somehow, a bat got into the meter and caused a short that blew out all the circuits. The technician from Westar Energy said he’d never seen anything like it. Aren’t bats hibernating now?

The Miller County Commission passed its budget on Monday, increasing funding for roads, the Miller County Hospital, the Northeast Kansas Regional EDC, Extension, and the Arts Council. Thanks, you, Commissioners for recognizing the value of these organizations to Miller County residents and businesses.

Mahjong has been put on hold for a couple of weeks, according to Lori Mendenhall. It seems that everyone has either the flu, a cold or fatigue from all the New Year’s celebrations.

I can sympathize with those who are fatigued. Walnut Shade seems to have almost too much happening all the time, so off to bed and rest.

But until next week, I remain,
Your faithful correspondent

~.~

Careful readers of this column may remember that Jim Fillmore and Melody Watkins were planning on being married at the Convent, but the event grew faster than anyone imagined and in order to accommodate all the guests, St. Stephen’s Church was pressed into service for the ceremony, and later the elementary school cafeteria was opened for the dance that followed the reception. The happy couple were counting on a few of their friends from “the old days” to join them, but they were overwhelmed by those who actually did show up. The event was perhaps the biggest things to happen in Walnut Shade since the summer that Frederick Law Olmsted supervised the construction of the park and “boulevard system,” but that’s a tale for another time.

Suffice it to say, not only were Walnut Shade residents somewhat surprised when a bus marked “The Buckinghams” pulled up in front of the church, but imagine the looks on the face of the gate attendant at the Manhattan Airport when Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry stepped off the Dassault Falcon 20 that landed the morning of the wedding. Pete and Roger are the surviving members of The Who, the first major group that Jim and Melody and the then-Urchins opened for back in the ‘60s.

When they arrived at the church, Roger confided to Melody a notable absence. “Keith wanted to be here, you know, but he and Brian are haunting Mick this weekend.” Keith, of course, was Keith Moon, who died of an overdose in 1978, and Brian was Brian Jones, founder of the Rolling Stones, who died in 1969. Keith and Brian were great friends and they had once said that when they were dead, they would come back and haunt Mick Jagger. Together, that must have been some visitation!

Around noon, a second business jet, a Learjet 60 XR, carrying Robbie Krieger, John Densmore, Ray Manzarek and Manzarek’s wife, Dorothy, and son, Pablo, landed. The entourage made it’s way to the Campus Holiday Inn before heading to Walnut Shade, arriving just in time for the ceremony.

“Robby’s always making us late,” John Densmore said to Jim as they walked in. “Remember that time in LA?”

“How could I forget?” And with that, Jim gave them each hugs and waived them to their seats.

Jim once told me about a 1968 love-in in Griffith Park in LA that was being headlined by the Doors. The bill that day included Quick Silver Messenger Service, Joni Mitchell, Leon Russell, It’s a Beautiful Day, Ides of March, the James Gang, and Uncle Mel and the Steamrollers. While Woodstock is rightfully famous, there were many, many multi-day rock and rolls shows beginning with the Monterey Pop Festival and those during the Summer of Love in 1967.

Uncle Mel opened the show at noon with their usual Dada finesse, standing stock still for the fifteen minutes of their set, not playing a note. The crowd, mostly stoned and in a happy mood, gave them an appropriate standing ovation when they left the stage. The other bands during the day thrilled the crowd and by 9:00 p.m. when the Doors were scheduled to begin, the anticipation was as palpable as the haze of smoke that filled the air. Now, those of us who frequent(ed) music concerts know that nothing starts on time, but by 9:45, the Doors had not appeared. At 9:30, from a pay phone in Sherman Oaks, Robbie Kreiger called John Phillips (who was promoting the concert), saying that he had left his guitar at John’s house in Topanga Canyon. A roadie had been dispatched to retrieve it, but it was going to be an hour or more before he would arrive, depending on traffic.

