Travels with Red Dirt Girl, Chapter 2

Travels with Red Dirt Girl, Chapter 2

Summer Vacation

Early in the young life of Tracy Lou, her family did not take many summer vacations away from Medicine Lodge except for a few trips to visit relatives living in Kansas.  During the summer, Tracy Lou’s dad picked up part-time jobs to supplement his meager teacher salary.  One summer, her dad painted houses, and both her mom and dad taught swimming lessons at the public swimming pool situated on top of a tall embankment inside the town’s city park.

Tracy Lou learned to swim as an infant and by about the time she entered kindergarten, she could swim the width of the pool.  Her parents taught her all of the strokes including the crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, butterfly, and sidestroke.  She mastered how to flip over on the end of each turn for smooth and quicker transitions back and forth across the pool. She could dog paddle for thirty minutes or more without touching the bottom of the pool.

Tracy Lou loved to jump off the diving boards, even the high dive, when she was quite young.  Her dad called her “a little fish”. She learned to do a front flip but she could never master more than a back dive in reverse. Back then, children were allowed to swim at the city pool without adult supervision so kids rode their bikes to the pool and spent the entire afternoon swimming, diving and playing water games with their friends.  The pool manager would make all the kids get out of the water for 30 minutes to ensure everyone took time to eat a snack, frozen zero bars were Tracy Lou’s favorite, rest and go to the bathroom.  These breaks also allowed the children to apply more sunscreen but they rarely did.

Tracy Lou’s mother loved to swim so in the summer evenings, her Mom would drive down to the pool in her station wagon to take a dip and Tracy Lou loved to tag along and swim laps beside her mother.  Tracy Lou learned that the only sport her mom participated in while in high school was swimming.  Her school, Topeka High, had its own in-door pool, which blew Tracy Lou’s imagination.  “That school must have been rich to have an in-door swimming pool”, said Tracy Lou.  The only in-door swimming pool that Tracy Lou had ever swam in was one in Alva, Oklahoma, located at a college the family visited occasionally.  Tracy Lou thought it was odd that her mom did not play other sports as a kid because Tracy Lou loved games of all kinds and dreamed of playing them all, especially basketball.

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Summer Road Trip to Quinault, Washington

Tracy Lou’s maternal grandparents owned a lake house on the Quinault Indian Reservation in the Olympic National Park in the state of Washington. The family took a few road trips out and back in the summers in the 1960’s. Dad worked as a ranger for the National Park Service for a couple of these summers.

On one trip, the family left Medicine Lodge in June for the week long National Lampoon’s Vacation-like, family road trip from western Kansas to the rain forest of Quinault, Washington in 1969. On this particular trip, Tracy Lou was only eight. The plan was to put all four kids in the back of the old green station wagon and drive nearly 2,000 miles; stopping when her Dad found a good camping spot or a place of interest to her educator father and social conscious mother. “Good places”, as defined by the parents, were state parks, historical sites, and nature preserves.  Never a KOA campground or hotel for this family.  Her parents rented a U-Haul trailer to connect to the back of the family wagon and then crammed both the wagon and the trailer with kids, sleeping bags, cookware, food, tents, coolers, blankets, and all the other necessary supplies for a two-week road trip to and from Washington State.

The family typically got back home just in time for the start of school.  Her Dad borrowed heavily from the local scout troop for the necessary camping supplies.  The boys were so involved in that club that there was a huge and ferocious hand painted wolverine on the cement wall of their basement for the troop meetings.

One day, at the half waypoint of the trip, Dad, Mom and Mike traded turns driving over five hundred miles to brake at a campsite adjoining the Snake River. The entire family escaped the stuffy car to stretch their tired and aching joints.

Before the kids could venture off, they normally helped set up the campsite.  At that time, most tents, consisted of thick canvas with wooden poles and spikes, and were assembled by pounding the stakes into the ground to support the poles and then the canvas. This took the entire family pitching in to get the multiple tents upright because the ground was rocky and hard or muddy and wet.

This time, their parents allowed the four kids to head on down to the river before the tent raising ritual.  Tracy Lou ran to the river’s edge and put both feet in.  The river was wide and she could see small white caps as the water rumbled along across a few boulders and fallen trees peeking up out of the surface of the water.  The water felt like hot ice on the back of her legs and on the top of her feet but it beckoned the four of them in.  They noted the swift current but from where they stood, on the edge of the tributary, the stream massaged their stiff joints while they swam between each other’s legs, splashed, dived under, and threw some river rock to see who could make them skip the farthest.

They could see Mom and Dad heading down to the river edge so the siblings started to cross over to the other side of the river to a play a little game they liked to call, “running away from Mom and Dad”. Mike held Tracy Lou’s arm as they hopped up and down in the water, moving across the river to the other side.  The bottom of the riverbed, covered in pebbles, hurt Tracy Lou’s feet, so she paddled along holding on to Mike. Tom was treading along beside them when all of a sudden; the strong current in the middle of the river sucked him under and pushed him down the river.

Tracy Lou and her brothers screamed for help from the shore.  Dad sprinted down to the bank following Tom as he bobbed along unable to get out of the river.  Tracy Lou could see his wet head but he was drifting faster, swept downstream. Just ahead of Tom’s head, lay a fallen tree.  Tom smacked into the limb of the tree and went under.  Then he came up again and then back under.   Dad splashed into the water, reached under the limb and pulled Tom out of the water by the back of his trunks, all while struggling to keep his own balance in the strong current.  If not for the tree and Dad’s strong swimming skills, it is not clear how this adventure would end.

Everyone slinked quietly back to the shore to put up the tents and reflect on what nearly happened.  Rivers may look calm on the surface but can have fast under currents and that is dangerous enough alone, but with boulders, logs and other debris, Tom was lucky he was not seriously injured or drowned.  From then on, Tracy Lou knew to avoid crossing fast moving rivers even if she was a little fish.

Often on these camping trips, Ed fried doughnuts outside over a propane burner like the way he learned at Boy Scout camp.  He took an old pot, filled it halfway with oil, and set the pot on the stove on high.  Using biscuits in a tube, Ed would take each biscuit; pull a whole in the center of the dough until it looked like a doughnut. Then, he would place it in the hot oil to fry.  He fried several at a time.  Then, he took an old paper sack, filled it with a little sugar and cinnamon and then placed the fried bread into the bag.  He shook it all about and then brought out the hot doughnuts for us all to enjoy.

