Sunday, December 27, 2009


"Son, I don't think you are well enough to go to the Christmas program." In mid-December of 1931 I had been running a temperature due to a cold. At mother's stern pronouncement, my world fell apart.

During the years of the Great Depression, the annual school Christmas program shone as a bright spot in that little one-room schoolhouse in Brooklyn valley near East Otto. Missing the only Christmas festivities of the whole year seemed more than I could handle.

I had already been psyched up by helping to build a crude stage at the front of the classroom, by decorating the Christmas tree with popcorn and handmade ornaments, and by daily practice of recitations, songs and skits. With only fifteen students spread over the eight grades, I, along with others, had memorized and practiced multiple parts. Besides missing participation in the program, I would lose out on the exchange of gifts presided over by Santa Claus and the distribution of the little red bags of hard candy that included one chocolate. Despair deepened as I contemplated this unfair fate.

After lunch, as they were leaving the house to visit a sick parishioner, mother and father cautioned: "Stay by the stove and rest."

As soon as they had departed, I had an inspiration. One of the remedies peddled by the Watkins dealer was a potent brown liquid called Watkins Liniment. Directions read: "Apply externally to aching joints or muscles. Internal use: Mix a half-teaspoon of liniment in a glass of water and drink."

I needed a miracle, even one of my own making. I reasoned that if a little bit of the stuff were beneficial, a greater dose would be more effective. So I poured a glass half-full of the medication and finished filling it with water. From prior experience, I knew the potion would be bitter and burn. The only way to get it down was to swallow it quickly without stopping to breathe. Once again, that technique worked.

Gasping for breath, I felt my insides were aflame. Sweat copiously poured from my pores. A spasm of chills followed as I huddled next to the roaring fire in the woodstove. In agony of both body and mind, I awaited the sound of the returning auto.

The moment mother entered the house, she exclaimed, "What do I smell?" I had been burping the horrible stuff. Since it was alcohol-based, it's a wonder that the fumes hadn't caught fire!

"You know how much I hate taking Watkins Liniment," I pled. (How well mother did know that!) "I wanted so much to get well enough to go to the Christmas program that I took a strong dose."

"How strong?" mother demanded.

She gasped when I revealed the 50/50 mixture.

"Let me take your temperature." She insisted.

From the burning within, I expected the mercury to soar. Twice she returned the thermometer to my mouth before admitting, "It reads normal."

"Then I can go!" I shouted, jumping up and down in my eagerness.

Reluctantly mother agreed. To this concession she attached one stern proviso: "Promise me that you will never pull this stunt again."

"I promise!" was my prompt reply. That was one promise that I scrupulously kept.

But I still remember Watkins Liniment as "The medicine that saved Christmas."

Monday, December 21, 2009


At the end of a hot afternoon we decided to camp at Leola, South Dakota Village Park. We thought it sounded like a rustic spot before looking up Ordway Prairie, a Nature Conservancy area and our next destination in this examination of prairies. Deciding to have supper before setting up camp, we had just started to eat when several cars filled with young people arrived. We were treated to a gratis concert of loud music accompanied by language not in our vocabulary. With no other campers in sight, we decided that it appeared to bode an unpleasant evening to stay there. When drinking was added to the mix, quickly we departed to look for the Nature Conservancy area.

Although we were aware of the general “No Camping” restrictions at sanctuaries, it seemed like the only option. Glen and Sally Plum, who were managers of the operation, welcomed us. They decided that this would fall within the guidelines as Betty was studying prairie habitat. We pitched our little blue tent not far from the buildings so restroom facilities were available.

Although it was early evening, Glen drove to where we could see the buffalo grazing and discussed the future plans for enlarging the herd. The contrast with what the evening promised to be was striking. The future appeared much rosier.

The following days were filled with learning experiences. We looked at the various types of terrain. We saw a variety of wildflowers that spot the land with color. We noted the richness of waterfowl life that inhabited the waterholes that dot the landscape. The great buffalo brought to mind the time when they held sway over the western plains. Coupled with the wildlife was the food they needed to grow and proliferate.

Out here on the prairie we felt surrounded by a myriad of stars. Tracing the numerous constellations was thrilling. The bright array called for the telescope. we had left at home due to space limitations. The open sky, unobstructed in any direction, offered its wealth of lights twinkling like jewels in a rich velvet setting.

