Saturday, December 29, 2007

Good Things About CV and Small Towns

The good thing about small towns is that you know everyone and everyone knows (of/about) you. The not so wonderful thing is exactly the same! The Cedar Vale of my memories is a good place full of honest and friendly people, and a few “ornery boys”. Sometimes, I’m sure, I was one of those boys.

Contrary to what you may have inferred from my previous posts, I do not believe that growing up in Cedar Vale was negative for me. I have many happy memories of CV and the people there. I would not trade my experiences for any other. I like the people and atmosphere, but I would probably not consider moving back because of the wonderful setting that I am in now.

I was privileged to have most things that money would buy, as my father had figured out in his later years how to make more than just a living. I knew that I had more spending money than some of my friends, but I did not believe that we were rich or wealthy. Looking back, I know that we were “well off” and that I was lucky to the “late” child in the family.

One of the good things about small towns is that school class sizes are smaller and you can get more individual attention. Of course, that also comes with reduced choices of subjects. High school was not a waste of time for me as I really enjoyed many of the classes and activities. However, it did not challenge me very much … except for Spanish (irony now!). This was a big problem when I got to Kansas State University and had problems with many classes from the start. I eventually figured it out and graduated with a BS in Radio-TV from Oklahoma State (no foreign language required for a BS at OSU!).

I never though much about what was lacking in CV as I had use of a car and could drive to Ark City, Winfield, or Wichita for anything that we did not have. Electronic parts were ordered from Chicago. In later years as I returned to visit, it became apparent that what we had when I was growing up had mostly dried up and gone away. That is a real shame, but somewhat understandable.

I probably enjoyed the time in CV from age 7 through 14 the most. When I was 7, we moved to CV from the farm. As I have mentioned, I had my own playground with a “ranch” at the edge of town.

I have fond memories of Margaret Robinson (Kennedy) and the “extras” that her family provided to myself and the others in our class. Margaret’s folks paid to have an instructor come to their house to teach our entire class to dance. What little I know about dancing came from that experience. They also built a tennis court where I spent many hours playing. It was the only tennis court in CV. I also used to go to her house early on Saturday mornings to watch TV, before we had a set at home. Her mom was always patient with me, even though Margaret might still be sleeping.

Another good thing about CV is the hunting and fishing opportunities that I took advantage of while growing up. I no longer hunt or fish but the memories are good.

When I was growing up I couldn’t figure out why all of the good, church going people would loudly proclaim love, peace and forgiveness on Sunday and exhibit very different behaviors on the other six days of the week. Later, a pastor asked my why I didn’t come to church more often. I said; “It seems that many who come are hypocrites.” His reply was; “Come on down, there’s always room for one more!” How true.

Those who have gone through a divorce or other tragedy often find that those individuals thought to be close friends disappear, while others who may not have been close now befriend us in great and unusual ways. This has happened to me, not only later in life, but in my experiences in CV both with teachers and individuals that my father helped greatly, but who later refused to help me in the smallest of ways. I have become stronger and less dependent on the support and opinions of others because of this. As I expect less from people, I often am pleasantly surprised when I receive more.

I have spent a lot of time in independent spiritual study and I have found that which is true for me. One definition of “truth” is “a consensus to reality”, so whatever you believe is OK with me. Some might say I have become “enlightened” and words often mean what they say. However, I think the most important thing that I have learned and wish to pass on is this: “Both before and after enlightenment, one must cut wood and carry water.”

I wish a happy, healthy, peaceful, and prosperous New Year for each of you!

Jay D. Mills – Volcan, Chiriqui, Panama 12-29-07

Saturday, December 22, 2007


1 I just spoke with Shirley Brown and she had word from her daughter-in-law (who is Judy Huddle French's daughter) that Judy had come thru the surgery very well and will stay in the Wichita hospital (I don't know which one) another day or two. As soon as possible Judy will be taken back to Neodesha for rehab in the specialty facility there.

2 Some will remember that I wrote of a hospital tenant, a nursing home facility, and a new grocery store. Well everything is on hold--still. The longer it takes to develop the more doubtful I become. Nothing is dead yet, so maybe something will happen after the first of 2008.
The person who will install a grocery store says it will happen after the hospital is occupied.

3 I hear a goodly amount of favorable reaction from those who have seen postings in the CV Lookout. Now I know of some CV grads, younger than us, in their 30s, who have found the site and are starting to explore it. Joel Haden III says he is telling his crowd about it and recommending it.

4 Wintry mix and rain started falling about 11 am today. now the temperature has dropped and sleet mixed with snow is falling heavily and the wind is gusting. I know you all wish you were here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ice Storm Photo

Does this look familiar all you ex CVers? This photo just in from Don Cox. He tells me that CV missed this one but there are more coming.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My Offspring

Gary White

Excellent choice of topic, Diane. I’ll give you the complete rundown on my offspring.

My daughter, Steph, lives and works in Portland, OR. She is a store manager in a big box store—a local chain, not one of the biggies. Her partner K. C. is disabled and takes care of the home. Steph was born in 1969 in Ames, IA, where I was teaching.

My son, Greg, lives and works just outside of Boulder, CO. He and his wife, Kristin, have two boys, Owen, age 3, and Max, age 6. Greg is a research engineer for a group called Cable Labs, which does research and development for the cable TV and communications industry, world wide. He is currently hard at work on the next generation of cable modems that will link all communications systems in your home, including security, internet, phone, TV, other two-way communications, etc. He was born in 1970, also in Ames. Kristin is a speech pathologist for the school system in their area.

My stepson, Jesse, lives and works in Irvine, CA. He and his wife, Yui, have a little girl, Sophie, age 4 months. Jesse is a programmer for the computer gaming industry, a position he has had for around 14 years. He does the deepest, most complicated programming that makes the games operate. I don’t really understand what that is about. Yui, who is a Japanese citizen, works in the export/import industry where she can use her language abilities in Chinese, Japanese, and English. Jesse was born in 1970, and was a classmate of my son, Greg, and his wife, Kristin.

A Look at My Life

I’ve been thinking some about how a little music education can ruin one’s experience as an audience member. I remember commenting to one son how much I enjoyed the school band’s performance and he came back with, “Mom, you’ve got a tin ear,” then proceeded to tell what mistakes were made.

In 1978 when my oldest son went to college, I started Southwestern College as a junior after taking classes at Cowley County (junior college) for about seven years while working at the state hospital. I was in my late thirties as my son was born when I was eighteen. (I was a divorced mom in 1970.)

A few years into my college education I remember how different it was to hear a performance. I was becoming a cynical critic, but I had enough maturity to know with whom I should share my opinion. In spite of my musical education, I’ve always enjoyed my son’s performances and hopefully gave appropriate comments to them. They can spot phony praise a mile away.

I’m curious about the blog member’s off-spring. We’ve heard about the births of Wayne’s kids. How about the rest of you? What are your children doing now? If any are bums and/or in jail just omit that one. A friend of mine says if they’re not in jail they’re doing great!

My children are Jeff Gordon, age 47 runs his own business at home doing computer graphic drawings for patent attorneys. Also, since moving to Wichita a year ago has been doing a lot of trumpet work through the union and word of mouth. He teaches a combo class at Friends University and plays in the faculty jazz quintet, while working on his degree in jazz trumpet performance at WSU where his wife works as fund raiser for the fine arts department. They have two sons, Archer, who is ten plays the French horn, and Justin, eight, who plays basket ball and loves to sing and dance.

My second son, Thad Gordon, has had a sad life as he has dealt with a mental illness since age 19. He is now 43 and lives in a facility in Peabody. Perhaps Thad at one time was the most talented of my boys. He received a one-plus on his trombone solo his junior year of high school and wrote an interesting arrangement of “Scarborough Fair” in a high school arranging class that was performed by the high school band, among many other accomplishments.

Well, I did it again. I am the worst when talking about my boys. Sorry. When they were growing up I don’t remember trying to influence them in music. Believe me, they were in many other activities. However, they really had a lot of musical influence from both me and their talented dad, Tom Gordon.

Hope to hear from the rest of you about your family.

A Bad Winter

It feels like a good day to put up a quote from my recently acquired copy of CV One Hundred and Five Years. I've been sitting by the piñon fire in my office reading this book. Makes our trials and tribulations seem pretty small in comparison.