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School’s out for the summer

Growing up in a small town had its advantages to young children, as there was a lot of freedom.  Tracy Lou’s family lived on Main Street and she walked alone the two blocks downtown to the library, to her dad and mom’s work, to the grocery store, to the swimming pool, to the cool waters of the lazy Medicine River, to the vacant lot out back and to her friends’ houses that lived in town.

On her block, there were many families with children but Tracy Lou was the youngest.  The Rhea’s, the Strack’s, the Newsom’s, and the many other families all had at least three children so finding a playmate was rarely an issue. Games included pick-up basketball, touch football, riding bikes, constructing elaborate forts from cast-off materials, and planning kid-directed block events like a carnival, track meet, or theatre production.  The children charged family and community members to attend these events and they even had a banking account for safekeeping the profits.  Tracy Lou’s brother, Ed, was the activity director but all of the kids participated in one way or another.

Life on the block was fun except when it was not.  Since the children had so much freedom to play outdoors and away from their parents’ supervision, accidents did happen from time to time.

One involved Tracy Lou and a gallon of house paint.  It was a hot, summer day and Tracy Lou was about nine years old. She lived just a few houses from the Rhea sisters so they often walked to the library to check out books together or she hung out with them while they did chores or practiced their musical instruments.  Teresa and Jeanne were four and five years older than Tracy Lou.  Teresa was willing to play Barbie’s with Tracy Lou and they often took their dolls outside and built tree houses for them in the bushes. Tracy Lou had the only Ken doll on the block.

Teresa taught Tracy Lou card games, jacks, and jump rope tricks.  Tracy Lou was enamored with Teresa and spent all the time she would give Tracy Lou that summer.  On the day of the accident, Teresa and her older sister, Jeanne, had a fight. Jeanne had a temper and she flounced off and went into the house.  Teresa and Tracy Lou continued to play jacks and completely forgot about the angry older sister.  They were playing jacks on the concrete behind their house situated at the base of a series of exterior stairs that led up to a tiny deck before entering the house. On the edge of the small deck, house paint cans piled up on top of one another.

Teresa and Tracy Lou were engrossed in flipping jacks and tossing the hard, red ball back and forth between them. Tracy Lou heard the screen door open above her. She noticed Teresa looking up at the landing above. Teresa yelled something at Jeanne.  There was a loud noise from the deck and Jeanne yelled back. Tracy Lou suddenly felt something cold and wet running over her head and shoulders.  She reached up to her face and first felt and then smelled wet paint all over her hair, over her eyes and in her ears.  She did not know what happened.  Later she learned that Jeanne had accidently kicked a can of paint over the edge of the porch and it opened in mid-air pouring paint on Tracy Lou, head to toe.

Tracy Lou sprinted the three houses home hysterically crying for her mother.  Tracy Lou kicked in the kitchen door with her foot, and her mother ran to her and hugged her tight.  She carried her to the bathroom and lifted Tracy Lou into the bathtub.  She ran warm water and washed much of the paint down the drain and in time, with soap and a lot of rubbing, all of the paint rinsed out of Tracy Lou’s hair and off her skin.

Alley Trouble

Directly behind the houses on Main Street, a dirt alley provided access to trash bins, parking, and to the backyards.  Cars and trucks bumped down it, blowing up dust. People on foot, instead of walking around each block, cut through the alley.

The children living on the block played in the alley a lot.  They peddled their bikes along the tracks in the orange, Kansas, dirt, skipped along it for quick access to each other’s backyards, and often met in the over-grown vacant lot on the other side of the alley to play baseball or football.

Tall, thin, poplar trees lined the path, providing a natural barrier from the alley into the backyards.  There were also a few hedge apple trees with chartreuse orbs of lumpy fruit bending branches low to the ground.  These thorny trees provided the mushy bombs for games of war between platoons of youngsters. Tracy Lou avoided this game as the hedge apples oozed a white, slimy liquid causing her skin to turn red and burn wherever it touched.

Normally, the kids did not throw the hedge apples at each other but flung them at makeshift targets like the back of an old garage or a trunk of a tree.  One time, one of Tracy Lou’s brothers broke out a glass window with a second-rate throw.  Mike rang the neighbor’s doorbell, and confessed to Mr. Newsom his error.  He asked Mike to walk down to the hardware store, get the clerk to cut him a piece of glass to fit the window, and then return it to the Mr. Newsom for repair. To pay for the glass, my brother did a few chores for him.  Back then, people fixed problems without a lot of fuss.

There was a nursing home for elderly people located at the end of the alley.  The children sometimes met up with the old folks slowly shuffling the alley to one destination or another.  To Tracy Lou, they seemed so tired and sad.  She always tried to greet each one with her best smile but most of the time; they did not even look her way. When she described how the old people acted, her mom told her to leave those poor people alone and she said, “They are living out their last days, the best they can.”  Mom was not so generous, Tracy Lou noted, when she caught one of the old men, stealing ripe tomatoes from her garden.

One Sunday, four neighborhood kids stumbled upon an old man laying quietly in the middle of the alley. He was motionless and as the kids got nearer, they saw that his eyes were open but not blinking.  Quickly, they ran to the nearest house and asked for help for the man. The ambulance came with sirens blaring, which got Tracy Lou’s attention.  She ventured down to the back of the yard, near where the ambulance parked, but her Dad told her firmly to go back inside the house.  Later, Tracy Lou overheard her parents saying he died.  At dinner, Dad led a prayer for the old man’s soul.  Mom was worried if the kids that found the man would sleep at all that night.

Of course, all the kids knew the exact spot of the old man’s demise so they cautioned each other to not step near it, sort of along the same rule in the old silly rhyme they sang together:

Step on a crack,
You’ll break your mother’s back;
Step on a line
You’ll break your father’s spine.

The alley seemed a place ripe for trouble.  One time, a neighbor offered to keep his Shetland pony in the vacant lot for a couple of days so that the pony could eat the grass and no one would need to mow the lot.  While grazing, one of the kids went up behind the pony to try to pet him, and was kicked in the jaw so hard he walked around with his teeth wired together for weeks and could only drink liquid through a straw that fitted perfectly between two of his incisors.