Along in the last afternoon of our stay at Ordway, as we were returning from a hike, we were given a warning.

“Pack up your tent right away,” Glen told us. “A tornado is coming this direction.”

“Why not pick up the whole tent and bring it inside the Quonset hut. That would be easier than taking it down,” suggested one of the helpers.

*Great idea,” I agreed and started pulling up the stakes.

In almost no time everything including the car was safe under cover.
“Everyone to the shelter,” urged Glen.

With the doors shut, how quiet it was here in the place prepared. The blowing wind, that had started to gust vigorously, was silenced here. The tones of voice of all gathered here were muted. Not until after a half hour or more when the danger had passed was the conversation normal. Free of constraint with the crisis past, all returned to their normal activities.

As I looked skyward, I called out, “Look at the rainbow. It’s double.”

Perfect in its spanning across the whole scene, all of the colors of the rainbow appeared to be in perfect harmony. The arcs were a double blessing to underline again God’s promise to not blot out humanity by water.

Instead of setting up camp again for one night, Betty and I spread out our Thermorest mattresses on the concrete floor of the Quonset hut. We had slept dry and comfortable. The next morning after saying our goodbyes and thanks to Glen and Sally Plum, as we were driving out we couldn’t help but notice the ragged remains of a tent plastered on a fence. Truly we felt thankful to have been spared from the tornado.

Monday, December 14, 2009


"I'm going for a ride," announced Danny as he got up from the supper table.

"Don't stay out late with classes tomorrow," Betty cautioned him.

"I'll keep that in mind," Danny responded as went out the back door.

In moments I heard the Honda fire up and away he went. Having passed the test for operating the cycle, he was now freed from being accompanied by a licensed driver, which was me. The relief was double, as I felt as ill at ease on the back of the cycle as he did driving it under my supervision. I couldn't imagine how my presence back there could aid in an emergency.

The evening was a busy one for me as I had three classes to prepare for the next day. Preparing lessons kept me constantly busy as I was still teaching material that was new to me. Soon I was absorbed in the process of presentation of styles of leadership with reference to Christ's methods of leading his disciples. It made me wonder how it fitted into real life.

At ten o'clock I was still laboring but had begun to listen for sounds of Danny's return. I still had more preparation to do so I kept at it, keeping in mind that what wasn't done tonight would mean getting up early the next morning. Ten-thirty came and then eleven o'clock. By now I was getting sleepy.

Betty stopped by my office. "I'm going to bed now. I'll have to get up early to finish my preparation."

"I haven't heard Danny come in yet. Sleep won't come easily to me until I know he's home safely," was my response.

"Did he say where he was going?" she asked.

"You know he didn't say where he was headed," was my response.

"Do you have any idea where we might call?" Betty wanted to know.

"I don't have a clue," I admitted.

"It's getting late to call anyone. Why don't you go to bed," she urged me.

"I'll stay up a while longer. You look beat," was my judgment.

"All right then. I'll try to get to sleep. Let me know as soon as he comes," Betty conceded as she closed the door.

My mind did anything but rest. I wondered what kind of accident could have befallen him. Was he injured and have gone off the road? He hadn't had a great amount of experience yet and would he be able to judge what to do? Out in the country would there be anyone to help him?

I picked up "The Wall Street Journal" and tried hard to concentrate on what I was reading. After a bit I gave that up. The words didn't make any sense. I couldn't keep my mind on what I was reading.

Of course I was praying. That was one thing I could do. As I prayed I began to feel somewhat reassured but where was my boy? The clock struck midnight. Where was Danny right now?

Danny's bedroom was immediately over my office. I suddenly became aware that I could hear someone snoring. Listening carefully, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Softly I tiptoed up the squeaky stairs. Carefully I opened his door. There he was snoring peacefully away.

"Thank you, Lord," I murmured as I watched him sleep.

Closing the door softly, I tiptoed down the stairs. Betty stirred in bed so I told her what I had found.

"What did he do to get there without your hearing him?" she asked.

"I don't know. But now I'm going to sleep," was my answer

In the morning I had questions for him as soon as he appeared.

"Son, I want to know how you got to bed without my hearing you?" I queried.

"Dad. I didn't want to disturb you so I shut off the motor on the way into town and quietly pushed the bike into place. Then I walked upstairs to my room and went to bed," he explained. "It was about nine-thirty, so I went right to bed."

