Archive for March, 2008

A More Perfect Union

This is a speech that will be remembered.


Edit (20 Mar 2008): Apparently others think so too.

Has any major U.S. politician in modern times ever given a speech about race in America as unflinching, human and ultimately hopeful as the one Barack Obama delivered yesterday? Whether or not the speech satisfies critics of Mr. Obama’s close relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, this remarkable address was one for the history books.

(Editorial: The Obama speech, Dallas Morning News, Wed., Mar. 19, 2008)

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Most of my family knows I’m a family genealogy buff, occasionally immersing myself for days in a search and then putting it aside again for weeks or months at a time. I’ve been searching for more information on the Walford and Richards branches of the Prentis family lately, nearly exhausting (it seems, but probably not) every possible Internet-based genealogical resource to which I have access. I did find cemetery records and added a few names, but could not for the life of me find the marriage date of my dad’s mother’s maternal grandparents (2nd great-grandparents to me), Sarah Walford and Richard E. Richards. Only then did I reluctantly dig into the mess of genealogical papers I’ve been hoarding for years without thoroughly going through them.

I was so organized years ago when my two darling, curious daughters (probably about ages 3 and 4 at the time) accidentally dumped the contents of a very large file box and scattered its contents. I’m still not sure how two little girls could get it so jumbled, so quickly. All I could do was look into their apologetic faces, tell them it was okay, put it all randomly back in the box — and avoid it for years. Little by little, I pick at it, try to make sense of it, and enter the information into my computer.

Today I picked through stacks of still very disorganized papers and folders and came across a thick folder of Dad’s sister Anne’s information that had been given to me after she died. I had glanced through it, and except for Xeroxed photos I hadn’t seen previously, most looked familiar. (Since many of the older photos burned with my Dad’s parents’ home back in the 1950s, who has these originals now?) Anyway, Anne and I had corresponded for years working on family history pursuits along with another distant family member (a daughter of my grandfather’s half-brother).

The first thing I found in her information was my Grandma Main’s obituary. (Wrong side of the family. How did that get in there?) Putting that aside, I then found a church program dated 14 Dec 1940, from Lincoln Center Methodist Church in Lincoln Township, Adams Co., Iowa. With that, I knew I was in the right section of Aunt Anne’s family papers. It listed as three of their seven charter members, Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Richards and Miss Mary Ann Frederick (also called “Mamie,” the 2nd wife of Sarah’s brother Charles).

The next few pages were obviously poor Xerox copies of very old, handwritten letters that were difficult for me to decipher, but I tried with the help of Ali and Steve, especially after reading one that (thankfully!) had already been transcribed. Anne’s transcription begins with, “I can’t read the name of the place where this letter was written, but from his diary, we know that in April 1864, he was in Gordon’s Mills, Georgia, so we can assume he was somewhere in that vicinity the month before when he wrote this beautiful love letter!” The marriage date I’d been struggling to find was there in my hands within the first few lines. I don’t know yet what became of the diary Anne mentioned, but the letter is so touching that it would have been a shame for me not to have found it.

Richard Edward Richards - Company C, 125th Illinois Volunteer Infantry

Richard E. Richards -125th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, Company C

March 26th ’64

My Dear Wife,

It’s 8 years ago today since our nuptial vows were mutually given. Our love was then young, but it was planted in sincerity and like the sturdy oak of the forest has tightened its roots as the storms of time have beat upon it. Many changes & some trials have met us as we journey along, but with all the changes time has wrought with wars and separation, it has not robbed us of our early affection for each other. We have sometimes seen the time when for a moment, when love seemed to vibrate, but it was only the effect of a little storm passing by which when passed only stimulated and encouraged the roots to again shoot downwards and tighten their hold in a firmer bed of better earth, to become more substantial and better able to stand defiantly against the storm and bid the whirlwinds howl.

I feel, my dearest, the truth of the words in the old song (absence makes the heart grow fonder) such I feel it to be in our case. I fancy sometimes you love me too much, but how can I say it, were I to feel that you loved me less, my heart would be sad. Yet I feel unworthy of the unwavering affection with which I am crowned by my darling companion and sharer of each of the sorrows which lurk in my path. I love you dearest wife. No freezing wind can chill that warmth of mutual love. No dashing snow or pitting rain can drown even one spark. We are separated in body at least for a time, but I feel that we are together in spirit and enjoy a sympathy of soul which neither time nor space can deprive us of, and should we fail to meet again on this terrestrial ball, faith whispering peace, exclaims we soon shall meet in Heaven. I am in an enemy’s country exposed to pain and death, but still my soul is tranquil. I know that my stay upon the earth is but short and the summons will soon come for you, but my prayer to my Saviour is that we may meet ere the cold flood shall bear us away, but still may our hearts breathe the language of resignation and say with one of old, thy will Oh Lord, not mine be done.