The frigid winter weather that started New Year's Day 1886, and which included all of Kansas, had temperatures of 10 to 20 degrees below zero for most of the month. ONe storm followed another. Thousands of cattle died on the open range along with jackrabbits, prairie chickens, antelopes, and birds of every description. (Antelopes???) Animals froze even when sheltered in barns. It is reported that Ed Hewins had a loss of cattle from which he never recovered. Other ranchers suffered similar losses.

Some accounts say nearly 100 people were found frozen to death in their homes where they had exhausted all fuel, burned all furniture except their beds, then had gone to bed to try to keep warm. Many others died in the open while seeking shelter. A stage coach driver froze to death in his seat and the horses brought the stage coach in without the passengers knowing their driver was dead. Records do not reflect any loss of human life due to freezing in the Cedar Vale vicinity.

Winter Memories

I woke up this morning to ice on the streets of Santa Fe. That took me right back to days growing up in Cedar Vale when ice would coat the whole world and shut everything down. I'm reading that you may be in the midst of just such a storm again. If so, take care, stay warm, and let us know how you are doing.

It might be a good time to write about the current weather situation, and memories of winters past. I am wondering if the kids are sledding down Main/Cedar Street today. Other news and memories??

Thursday, December 6, 2007

CV One Hundred and Five Years

In today's mail came my copy of the history of CV as it was published in 1975. What a treasure! I feel so lucky to have found a copy for sale. It was the only copy I saw on I have just thumbed through for the first time and already I'm finding many pictures and articles that I will be quoting from in future postings. A little history of this copy of the book is in order.

The name on the title page is: Freda Underwood, 615 Harter, Winfield, 1996. The book is in perfect condition and someone took the trouble to have most of the Cedar Vale Historical Society Book Committee autograph the book. The only signatures missing are Harold and Myrtle Cox. (Sorry about that, Don.)

I know that several of you own copies of the book, Don and Naomi/Bea Howell for sure. I want to thank Naomi/Bea in particular for bringing the book to my attention and setting me off on the search.

In the process I came across another small book about CV, published, they say in the late 19th century. I've ordered that book also and will let you all know what I find there.

So, if I turn up missing here on the blog for a few days, you'll know that I'm busy turning the pages of my latest treasure from good ole CV.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The McDowell Colony

by Gary White

I am creating these pieces so my children and grandchildren get to know who I was and what my life was like. I'm not putting all of them up on the blog, but when there is a Midwestern reference I'm posting them here.

In 1975 I was accepted as a visiting composer at The MacDowell Colony, the oldest artists’ colony in the US. Founded in 1907 by the widow of American composer Edward MacDowell, the colony provides “an inspiring environment in which to produce enduring works of the imagination.” One applies for a residency with a creative project and one is accepted on the basis of the quality of one’s previous creative work. The colony provides room and board and the exclusive use of a studio. Composers’ studios include a grand piano, writing desk, and other furniture. If the artist is a visual artist, the studio includes complete equipment to pursue creative work. Film makers are provided for with a complete production facility onsite. If you want to read more about the Colony click on the title to this piece.

The daily routine at the Colony is breakfast on one’s own in the dining room, lunch delivered in a picnic hamper to your studio, and dinner in the main house with the other “colonists.” Residents at MacDowell Colony call themselves colonists.

I applied for a one-month residency and arrived at the Colony in October, 1975. My cabin/studio was placed well back in the woods and had a stunning view of the forest. The cabin was nicely finished all in knotty pine and a hardwood floor. There was a small porch at the front. The walls of the cabin were decorated with a dozen or more large slabs of pine, called “tombstones” by the colonists, with autographs of all the previous inhabitants of the studio. An impressive list of signatures it was. To make a list of the signatures in my studio would be name-dropping, but the names would be known to anyone familiar with mid-twentieth-century US composers. I spent the first day being overwhelmed by my surroundings. As a small-town boy from southern Kansas I felt intimidated by the big names all around me on the walls. Soon, however, I got to work on my project and settled into the routine of the Colony.

To get some picture of what life at the Colony was like, imagine twenty or thirty high-strung artists with big egos bouncing around the rural New Hampshire countryside and meeting every evening for dinner. Dinner-table conversation routinely included stories of artists who had “gone off the deep end” while in residence, discussions of who was more famous than whom, and guarded statements about how one’s own work was going.

One “deep end” story will give you the general picture. It seemed that an artist who was in residence when one of my contemporary colonists was there refused to leave the Colony at the end of her stay. The staff found her in the morning in the kitchen tied to the kitchen stove. Professionals had to be called in to talk her down and get her on her way.

The “more famous than whom” stories included discussions of prizes won, articles in New Yorker, New York Times reviews, etc. The majority of the artists at the MacDowell Colony reside in New York City and what the Times says is considered to be the gospel truth. As a small-town boy from the Midwest I felt that I was undoubtedly the least famous person at the Colony. No one took any effort to disabuse me of that perception.

In any group of twenty or thirty artists in the midst of the creative process there will always be some whose work is going well, some who are struggling, and a few suffering from absolute creative block. This makes for an atmosphere filled with underlying tension. There were occasional emotional outbursts and other forms of acting out. I witnessed an evening when one of the Colonists leapt up on a dining table, did a furious dance, and ran from the room in tears. Other colonists took such events totally in stride, having witnessed nearly everything before.

Day-to-day life was fairly intense. There was my own struggles with my project, the egos of the other colonists to deal with, and predictably unpredictable behavior at dinner. Artists would be found to be missing, sometimes for several days and the staff would become concerned about their well being. There was an absolute rule at the Colony that no one but the colonist him or herself could enter the studio without being invited. “Missing” colonists could sometimes be tracked by whether the lunch basket was taken in and food consumed, but the staff had to more or less “read the tea leaves” to determine if a colonist was OK. If an artist was really hot on a project, he or she might work day and night for several days and then sleep in for a day or so.

When I got into the routine, my project progressed very well and I actually finished several days before the month was up. This allowed me to take walks in the woods, drive out from the Colony into the New Hampshire countryside and be a bit of a tourist. All in all, the MacDowell Colony experience was very productive and I could have applied again for another residency, I’m sure. Perhaps it was only my feeling of not belonging to the inner circle of New York artists, or perhaps my own struggles with the creative process were enough to have to deal with. I decided to create my own individual settings for my future creative retreats and never returned to the MacDowell Colony or any other artists’ colony.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

OK girls, what about you?

I just heard from Naomi/Bea Howell and she thinks this blog is just about us guys:

"It seems to be a guy type blog and you guys are doing a great job. I really don't feel that I have much of interest to contribute."

What I have to say about this is that, so far, it has been a one-sided blog. Sure, Reva has shared a lot of her later life, but my sense is that there is a very large unplumbed territory that needs to be explored here. My question is:

What was it like being a girl growing up in the 1940s and 1950s in Cedar Vale, Kansas? Grade school memories? What were the girls talking about in all those times when the boys weren't present? If we are going to get the complete picture you gals are going to have to supply it. We guys want to finally know what was going on in you girls' heads. You were mostly mysteries to us. So, at age 70 you can let us in on your secrets. We are all adults now. So, come on girls, lift the veil of mystery.

What do you say, guys? What to hear it from the girls perspective? Let them know!