Another time, her brother Tom, played with matches in the alley, and inadvertently caught the entire vacant lot on fire.  The volunteer firefighters came to put it out while Tom cowered under his bed afraid to come out.  Tom thought he had burned down the entire town but only a large patch of grass turned black.  Of course, this story was retold many times in Medicine Lodge homes about the danger of children playing with matches.

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Travels with the Red Dirt Girl

Travels with the Red Dirt Girl

The House on Main Street

Nearly sixty years ago, a little girl was born in Medicine Lodge in south-central Kansas in the Red Hills region of the Great Plains. The small town of about 2,000 residents sat immediately north of the joining of the Medicine Lodge River and Elm Creek, situated on the northeast side of the river.  Her dad, soon after she was born, purchased with a loan from the bank, the family home. A two-story white clapboard house located just one block north of the small downtown business area at 321 N. Main.

All around the house were homes of friends of the family with names like Newsom, Frisbee, Ferrer, Rhea, Strack, Pratt, and dad’s boss and his family, the Williams.  The little girl never looked for friends; she was born into this fold on Main Street. Like many small towns, the people of Medicine Lodge, were tight-knit and everyone knew everyone and everyone’s business whether you wanted them to or not.

The western migration of whites in the United States and a treaty established near Medicine Lodge back in 1867 with the Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Comanche, Kiowa, and Kiowa Apache, resulted in the tribes’ cruel removal to Oklahoma. This legacy was part of the town’s history and the reenactment, produced every three years, compressing 300 years of history into two hours is what the locals called “the pageant”. The town, 100 years later, was ethnically homogenous with a common belief system based on Christian principles. Geographically, it was located in the middle of the breadbasket of North America named so for the vast amount of wheat harvested in this region.  Adults got their news from the local market basket radio program, the Barber County newspaper delivered twice a week and three television stations, ABC, CBS and NBC, broadcasting from Wichita about two hours straight as the crow flies. Some homes shared telephone landlines, called party lines, but most homes had a dedicated telephone number only needing to recall five digits to dial out. Writing handwritten letters using stationary and cursive handwriting in pen was the more common way of sharing news. It sometimes took a week or more to get a letter from Topeka.  Life in Medicine Lodge was slower, more relaxed by today’s standard. No one locked their doors at night and nearly everyone left their keys in the ignition of their cars and trucks.

Most men worked shifts at the Gyp Mill that made gypsum board for the inside walls of houses, or farmed land passed down in their family. Most women did not work outside the home but some took jobs in cafes, shops or as school teachers.  Everyone went to church each Sunday except for the small number of Seventh-Day Adventists who worshipped on Saturday just down the street from the little girl’s house.

As far as the little girl could see, people who loved her surrounded her and her three brothers, and her mother and father. The town’s two-lane main route, which ran directly in front of her house, was filled with station wagons and rusty trucks traveling downtown to the grocery store, small retail shops, and the little girl’s favorite store, the Probst Pharmacy, which had an old fashioned soda fountain inside. The soda fountain mixed syrup flavors and carbon dioxide, with cold water to make soft drinks from scratch. The girl liked to sit at the counter on a very tall stool and sip sugary-sweet Green Rivers, a lime-flavored bubbly drink, while peering out the wide-pane front store windows, looking out over Main Street, as she day-dreamed about where that street would take her next. While she was afraid of twisters, horses and sometimes her brothers, she was not afraid of the unknown.

The little girl’s name is Tracy Lou. She slept on the main floor across the hall from her parents in her own bedroom, as she was the only girl in the family. Her three older brothers slept upstairs in shared bedrooms during the winter months but escaped to the cool, cement walled basement in the summers where it was windowless and so dark you could not see your hand in front of your face with the lights out. They tunneled underground just like the local prairie dogs.

When Tracy Lou was born in the spring of 1961, one of the last years of the Baby Boom generation, she joined an established family of five.  Her oldest brother, Michael Owen, would soon turn eight, followed by Edward Lewis at six and Thomas Dean at four.  Tracy Lou called them Mike, Ed and Tom.  Her Mom’s name was Katherine Eileen but Dad called her Katie.  Katie was thirty-one when her daughter, Tracy Lou, was born in the local hospital by Dr. Ball, one of two physicians’ serving the entire county.  Tracy Lou’s maternal grandmother, Katherine Calahan, called her daughter, Eileen, to distinguish between the two of them with the same first name. Calling children by their middle name was a common practice during these times that can be confusing when you are trying to learn who is who in a family.

When her parents first brought Tracy Lou home from the hospital, she caused quite a stir with the boys at diaper changing time according to her mom’s memory.  Mom said, “My boys had never seen girl parts and were naturally curious.”  She said, “The novelty wore off quickly after seeing up close what came out of those parts”. She was born with jet-black hair that quickly turned to apple butter brown.

 Quonset Hut

The summer after her birth, the entire family packed up and drove the family station wagon eight hours west to Boulder, Colorado, so that Dad could attend graduate school at the University of Colorado.  His plans were to move up in pay from a Biology teacher to a high school counselor. The family had spent the prior summer out in Boulder as well but Tracy Lou was not born yet.  Both summers they lived in a Quonset hut, the family housing offered adjacent to the University and affordable for a family of now, six, living on one income.  The Quonset hut’s sides were corrugated, steel sheets, having a semicircular cross-section with the two ends covered with plywood that had doors and windows. Many Quonset huts, made during World War II, were repurposed by the military to just about anyone that wanted to buy one after the war.

The brothers share fond memories of the summers living in the Quonset hut — kind of like staying in a cabin by today’s standards.  The family hiked together up and down the cool trails of Boulder Canyon, spotting hummingbirds, jays and warblers and skipping rocks over the chilly pools of the mountain creek. They frequently picnicked at the foot of the Rocky Mountain range.  The same mountain range that inspired Katherine Bates to write the poetic lines “for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesties” that the family sang on road trips and in music class at school.

The picnics were eventful with three young boys under the age of eight and a newborn along for the ride.  Ed, the middle boy, known in the family as a “picky eater”, drove his parents crazy with his food preferences. They both expected all children to “lick their platters clean” and “remember the starving children across the world that went without anything but paste to eat.”