Your health is poor. Be careful of yourself. Keep your mind easy and should I be spared to return to my home, may God grant that I may not find there a vacant seat. I know, dear wife, you pray for me and it encourages my heart. May we meet again.

I received your letter of the 11th on the 20th, with one from George. I posted one to you the same day. I suppose you have seen Edward before this time. I wrote to him in care of Mr. B. on the 18th. Give my love to him. We had a very heavy snow storm on the 22nd. It was 7 inches deep. By the night of the 24th, it had all gone and before the morning of the 25th, another had fallen, which went off yesterday and last night with a rain. It is very muddy and still threatens storms. We are all tolerably well. I feel better than I have for several days. I wish you would send me more of Ayers pills. You might send a box and try to keep me supplied with stamps. I am very near out. Paper and envelopes I can generally buy. Give all my love to all friends. Hoping you are all happy and well, with love and kisses for the little ones and yourself.

My ever beloved,
Your aff’t husband

The George he mentioned receiving a letter from may have been Sarah’s brother and Edward may have been his uncle, but I’m uncertain as to whom Mr. B. may have been. A postscript, in which “C.” probably refers to Sarah’s brother Charles, reads:

I haven’t heard from C. for a long time and he promised to write punctually. My last to him was (can’t decipher date).

In 1986, Dad’s cousin Marion Anderson had written to Anne as a follow-up to her inquiry about “the Civil War letters.” A copy of this letter, which I also found today, has been included in Anne’s material. From that letter, it’s apparent that there were sixty letters in all. According to Marion, the letters were given to her mother (my great-aunt Edna) by her mother, Fannie Tennant, after having been stored “in the attic of the house in Adams County all the time the Tennants were in California.” She also said “mice have dined on many envelopes and a few of the letters themselves,” and the “marvelous letters” were “so old and brittle.” Marion and her sister Thelma did not think most could be unfolded and handled to copy without harm, and so I assume only these few were ever copied. Since Marion is no longer living, the original letters, and perhaps the diary, may still be in my dad’s cousin Thelma’s possession. It would be nice if they could be put in the local historical society’s hands, at least.

I’m not sure how Anne accomplished it, but a few of these letters were obviously eventually copied or I would not have them. Attached to an 1864 letter that Anne had not transcribed is her note that the following was written by Richard to his two young sons, Eddy and Freddy, in Peoria, Illinois, while recovering from wounds he received in battle at Kenesaw Mountain, Georgia. He had first been taken to a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee, then Louisville, Kentucky, and finally Chicago, Illinois. Their sons were Thomas Edward and William Fred, hence “Eddy” and “Freddy.” His daughters Mary and Fannie were not born until later.

I’ve transcribed the letter as follows, guessing at a few words here and there:

Marine Hospital
Chicago, Ill. Dec. 21st, ’64

To Eddy and Freddy, my very dear little boys,

As you may be pleased to hear Ma read a letter from your Pa to you, I will write a few lines and someday I trust each of you will be able to read it for yourselves, should you keep it long enough. You will then see and remember that when your Papa was far away from you, that he still loved you both very dearly. I will tell you where I was a year ago and see if you can remember Ma telling you about it.

I had just got back from a long and very hard march into East Tennessee, where we had been to drive the Rebels away from Knoxville. They were surrounding the place and trying to take it and capture our brave Soldiers. The weather was cold, as you know it is in December. We had no blankets with us, and our clothing was thin. We had to sleep on the ground, which was very damp, and the snow would sometimes fall on us while we slept. It was very uncomfortable and hard, but God, who is ever good and always present preserved us from harm and brought us back. And while I was cold and shivering, and sometimes hungry, I often thought of my little boys at home and hoped they were warm and comfortable and happy. I prayed to God to bless them and me, and he did bless us and brought Pa back again, and you saw him a little while ago at home.

I hope you will always love God and pray to him, and he will bless you and you will be happy while you live and happy when you die. We must always pray to God. I pray that he will still preserve our house and that he will bring Pa back to stay with his dear little Boys and Ma, and that we may be very happy. I hope you will pray too, and I trust God will hear and answer our prayers.

I send with this as a token of my love, a little piece of money with which you may do what you please. The streets are so slippery and the weather so cold I can’t get out of the house. I shall perhaps be home in the Spring and I hope I shall find you not only big, but also good boys.