CV Memories of Wayne Woodruff -Page 5

Watching my parents, especially father, put up with the hard work, stress and worry of farming determined me not to be a farmer. I especially remember the night that Dad worked until one a.m. combining the soy bean crop because it was ready, we needed the money and there was a big storm coming that would ruin the beans. And getting the bales of alfalfa off the field and into the barn before more rain was another on-going worry and stress that I believe must have contributed to his early heart attack, He seemed always to have something to worry about, and work that had to be done.
Besides picking strawberries, there were other things about the farming that I hated. Gathering the eggs was one.! The procedure was to go into the chicken house, located the nests where the hens were laying eggs, reach into the nest and pick out the eggs that had been deposited during the day. At best, you grabbed an egg that some chicken had decided was not her best work and she had also defecated on the egg, so you grabbed a handful of chicken-sh-t. That was bad enough, but at times in the dark evening of the dark chicken house, one would reach into the nest and encounter the unwelcome contact with a four foot black-snake that was taking his evening meal of raw egg. But even when there was no snake and no sh-t, there were times when the hen was still on the nest and she objected violently to anyone trying to reach a hand in under her to steal her eggs, and I still have little scars on my hands from those sharp beaks.
Hoeing corn rows, some of them a half a mile long, in the heat of the summer for 50 cents an hour was another task that embedded itself in my mind so that when school work seemed too much, I could always remember those long, hot, dirty rows of corn and the hoe that never seemed to be sharp enough.
Milking the cows was some good and some bad. When things were going well, it was almost peaceful sitting quietly on the little one legged milking stool with your head against the warm flank of the old cow as you gently extracted her diurnal contribution of milk. She didn’t seem to mind because she had her oats to eat while I milked and she was a contented cow. But there were times that milk cow Helen was in a bad mood and probably sore from mastitis ( although at the time I did not know that and just thought that she was a nasty beast) and objected to this mean kid pulling on her teats and making her hurt. So, consequently she tried to kick the source of her agony, which was me. If not kicking me, she could always manage to kick over the almost full bucket of milk. But we did have a device that were called “kickers”. Kickers were clamps that fastened around each hind leg and a short chain between the clamps that kept the cow from kicking with one leg. But that ingenious device did not hamper old Helen. She learned to kick with both legs at one time which was quite picturesque but not very smart because when both of her back legs were in the air kicking at her tormenter, it meant she was totally without any means of balancing upright and ended up lying of the floor in the puddle of her own mess and usually a bucket of milk ,her head still caught in the stanchion, which were two heavy boards mounted vertically which kept her head in place during the milking procedure. Getting the poor cow out of this predicament with her fighting every effort was never any fun. One more reason to never be a farmer.
As mentioned earlier, I had a little sister, Barbara, who was four years younger. She was a brilliant pianist and even though I struggled for days trudging though a Chopin sonata, she could sit down at the instrument and play it beautifully the first time through.

Monday, December 3, 2007


I am glad to see that my article on "Blame" stirred up some ire on the part of some of my erudite colleagues. After all, probably one value of this means of communcation is to provoke thought, whether it be positive or negative or agreeable. But, I was not really trying to blame any of us for our choices to leave CV for more favorable communities and opportunities elsewhere. What I was trying to point out, was the fact that some of us had unpleasant experiences in Cedar Vale and when we look back and try to understand what happened and why, we seem to be blaming the entire community, when if fact it was only a few bad apples that soured the whole basket.

Professor White had mentioned in earlier documents that some of the school children were unkind and abusive to him, but I contend that these few bad apples were certainly not the majority, and I for one tried to be nice to him because he helped me get through Mr. Sears' algebra course. And, that abusive grade-school gang that we all remember eventually produced upstanding members of the community, and some still live in Cedar Vale.

And Banker Foust remembers the people that condemned him and misunderstood his part in the bank failure. I was long gone from Cedar Vale at that time, but again, I would imagine that there were only a few "bad apples" that produced the stink that affected Phil and Pat. For the most part, the population of the town only remembered the hard-working funny kid that I knew, and the sweet person who was his wife, and knew the truth of the matters.

Mr. Williams felt that the community was unfair to his family when his father had the unfortunate illness that caused the need to sell the dealership. I, again, do not remember that episode in the history of CV, and I may have been gone and my father may have already died at the time, but again I cannot believe that the entire community would have turned on a pillar of the community such as Kale Williams. I remember he and my father were close friends, and my dad would not have tolerated unkindness toward the Williams family. Again, just a few bad apples were responsible for the loss of a valuable family from a community that could not afford to lose them.

When I was in college visiting my mother during the summer of 1959, I was approached by a gentlemen as I was mowing the front yard. He asked if he might speak to me and related a story that made me cry. It seems he was a teacher at CVHS and had been approached by the Superintendent of Schools who requested sex. The teacher was offended and went to the school board and reported the incident. The Supintendent was a man of some stature in the town, and most of the school board members voted to fire the teacher for smearing the name of the great man. He told me, however, that my father believed what he was saying , and even though he could not prevent the firing, he did prevent the reporting of the incident to the State Board of Education which would have ruined his chances of ever teaching again in Kansas. This gentleman could have had a very bad opinion of the town of CV because of a couple of "bad apples", but because of the way it was handled he had nothing but appreciation. The bad apples did not totally ruin his life.

To reiterate my point, we can't comdemn the whole basket because of a few bad apples.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Another Perspective

As tempting as it would be to think that somehow we collectively could have done something to stop the demise of Cedar Vale, I'd like to offer another perspective. Take a look at the map of Chautauqua County in 1899. What happened to all those towns? Where are Osro, Wauneta, Lowe, and Rogers, all on the trail from CV to Sedan? We all know if we think about it. The automobile and the U. S. highway system made it much easier and more convenient to travel to CV and Sedan to trade and these places dried up, even though they were on the railroad. In our time, we were seeing the next step in that process. The automobile and a better highway system made it easier to shop in Ark City and other larger surrounding towns. Now, in the case of CV, when highway 166 bypassed the town entirely the death knell was sounded. When people, collectively, choose to drive a few miles farther to shop, business districts die. I have written about the biggest casualty in the CV business district, the closing of L. C. Adam Mercantile and that happened in our time in CV. These are forces that are beyond the control of any individual or group of individuals. Do you really think that a Williams Garage could compete with the larger car dealers in nearby towns? I doubt it. Could it withstand the onslaught of TV advertising luring people away for a better deal in Wichita or Tulsa?

The only small towns that have survived and grown have made themselves into local tourist destinations. I recently moved from Boulder, Colorado, where there are some good examples of that "repurposing" of small towns. Just outside of Boulder is the small town of Niwot, which is now the home of a lot of small specialty shops, restaurants and the like. Since the town is very close to Boulder and Longmont (both towns with great job opportunities), it draws people out from both towns just to look at and shop in the antique shops, the local Grange building that is billed as an historical monument, and to eat in one or another of the local restaurants. There is no real business district there, only antique shops, quilting shops, and cute little boutiques, all housed in the ancient buildings that have been painstakingly restored to look "just like the olden days."

Niwot, Colorado looks very little like it did when it was the next town on the railroad east and north of Boulder. The people who now live there are the shop owners and service staff who work in this mini tourist town. In recent years new people have begun to move back in to have their homes near the quaint village, while they commute into Boulder for their jobs and a "bedroom community" is evolving. And, of course, there is a mini mall to serve the needs of that bedroom community, but it isn't on Main Street.

Change is inevitable in a society that is changing as rapidly as ours. Now watch the fate of towns that are not near major airports. I know that I wouldn't choose to live in a town where I would have to travel 100 miles or so to get to a commercial airport. Look at the population map of the U.S. and you will see a pattern of more and more clumping around major transportation hubs. That is unlikely to change until another major force comes along that I can't predict. Perhaps the masses of "old folks" like us will redraw the maps again as we look for places that are inexpensive with great climates and are quiet and far from the problems of the big cities. I think I see that one coming down the pike.

The fairly rapid growth in the population of Santa Fe is mostly people who have made a lot of money elsewhere and want an artsy town to live in that is a bit off the beaten track and quaint. We have older Hollywood stars (think Shirley MacLane), ex-political figures (think Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband), and retired artists. I love living here. Just today we spent a wonderful two or three hours up on Museum Hill looking at an exhibit of quilts and other "found object" art that are the work of a small group of African American families in an isolated part of Alabama. There were four wonderful videos of these folk and their creations and the local fiber arts guild attached a fun exhibit of the fiber art that is being created here. And that exhibit is one of five or six exhibits at the International Folk Art Museum, and there are four other museums on Museum Hill, not to speak of those in downtown Santa Fe. We are very rich in the arts here.

Yes, don't blame the town of Cedar Vale, but also, don't blame us. We were all caught in forces that were outside our control. We were shaped for better or for worse by the small community of Cedar Vale that was crumbling around us while we were growing up in it. I, for one, am happy to have grown up there, even though I didn't like some of the kids I grew up with. The adults that I mostly associated with were wonderful teachers, both formally and informally. The evenings I spent in Bill Leonard's projection booth are a priceless memory for me and I could multiply that many times. My own family, with very distinctive views that were not the views of those around them, were my primary shaping forces and I'm happy to have had that background.

Just another perspective. I'm sure there will be responses to this one!