Ed, however, had a different point of view. He was likely lactose intolerant, which was never diagnosed.  Allergies back then were ignored for the most part.  Ed was born in Japan when Dad served in the military after college. Mom said Ed could not keep a bottle down until they switched to soy which was popular in Japan but not in the United States at that time.  Ed ate corny dogs, fried chicken, and burgers but did not eat many fruits and vegetables except for canned fruit cocktail and corn on the cob.

On one of the family picnics, Dad was determined that Ed try a slice of tomato before they continued on the hike.  Ed refused.  And he refused again. He even refused a bribe of cookies when he got back to the hut if he ate one slice of tomato.  He could be hard headed like that. Dad was not used to disobedience from his children so he took the slice of tomato, forced opened Ed’s mouth and pushed the tomato in, held his jaw shut and said, “Chew, boy.” Well, Ed, chewed, gagged, and then promptly threw up an entire bologna sandwich, potato chips and the tomato all over Dad’s lap.  The picnic ended, and everyone had a cooling off period back at the Quonset hut. From then on, if Ed didn’t eat his supper he was allowed to go into the kitchen and fix himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and then come quietly back to the family dinner table and eat it.  However, no one was allowed to make a bad comment about Mom’s cooking.  We either ate it or shut up. I think this experience is why Tracy Lou learned it was wiser to try all kinds of foods even when they tasted weird.

 Going to Church

Tracy Lou’s earliest memory of her Mom are of her hands not her eyes as you might imagine. Hands taking care of her, patting her, bathing her and combing her hair. Cooking hands, chopping onions and carrots and kneading bread as well as hands at rest, at home reading a book or writing a letter to her mother who lived far away in Washington State.

At the one Methodist church, where the family were members, Mom taught vacation bible school; even though she confessed, she was not sure she was a true believer.  It was while teaching bible school, pregnant with her fourth child that she decided not to name this child, Susan.  Mom was sure this child would be a girl. Susan was the name she had always admired, after Susan B. Anthony, and she intended to name her daughter, if she ever had one, after this famous suffragist.  However, there were already four little girls in the class named Susan and Mom wanted her daughter’s name to be less common than that.  Mom knew someone from her past, named Tracy Louise, who she admired for her strength of character, so the switch was made without much more thought. Mom shortened the name to Tracy Lou except for the times when Tracy Lou was in trouble, which was not very often, because her little girl learned to follow rules like most little girls back then.

Mom made sure her children had the proper, clean and ironed clothes to attend church. She sewed them with her own hands. As a young child, Tracy Lou found the Sunday sermon hour restless and Mom would distract her with her hands.  They intertwined fingers, made steeples, and exchanged gentle rubs, traced veins to quiet Tracy Lou’s energy until she was released to the fellowship hall and the feast of unlimited store-bought cookies, Kool-Aid and games of hopscotch. Tracy Lou was an easy-going child with boundless spirit.  Her mom described her as “coltish” since her arms and legs seemed to grow faster than her body.

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Going to Grandparent’s House

Tracy Lou’s earliest memory is her dad carrying her into her grandparent’s house from the car after a long ride, after dark, from Medicine Lodge to Newton, Kansas.  The family frequently visited Dad’s parents, Lawrence and Helen, especially on holidays or for birthdays. The retired couple lived in a two-story house, located alarmingly close to a busy Santa Fe railroad track.  Tracy Lou remembers shadows dancing off the tall walls of the dining room, the smell of the waxed hardwood floors, and her Dad putting her to bed on a nubby, green sofa.  The train whistles rattled the window panes. She may have been three.

Tracy Lou looked forward to visiting her grandparents because there she played with her five girl cousins all about the same age as her.  Cecilia, Deanna, Susan, Michelle, Karen and Tracy Lou played together using only a little more than their imagination.  Grandma Helen saved packaging from the grocery store, stuffed the items with newspaper, and sealed them back with tape to look just like the real items purchased from the IGA.  The makeshift grocery store sold cold cereal, eggs, milk, oatmeal, tissue paper, and prunes. The grandchildren had one plastic grocery cart, that they learned to share, and they played grocery store for hours in a small room off the kitchen. One cousin would play the role of the checker, another a bagger, then a stocker, and a shopper and sometimes a shoplifter!  Then they would exchange roles and start all over again. Grandma always requested her grandchildren to attend service with her at a Baptist Church on Sunday morning, as she wanted to show off her beautiful, well-mannered grandchildren to her friends in the congregation.

The sermons about evil and talk of hell frightened Tracy Lou.  She hated the part in the service about coming forward to be saved.  Saved from what?  Life in a small town? From her brothers? From the ornery Shetland pony, penned along the alley? All she knew is that the sermons made her think about life after death.  She hoped it would be like going to sleep on the softest bed and just never waking up or maybe coming back as a tree.  Please not an old, sour cherry tree. She prayed for something sweeter. She learned that life is finite at a very young age.

Back at Home

Back home on Main Street, the house did not have central air conditioning until much later but relied on a rackety swamp cooler to keep the main floor livable from June to August.  If you have ever tested the wind by holding a wet finger in the air, you have used evaporative cooling just as the swamp cooler provided her family back then and at its best – it was fleeting with relief.

At night, when Tracy Lou lay awake trying to get to sleep in the heat, she listened and could not hear anything at all outside her open window but for the sound of little frogs chirping or the clicking sound of the cicadas in the summer.  Sometimes, her dad stayed up late, eating ice cream out of an old ceramic bowl, and the little girl could hear the solid clinking sound of the metal spoon hitting the edge of the bowl before each bite.  When Tracy Lou asked why he ate ice cream after she went to bed, he sheepishly said, “it wasn’t ice cream, I was just enjoying some Cheerios.”