That’s when Uncle Mel was called to action; well, sort of action. Their instruments had been packed up hours earlier, but they were persuaded to go on stage and fill the time until the Doors could arrive. At first, Jim thought about borrowing guitars from the Ides of March, fellow-midwesterners, but Melody came up with an alternative: organize a Mitch Miller-type a cappella sing-along. At first, the crowd was perplexed about what was happening, but soon everyone was singing along to songs like “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore,” “Down by the Old Mill Stream,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” and “Be Kind to Your Web-Footed Friends.” The hit of the evening, of course, was when Melody started singing the theme from the “Mickey Mouse Club.” Ninety-nine percent of the people in the crowd had grown up with Mickey Mouse, so the song brought a wave of nostalgia. Imagine if you can ten minutes later the Doors showing up and launching into “Light My Fire.” Far Out, Man!

The wedding, itself, was pretty far out, too. It seems like every love bead, buckskin vest, bell-bottom, and headband in a 100-mile radius was pressed into service by Jim and Melody’s neighbors to create the wedding that looked like it could have (and most of us thought should have), taken place forty-five years ago. While the Rev. Dr. Katherine Derby actually performed the ceremony, several of the “ministers” from the commune Jim and Melody lived in for two weeks in ’68 in Monterey provided additional blessings and words of encouragement to the couple. “Digger” Shannon said a Buddhist prayer and Kate and Nancy Weaver, the sisters who sang back-up on the “Eve of Destruction,” did a lovely version of “Get Together.”

After the obligatory photos were taken (with a surprising number of Polaroids and non-digital cameras, dug out of closets and drawer especially for the occasion), the wedding party, which mostly resembled a parade of hippies from the old day, walked the two blocks to the Convent for the reception. Jason Glenn and Harry Singleton had cases of wine flown in from a small boutique winery in Napa they visited on their honeymoon and the food, including brownies(!), was provided by Jerry Hall. The wedding cake, also baked by Jerry, was a masterpiece of decoration and engineering. Shaped like the bandstand at the Miller County Fairgrounds, it was an hommage to the location of the reunion of Jim and Melody.

One would be tempted to say that the highlight of the day was the next installment that took place at the elementary school gym, but of course, the wedding was, certainly, the highlight. However, the dance/concert was an amazing event in and of itself, one that will probably never be duplicated in Walnut Shade, perhaps nowhere, ever, in the state of Kansas.

If you’ll remember, a bus marked “The Buckinghams” arrived in town earlier. It was indeed the reunion group headed by Carl Giammarese. As the wedding party entered the gym, they were met by the sounds of “Hey, Baby, They’re Playing Our Song.” When the song ended, Carl related how Jim and Melody had nearly wrecked the Buckingham’s career by playing their set at the concert in Overland Park. He then said that he had been waiting for years to return the compliment and with that, the band launched into “Midnight in Hanoi.”

For the rest of the evening, various configurations of the Buckinghams were joined by Pete and Roger and John and Robbie and Ray and… by Larry Long, the Urchins original bass player, who had moved to Philadelphia and eventually became principal bassist for the Philadelphia Orchestra. Jim and Melody also took turns singing and generally having a great time with the musicians and the guests.
The evening ended with Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry playing “Our Generation,” a song whose true significance, I’m afraid, was lost on many of the under-60 year olds. In some ways, you just had to be there, then and now.

~-~

January 5 is the birthday of Marshall Green’s great-uncle, Hubert “Hub” Green. Marshall and the rest of the Green family celebrate Hub’s life each year and what a life it was. Born in 1902 in South Bend, Indiana, there was only two things he ever wanted to do: play football for Notre Dame and learn to fly. Hub’s father taught physics at Notre Dame and Hub literally grew up in the shadow of the golden dome of the administration building and the football stadium, then Cartier Field. Hub, and his brother, Grant (Marshall’s grandfather) often snuck into the stadium at night just to sit in the bleachers and dream about playing football in front of 30,000 screaming fans. Only Hub got to do that; Grant suffered a knee injury playing lacrosse in high school and wasn’t able to try out for the team. Hub told Grant that he would play for both of them and be twice as tough as any other player on the field. He kept his promise.

Hub won a spot on the freshman team (at that time, freshmen weren’t allowed to play on the varsity) as defensive lineman and the center on the offensive team. The Notre Dame coach, Knute Rockne, early on recognized that Hub was particularly adept at anticipating when to snap the ball so that the defense was caught off guard. During the game against the Nebraska freshman squad, the Nebraska coach objected to the officials that Hub was doing something illegal. This was long before the advent of instant replays, so there was no way to review what was going on on the field. The officials, however, kept a close eye on Hub the rest of the game and determined that nothing he was doing was prohibited by the rules; he was just very, very good at his position.