As I read the articles and comments in the "blog", it is somewhat distressing to read all the negative thoughts that we have published concerning the Town of Cedar Vale, which gave us our start in life. It is like blaming our parents because we are not tall, or beautiful, or athletic, or a great success in life, or rich and happy. How can we blame a "TOWN" for our failures in life. I should blame the town because I was shy, and backward in dealing with the female population of the school?? The town did not make me the failure that I became in many aspects of my life, but it did provide me/us with many opportunities to improve on that with which we were born. How many communities would provide a venue where a skinny 5'9" boy like myself could compete in basketball, football, track and baseball along with other short, skinny boys, and really make a success of the effort. How many schools would have afforded musicians like Gary and Phil and Don Shaffer the opportunity to excell and be superior in their art. In schools like Wichita East, for instance, in spite of their talent, would they have even been noticed. Would Janice Sartin and Marilyn Holroyd been stars in the production of "The Mikdo" had they been in Kansas City Wyandotte?? A very few of us, probably Gary, for instance, might have excelled even in the larger community schools, but the rest of us were happy that we were allowed to do the things that we were good enough to do in the Town of Cedar Vale.
Maybe it is not the towns fault that it is dying or withering. Maybe it is our fault.
WHAT IF: Bob Hays and I had returned to set up a regional medical center.?
Gary White had returned to be music director at old CVHS.?
Roy Walkinshaw had returned to the medical center to open his physical therapy
Phil Foust had returned to open a succesful and progressive bank that could loan
money to farmers that were needed to support the whole community.
Jay D. Mills had returned to open an electronic software technical support plant
or a photographic business.
Don Cox had stayed and kept the dogs and cats and cattle of Chautauqua county in
good shape.
Dick and Bill Williams had returned to renew the Chevrolet Dealership. Or maybe
Dick would have opened a CPA office also.
Bob Cable had taken over the Cable Implement, and kept it a viable business.
Judy Stone had returned with her husband to join the medical community.
T.D. Oltgen ? Another competing bank?? Sedan, I think has more than one.
All of the boys and girls that grew up on farms might have stayed to run the family
farms instead of going off to the big cities of Winfield and Ark City and Wichita.
Gerry Kelley might have returned to have an engineering consulting firm??
But instead, we all had our own dreams that did not include the town where we were "hatched and growed". Just think, if we had all returned, raised our families there and contributed to the wealth and prosperity of that little hamlet, it might still be a good, interesting place to live, offering almost everything that we have where ever we are now.
No, don't blame the TOWN. We can all blame ourselves if there is really blame to lay. The town may have had some problems, and some people who were not our ideals, but it did provide all of us a starting point. We are all "successes" maybe because of the start we had in that idyllic little community. Don't blame "THE TOWN".

Listening to Music

Gary White

I very seldom choose to listen to music these days. That might seem like a surprising statement from a professional musician and composer. People often assume that music must be my frequent companion—that I would enjoy having the radio on for example, when I read. The truth is that when music is present I have no choice but to listen quite actively.

When I go to the movies I am always aware of the background music. I follow its development through the film, noting how the composer develops themes for each situation or sometimes each character. The music track is just as much a part of my experience as the other sounds—the dialog and the sound effects. (They are generally recorded separately and then mixed together in the final editing of the film.)

In a restaurant I am always aware of any background music and often find it difficult to carry on a conversation because I’m listening to the background music. If the music is live it is even more obtrusive and I listen as if I’m at a concert.

It is precisely my long training in music that makes it impossible for me not to listen. The idea of background music, or music to “not listen” to just doesn’t happen for me. How students can study with music blaring in their ears is beyond me.

I do enjoy music when I can give it my full attention, but I resent the constant barrage to which we tend to be subjected in grocery stores, elevators, and shops. I listen to music only in a few circumstances, when I go the opera or a concert, when I am driving on long trips and I need something to keep me alert, those special occasions when I want to or need to listen to a piece of music for a definite purpose, and when I’m working out in the gym. Otherwise, silence is truly golden.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Watch Out for Persimmons!

by Jay D. Mills (Volcan, Panama)

Growing up in the country northwest of Cedar Vale and later exploring along the creeks and river near town, I was always interested in fruit that could be picked off of a vine or tree. Some berries were good to eat and some were not. I remember picking wild currents, mulberries, cherries, apples, pears, and persimmons.

It was fairly easy to tell when most of the fruit was ripe by looking it, or by tasting a little bit. All except for the persimmons! It is clear when looking at a persimmon when it is not ripe, but not so clear when it is. Even after the skin is a deep orange and beginning to wrinkle, it may not be ripe. So the next option is to taste it.

I still remember fifty plus years later, the bitter, lingering taste of a persimmon picked before its time! And, since we were usually some distance from home without water or anything else to drink, the taste lingered on for a long time. Unless of course, you could find a ripe persimmon and eat it.

You might also enjoy “Orange Lemons, Green Oranges and Green-Yellow Lemons” on my Paradise Panama blog at:

- 30 -

Monday, November 26, 2007

#1 At the left is the route map, it can be magnified. The red section in the middle is the route of "Puffabillie" ending at Riobamba.
#2 At the right, the beginning of the switchbacks as seen from Chiva Express .

#3 A narrow gauge steam locomotive, not my
"Puffabillie", but close.
Note: I'm sorry I could not include these pics in the Train Memories post, but blog technology did not permit it. DFCox

Sunday, November 25, 2007


I am a train buff, have been since my early teens. I always take every opportunity to have an interesting ride or even listen to a CD of locomotive sounds. When I get motivated I want to create a post to hit some of the highlights of railroad history as it pertains to Cedar Vale. Right now though, I would like to describe my four all-time favorite train experiences. They all involve 3rd world countries--I guess that makes them more exotic and certainly involves vintage rolling stock. OK ?? Here we go--

This ride is one I took many times because it was such a civilized way to get from A to B. It is/was the Night Express from Guadalajara (Mexico) to the capitol, Mexico City. This fine old train was mostly formed from old stateside Pullman Cars and although they were a bit creaky, they were well maintained and had all "roomettes" with private lavatory.
One bought a ticket and boarded in Guadalajara at 10:00 PM. There was a club car where one could read a book, have a drink, watch people, make new friends, or all the preceding. The steward was available to convert the roomette into a bedroom whenever you wished. As the train rocked, pitched, and clickity-clacked its way to Mexico D.F.; the hypnotic movement and sounds could lull even an insomniac to dreamland. If the train didn't spend too much time on sidings during the night, we were passing the outskirts of Mexico City at 6:30 AM. On pulling into the Central Station one was already near the center of city, as opposed to a distant airport or a satellite bus station. What a way to go!! The one way ticket was less than $20. The train in the picture just shows the vintage of the cars. The train was pulled by a diesel Locomotive when I rode it in the '70s and early '80s while living in Guadalajara.


This soot belching steam train was the "Dry Zone Express" in Burma, from Rangoon to Mandalay. (I use the old names for the country and the city as they were when I was there)
In '75, when I visited, Burma was just recently opened to tourists. Six days was the maximum stay and the officials were very paranoid about goods you brought in--like cameras, cigarettes, etc. Money was exchanged at the official rate at the airport and we were warned against buying money elsewhere or selling any personal items. I soon saw why, the populace was starved for consumer goods and I was hounded immediately I left the airport to sell dollars, cigarettes or about anything. ---but I digress.
I learned about this way to get to Mandalay and I allotted 3 days, one day to go, one day there, and one day to return. I went to the station bright and early and my language barrier was intense, but the locals were on my side and I finally got a ticket on the sold out train. The cars on this train had sturdy wooden bench seats that faced each other. I finally settled on a seat with two giggly girls and three Buddhist monks. The train had a beverage bar which sold only local soda drinks. They ran out at 10:30 AM on a 10 hour run. The locals were well prepared for this and the fact that there was no food on the train. I must say that as people realized how ill prepared I was they offered me food and drink which I was loath to accept. As this was an express run, no stops were scheduled, BUT there were two stops in the middle of nowhere and and both stops a crowd was there selling food and drink. Both the food and the drink were highly suspect hygienically, but what's a guy to do?? I ate and drank, but immediately took a prophylactic dose of tetracycline which I carried at all times. It worked because I didn't sicken. This trip took the full 10 hours across the hot, hot, dry zone of Burma. I'm guessing it was over 100 degrees F. I spent a lot of the time sitting on the carriage steps between cars where the soot and embers from the locomotive were my companions, but it was better than inside the stifling car. The people were friendly and soon some from other cars were coming to try their English on me. One young student invited me to his families home to stay, but I declined as I had had enough adventure for the day. Would I do it again ??? YES, in a heartbeat if I had my health. It's the stuff of fond memories.