The house was a comfortable house.  Upstairs, there was a porch on the side of the second story looking out over an elm tree. Lining the porch on three sides, were a series of screened windows and after the first freeze, her Dad and brothers would put up storm glass windows while hanging dangerously off tall ladders. The little girl liked to play in the porch with her Barbie doll designing furniture out of cardboard that her mom saved for her to use to cut and paste into little couches, tables and beds for her doll.  Barbie too lived in comfortable house.  Sometimes she played in the mothball smelling air of a little closet where her mom had a trunk full of old clothes hidden in the corner under the rack of scratchy wool coats.   Tracy Lou created costumes fueled by her growing imagination. Sometimes she put on all the clothes, layering up, all mish-mash just as she saw old Mrs.Spriggs do as she roamed around town with her grocery cart full of found treasures.  Mrs. Spriggs dressed unconventionally which the girl noticed and asked her mom, “Why does Mrs. Spriggs’ wear so many clothes at one time?”  Her mom said, “I guess she likes to dress in layers in case the weather changes.”

Downstairs, in the house, the floors were made of oak with area rugs in the living room.  Back then, her Mom taught her how to buff the floors with a can of SC Johnson paste wax, a torn-up sweatshirt for a rag, and what her Dad called “elbow grease”. This simply meant getting down on her hands and knees, and applying a coat of the paste wax with the rag, letting it haze over and then buffing it with all her strength until the hardwood shined so well, she could see the outline of her face when she peered back at it.

All around the house there was a weedy yard with mature trees for the children to play under and often up in, and her parents planted beds of purple, bearded irises and Knock Out roses propagated from the neighbors’ gardens. They rarely purchased plants directly from the local nursery but borrowed and shared different varietals with neighbors and friends. In the end zones of the makeshift football field, down back, behind the house, were two tidy vegetable gardens including a watermelon and potato patch tended reluctantly to by her brothers.  There was a cherry tree, which produced chili-red cherries so sour that no amount of sugar would sweeten them for a pie. Mostly, the sour bombs were left for the birds or used as ammunition in games of backyard war.

Dad and Mom collected bean, pea, squash, and watermelon seeds from their garden each year to use the next season. Dad was especially proud of his Jersey Giant asparagus crowns as he nursed them for over three years to maturity. Magically, one spring day, up popped up from the ground, cranked from the soil like a jack in the box, were rows of edible, green spears.  Tracy Lou loved munching on asparagus; she ate all kinds of fruits and vegetables, but asparagus, while tasty, sure made her pee smell like rotten eggs.

Behind the house, was a sloping backyard that leveled off into flat area perfect for pickup games of football and baseball.  In the side yard, positioned on a regulation height pole was a basketball goal surrounded by a concrete driveway turned impromptu court.  Dad and the boys had formed, mixed and poured the concrete themselves. There was even a tetherball pole, made from metal plumbing pipe, concreted into the ground. Tracy Lou and her friends paired off under the shade of an old elm tree, slinging the tetherball back and forth.  Dad certainly knew his way around a bag of cement, a shovel and a wheelbarrow.  The basketball court was a draw for neighborhood kids and there was nearly always a pick-up basketball game of some sort happening at 321 N. Main.

Twister

Weather was an important topic to the town people and especially to farmers as their livelihood depended on it.  Medicine Lodge was located in tornado alley, a study of tornadoes reported one-fourth of all tornadoes occur in this zone. The house on Main Street set directly across the street from the town’s one tornado siren. It was a hair-raising sound when it blasted off, alerting the town’s people, from a night of peaceful sleep, to take cover.  To Tracy Lou, it sounded like the warning signal was blaring in her ear from inside her pillowcase.

Tracy Lou knew that tornadoes killed as she had recently listened to a local radio program that a F5 tornado killed 17 people and injured hundreds in Topeka, the state’s capital.  The family had relatives living in Topeka. She overheard them talk about how cars flew through the air, and huge stone sections of a university building peeled away with the winds.  While very frightened, she felt safer when the family quickly gathered in the basement to ride out the spring and summer storms.  Her dad would stand outside in the backyard scanning the skies for signs of the tornado.  Tracy Lou called for her dad, “come back inside, pleeeeeease!”, but he only did if the skies turned a greenish-yellow color, the winds kicked up even more violently, and the rain softened.  These were sure signs, as he explained, that a twister was in the vicinity.

The family, during the summer, frequented the drive-in movie theater located just a mile or so east of town.  For a set price per car, the entire family watched one, sometimes two features a night.  The young Tracy Lou loved movies especially films like Herbie, the Love Bug starring the handsome Dean Jones or Mary Poppins, the Sound of Music and Bambi but she was routinely outvoted by her older brothers who preferred themes about war, science fiction and westerns. The best part of the drive-in movie to Tracy Lou was the popcorn that Mom popped at home, on top of the stove, moving a lidded frying pan quickly back and forth over the heat until the last kernel popped. She made several batches in order to fill a large, brown grocery bag full of buttery, salty popcorn for the whole family to share. Tracy Lou, so much younger than her siblings, often fell asleep in the back of the station wagon but not before gorging on her share of popcorn.

Mom’s Perfect Stovetop Popcorn Tips

Use a good, heavy-bottomed pot. Cheap pots do not distribute heat evenly, and you can end up with hot spots that burn the popcorn.

Do not crank the heat up too high. It is too easy to burn oil at temperature higher than medium heat, and if you catch even a whiff of smoke coming from the pot, your popcorn will taste burnt.

Start with two popcorn kernels to gauge the temperature. Once those pop, your oil is hot enough. Add the remaining kernels and remove the pot from the heat for 1 minute. This primes the popcorn to pop without burning the oil.

Tip the lid ever so slightly while the popcorn is popping. That way, the popcorn does not steam itself in the pot and lose crispness

Season with salt carefully. You can always add more, but you cannot take away too much

Use ratios of 2 tablespoons to ½-cup popcorn. Mom used canola oil.

One night during a movie, Tracy Lou woke from her nap as her mom roughly pulled her into the front seat of the car from the back.  The sky was lit up with cracks of lightning, and her brothers tumbled back into the car, their clothes soaked from the sudden downpour.  The movie screen went black.  Dad started up the engine of the station wagon and slowly followed a line of taillights exiting the drive-in via a gravel road.