Give strict attention to what your teacher or your Ma may tell you. Learn all you can that is good and try not to do anything wrong. Always be kind ones to the others and never get out of temper or be cross. Always be cheerful and when you have anything to do, do it well always, and as quick as you can. Never stop to think it is hard and make a great many excuses, but go right to work. That will help you do it easy.

And now may God bless, preserve, and help you is the prayer of

Your aff’t

A note attached to a third letter not transcribed by Aunt Anne states that the following is a letter from Richard’s mother, Ellen (Steward) Richards, who lived at Eastern Hill in England, the farm the Richards family rented for nearly 100 years. It is postmarked 1872, from Redditch.

Again, I have had to guess at some of the words:

Eastern Hill
August 9th, ’72

My dearest Richard,

I am spared once more to address you and feel very anxious to hear from you, as I have written some months ago to you requesting, or rather expecting a speedy reply, but no doing.

So without hearing as much as an account of America makes one feel very uncomfortable about you. I hope your poor foot or any other affliction, whether of body or mind, has not prevented it.

It has been and shall remain a very irregular and unusual season. There has [sic] been very many thunderstorms, strong winds and considerable damage. A (building?) swilling cattle is out, filling house with water to the extent of great losses. I will send you an Alverton paper which will give you some better idea England at this time is in. Very confused and unsettled, with God only knows what will be the result. Talk to who you will, all seem to have some particular trouble or (threat?) to contend with your brother. Joseph remains in the town as Bailiff for his (Land log?). He has behaved very kind to him. I should say he is freer from (law?) with trouble than he has been for years. His wife has been spending a little time with us and she a very good kind of woman. C. Brown and your sister are doing very comfortably. They are all with your sister. (Polly?) has been very poorly but is getting better. She has got a very nice little home and her husband is very (under~?). I think I told you in my last all [illegible] about (Nollen?). I shall suffer very much from my (heart?) and think I shall be taken off suddenly. God’s will be done. I pray that he will prepare me for that great event as I can do nothing of Myself.

Your Brother, (his?) Lucy and Myself are very happy. We have much to be thankful for though troubles often [illegible] and this is not our home for real happiness. You will see by the paper I send Your Aunt Sarah is leaving her farm. It has been sold and put to another. She is very much upset with husband but I suppose he is in a pretty good position and it is [sic] fearful times with farmers. Crops are very bad generally and labour fearful high amid Gents too. But I hope all will work together for some good. I hope to have it in my power to pay my way the short time I have to remain here.

I must now, my dear R., say adieu. God bless you and yours to whom we are much in affectionate love. Hoping to hear from you soon. Kisses to the dear children. Tell them Grandma has got a pretty little boy and would love to have a game to play with them again and will. God bless you. Believe me.

Your aff’t

Ellen died at the age of 81 years, 10 days on 13 Jul 1881.

Out of sixty letters, I seem to have only the three, but how fortunate I feel to have them. Too bad that no one had the foresight to transcribe and preserve them better. That kind of thing is much easier to do these days. Now that I’ve perhaps piqued my family’s interest in the Richards and Walford branches of the Prentis family, I have more entertaining, genealogical details for the same branches to post another day.

I have set aside large amounts of time in the last 40 years to finding and preserving my family’s history, but I am forever grateful for my aunt’s similar dedication and for the treasures saved, discovered, and left to me by her, my parents, grandparents, and other ancestors. I’m also grateful that I’ve kept some letters addressed to me and my children from our own grandparents, and hope that one day they will be as cherished by future generations as these Civil War era letters are by me today.

Richard Edward Richards

Richard Edward Richards

Sarah Walford Richards

Sarah Walford Richards

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Baking Dish

I think my birthday present turned out very nicely. Thank you. 🙂

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If my Babel Fish translator hasn’t let me down, my title should translate as “Until we meet again.” Our enjoyable, month-long visit from Jens flew by and ended much too soon with his departure on Saturday.

Although we enjoy opportunities that encourage us, as a family, to be more social and outgoing, we’re typically content with our normal, daily routines and busying ourselves behind laptops, books, and TVs in our spare time. With the most spare time, I am actually the hardest to pry from the house, but we did divert from the norm on occasion during his visit — even if one of our outings was only a family shopping trip to Costco to purchase mass quantities of “necessities.” Zoe immediately won him over and took an active role in at-home entertaining, while photo evidence* supports that Jenna was more involved in away-from-home entertaining. However, weather didn’t always cooperate as well with Jenna’s class schedule as she’d hoped during his visit. Still, with less activity and family conversation than he is probably used to (we’re kind of a quiet bunch), I think he understood, felt welcome, and didn’t get terribly bored with our mundane lifestyle.