After Burma I arrived in Bangkok, Thailand. A Thai friend from the Bay Area, now living in Bangkok, had a studio apartment rented for me there. It was not that I was capable of coping on my own with the language and customs, but between he and his family and friends, I was seldom left alone and had a guide for almost anything I wanted to see.
Well I learned that the rail line that the Japanese built out west to the Burma border still existed and that a memorial park was there to honor the British prisoners who perished there. (My history is hazy--I don't think the Japanese ever occupied Thailand as it wasn't ever a colony of any European nation. I may be that thy had cowed the government into some concessions). Arunothai Somsokul, my guide, took me to the correct station-Bangkok has several-and we set out to the west. The first part of the journey was unremarkable, but we changed trains 50 miles out and now we were on a genuine semi-antique steam train which stopped every 4 or 5 miles gaining and losing passengers at every stop. Most of passengers were bearing goods to market at some stop. There were ducks, geese, chickens, pigs and goats, and I mean in the passenger car. At one point I went into the toilet and found that one of the venders had cleaned her chickens there and left the feathers and entrails in the toilet and lavatory.
At every stop there was food for sale and we ate very well. I was intrigued that the Thais do not have everything in plastic or tin, most of our purchases came nicely wrapped in a banana leaf. Completely biodegradable! Finally we reached the end of the line--literally, as no rails or roads crossed the Thai-Burma border at that time. We were in a large village, which had a hotel for us. That night we joined the street fair which had a few tired carnival type booths and the big deal was the Movie. An outdoor screen and B grade Hong Kong Kung Fu movies.
The next day I hired a local lad to lead me out to the memorial spot which was at the end of a two mile path into the jungle. I was the only visitor there and I took my time adsorbing everything that was there--mostly my mind was recalling the scenes from the Academy Award winning movie and dwelling on the foibles of mankind.


A few years ago I read an article in the "Smithsonian" magazine which told of an old mining railroad in the Andes Mountains of Ecuador which had been restored and where one could ride to the top of the Andes for the price of a ticket. I knew I had to do that, and sure enough, a year or two later I found myself landing at Guayaquil, Ecuador. Guayaquil is the largest city and main port of the country. My investigation revealed that although the train trip was designed to go all the way to Quito, the capitol, the road bed was passable only to the top at Copabamba and was some 60 kilometers shy of Quito at that time.
I got up early, checked out, and took a launch across the estuary and found the little train station. There were a fair number of tourists there for the adventure, all South Americans, as well as some locals going about their business. Our initial ride was a regular gauge train, passenger and freight, pulled by a diesel locomotive. We traversed the verdant coastal plain through many sugar plantations and fields of cane for about 65 kilometers to a bustling town right at the base of the Andes. After some delay all who were on for the whole trip were detrained and walked to the narrow gauge platform where the beautiful little "Puffabillie" steam locomotive awaited us. Our climb was to last seven hours, cover fifty miles, and climb 8,000 feet. Thrills abounded as we saw percipitous drop offs, rushing waters, and indigenous mountain people. There were many halts while we waited for track crews to repair washouts or clear slides from the right of way. At one point the railbed was so rough that the last car of our little train became uncoupled and was just starting it's solo trip back down the mountain until the brakeman ran back to our car and leaped aboard to whirl the ancient handbrake. The car screached slowly to a stop. Hallelujah!! He saved us from a major catastrophy.
We arrived at the site of the switchbacks. These are carved into the face of the mountain and consist of maybe 1/2 mile of track repeated seven times. The train pulls to the end of the track, then the crews throw a switch and the train reverses up the segment. The process is repeated and we chug forward the next 1/2 mile. This is repeated five more times til the train is able to resume climbing lesser grades.
The jaw dropping scenery and the shared perils had done a job on our group of passengers and we became a somewhat cohesive group during the journey. I found myself in conversation with Columbians, Brazilians, and Ecuadorians, mostly family groups. I even sat with some Colombian children while mom and dad sneaked off to the other car for some time alone.
Finally we arrived at 8:00 PM in the regional Andean town, Copabamba, which was the terminus at that time. We had to carry all our luggage up an upward sloping street at the sudden altitude of 9,000 feet while we searched for hotels and food. Oh well, I had done my all time # 1 train trip and survived. It's mine, I'll never forget it!

I checked the internet to see if this trip is still available. It is, but in a different form. I now goes all the way to Quito and is marketed by some travel agents. They have retired the "Puffibilly" and the old cars. They now have a self contained diesel car that they call "Chiva Express" which means goat--In this case it must be mountain goat. I know it would be much safer and cheaper to run than the old steam train. It would still be a great experience for some, but the glamour would be gone for me.
Note: Photos for the Andes portion of this post are sent separately--by necessity. dfc

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The White Family of Moore Prairie, Kansas

By Gary White

This is the piece that resulted from Don Cox's question about the Whites of Moore Prairie.

Moore Prairie Cemetery in rural Chautauqua County, Kansas lists sixteen occupants with the name of White. I can identify all of these people as relatives of mine. How this came to be will center around one rather shadowy individual, Caleb White (1839-??).

Caleb and his new wife, Eliza Head White (1839-1920) arrived in New York from Liverpool, England on June 22, 1864. Life in England had been hard for Caleb. In the 1851 British Census twelve year old Caleb was listed as the only offspring of Samuel and Philadelphia White, who are identified as “Paupers—Formerly Farmers.” How Caleb met Eliza and when they were married is unknown, but there is little doubt about their reasons for leaving England for the New World.

The Whites began the move west along with that steady flood of immigrants who were seeking a better life in the U. S. They must have taken several years to reach Kansas, because their first two children Philadelphia (1865) and Samuel Fredrick (1867) were born in Illinois. By 1870 they had homesteaded on Moore Prairie and little Alice was born. My grandfather, Howard Charles was born in 1872 and Daisy in 1876. Shortly afterwards, Caleb just up and left, leaving Eliza alone in the wilds of frontier Kansas with five small children.

Those of us who muck about among the dead folk searching for our connections to European royalty are bound to turn up a few pitiful characters and an occasional scoundrel. Caleb White may fit into both of those categories, although Eliza was later known in the family for her sharp tongue. Whether that came before or after Caleb left I don’t know. Anyway, Eliza gathered up her little band of farm hands and, by God, made a go of it on the homestead on Moore Prairie. Philadelphia became “Della” and Samuel Fredrick became “Fred,” thus erasing any connection with Caleb’s parents in England. Eliza seems to have been determined to start all over again in her adopted country and she systematically cleared Caleb White out of her life.

There are two pieces of family folklore about Caleb that I heard from my father. One says that Caleb had been a sailor and found life away from the sea onerous. I doubt that bit of folklore, considering that his parents before him had been failed farmers and every census record I’ve found shows that he listed his occupation as “farmer.” My guess is that that story was just made up by Eliza to cover for the real reasons that Caleb left. The other story is more believable. My father said that several years after he took off, Caleb returned, but Eliza ran him off the place. That totally fits with what I know about my great grandmother, and tends to confirm Caleb’s status as neer-do-well.

By 1885 the White family was all quite grown up. Della, age 20 was listed as a housekeeper, Fred, age 18 is a “farmer,” Alice, age 15 is listed for “housework,” and Howard, age 12 is a “farmer.” Only little Daisy, age 9, has no listed occupation. That is quite consistent with the picture my father painted of the family. He described the White’s as a family with grim determination and no nonsense or fun. This shaped my grandfather’s character, and I remember him as a rather bleak character, who just wouldn’t stop working, even after a failed prostate surgery left him incontinent and weakened. My father said that he had a similar upbringing to his father, and if there was an easy way and a hard way to do anything, his father always chose the hard way. That he didn’t pass that same grim determination on to me is a tribute to his ability to rise above his upbringing.

Fred grew up and married Hannah (1875-1949). They created a place of their own on part of the homestead, making them Eliza’s neighbors. There they raised seven children, Ray A. (1900-1959), Ralph L. “Boots” (1901-1971), Orville (1905-1948), Ward L. (1907-1997), Lynn (1909-1970), Thelma (1913-??), and Buel O. (1915-1974). What a bunch of farmers that crew must have been. For the most part, all of these children remained in the Moore Prairie area and all of them procreated, thus accounting for the list of White occupants in Moore Prairie Cemetery.