The rain was coming down so hard that Dad could not see the taillights in front of the wagon.  The wagon started shaking and rocking and Dad said, “We need to pull over and get down in a ditch. Take cover.”  Mom took a pillow, told Tracy Lou to lay over her lap, and placed her head as close to the floorboard as she could.  Mom then covered her body over Tracy Lou and put pillows and a blanket over both of their heads.  The boys did the same in the back seat.  Dad said, “It sounds like a freight train is coming, just like they say.”  Tracy Lou screamed but kept her head down and felt the car shake side to side.  Mom said, “do you think the windshield will hold?’  Dad said, “I don’t know but keep your heads covered.”  The rocking continued in the car but gradually it slowed and the howling wind subsided.  As quick as the storm assaulted them, it left, moving across the terrain to the east.

Dad revved up the engine but the tires just turned in the muddy, rain-filled ditch.  The boys jumped out and pushed the vehicle out of the ditch, mud flying everywhere, but the wagon lurched up and back onto the road to town.

It was dark outside but tree debris littered the road and out the left side of the window, Tracy Lou saw a farmer’s hay barn, the wooden roof beams scattered over the nearby field of wheat. The next day, the local paper reported a twister touched down just across from the drive-in, destroying a home and several outbuildings but no one died.  At church that morning the talk was all about the tornado; sharing details of what they were doing when the tornado came through, where they were at the time, what they heard and felt.  Sharing stories seems to help heal in hard times. Tracy Lou felt proud of her family because they banded together and weathered a tornado.  She was never as scared of storms again.

 Snow Day

When it snowed, Mike, Ed, Tom and Tracy Lou, along with all the neighborhood children, played outside in it.  To Tracy Lou, it seemed like they were out there for days using strategies similar to those seen on shows about survival.  At the first sign of snowflakes, Mom would assemble all the assorted black rubber galoshes with the gazillion hooks and snaps in a pile on the kitchen floor. The children would layer up with long johns, then a thick pair of jeans.  Tracy Lou did not wear any downy snow gear until she was in college.

Preparing for a snow day meant pulling over her head two shirts and a sweater followed by a sweatshirt and then a wool coat.  Layering was the key. After covering the core, the attention moved to the all-important feet and toes. To protect her toes from the cold snow, Tracy Lou slipped on two pair of white tube socks (the kind with the two blue stripes around the top), then she retrofitted a sandwich bread bag over the socks and secured it at the top of her calves with a large rubber band used to tie up newspapers for delivery.  Then, another tube sock slipped over the top of the plastic bag before she pressed her foot into the warmest, water-resistant shoes she owned. After that, she squeezed the shoe into the black, rubber galoshes. This often required assistance from a brother or a mother in order to wedge her shoe inside before snapping the hooks down tight. Tracy Lou often wore two layers of gloves and always a warm woolen hat and if windy, a wool mask that fitted over her face with three holes in the spots where her eyes and mouth were supposed to be but never were.

Tracy Lou did not dare drink anything because it was impossible to go the bathroom without taking everything off and starting all over pulling on the layers. Tracy Lou trudged behind her brothers, unable to bend her bulky knees, so she slid along the snow-covered sidewalk with her wooden sled behind her shuffling the five blocks over to Wheat’s Hill. The hill was a paved road that when covered in snow created the perfect launching platform for sledding.  City road crews never cleared the road from falling snow but instead allowed the kids to pack the snow down tight by walking up and down the hill stomping the snow down with their feet. They placed traffic barriers at the bottom and top to keep the cars off it.   The hill was named for the Wheat family that lived in a house at the top of the road not for the summer crop that grew in the fields surrounding the small, rural community.

The children of Medicine Lodge sled in tandem on Wheat’s Hill, in trains of sleds, they held races, slid down the hill backward while cutting cookies, creating a circular skid-mark pattern in the snow. The boys competed to see who could make their sled go the farthest down the hill.  If a sledder could make it under the bottom traffic barrier, across the intersection and reach the next street, he was declared the winner.  We lived dangerously back then and without much adult supervision.  Children sledded standing up and laying on top of one like the thin layers of a German chocolate torte. Tracy Lou perched herself on the backs of several bigger kids as they flung themselves down the hill,  all on top of one sled.  The danger was if the sled hit dry pavement or a hidden rock, and came to abrupt halt. All the passengers sailed off the front of the sled, fortunately into the soft snow that surrounded them.

Tracy Lou, not as resilient as her older brothers, felt the cold seep through the layers to her toes, and she begged for one of her brothers to take her home.  Eventually, her tears convinced one of them to peel from their pack and take her, grudgingly, home.  Her toes burned with the cold but each piggy slowly thawed out after discarding the layers of wet socks and the plastic covering.  She would place her little toes directly over the heating vent, rubbing the red ring, from where the rubber band scarred her calf, and she read Little House on the Prairie adventures while her brothers continued their sledding expedition.  After snow days like this, the brothers ate vats of Mom’s chili or homemade beef stew and stacks of buttery bread to feed their exhausted bodies.  They shared tales of the day’s events at Wheat’s Hill while all sitting around the family dining table.

Mom’s Chili Recipe

2 lbs. of ground beef
1/3 cup of brown sugar
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 large sweet yellow onion, chopped
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
3 tsp red chile powder
¼ cup tomato paste
1 large can of V-8 juice
2 (15.5 oz.). cans dark red kidney beans, drained
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups of water
In a large Dutch oven or large pot, brown the ground beef over low heat, add the chopped onions and green pepper until soften.  Add all of the other ingredients and simmer on low for 2-3 hours adding water as needed if it thickens too much.  Serve with saltines to crush into the chili along with sharp cheddar cheese.  A side of pickles and cinnamon rolls goes great with this dish.

 

Totality

Totality

Over several months, RM planned our five hundred mile road trip to northeast Kansas to view the recent solar eclipse in the so-called totality zone. He plotted and printed maps, researched websites, purchased the necessary protective eye glasses and not-so-necessary commemorative t-shirts, and timed our journey to coincide with the solar eclipse on Monday, August 21st. We stayed with some dear friends on their picturesque farm near Holton, Kansas.

farm

We were one of many visitors to the zone last Monday — stretching across a width of 70 miles from Oregon to South Carolina  — who made it a point to travel to a place where the moon’s shadow will touch the earth.  We were not disappointed in the experience even after dodging traffic, rain clouds and showers to get to our destination.  For us, we ended up on an isolated, dirt road that straddled the Nebraska/Kansas border not too far from Du Bois, NE., surrounded by miles of ripening corn and soybean fields.