All in all, we are pleasantly impressed with him, and agree with Zoe and Jenna that Jens makes for good company! We’re all anticipating future visits, including our affection-starved pets who immediately adopted him as their new, best friend — whether he wanted to be or not. Although he had good humor about taking a surplus of souvenir pet hair home with him, he did seem pleased when we offered an adhesive lint and pet hair roller as a parting gift.

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My paternal grandmother (Nana) initiated my interest in genealogy when I was ten years old. I had many family stories from her in writing over the years, but didn’t have anything recorded except names and dates from my mother’s side — even though a few stories had been shared orally.

For my maternal grandma’s 74th birthday, I gave her an empty journal and asked her to fill it when she felt like writing. I’m sure she took several weeks to fill it, but from the initial date and how it flows, it appears she began writing on her birthday and never stopped until she ran out of room. Too much for one blog post, I plan to break it into parts and eventually include it in its entirety.

She begins:

March 9, 1986
Age 74 years

My life began in one of the worst snow storms ever recorded in Iowa. It was March 9th, 1912, and Mother was to have a doctor from Kellerton, Iowa. That night when I decided to join the family, the snow was piled so high on the roads that there was no way for the Kellerton doctor to get there, so Mother’s brother, Fred Richardson, and Dad’s brother, Albert Stephens, went to Hatfield, Missouri and Doctor Dunkenson came back with them in a bobsled. After I was born, they took him back to Hatfield. On the way down and on the way back, they went across the fields and the snow was so hard and piled so high that they could go right over the fences.

Mother, Dad and Lola, my sister, 19 months old, accepted me into their home, located one and one-forth miles north of the Missouri-Iowa line at Lee, Iowa. Today the road is called P-64. At Lee, Iowa there was a large general store, etc., and north of the store close to the Missouri line on the west side of the road was the Lee school. After my mother graduated from there and went on to graduate from Kellerton High School, and also after going to Normal School in Mount Ayr, High School, she returned to the Lee School as its teacher. It was at one of the neighborhood gatherings that my dad and mother became friends. They later married in a home wedding in my grandparents’ home located one-half mile north and less than a mile west on the north side of the road from Lee School.

Dad and his brother Albert Stephens both graduated from Caledonia, Iowa school and also Auctioneer School in Davenport, Iowa. They followed this occupation along with farming and raising registered cattle and hogs. In their youth they followed the harvest in many states working north to the Dakotas. Their brother Roy was a school teacher and went on horseback several miles to his school, in all kinds of weather. He got tuberculosis of the lungs and back in those days, about the only thing to do for it was to go to a dry climate, so Dad and Albert took Roy in a covered wagon to Colorado for his health. He only got worse, so they came home where he died. Almost a year later, his younger brother died of the same thing. Roy was in his 20s and Earl was around 16 years old.

When I was one year old, my parents bought the place east of Caledonia and lived there the rest of their married life. Dad died January 13, 1970, and Mother died April 28, 1975. Her funeral was April 30, 1975. This would have been Mother’s 86th birthday. Dad lived to be 87 years old.

When I was four years old, the folks’ barn was built. There was almost a new house, cave, and chicken house on the farm when they moved there. They gave $100 an acre. We heated our house with wood that Dad and Albert cut from their farms. It was my job to bring in wood and pile it on the west side of the porch north of the kitchen after I got home from school.

Grandma and Lola

It was such a long trip to Mount Ayr over the dirt road that Mother didn’t go unless she had to get something. Lola and I didn’t get to go to Mount Ayr much until Lola went in town to stay at Mother’s aunt and uncle’s, the Dough Sullivan’s, when she went to High School. At 12 years old, Uncle Albert went to town every Saturday night when the roads were dry enough. By then he and Dad both had cars and they got a Tractor to farm with. Dad drove the tractor and Albert drove horses to farm. Albert asked us if we would like to go to town on Saturday night. This was in the summer before I was to go in town with Lola to go to High School. Lola was a senior and I was a freshman. We enjoyed the summer going with Albert. We went to the show and everyone walked around the square. All farmers and people in town went to town on Saturday night and the stores closed at one or one-thirty.