My grandfather, Howard Charles (1872-1954) married Mary Florence Witham (1876-1964) and they had four children, H. Fern (1903-1989), Sylvia O. (1908-2001), my father, Charles Howard (1911-1991), and Vernon D. (1915-1973). Eliza lived with this family until her death in 1920. The H. C. White family was not prolific, and I turned out to be the only child any of them had. Fern never married, Sylvia married Charlie Smith, but they had no children, my father married Lila B. Call and I was their only child, and Vernon only married later in life and had no children. So, while all the Whites of Moore Prairie were and are relatives of mine, none are what I would consider close relatives. However, we all carry some of that Moore Prairie limestone in our bones and have all been hard workers all our lives.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Railroad Memories

by Gary White
Last week we were driving south down highway 285 through Colorado back home to Santa Fe. Near the New Mexico border, highway 285 crosses the tracks of the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway, a narrow gauge rail line that crosses through some interesting mountain country along the Colorado/New Mexico border. Just as we came up to the station an old coal burning steam engine crossed in front of us pushing three cars of gravel to be used to maintain the track ahead.

Suddenly I was back in Cedar Vale again at the train station on the south edge of town, where the Missouri Pacific railway connected Cedar Vale with points east and west. I was about seven years of age and my mother and I were waiting to take the train from Cedar Vale to Sedan. My father had needed to pick up some oil or other products from Leo Chrisman, the Standard Oil agent in Sedan. As a lark, he had left mother and me off at the MOPAC station, where we purchased tickets from the station agent, our neighbor, Dewey Burch. We were going to have a train ride to Sedan, where dad would pick us up for the drive back the Cedar Vale. I could hardly contain my excitement when that huge, black engine roared into the station and we boarded the only passenger car for our big ride. The passenger car was just like you would see in the old Western movies. There were ancient steel seats, covered with worn and cracked leather. At the end of the car was a primitive toilet and a water bottle and small cone-shaped cups that you could pull from a dispenser and get a drink. Of course, I would need to use the toilet and get a drink of that railroad water! That was just part of the excitement of the journey. All the windows were open because it was summer, and of course, the compartment was not air conditioned.

Were Frank and Jesse James or the Dalton boys out there waiting to hold up the train? Would we be attacked by indians in full war paint? My imagination was running wild as we pulled out of the station, and began to cross through territory that was totally unfamiliar to me. I had seen all the roads around western Chautauqua County, but the railroad crossed through areas where there were no roads. Out across wooded areas, through deep cuts through the hills, and alongside farms and ranches we went, and it was all just as I imagined it would be. That is, all except for the continuous rain of coal soot that poured into the windows and greatly distressed my mother, who was the soul of fastidiousness. All this was just part of the thrill for me and I didn’t mind my clothes getting covered with small black specks. Mother tried in vain to brush them off and that just spread them out, making the spots bigger.

All too soon we pulled into the Sedan railway station and there was dad with his big red tank wagon truck waiting for us. What stories I had to tell, and tell them I did, with eyes wide with excitement from the adventure we had just had. I can remember how my dad laughed as I told my stories and how mother fumed a bit at the black spots on both of our clothing.

All this passed in front of my eyes as I waited the few minutes for the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railway engine to push those cars past us and clear the tracks for our continued journey. Very soon we would be in home country, where the place names suddenly are all in Spanish—Rio Arriba, Tres Piedras, Ojo Caliente. Now I knew we were nearly home.

Taking Care of the Old Folks

by Gary White
My grandparents’ 401Ks were their children. As subsistence farmers there was no “retirement plan” in place and, as they aged and became infirm, their children gradually took over more and more of the farm operations.

In the case of my paternal grandparents their eldest daughter, my aunt Fern, stayed at home and assisted them for their entire life. In the final years of my grandfather White’s life, I can remember the Sundays when my father, my uncles Vernon and Charlie Smith, and I went into the woods to cut firewood for the grandparents. Charlie Smith had all the necessary tools and we each took turns with the axes and saws and brought in enough wood to heat the grandparents’ home for the entire winter. We also got together when it was butchering time so that the grandparents would have meat for the winter. Aunt Fern raised a huge garden and canned fruit and vegetables for their winter needs. When my Grandfather White died in 1954, the children bought a house in Sedan, and Grandmother and Fern moved in town together. The sale of the farm provided their living, along with what Aunt Fern could bring in by cleaning houses in Sedan. When Grandmother White died in 1964 Fern lived out the last of her years in that house. Her “retirement” was provided by the savings she had accumulated in her earlier years as a cook and house keeper along with the house that was free and clear.

My maternal grandparents lived on their farm until Grandfather Call passed away in 1952. In his declining years he was helped out more and more by my uncle Harold, who had a home for his family on a portion of the farm. After his death, all the children got together and built Grandmother a little house in Sedan on the back of my uncle Lee’s place. Her “retirement” was provided by the sale of the farm and periodic contributions of food and money by all her children. When my uncle Lee died, in 1960, the remaining children bought a small trailer home for grandmother and she lived out her final years until her death in 1973 in that trailer which was always parked near to one of her childrens’ homes.

In my parent’s generation, regular retirement programs were in place and both of my parents retired from their employment with pensions. My father drew a regular pension from the Standard Oil Company (AMOCO, and now British Petroleum) and my mother drew a pension from the telephone company, ATT (now broken up into regional divisions). In addition, they had engaged in regular savings during their employment years through employee stock plans with Standard Oil and ATT. I was freed for the most part, from regular work to support them. My role was as financial manager of their assets after my father’s death in 1991. My mother moved to Ames, Iowa where I was teaching and we set her up in a retirement complex in north Ames. This gave her independence and professional support when her health declined in the last two years of her life. Mother died in 1998, two months before the death of Elyn’s mother.

Elyn’s parents were in a similar situation to my parents. They had both retired with pensions from Iowa State University and moved to a retirement community in San Diego, California. They had also engaged in regular savings during their employment years and they had assets that could be used to supplement their pensions. The retirement community provided day to day support as needed and our role as their children was as financial manager of their assets after Elyn’s mother died in 1998. Elyn’s father lived on in the retirement community until his death in 2006. In his declining years, Elyn took on the role of care manager, watching out for his medical needs from wherever we happened to be living by regular phone conversations and periodic visits. The health care system in southern California was not as reliable as the system in central Iowa and regular oversight was needed to ensure that he had the care he needed.

Elyn and I are now engaged in our own financial planning so that we can live comfortably without needing financial support from our children in our declining years. I had a regular retirement program in my employment at Iowa State University and, in addition, engaged in regular saving. Assets inherited from our parents supplement our income along with royalties from the sale of our books. How we will deal with the increasing need for care in our declining years remains to be seen. At least we have long-term care insurance to take over some of the financial burden of those years.

As I look at the next generation, I see quite a different pattern emerging. Fewer and fewer companies have regular retirement programs and young people seem to move from job to job and are much more often self employed. The entire burden of saving for retirement is increasingly placed in their laps. Are they saving? The statistics are not promising. Will their “retirement programs” again be the responsibility of their children? Will "extended family" again be a living pattern for them? Only time will tell how the next generation of “old folks” will be cared for in their declining years. The Social Security system doesn’t look like a good bet as a source of significant income.

The wheels of time turn and there will always be a generation of “old folks” to be cared for. I’m sure they will work it out in some way. People always have. At least, it won’t be my responsibility to figure it all out.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Peanut Butter Goes With ... Almost Anything

by Jay D. Mills

One of my favorite snacks / sandwiches when I was a young lad in Cedar Vale was made with peanut butter and syrup. I would place a good amount of peanut butter in a bowl and add plain Karo syrup, mix it up good and spread it on bread. It was great! Oh, I know about the traditional peanut butter & jelly combination and it is good also. And for years I have enjoyed peanut butter and honey sandwiches.

But have you ever tried peanut butter with:
- Mayonnaise? (mixed up as with syrup) another childhood favorite
- Cream Cheese? (just finished one & it was delicious)
- Bananas?
- Raisins?
- Chocolate?
(a natural in my book)
- Pickle?

I've read about many more, but these are the ones that I remember trying. Maybe you can suggest an even tastier combination. - 30 -

Sunday, November 18, 2007


by Gary White
There are events that stand out in my memory so starkly that I know exactly what I was doing at the moment. These milestones mark moments when I sensed that everything would be different from that moment on.

On April 12, 1945 I was sitting on the floor of our living room across the street from the telephone office in Cedar Vale, Kansas listening to the radio. A news flash interrupted the music programming to inform me and the world that President Roosevelt had died. Since he had been president for my entire life, I didn’t know what to think. Was it the end of the world? No, things pretty much went on with little change and the event faded into history.