Hub’s sophomore year was mostly spent watching the first-string center, Norris Walters, play exceptional football, but in the last game of the season, Norris was hurt early in the first quarter and Hub was called on to finish the game, which he did in great style recovering the fumble of his quarterback and running it in for a touchdown. Hub’s sophomore year was also notable for the emergence of what is known in football history as the “Four Horsemen.” By 1924, Notre Dame was terrorizing every team they played and were named the National Champions at the end of the season. Three of the Four Horsemen were named consensus All Americans and Hub missed that honor by one vote. Grant vowed that if he ever found out who had voted against Hub, he pound him into the ground. Fortunately, no such violence ever occurred.

Hub stayed at Notre Dame and went on to receive a Master’s degree in chemical engineering and after graduation, he went to work in the oil fields in southern Kansas and Oklahoma and quickly became president of a small oil company that was later bought out by Phillips Petroleum Company. Hub stayed with Phillips and moved to Wichita to oversee gas field development in southern Kansas and while he was there, he at last learned to pilot an airplane, his second great desire in life. His love of flying began when he was seven and his father took him and Grant to Dayton, Ohio, to see the celebration in honor of the Wright Brothers, who had just returned from a triumphal trip to Europe where they demonstrated their Wright Model A Flyer to the kings of Great Britain, Spain and Italy. After that, when they weren’t playing football, Hub and Grant could be found in the city park testing and demonstrating their hand-built gliders and model biplanes.

When World War II began, Hub tried to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps, but at 39, he was considered too old to fly. Against the wishes of his family, he went to Australia and joined the Royal Australian Air Force, which was in great need of pilots of any age. Hub was part of an RAAF squadron that flew anti-submarine patrols of the shipping lanes around northern Australia. During one of these patrols, Hub’s plane was shot down and his body was never recovered. While not an Australian, for his service to the country, he received the Burma Star and a citation for bravery. He also received the Empire Cross from Great Britain and was recognized by the U.S. Air Force in 1967 for his special contributions to the defense of a strategic ally during the war.

While Hub never visited Walnut Shade, as far as Marshall knows, I’m sure he would have felt right at home here. We celebrate football and brave people every day.

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It’s about time…

Chapter 32

December 29, 2011

There is no weather forecast this week, nor will there be one in future weeks. I’m off the hook. It seems that Miss Cecelia Davenport’s great niece gave her a “weather station” for Christmas, which, Miss Cecelia says, is way more accurate than I’ve ever been in my short four-week tenure as Walnut Shade’s meteorological prognosticator. Just because I missed that fourteen-inch Christmas Eve snow storm…

Sandy Cramer thanks everyone for their patience during the aforementioned snow storm. The city’s snow plow was finally extricated on Monday from the ditch on 8th Street and completed clearing the streets that evening. Carl Cunningham says that he suspects that most people appreciated the excuse not to have to go anywhere on Monday after Christmas on Sunday.

All three churches were packed to the rafters on Christmas Eve despite the weather forecast and the snow that began to fall about 8:00 p.m. From all reports, everyone got home fine after the services, except for Curt Jackson, the town’s part-time, one-man road crew who spent most of early Christmas morning trying to get the previously mentioned snow plow out of the ditch on 8th Street.

While the power was out Sunday afternoon for a couple of hours, Kathleen Johnson tried making coffee in her old stove-top percolator. She says that nostalgia is fine, but burned coffee is not and she’s happy for her reliable Mr. Coffee.

The weather was so mild during the fall that not many people had used their fireplaces until Christmas day. We are happy to report there were no chimney fires in town, though a few people, who request to remain anonymous, admit that they now remember that the damper should be open at the very beginning of the fire-building process.

Lou and Lois Hawkin’s grandson was in town for Christmas on his way to Tucson where he begins his new job as assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona. Jeff just graduated with a PhD from Columbia (the one in New York, not the University of Missouri, in Columbia).