Lola graduated and I stayed in town at O.G. Spencer’s. Four of us girls lived upstairs there. High School years were good and I grew up a lot and learned a lot about boys. Some were nice and some not so nice. I had not had any playmates except in school when I was growing up, so I was quite shy, but in High School I learned how to get along with both girls and boys. There wasn’t much to do but go to the show and I didn’t have the money for that. The boys didn’t have money to spend on a girl, so all they could do was walk a girl home and carry her books after school. At night there was the library that was open until 9 PM. All the school kids would go there to get dates, but like I said before, there wasn’t anything to do but walk, for none of the High School kids could have a car then.

Grandma Main

These were the Depression years and times were hard. Our parents did pretty well to get our clothes, school things and feed us. When we stayed in town, we did our own cooking, most of the time from what we could bring from home. Many times, by the end of the week, we went to bed hungry because we didn’t have any money to go to town and get food when we ran out. We knew we could not go to Wilson’s Grocery Store and run up a big bill for Dad to pay, but we could go if it rained and we could not get home on the dirt roads. When we did charge food, we were to get bread, a little meat, potatoes, and things like that. No extras, but once in a while we slipped in some cookies or fruit. The milk was taken with us from home and soon soured, as there was no ice box. Few had electric refrigerators.

When Patty was born we had to keep her milk in the ice box. The ice man came and delivered ice from Jesse Anderson’s Feed Store.1 We could go there and buy ice for cold drinks and to make ice cream. Before Barbara was born, we got a used refrigerator with a round thing up on the top where some of the cooling parts were. Much later, we got a new one and a nice electric stove. Up until then, my stove was an oil stove. There were three burners and the oven was like a metal box that I put over the burners to bake cakes and oven dishes. I hated this green stove, for when I used it, the house smelled of the oil fumes. Most of the stoves were oil then. I also had a range stove in two houses. Before oil stoves, people cooked in coal and wood ranges. I remember Mother’s with the warming oven on top and a place to keep water hot on the side of it. The oven was between the fire box and water tank. We had a range stove to heat bath water.


1Jesse married my paternal great aunt, Edna Tennant.

Happy birthday, Grandma.

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Judging by last night’s turnout of four local precincts at our caucus/convention and the various state rallies, Obama should have had Texas. What a system, though. The caucus was ridiculously disorganized! With Jens accompanying us, we got there about 6:40 pm, only to realize at the last minute that Steve was still undecided and had not yet voted. The rest of us had voted early and assumed he had, too! He was directed to the long line around the back of the school building to vote in the Democratic Primary, or he could go to the short line inside to vote Republican. Put on the spot to choose in our presence, we teased with, “Vote whichever party you want — but we’ll know!” With that, he headed toward the long line, and the rest of us headed toward the Democratic caucus gathering in the cafeteria.

When we first arrived, there were plenty of seats. We passed a stack of small Obama signs, Jens helped himself to one as a souvenir, and we sat down. After a few minutes, we were directed to divide into our four precincts, with each taking a corner of the cafeteria, and soon the room was filled beyond capacity with people standing wherever they could fit. Although anyone eligible to caucus had already voted, we were increasingly uncomfortable being the only ones with the sign and Jens took it to the car. By the time he returned, Steve had joined us in the cafeteria.

Voting was closed at 7 pm, but anyone in line by closing was, of course, permitted to vote — and this continued for quite some time. The temporary chairwoman started signing us in for the caucus at about 7:15, when it was supposed to convene, but after only a handful of caucusers (caucus goers? conventioners?) had filled in the sheets, a very panicked female election judge ran in yelling, “Stop! We can’t start until the last voter finishes. Tear up those sheets!”

There was much arguing between election officials, but no one trying to explain anything to the caucus could be clearly heard above the crowd’s dull roar. Thankfully, someone from the crowd volunteered a megaphone, but even with that, the mumbled words of the soft-spoken temporary chairwoman could not be distinguished. Finally, a man who could enunciate and be heard took over and told us what was going on. We had at least another thirty minutes to wait for voting to end and for permission to assemble in other rooms.

With the four precincts in our caucus overflowing the school cafeteria, we were finally (after about an hour) granted permission to move at least two of the precincts into the library and gym. Our precinct completely filled the gym; however, after having arrived early to get a good place (and seats) in the cafeteria, we were now standing at the back of the lines in the gym — with all the late-comers at the front. The Obama supporters far outnumbered the Clinton supporters. We had at least eight lines of people signing in at three tables, while Clinton had one, maybe two, lines at another table. For those who didn’t bring proof of voting, there was yet another table where they could look them up. Jenna went into that line and reported that Clinton supporters were obnoxiously trying to cut in line ahead of her.