While RM was the champion of this excursion, the rest of us in our small party were willing but uninformed, highly supportive accompaniments.  We agreed to stock up the SUV with a picnic lunch and celebratory spirits, keep the phones and iPad charged for tracking and other necessary communication updates from NASA, and drive Ruby (yes, the SUV has a name), over and across this nation’s bread basket back roads to get us in line for the perfect viewing of the total eclipse, weather conditions be damned. While we didn’t fully understand RM’s fixation with getting the perfect spot, we knew it was important to him so we followed our leader’s direction to head up Highway 75 from Holton, over to Sabetha and then north and west to his predetermined, viewing point.

eclipse tracy

Through our safety glasses, we saw early glimpses of the partial eclipse but the clouds were thickening and the viewing was sporadic so under RM’s worried brow, we packed up and moved about 10 miles to an area on the radar that looked clear.  We were not disappointed with the audible as we pulled off the road into a pasture, the sky cleared and we could see the eclipse as it moved from partial to total at 1:04 p.m. central Kansas time. At full eclipse, the sky darkened and a 360 degree sunset magically appeared all around us as we admired Bailey’s beads — pearls of sunlight shining through the valleys and mountains of the moon. We saw the beads around the edges of the moon as it passed over the sun.  We took many pictures but mostly we stood and stared up at the eclipse in awe.

cornfield

I  first noticed the immense quiet and the surrealism of the space with light reflecting oddly over the fields around us, no sounds of animals or man except for us hooting and comparing comments of what each of us saw and felt.  It was truly an  ‘awe’ moment — one that reached, for me, the upper levels of pleasure but also on the boundary of fear or perhaps better described as the feeling of the unknown.  After the experience, I felt rich in time, somehow better connected to nature with a renewed boost of hope for our future.  We are already plotting for the next eclipse in 2024.  Come join us in Texas, in the the totality zone, and experience the awe.

 

Dave

 

 

Why I Played

Why I Played

I fell in love with basketball when I was a very little girl of six or seven, maybe even younger.  I still love it and plan to play a game of HORSE with RM this week-end if the weather cooperates.  If you don’t know what HORSE is, I am sorry because you have missed out.   I have probably played a thousand rounds of HORSE in my lifetime.  Such fond memories of time spent with my dad out on the concrete basketball court shooting hoops. He always had a court poured immediately,  at each house we lived in, before he thought to remodel the bathrooms or applying a fresh coat of paint.

dad's team Newton
Dad – third tallest.
Basketball was a big deal for my dad and for our small Kansas town. The grownups started us early learning to dribble, pass and do layups from either side (left or right).  I played with my brother and their friends which improved my game considerably.  I practiced all the time on our court and started playing on teams as soon as that was an option.  Coach Groves focused on the fundamentals and we practiced those skills over and over again until we mastered them.   We didn’t have select teams back then but Dad would get the keys for the Jr. High gym so we could get in and shoot around during the summer and on school breaks.  He challenged me to make 25 free throws without missing and I eventually developed such an accurate shot that I was asked by coach to shoot most technical foul shots for my hometown team. Older girls from the high school team mentored us early on and we scrimmaged against them when we were in middle school.

My dad paid for me to go to basketball camps during the summer where I developed my skills even further and also made new friends and learned from other girls. These camps were held on university campuses.  It was a blast but I don’t know if I have ever been as tired as I was after a week of basketball practice all day long for a week. And the blisters on my feet proved it.

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But what I now appreciate from the years I spent playing point guard is what it taught me for life.    I played and learned to:

  • be physically active and fit
  • develop life skills like leadership and resiliency
  • have fun and provide for emotional well-being
  • be with my friends (boys and girls)
  • be on a team

Playing basketball helps young girls learn basic coordination and team-building skills with an added bonus of making new friends along the way. My father and I have passed the love of the game onto my family as we are in the middle of March Madness with our beloved University of Kansas Jayhawks on the road to the Elite 8.

So if you have a young girl in your life, pump up a basketball, find a basketball court, and play a game of HORSE with her.  It may change her life, like it did mine. Thanks, Dad.

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Combining love of basketball with love of travel
RULES of HORSE

H-O-R-S-E is a game played by two people on a basketball court. The idea of the game involves matching baskets. The player who makes shots that the opponent does not duplicate, wins the game. Example: The second person shooting must duplicate the first person’s shot, if it is made. If the second shooter misses, he/she receives the letter “H”. If the first person’s shot is missed, the second shooter may attempt any shot. If his/her shot is made, the opponent is obligated to duplicate it. Each time a shooter misses a shot that he/she attempted to duplicate, a letter is “awarded”. The game continues until one person accumulates 5 letters or H-O-R-S-E. The Rules 1. The person who will shoot first will be determined by coin flip or basket shot. 2. Shots can be attempted from anywhere on the court. No dunking or stuffs. 3. Shots may be “slop” shots or “called” shots. “Called” shots must be made as the call indicates or counts as a miss. “Called” shots must be called before the shot. “Called” shots are as follows: a. Bank – off backboard and into basket, may touch rim. b. Bank Swish – off backboard and into basket without touching rim. c. Straight In – must go into basket without touching backboard or rim. d. Swish – directly into basket without touching backboard or rim. e. Opposite Hand – if shooter is right handed the shot is attempted with left hand and vice versa. f. Jump Shot – both feet off court when ball is released. g. Set Shot – both feet in contact with court when ball is released. h. Hook Shot – ball is released in arch over the body. 4. Trick shots involving spins and ball movement prior to release are not allowed. 5. No shot may be attempted twice in a row from the same spot to give the opponent 2 consecutive letters. 6. All games will be self-officiated on the honor system. 7. Match – best 2 out of 3 games.

Santa Fe All the Way

Santa Fe All the Way

Today, I am featuring a guest blogger, my long departed paternal grandfather, Lawrence E. Hauck,  who passed away in 1979.  He wrote this article, most likely in the 1960’s, for the Santa Fe Magazine, published date unknown.   I would like to think that Grandpa would have taken naturally to blogging and social media as is evident of his interest, through hamming, to connect his thoughts, reflections and experiences with his “new friends” hundreds of miles from his rather isolated home in Newton, Kansas.