On November 22, 1963 I had my high school choir from Dolores, Colorado down in Cortez rehearsing for a massed choir festival to be held that evening. We took a break for lunch and the news was relayed to us that President Kennedy had been shot. All the directors got together to decide what we were going to do—should we continue rehearsing and go on with the concert? Should we all go home and reschedule the event for some time later? If so, when? There was a lot of discussion about the difficulties of finding another time in all the various high school schedules and some sentiment for simply going ahead. However, the consensus that developed was that we would postpone the event for some future, undetermined time. We simply couldn’t think of going on after the event in Dallas. Of course, it was impossible to reschedule and that choir festival never happened. Was this the end of an era? How would the world change from that moment in time? Well, change it did, but not catastrophically. The event, however, didn’t fade into history and questions continue to be raised about what happened that day in Dallas, Texas. Our lives settled back into their usual routine and little changed from day to day.

On September 11, 2001 my daughter and her partner were visiting us in Boulder, Colorado. They were sleeping in late that morning and I was on the computer looking at the morning news. I read about the first plane flying into the World Trade Center tower and ran immediately to turn on the television. I was watching the event live when the second plane impacted the other tower and I continued to watch as the towers began to fall. By that time my daughter was up and I told her that this was truly the end of an era and that our individual and collective futures would be different than before that morning. So far, that prediction has proven accurate. Now I am reminded of the current “threat” level every time I go to an airport to fly. I have to take off my shoes to go through security and have had my luggage opened and pawed through by strangers more times than I can remember. Only time will tell if my prediction of the end of an era will prove true.

Other events are not so easy to pinpoint. Where were you on the day that global warming started? Where were you on the day that the delicate balance that must be sustained for us humans to survive on this planet was irreversably tipped? Or, has that day happened yet? Now that is a milestone to watch for. Where will you be on that day?

Friday, November 16, 2007

Climbing a 14er

by Gary White
It was the year between my Masters Degree and beginning work for my PhD at Michigan State University. I had taken a year off to teach in the public schools in Dolores, Colorado, a tiny mountain town tucked deep inside the Dolores River canyon in the southwestern corner of the state. It was during this year that I met David Engle, the pastor of the local Methodist Church. David had been a student of Paul Tillich, the great Christian existential philosopher at Harvard. What he was doing in this small mountain town was a mystery. Perhaps the Methodist Church needed a place to hide someone of his radical persuasion, or perhaps David simply needed to be in the Rocky Mountains. In any event, David was intellectually so far above the members of that small congregation that they never once noticed that his prayers didn’t end with “in Jesus’ name” and phrases such as “Lord and Savior” never passed his lips. He was a Methodist pastor that an agnostic like me could get close to and I agreed to sing in his church choir (having turned down the opportunity to lead it).

I could sit through all of David’s sermons, which were beautiful essays on ethics and humanism. Even my Grandfather Call would have been happy with his preaching. I remember that Grandfather had once told the local minister that he would only come to church the Sunday that he preached of “man’s duty to man” instead of “man’s duty to God.” He proudly said that he had never had to make good on that promise. David became my best friend and confidant during my one year in Dolores.

Along with being an intellectual of major accomplishment, David was an avid mountain climber, having been an instructor in technical climbing in a mountaineering school earlier in his life. Early in the fall, David hatched a plan that we would climb one or two of the fourteen thousand foot peaks in the Dolores range, just north and east of town. That was a huge challenge for both of us since I had never been at all athletic and was not particularly confident of my abilities as a mountain climber.

David was the most patient teacher I have ever met. He began by taking me out on short hikes, increasing the distance and challenge by easy degrees. He was always instructing me about climbing safety, showing me how to tell if an avalanche or rock fall was imminent and how to traverse loose rock fields safely. He taught me the basics of rappelling over cliffs on a rope, and how to belay a partner in dangerous situations. He told me about the dangers of euphoria due to oxygen starvation at high altitudes and how to know when and where to take cover in case of sudden thunder storms. The result was that I actually felt ready to attempt a 14er by the spring, and when it was safe to do so, we made our plans to climb Mt. Wilson in the Dolores Peaks.

We picked a beautiful, sunny Saturday in the late spring and made our ascent. The plan was to drive high enough so that we could make the entire climb in one day and David could be back in time for his sermon on Sunday. If you haven’t actually climbed a 14er there is no way that words can convey the experience. If you have climbed, you will know what I’m going to try to describe without reading further.

In the first place, the climb is very strenuous and you have to pace yourself very carefully. The rest breaks and taking in food and water are carefully planned so that you can be at the summit before the afternoon thunder storms move in. Being on top of one of the highest mountain peaks in the Rocky Mountains in a thunder storm is deadly and many climbers have been struck by lightning. David was impeccable in pacing us and circumventing dangers from falling rocks and sliding snow and, in due course, we made the summit.

There is no way to describe the euphoria of standing on the summit of a fourteen thousand foot peak. All during the ascent you are looking at the face of the mountain, walking over huge fields of loose rock with the sound of mountain streams underfoot. When the summit is achieved, the whole 360-degree panorama suddenly opens up and you can see forever in all directions. You know you must be short of oxygen because there is an overwhelming desire to just stay there forever. My judgment was so impaired that David had to be quite stern with me when it was time to start down.

The trip down the mountain was just as strenuous as the ascent. We took the easy way of sliding down snow fields whenever possible, but even so, my knees took a beating. By the time we were back at the pickup I was almost unconscious from shear fatigue and I hardly remember most of the trip home. However, in the days and years following I have savored every moment of that beautiful day and I remember my friend and teacher David Engle with great love and affection. We made other climbs together and they were beautiful experiences, but that first day of standing on the top of the world will always be the day I remember.

Perhaps you did not know him ...

Jesse G. Foust was my dad. A better man have I not known!

Dad was born in 1907 on some ranch land close to Hoosier, Kansas. Hoosier was a busy little hamlet and a cattle and hay shipping center. Laura and Phil Foust were Dad's parents. Originally from Indiana, my granddad came to the area with his father and sister (after his mother had died). My great-grandfather was seriously injured in Tennessee during the Civil War. As the battlefield litter bearers were removing him they noticed a flicker of life. After a metal plate was inserted into his skull he lived a full life. Though a farmer in Indiana he was a stone mason after arriving in Kansas and was involved in building bridges. He is buried in the Dexter cemetery along with my dad and grandparents.

Granddad was "a cowboy and rode wild horses"! That was the thought of grandma's parents and they did not want him dating their daughter, (Laura Wesbrook). This did not deter them and they eloped one night to Sedan for a marriage ceremony the next day. My grandfather later farmed and was a barber in Cedar Vale during most of his life. Later, he was the janitor at the Cedar Vale Grade School. Stories of his barbering days included (if my memory is correct) that a shave and a haircut was ... yep, two bits.

Dad was graduated from Dexter High School where he was a good athlete and a trombone player. Dexter had a good baseball team and advanced to the state tournament where they were defeated by Lawrence. Their basketball team was difficult to beat on their home court in the high school basement with low ceilings. Following high school he went to a business school in Winfield.

During those years he caught for some good baseball teams and was offered a minor league contract. Those were difficult times and he thought it best to "go to work". He was a telegrapher on the railroad in some southwestern states. My Uncle Ray broke his leg playing baseball in Sumner County and dad was sent to relieve him briefly as a depot agent in Riverdale. My Granddad Britton was the section foreman there and this was where my dad met my mom, (Rena).

After being married they moved to Cedar Vale where my dad was bookkeeper for the local Ford dealership. Dad was transferred to Fort Scott by Radliff Ford and we lived there for awhile until he found employment as a bookkeeper at Shell Oil Refinery in Arkansas City. Shell decided to shut down and move employees that wished to transfer to Indiana. Instead, Dad accepted the managerial position at Wallingford Grain Company in Winfield. His dream was to own a farm and he saved and borrowed for the purchase of some acreage between Cambridge and Moline.

World War II intervened and it appeared to him that he would be drafted into the service. He sold the farm and moved his family to Riverdale in order to be close to mom's parents. He was the manager of Wallingford's seasonal grain operations and a security guard at night at Boeing in Wichita. He was deferred from the service because of age restriction change. During this time, I started my work career by running the lift for the trucks and trailers to dump their wheat in the grain elevator. Mom ran the scales and dad scooped and scooped in balancing the wheat load in the railroad grain cars.

He applied to be the tank wagon man for the Winfield Co-Op and was accepted. Later, he was installed in the same job for Socony Vaccum (Mobil) Oil in Cedar Vale. Dad built a home there but for whatever reason my mother and sister were never happy in Cedar Vale.