Then after sign-in had started and people had begun to leave, we were asked told to stay for a head count. I would imagine our crowd had diminished at least by half before this announcement was made by the temporary chair whose meek voice still couldn’t be understood over the megaphone (so annoying). Confused about why they couldn’t just count the signatures, it was finally explained that 33 precinct caucus delegates and 33 alternates (23 for Obama, 10 for Clinton) needed to be chosen from the remaining caucus to vote at the county convention March 29. Jenna will be one of our alternates. (Go, Jenna!)

Welcome to Texas: home of the most ludicrous, convoluted, and downright screwy Democratic primary system in America. Actually, it’s not even a primary; it’s a primary-caucus hybrid, the electoral equivalent of the turducken.”

The New Republic

The hard-fought Lone Star rumble captivated voters for weeks, and a record turnout led to long lines at the polls and delays and chaos in some precinct conventions afterward.

DMN Article1

Too many people and too little experience created chaos Tuesday night at several Texas caucuses. Complaints included biased election helpers, missing voter logs, fire code violations and not enough parking.

DMN Article 2

Also at tonight’s meetings, Republicans and Democrats will select the people they want to attend the county conventions. You could be one of those delegates if you get yourself nominated and get enough votes.

DMN Article 3

In Dallas County, turnout was twice that of 2004, and the most since at least 1980.

DMN Photos:
Obama’s Texas Primary Day | Clinton’s Texas Primary Day | McCain’s Texas Primary Day

As a side note, I was amused by this response to those 3 am Clinton ads:

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For Sunday, we had anticipated a family picnic and outing at the Dallas Arboretum, but mother nature decided to cool things off, spread a few showers, and ruin our plans. Instead, we spent a good part of Sunday indoors visiting the Dallas Museum of Art. Of course, there was much to see that we didn’t have time for, but we did purchase memberships (so we can go back the rest of the year for free), took an audio tour of the Turner exhibit where photos were prohibited, and took photos in other areas as permitted.

Photos: Ali’s Flickr | Blake’s Flickr |Jenna’s Flickr
DMA Collections: Highlights | J.M.W. Turner

By Sunday evening, the weather changed yet again, and on Monday morning, we awoke to a snow-covered yard.

As for the Dallas Arboretum. Oh, well… another day. We did get to see it last fall, though.

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As politically incorrect as “Gypsy Gyp,” which I called this story growing up, and the description of the fortune teller would be today, this is another tale of my mother’s childhood. To be more appropriate for today, this story should probably be renamed “The Fortune Teller,” although I’ve retained Mom’s original words.

From the time I was in fourth grade I had been playing the cornet, and by the time I was in Jr. High I finally reached the level of being accepted into the MAHS Band. From that time on, I played at every city, county and often state events in which the band was invited to participate. Sometimes we even received a small pittance for our services. For all city and county appearances we each received the huge amount of fifty cents per concert! It was during one of these events that the following story took place.

Then, in her best Sophia Petrillo voice…

Picture it: the Ringgold County Fair, 1947.

Mom, high school senior photo

With events both at the Fair Grounds and all around the entire city square, it seemed as if the population of the entire county turned out in full glory for these celebrations, and large carnivals were one of the biggest attractions, especially for the younger set.

Each day during the County Fair our band played two concerts, one in the afternoon at the Fair Grounds, and another in the city bandstand located in the middle of the square in the courthouse lawn. After our evening concert, we each received our ‘pittance’ for the day, a whopping total of one dollar for the two concerts. This sum, naturally, was spent at the carnival or on refreshments, and was soon gone.

The summer before my junior year in high school, during the County Fair and following the evening concert, after receiving our ‘pay,’ a girlfriend and I decided to be really daring and go to the Gypsy tent and have our fortunes told. Standing outside her tent, this decrepit shriveled up old hag was chanting over and over, “Fortooooons I tell yooooo…just fifteeeeee cents!” Well, Phyllis and I each had our dollar, and since we had already made up our minds to learn the unknown… we each handed her a dollar. We were escorted into her tent, asked to sit at the table, and then told she would have to go to her trailer for our change, and she would be right back.

Well, you guessed it, an eternity passed, and not one sign of the old dilapidated shriveled up Gypsy, or our change; however, we were two naive rural bumpkins and still thought she would return. After waiting another ten or fifteen minutes, it finally ‘hit’ us… my gawd! She wasn’t coming back! We then went out the back entrance of the tent, and bravely knocked on her trailer door… Of course, no sound from the trailer, and no response to our constant pounding. It was then, that we became a bit wiser and realized we had been taken for a buck apiece, so we devised our revengeful tactics.