Glimpses Into Amateur Radio Stations, Owned and Operated by Our Employees, Who Nightly Explore the Lower Wave Lengths in Search of New Friends and New Adventures

by Lawrence E. Hauck who owned Station W9CYV

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Granpa’s Station squeezed into a second floor bedroom. The transmitter and power supply are built in the large rack at the right.  At the left can be seen the four-tube screen grid receiver and loud speaker.  This is a ten-watt station, power supplied by a step-up transformer from the city current.

Many of our employees, tired from the day’s work, go home, drop into an easy chair and snap on the radio, little dreaming that far below the range of scheduled programs there is a new world, inhabited by thousands of amateur operators, a vast army of friendly “hams” (as they prefer to be called) who nightly split the ether with the vibrant scream of their code signals, chatting with friends miles away, whom they have never seen, handling messages of a noncommercial nature, or swapping information about the weather, the girl friend, or the intensity of the ever-prevailing static.

The radio amateurs of the United States, sixteen thousand of them, enjoy perhaps the most fascinating and yet the least known of hobbies.  The public is privileged to gaze upon the efforts of the golfer or the stamp collector, but the radio amateur enjoys his hobby in an isolated upstairs room or basement nook, surrounded by a maze of wires and a barricade of equipment, where he can “pound brass” (operate) to his heart’s content.

The neighbors may view his squirrel cage aerial swinging from the mast, high above his house, and comment wonderingly on the necessity for such a contraption to bring the radio programs, and the postman may stare bewildered at the flood of postcards with strange call-letters on them which are delivered daily to the “ham’s” residence but generally speaking the public is scarcely aware of his hobby.

To tell about the growth and development of amateur radio would require more space than is available; sufficient to say, however, that no sooner had Marconi announced the first successful transmission of wireless signals, than a group of interested experimenters became bent on duplicating the feat, improving on his apparatus and extending its possibilities, not for monetary gain, but purely for the sake of the experiment.  Their number has grown to thousands.

The United States government, immediately after the World War, began granting licenses to all who could pass the required examination, free of charge, and this practice is continued today.  In order to operate an amateur radio station it is only necessary to have a working knowledge of the apparatus you wish to use, ability to send and receive Continental Morse code at ten words a minute, and a thorough knowledge of the international laws governing radio communication, such as preference to SOS calls and other rules too numerous to mention here.  Once the applicant passed the examination and secured his operator’s license and his station license and call letters, he can design and build his own transmitter an “get on the air.”

The government has allocated six different wave bands for amateur use:  160, 80, 40, 20, 10 and 5 meters, respectively and of this group the 40-meter band (7,000 kilocycles) is the most popular.  On this wave length static moderate even in the hot summer months, and radio signals carry like wildfire with a minimum amount of power.  On this band only code signals are allowed.  In other words, the operator is allowed to connect up a microphone and transmit speech, although the voice may be used on some of the other allotted wave lengths.

It might be well to clear up a point here:  in this connection many people think of code signals as “wireless” and programs or speech as “radio”.  This is a false interpretation, your radio set, placed in the parlor and used for receiving programs, is just as much a wireless set as is radio set used to receive code signals.  Radio and wireless are one and the same thing, but there are different kinds of signals, code and phonetic,  The majority of amateurs prefer to use code because of the greater distance that can be covered with a small amount of power.

During the past eight or ten years I have talked to hundreds of other amateurs throughout the United States, and it was a natural curiosity that led me to inquire as to the vocations of these “hams” when they were not tinkering with their radio equipment during their leisure hours.  Being a Santa Fe employee, naturally I was interested in communicating with other Santa Fe men who were located in other cities along the line, and to my surprise I discovered that many of these stations are operated by our employees, who enjoy amateur radio as a hobby.

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Ham operator, Lawrence Hauck, transmitting code to fellow Santa Fe employees and friends

Finding Family

Finding Family

C1 and I have been doodling with ancestry.com for a couple of years now. The Hauck Family Tree has full branches but The Marshall Tree is missing major limbs so we need to get on that soon. Whenever we find a new leaf waiting with a clue, we get excited. This week was a bonanza for us. We had a message waiting for us full of historical information from one of my relatives who will reach 90 years young in just a few weeks. Her name is Ginger Cable and she lives just outside of San Diego. How did she find us? Because we posted a picture of C1 and I in front of her father’s grave in Madison, Kansas on our family tree and she saw it. Ginger wanted to know who those strange people were at her dad’s gravesite and we wanted to know her secret to keeping up with technology and social media at her age. Ginger’s dad — Harry Horn– is my great-grandfather’s, Charles Horn, younger brother. Several months ago on a return trip from Kansas, we took a side journey out into Flint Hills to find Harry’s grave. I had a picture of what the plot was suppose to look like well adorned with an impressive spiral monument. I couldn’t figure out how a man of little means, who died at only 32 years of age, leaving behind a wife and three young children, would have such an impressive grave marker. I knew the family was poor as were most farmers and small town folk in those years. Think Great Depression, think dust bowl, think middle America. I knew Harry had died in Texas working and had been buried back in Madison, his hometown. From research, I found cause of death was TB after serving his country during WW I and starting his family.

The detour last summer took us about 60 miles out of our way, added two hours to our trip time and I wondered if it was worth it at the time. What we found out in the middle of nowhere, at a very pretty and well maintained country cemetery, was that the marker on Harry’s grave was modest as expected and the monument we pictured was situated on a grave of someone not related to my clan. It was a disappointment at the time but C1 and I learned that primary and secondary sources are always best in genealogy research. We have often discovered that the data on ancestry.com is inaccurate and down right wrong so you have to proceed with caution and use multiple data points along the way or you can quickly go astray.

But then the sweet, informative note from Ginger arrived and we are adding information to the tree about what happened to her Mom, her sisters, and now her four sons. The tree just grew some new, strong branches to explore. I found a first cousin, twice-removed, living a wonderful, full life in sunny California who wants to know about her dad’s crazy family that she left behind many years ago. I hope to meet her one day and swap stories and share memories.

Sometimes when you think you have wasted time, you find that it pays big dividends later. So take time to explore when you have the chance. Her 90th birthday bash is in July. Should I go?