"That is all OK. But next time please take a moment to bid me GOODNIGHT."

Monday, December 7, 2009


Some holidays stand out from the rest based on the people who were the guests.
Others were remembered for the setting in which they took place. Yet another is recalled for heralding an outstanding event. But in this instance it was to mark the celebration of ownership of the first home that was really ours. For this, we had cause for thanksgiving.

The idea of a home was generalized until Lee and Joyce Houseknecht arrived in Ellensburg and had purchased a house. They convinced Betty and me that it would be a relatively easy process since they had recently completed the task before moving west. They offered us a lot on their land next door to where they had purchased. We could start right away and save paying rent by having our three children move in with them while we set up housekeeping in the empty dog kennel behind their house. They made it all seem so easy that we proceeded to do exactly that. We didn’t even have time to consider what that would do to our family’s life. Lee was anxious to get the house started at once.

We lost no time in getting the foundation started. Jack Morrow, a rancher friend, arrived the following day with his diesel caterpillar to dig the foundation. We had assumed that the land would be suitable. To everyone’s amazement the site proved to be a sinkhole. By quick action he retrieved his rig and headed back to the ranch.

At this point we decided to locate another site. Miraculously we were able to buy an acre from a farmer three miles from town and across the Yakima River. This offered an unobstructed view of Mount Stuart to the north. It was the perfect spot.

I had made no estimate of cost and decided this would require financing. Approaching the bank president, Victor Bouillon, I laid out my plans. Two things were looked on favorably. The new site was beautiful and I was a friend of Harold Overland. The latter fact was the basis for granting a construction loan of $5,000 with no strings attached.

My first concern was the drilling of a well. Miller Brothers was eager for the job. At that moment I was assured that water was readily available, never dreaming none of it would be available until the house was habitable.

It was a long hot summer. Betty and I were on the job as soon as we could see to drive a nail. Having a wife who could keep the hammer flying made the work progress apace. We then rushed home so I could grab a quick breakfast before going to the office. Another quick meal and then back to the lot I went.

The term perc or percolate were practically unheard of in those times. When we were ready to install the septic tanks, it became clear that our tools were not adequate. It took the power of a jackhammer to penetrate the rock. Our crew had a man who could handle the tool. Without this persuader, the ground would not have been penetrable.

After supper I would head back for another stint. Crossing the river was a curved section of bridge. Coming towards me was a truckload of baled hay not secured to keep it from falling apart on the curve. I pulled the Hudson against the rail, lying down in the seat. The large bales smashed the windshield and crumpled the front end of the car. That evening I accomplished nothing on the project other than getting the wrecked Hudson home.

Darkness increased as the season closed in, bringing greater urgency. When Mr. Miller finally announced that he had struck water, we were ready for a celebration. Thanksgiving Day was to be the time to offer our praise to God for the many trials that we had overcome. Surely nothing now could dampen our joy.

Betty and the children set the table the night before. All was in readiness for the special commemorative meal. We retired with a special sense of gratitude.

We couldn’t afford a turkey but had settled for a large roasting hen purchased just the evening before. It was covered with a clear plastic wrap, making it appear to be special.

When Betty appeared with a woeful expression on her face, I asked: “What’s the matter?”

“Come, get a whiff of this bird,” she urged.

As soon as the wrappings were removed, the odor of decaying meat filled the kitchen. We had no meat to take its place.

“What can we do now? There isn’t a store open,” Betty moaned. In those days the present rash of 24 hour availability of food items was unheard of.

“Let’s go to the store to see if we can find any one there,” I suggested.

Placing the rejected bird in the trunk, we headed for town. We drove into a completely empty parking lot at the Bi Lo Mart.

“Don’t see anyone here. I’ll try knocking on the window,” I offered.

About to give up, I heard the sound of feet. The latch turned, and there stood Mr. Gilmour, the proprietor. “What can I do for you?” he asked quizzically. “I was just checking on the new controls that were installed.”

I explained the problem. One whiff was better than many words. “Here is a fresh turkey,” he offered. “You won’t need to defrost this one. And here is your money back on the spoiled bird. Have a Happy Thanksgiving.”

So now you can understand why this turned out to be a Thanksgiving to be remembered.