Christmas Day dinner at the Finley’s included George and May’s son George, Jr., his wife Hazel, and their two sons, George III and Ronn; daughter Grace Pulley and her husband, Norman, and their daughter, Emma; daughter Rose Herman and her husband, Harry; George’s mother, Louise; and May’s uncle, Stan Colson. May’s mother Gloria, who lives in New York and will be 98 on New Year’s day, sent a floral arrangement. Fortunately, George and May have great accommodations at the winery and everyone had come in a few days before the snow.

Bill and Pam Heath planned to host family and friends for a Christmas Day brunch but Pam called on Saturday to warn them stay home. Good planning, because McDougal Road was impassable until Wednesday.

Well, in Walnut Shade, we pride ourselves on doing the impassable, so…

Until next week, I remain
Your Faithful Correspondent

 …

In My Antonia, Willa Cather wrote that “winter lies too long in country towns; hangs on until it is stale and shabby, old and sullen.” We can only hope that she will be proved wrong by the first appreciable snow of the year, that it will disappear almost as quickly as it appeared and leave us with nothing but good memories. Something tells me, though, that that probably won’t be the case. The last few winters in this part of the country have started late and stayed well past their welcome.

Winters in rural America, particularly out here on the plains, can be unbelievably beautiful (Irving Berlin/Bing Crosby “White Christmas” beautiful) at the same time that they are down right annoying and inconvenient. Getting home from Christmas Eve services was not too difficult, seeing as how by 11:30 p.m. when St.Brendan’s let out, we only had four inches on the ground, but by 1:00 a.m., an additional four inches had fallen. It began to “taper off” then and only accumulated six more in the next two hours. It was at that point that Curt Jackson climbed into the town’s combination dump truck/snow plow/salt spreader and began to clear the streets.

Curt has been on the city payroll for eighteen years and knows every pothole in town, most of which he re-fills every spring with a mixture of what appears to be asphalt and chocolate pudding that seems to dissolve with the first tenth of an inch of rain. People in Walnut Shade are, on the whole, sanguine about the potholes that never seem to go away. We’ve learned to dodge, straddle, swerve and ignore them for the most part. We understand that they provide at least two people in town steady employment: Curt and Fred Tucker at the Stop and Go who does a thriving business replacing shocks, struts and blown out tires for those folks who forget where the craters are.

Now, the city road job is just a part-time gig for Curt, who spends most of his time with his shipping business. The two jobs are usually pretty compatible; most of the road issues occur in the spring and summer and package delivery really picks up just before Thanksgiving and has pretty much run its course with the February “white sales.” Winter has its challenges when we do get snow or an ice storm, but Curt can usually clear the streets in just under an hour. Christmas Eve/Day was the exception.

The town’s maintenance shed is on the north side of town, so Curt begins his route on 10th Street and weaves back and forth from east to west until he gets to downtown, where he changes direction and begins clearing the north/south streets. Curt had moved the snow from 10th and 9th streets and was two block into 8th when he hit a slick spot that sent him into the ditch. Apparently, when the plow slid off the road, it got hung up in a culvert. Not wanting to cause damage to the plow or the culvert, Curt finally gave up trying to extricate the truck about 5:00 a.m. and walked home.

Reluctantly, he called Sandy Cramer, who supervises the town’s roads as part of her duties as councilperson and told her what had happened. Sandy, being a practical person (and most likely half asleep at 5:15 a.m. on Christmas morning), told Curt to wait until 8:00 and call Walt’s Tow Service in Fremont to see if Walt could pull the plow out of the ditch, which he did, call. Now Walt is, under the most perfect of circumstances, one of the grouchiest, most cantankerous people in Miller county, perhaps owing to the line of work he’s in. He hardly ever encounters someone who is in a good mood. Dead batteries, flat tires, keys locked in the car, standing at the side of the road explaining to a law enforcement officer why the other person is obviously at fault in an accident, these are not times that one is in the best frame of mind and Walt gets to hear about them in detail. In the beginning of his career, he was pretty sympathetic to the woes of his clients, but forty years of grumbling, whining, grousing, moaning, sniveling, carping and bellyaching weighs on a person and Walt takes none of it. Tell him the problem and he’ll fix it, but he doesn’t want explanations or excuses.

So, when Curt called, he said simply, “Walt, the town’s truck is in a ditch on 8th. Can you pull me out?”

“On Christmas morning? Do you how many other people are in line in front you and every one of them absolutely has to get to church.”