Now since neither of us had any money, and could do nothing else at the carnival, we spent the next hour or so standing in front of this Gypsy’s tent shouting constantly the following chant: “Fortooooons she tell yooooo…just fifteeeeee cents to get eeen and fifteeeeee cents to get out!” Naturally, no one attempted to enter the tent, and her business dropped off like a lead balloon. We were quite an attraction, and probably should have passed the hat among our appreciative audience. We were having the time of our lives, even though our money we ‘blew’ for had been blown!

Well, by coincidence, my neighbor (and good friend of the family who bore a striking resemblance to Gunsmoke’s Matt Dillon) was the Deputy Sheriff on duty that evening. As he strolled by us he hesitated, looked around at the crowd, then at us, winked and asked us if we were having fun. It was then we told him our sad story of being cheated out of a ‘day’s wages’ by this hag, and we were merely revengefully getting our money’s worth. He then burst into an uncontrollable roaring belly laugh. Finally, after what seemed forever, he composed himself enough to suggest we accompany him to the Gypsy’s tent and he would see that we were refunded all our money. Of course, when this towering 6’6″ pistol-packing Deputy Sheriff in full uniform pounded on her door and uttered the words…. “Open up in the name of the law!” she did not hesitate to answer the door. It took him about five seconds to retrieve our dollars and order her to remove her tent and trailer and to ‘get outta town.’ Even more amazing was that it seemed to take her no longer than the next five seconds to dismantle the tent and drive off with her trailer….

After we stood and watched her departure, our hero, the Deputy, escorted us both to one of our favorite hangouts — Barney Horne’s Drug Store — and bought us each a double dip ice cream cone with cherries on top as sort of a reward for being ‘crime stoppers.’ Well, we always assumed the ice cream was our reward, but I think it was that he was just a nice guy. I do know this — he enjoyed telling the story over and over to anyone who would listen, as I have enjoyed telling it to my children and grandchildren throughout the years.

To this day, I have never again desired to have my future told, but I sure do enjoy a double dip cone!

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A story about my mom — in her own words.

Much to my dislike, but because of my mother’s insistence, I was forced to endure one class of home economics each day of my four years of high school. Our class usually consisted of around twenty girls, which is not an uncommon class size; however, the home ec. department was not well endowed with appliances or other facilities needed for proper hands-on instruction. We were to share the four sewing machines during the times sewing was our project, and it was required you do all your sewing in class. With only three kitchen ranges, it became rather hectic when we were in the cooking or baking mode, but it was during one of those cooking and baking modes that caused the following event to evolve:

The Superintendent treated the entire teaching staff to a ‘Teacher’s Tea’ after school hours on the last Thursday of every month. And for this occasion each home ec. class baked cookies. Now, mind you, there were four classes of home ec. each day, and we all spent two class periods baking this humongous amount of cookies. All four classes spending two days baking cookies created several dishpans full of cookies, which were stored under lock and key in the department’s pantry. Now, if you can imagine, this little school had an entire teaching staff, grades K-12 of less than twenty-five….. Just how many cookies do they need? Needless to say, none of us were allowed even so much as a taste of these goodies, as ‘there wouldn’t be enough for the tea, if we were to eat any!’ I’m sure by now you have an inkling as to what followed.

It was to be the last ‘Teacher’s Tea’ of my senior year, and as usual, we were baking for two days, storing away in the pantry, and watching our instructor lock the door and then place the key in the middle drawer of her desk. Well, the entire class was completely fed up with the way we were made to bake all these goodies and never allowed to eat any, but only four of us would decide to correct that situation. We were well aware of our home ec. instructor’s free period time, and her daily habit of going to the hot lunch room to consume her little mid-afternoon snack, a Bermuda onion sandwich! We all had other classes or duties, but decided we would each ask to be excused for a restroom break at exactly five minutes after our home ec. instructor’s break began. With three of us in different classrooms and one serving as secretary for the Superintendent that hour, no one would be the wiser.

At the predesignated time, we all left our respective classrooms, and even though we each had to walk by the Superintendent’s office which was next to the home ec. department, we quickly made it to our destination, obtained the key from the desk, unlocked the pantry and began our ‘Great Cookie Caper’ in full swing! The pans of cookies were removed from the pantry, the door locked, and the key returned to the desk where we had found it. We each carried one of these huge pans heaping with a variety of delicious cookies and made our way to the tunnel under the stage in the gymnasium. As the side door of the home ec. department led directly to the stairs down to that tunnel, we successfully maneuvered without being seen by anyone. With the cookies safely in place, we returned to our respective classes or duties as if nothing had taken place except a long restroom break.