Dad moved us to Dexter in 1952 where he accepted the job as tank wagon man for Mobil Oil. Dad worked very hard all his life until his early death somewhat caused (in my opinion) by a broken heart. He had entered the Cedar Vale hospital for an extensive checkup and while he was there my mother was brought into the hospital in serious condition because of what was whispered to be a drug overdose. After Dr. Hays informed him of the examination results dad joined me in mom's adjoining room where I heard him fall in the restroom. Resuscitation was attempted until the staff quickly removed him to his room next door, (shared with Roy Smith). Efforts to revive him from his massive heart attack were to no avail.

Dad was intelligent and a good father. He was a person with no known enemies and he was always ready to be of help. At Dexter, we lived close to the railroad tracks and he never could turn down a tramp's request for food. It is my belief that he was an exceptional man. In enduring a difficult marriage he quietly and without complaint sacrificed life and happiness for his family. His funeral was held in the "new" Dexter gymnasium in order to contain the large respectful throng.

Jesse G. Foust was my dad. A better man I have not known!

In Megalithic Sites

by Gary White
I place my hand over your hand print and trace your spirals, painstakingly cut in the hardest stone you could find, without benefit of power tools. I wonder what messages you intended to send and what language you were writing. What did you see and experience deep in the caves and caverns you found and built all over the landscape of Europe and the British Isles? Did you see that the stones were just entries into other realms and were your spirals and zigzags the tracings of what you saw there?

Or were they just graffiti? “Harry + Sally—True Love;” “Kilroy was here;” “What I think, you will think;” or these little pebbles I’m dredging up out of my own memories, worn smooth in the telling and retelling to myself and others?

This much I know: it was an insult for me to ever think of you as primitive and stupid. An insult to you and an insult to me, because we are not so distant relatives, you and me. For me, whose feet have never truly known the earth and whose eyes have never truly mapped the sky to look down on you whose knowledge of such things so eclipses mine is the true stupidity and I freely acknowledge it to you now.

I have had the map of my own DNA drawn. I see my essential self moving slowly up out of Africa, through the Middle East, and across the map of Europe to finally leap to these shores just a few generations ago. Yes, you and me, we are one. Your flesh is my flesh. “We are family.”

So I place my hand again over your hand print and say, “Hail and farewell, brother and sister.” I think that a glimmer of understanding is beginning to develop in our collective consciousness here and in this time. We have all of us passed this way and will continue so long as the earth is hospitable to our species. Is that what you are trying to tell me? I get the message, loud and clear.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

“In a Little Spanish Town . . .”

by Gary White
So go the lyrics of a popular song from my youth. I actually had the opportunity to live out that dream in the years after Elyn and I were married. Elyn had done the research for her PhD in Cultural Anthropology in Spain. Her topic and her passion had been the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage that crosses the Pyrenees from France and then from east to west across the northern part of Spain. We traveled there in a summer and I met the family who had become her Spanish family when she was living in Spain and walking the Camino. I had always wanted to live in a foreign country long enough to move beyond the tourist status and this looked like the perfect opportunity. Her Spanish family invited us to come back to Sahagún and live, so in the summer of 1997 we packed up our things, sold most of them and moved to Spain.

First we walked the Camino, just as Elyn had done in 1982 when she was doing her dissertation research. Then we moved into the apartment that our Spanish family had found for us on a upper floor of a hardware store in downtown Sahagún. The apartment was luxurious by any standard and cost us a fraction of what we would spend in the U.S. for similar accommodations. My Spanish was nearly nonexistent, having forgotten all of my high school Spanish, but Elyn was quite fluent and I was willing to learn.

Living as a resident in another country is much different from being a tourist there. We had to negotiate such necessities as getting phone service, getting internet connections, the post office, the bank, grocery shopping, etc. In all these areas our Spanish family was more than helpful and in short order we were firmly established in town. Elyn’s language ability made everything work smoothly.

Our apartment had been decorated by the owner of the hardware store below. He was an accomplished interior decorator by Spanish standards and we had heavy Spanish furniture, an elaborate chandelier above the huge dining table and chairs, walls that had many coats of finish on them, and the standard persiana window coverings that all Spanish houses have to protect them from the heat of the afternoon sun. There were balconies in the front and the back overlooking ancient ruined churches and the bustling downtown area and two luxurious full bathrooms with the latest fixtures. The kitchen had a dish washer and a clothes washer of the latest design, along with complete sets of dishes, glassware, silverware, and cooking utensils. We only needed to unpack our personal items to be completely at home.

Our Spanish family, the Luna-Tovars took us in, just as they had Elyn many years before. We were invited to all the family dinners and outings and if we didn’t appear daily at the little book store that had been in the family for two generations the matriarch of the family, Paca would appear at our door and exclaim “have you died?” Not only were we welcome in the family, we had family obligations to fulfill.

At first, the novelty of everything kept me totally entranced. Grocery shopping was a new experience. There was the place that had the best meat, another for fish, a third for fruits and vegetables, and a small supermarket for the cleaning supplies and other non-eatables that we needed. Paca informed us of the best places to go and we would move from shop to shop accumulating what we needed.

Every Saturday there was a open air market on the streets below our apartment. There we could get nearly everything we wanted, from clothing to freshly roasted chickens. The streets filled with people from the surrounding areas and there was much pushing and shouting as people vied with each other for the attention of the sellers. One thing that became very obvious to me immediately is just how loud the Spanish people are. They seem to all talk at the same time and to shout at each other. At first I thought they might be angry, but that is just their way of being in the world. Soon I could push and shout with the best of them and every Saturday was a lot of fun and excitement.

Sundays were always the Luna-Tovar’s family dinner, which we were expected to attend. These dinners would start in the early afternoon and extend through the evening hours. There were seldom fewer than a dozen people in attendance, and just as on the streets, everyone talked at the same time in loud voices. There was much joking among the family and I took my share of the jibes, even though I was not good at retaliating. Much was made of my great size and indeed, I was taller by far than any member of the family. In fact, I was nearly the tallest person in all of Sahagún. The food was plentiful and we were expected to eat generous quantities. Lamb that had been roasted to perfection in the wood burning oven was absolutely heavenly and there were a large variety of vegetables prepared to perfection. The family made its own wine, which was served in generous quantities and they had hams that had been dried in the attic above the house until they were the standard Spanish ham that is prized all over the world. Paca was the master chef who could prepare the tortilla español in her special way and bake the best flan I had ever tasted. In the middle of the afternoon there was usually a lull in activity as everyone took a short siesta, but soon the family began to gather to eat again from the leftovers of dinner and the party was on again in full force.

I was totally unprepared for the rhythm of Spanish life. Spaniards usually get a rather slow start on the day and arrive around 9 AM at work after having little or no breakfast. They eat several small snacks during the early part of the day and close up shop at around 2 PM to go home for the afternoon siesta. Lunch, which is usually the largest meal of the day, would be served at around 3 PM and there would be a quiet time or even a nap, before returning to work at 5 or 6 PM. Shops would open again and remain open until around 8 PM. Then it was time for a light dinner before the evening activities began. People came out on the street en-mass in the evening. A typical evening would start with un paseo, a walk outside of town with conversations with neighbors and friends. Then the town square would fill with families. The adults would drink, play games, and socialize while the children ran and played together on the plaza. Just when I would think it was time to go home the real evening activities would begin. Bars and night clubs would be filled and drinking and dancing went on until after midnight. The hours for sleeping are short and when we complained that we needed to go home to sleep, we were told, “The more you sleep, the less you live!” We quickly became known as “sleepyheads” and our family teased us unmercifully for our American habits.

We were very happy in our little Spanish town until, in the spring, we began to feel a subtle oppression. Spain is a society where oppression is a strong part of their history. First, they were oppressed by the Spanish Inquisition, which ruthlessly stamped out all diversity, and ran the Jews and the Moors out of Spain after executing many thousands of them. The Inquisition was followed by an equally ruthless fascist state run by Generalissimo Franco. The country only emerged as a full democracy in the 1970s and many vestiges of both the Inquisition and fascism still exist. There is a national police force, created by Franco that remains a heavy handed presence in every small town. The Catholic Church was aligned with the fascist government and exerts itself in all areas of Spanish life. This is not a country that tolerates much diversity and we began to feel the subtle oppression, even though we were tolerated as the outsiders that we were and our Spanish family treated us with love and affection. I began to want to breathe freer air and we knew that our time in Spain was over.

The illness and death of both of our mothers added the final touch and we found ourselves on our way home. I did achieve my goal of living in a foreign country long enough to not be a tourist, and I was happy to be back in the U.S. again.