“Well, no one’s driving to church in Walnut Shade, but I do need to get the roads cleared so people can get to work tomorrow,” Curt responded.

“Yeah, I know. Listen, I’ll be there as soon as the county gets 75 cleared. I’ll give you a call when I’m on my way. Typical Christmas; I spend it getting people to where they need to go and not a one of them so much as says ‘Thanks.’”

“Walt, you do this and I’ll make sure everyone in town sends you a ‘thank you’ card.”

“I’m not holding my breath. Call you later.”

Curt reflected that that was probably most civil conversation he’d ever had with Walt; he must be in the holiday spirit.

When Walt called at 4:30, he was absolutely not in the holiday spirit.

“County can’t get to you until later tonight or tomorrow morning. Everything in the north part of the county is shut down. My rig is stuck in Fremont.” Curt could hear the frustration in Walt’s voice. Not being able to get to people meant that his bank account would stay stuck in a snowbank, also, no pun intended.

“Okay, just let me know when you’ll be down this way.”

Curt had been on the phone off and on with Sandy Cramer all day and now he called to give her the bad news. Sandy, likewise had been on the phone all day with Walnut Shadians wondering when they’d be able to get out of their driveways.

The snow storm itself had come and gone pretty quickly, leaving behind a cold, but bright day and by Christmas afternoon, kids all over town were out with their sleds and cardboard boxes in which their presents from “Santa” had arrive taking advantage of the mounds of snow and no traffic on city streets. Seventh Street has always been a particular favorite of sledders, owing to it’s two-way incline. From Douglas Street on the west to Church Street, the road slopes downward west-to-east. From Church to Fremont, it rises just a bit. One of the traditions among Walnut Shade young people is playing “chicken” on Seventh when the sledding conditions are just right. Every year, there are a few bumps and bruises and on occasion, broken bones have ensued. Every year, adults warn the kids about the dangers of their activity, but every year, the kids play out the excitement their parents experienced in their younger years.

As for the adults, they spent Christmas afternoon shoveling their walks and driveways, only of few which were actually shoveled, snow throwers having made a significant appearance in town a few years earlier. The sound of gasoline engines being started all over town broke the silence the snow imposed on the landscape. Word spread quickly that Curt had put the town snowplow in the ditch and that it would probably be sometime on Monday or Tuesday before Walt could extricate it, so as neighbors were clearing their walks, a plan began to emerge, the important points of which were these: 1) a concerted effort would be made to clear the walks in town in order to get as many snow throwers as possible onto 8th Street; 2) if 8th Street could be cleared a bit, there were several four-wheel drive vehicles in town that might be put to use to pull the plow out of the ditch; 3) with the plow freed, the streets could be cleared; and, 4) everyone agreed that the plow should be extracted rather late in the day so anyone who might not have a day-after-Christmas holiday would still have an excuse for not making it in to work.

So, just before dark on Monday evening, the Walnut Shade snow plow was dislodged from its entanglement with the culvert, which sustained minor, but acceptable, damage and Curt Jackson, who had been allowed to take a good long nap while all this was taking place, climbed into the cab and began to finish what he had started thirty-six hours before. By nine-thirty, the streets in Walnut Shade were wiped clean and several teenagers were out cruising the circuit from Harris Park to the Tasty Freeze to the Stop and Go. All was once again right with the world.

The end of the year always reminds me of Billy Macdougal and St. Brendan’s Catholic Church which has a somewhat unusual architectural design for a church in that it includes a clock in its steeple. The original structure, completed in 1865, was nearly destroyed by fire in 1872. The church was rebuilt and expanded in 1878 and remodeled again in 1912, when a new steeple with the clock was added. The priest at the time, Father O’Hanlan insisted that a clock would help people in town complete their daily activities in an orderly manner and then they would be able to attend to their inevitable, perpetual spiritual obligations with abiding regularity. The small Catholic congregation accommodated themselves to the necessity of looking up every now and then to make sure that they were on schedule with their enterprises, but the Protestant and unchurched residents of the town went through periods of mild vexation at the continually, it seemed, chiming of the hours of the day. It’s one thing to live in London and hear Big Ben or Westminster’s melodious bells and another altogether to live in Walnut Shade and have your life regulated by St. Brendan’s.