Now, you’re probably wondering just what ever happened to all those cookies, and what did the teachers nibble on during their ‘Tea. ‘Prior to our ‘Liberation Heist’ of the cookies, and even though we were not positive our plan would work, our ‘gang of four’ managed to successfully spread the word via the grapevine to every student in high school that there would be goodies in the tunnel after 2:30 p.m….free for the taking, compliments of the ‘Teacher’s Tea’ and home ec department!

By 3:00 p.m., as we passed through the halls going from class to class, it was very evident the cookies were being thoroughly enjoyed and consumed by all, as the halls were already strewn with cookie crumbs from end to end. Every pocket of every student was stuffed with cookies, but not a soul said a word about the cookies, where they came from, or how it was made possible — not even the Superintendent as he strolled the halls nibbling a chocolate chip cookie. However, he did have a twinkle in his eye, a huge grin on his face, and winked as we passed in the hall. And I heard him exclaim as he walked out of sight, “So much for the cookies at tea for tonight!”

Mom, high school senior

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I’ve always enjoyed genealogy and sharing family stories with my kids. Now that I’m a Nana, it somehow seems even more urgent (and fun!) for me to record things for prosperity so that our descendants will know the people from whom they came — even if for the most part, they were very “ordinary” people, living very “ordinary” lives.

My parents were both good story-tellers about their early years. Dad has his own blog now, and with enough coaxing, perhaps Mom will do the same. There are three main stories I loved so much as a child that I gave them titles and have retold them to my own children. They may remember them, but it’s good to have them in writing. One of my favorites involved my dad as a child in the 1930s, when my grandparents decided to modernize the monstrous coal-burning furnace in the basement of their house. Dad often told me the story of “the mysterious furnace,” which he once used as a subject of a school paper. Unfortunately, the paper no longer exists, but to the best of my recollection, I will retell his story:

Young Dad

One winter, my father’s parents decided to convert their coal furnace to electricity. My grandmother’s cousin, Charlie Trimble, was an electrician in their small rural town. They asked him to come over and wire the furnace for electricity.

Granddad watched as Charlie finished up the job. The furnace worked well and soon the whole house was toasty warm. Granddad and Charlie climbed the stairs, turned off the light, and Charlie departed. Shortly after Charlie left, the house began to get chilly, so Granddad decided he had better check on the furnace. He flipped on the light switch at the top of the stairs and descended to the basement. Expecting to find something wrong with the furnace, he was puzzled to find it roaring away. Satisfied that the furnace appeared to be working properly, he went back up the stairs and flipped off the light.

Much time passed and still the house did not warm up so he called Charlie back to see what the trouble was. Charlie and Granddad returned to the basement, turning the light on as they climbed down the stairs. When they reached the furnace it was roaring loudly. Charlie could not figure out the problem—he checked it all over and could find nothing wrong. All the time he was there, the furnace ran perfectly and the house again grew warm, but shortly after Charlie left, the house cooled off once more.

While Charlie and Granddad had been working on the furnace, my dad had been playing outdoors. He knew they were having a lot of trouble getting the furnace to work right. When Dad decided to go into the house, he entered through the outside basement doors, thinking Granddad and Charlie might still be there. The basement was quiet as he stumbled in the darkness up the stairs to turn on the light. As he flipped on the switch, the furnace began to roar. Startled, he turned around to look, and then decided to run and tell Granddad that the furnace was working again. However, just as he flipped off the light switch, the furnace abruptly stopped! Wondering why it had stopped so suddenly, he turned the light back on to have a look and just as he did, the furnace started up. He turned the light off and the furnace quit. He turned the light on and the furnace roared—he did this several times in amazement, and then ran to tell Granddad about the weird goings-on.

XT Prentis

Granddad hurriedly went to the basement to check out my dad’s unexplained mystery. He discovered that by mistake, Charlie had hooked the furnace up to the light at the top of the stairs, so whenever someone had been in the basement the furnace worked beautifully and pumped out the heat, but as soon as they had gone back upstairs and turned off the light, the electricity to the furnace was disconnected and the furnace stopped working! My dad had solved the case of the mysterious furnace. Charlie returned to the house and rewired the electrical connection so that it would operate on a different circuit.

Whenever my dad told this amusing story, my mother would jokingly add, “That’s probably the only time in your life you remembered to turn off the light when you left a room!” Mom grew up in the same small town and even though Charlie really was a very good electrician, word must have gotten around about his goof, because she also recalled her own father saying, completely in jest, “If you want some electrical work done properly, for heaven’s sake, don’t call Charlie Trimble!”

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