The one person in town who was never annoyed by the chiming of the clock was William “Billy” Macdougal. For fifty-two years, Billy was the maintenance man at St. Brendan’s and for fifty-two years, he got up every morning at five o’clock, put on his working clothes, ate his breakfast of one hard-boiled egg and half a biscuit, and walked three block to the church where he cleared the entries of ice and snow in the winter, tended the monstrous furnace in the basement, opened the windows on pleasant spring days, polished the pews and made sure that the churches’ myriad buildings were well cared-for. One of his daily chores, and the one he most thoroughly enjoyed, was climbing the bell-tower and setting and winding the clock that occupied that space. Billy prided himself on synchronizing the giant clock, to the second, with his ornate, antique pocket watch that once belonged to his grandfather, also a William “Billy” Macdougal.

(As a bit of an aside here: Billy’s grandfather, William, came from Scotland to the U.S. in 1852 at the age of twelve and lived to the ripe old age of 98. William was what everyone imagines a true Scotsman to be: taciturn, abstemious, and frugal to a fault. There used to be a Disney cartoon that showed a Scot in his kilt opening his change purse with moths flying out. That was Billy’s grandfather “to a T.” Billy idolized his grandfather, nonetheless, and often told the story of how as child he would sit on his grandfather’s lap and listen as his grandfather would take his watch out of his pocket, check the time and say “Billy, when I’m gone, this watch will be your.” Now, of course Billy didn’t wish for his grandfather’s death, but he certainly did anticipate getting the watch. When Billy was twenty-two, his grandfather suffered a heart attack and it was clear he was not going to recover. One by one, the relatives were ushered into William’s bedroom because, it seems, they had each been promised something of his during their time together. One by one, they each exited the room with an puzzled, if not perturbed, look on their face. When it was Billy’s turn, he knew that grandfather would honor his promise of the pocket watch. “Billy, I always told you that when I was gone, this watch would be yours, as so it will. Well, the doctor tells me that I won’t be around very much longer, so would you like to buy a nice watch?”)

Someone once asked Billy how he knew that the time displayed on his watch was the accurate time, this being before the Internet and the ability to instantly check the atomic clock buried deep in the mountains outside Pueblo, Colorado.

“Oh, that’s easy. You see, on my way to the church, I stop by the drug store and set my watch by the big clock in the window. That way, I know that the time on the clock on the church will be perfect.”

Billy performed his churchly duties until about six months ago, when he decided to retire at the ripe old age of 79. A new maintenance man was hired and one of the first things he did, using the latest Internet technology, was to check the time on the clock. He discovered that it was seven minutes slow. He knew that Billy prided himself on his timekeeping accuracy and seven minutes was quite a discrepancy, especially since everyone in town set their clocks by the chiming of the bells of St. Brendan’s. Jason, the new caretaker, went to Father Rick to tell him what he had discovered.

“Oh, we’ve all known about that for years,” Father Rick said, laughing. “One day, a pharmaceutical salesman was in town, delivering supplies to the drug store and he inquired about why the clock in the window was obviously slow. Mr. Crane, the druggist, told him that for years he had been setting his clock by the clock on St. Brendan’s but one day he came in early and saw Billy setting his watch by the clock in the front window of the store. He realized that he and Billy were relying on each other to be accurate with their clocks, but that somehow over the years, one of them had gotten off a bit. Over the course of a couple of years, all of the clocks in town, in fact, got to be seven minutes slow. Apparently, everyone in town started to figure out what was happening, and not wanting to embarrass Billy, they just left their clocks the way they were. We call it ‘Walnut Shade time.’”

But there’s more to the story. When Billy retired, St.Brendan’s and the town, gave him a big party and presented him with a new battery-powered, computer-enabled pocket watch, guaranteed to always be accurate. No one noticed that the new watch had not been set to “Walnut Shade time” but was still synchronized to that Atomic Clock buried deep in the mountains somewhere in Colorado. After the party, Billy went outside and just out of habit, he glance up at the clock in the St.Brendan’s bell tower and then looked at his new watch.

Turning to Father Rick, he said, “Father, I sure do appreciate all that you have done for me over the years and this is truly a beautiful watch, but if you won’t be offended, I think I’ll just stick with my old one. I can see this new one runs about seven minutes fast.”

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