September 1, on the Rim of Wonder


Sunrise

Dappled clouds

Owl hooting

Wren climbing

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Later, I graded papers and watched part of John McCain’s funeral, some of which almost brought me to tears.  I often disagreed with him but never did I question his passionate love of country, his courage, his willingness to buck the norm, to defy convention when he thought it was the right thing to do.  I think he and I shared certain values on which this country is based even if the country as a whole rarely lives up to them.  These include the conviction that all people are equal, that everyone deserves justice, and each person carries the right to find his or her own share of happiness without judgment and condemnation from others who may think differently.

Later, while working on the latest book I am writing, I found handwritten recipes written by my grandmother, my mother’s mother, Nellie Narcissus Duke (Kaiser),whose father came here from Switzerland as a child.  One, for dumplings, remains readable.  The other written in pencil on the front and back of thin paper is fragile.  It is for Strawberry Shortcake.  If Grandmother Duke ever made dumplings, I do not remember it.  Mother did–chicken and dumplings.  I wonder if she used this recipe.  I do remember conversations about the shortcake because Dad did not like strawberry shortcake even though he liked strawberries.  I took photos of these two recipes written decades ago in my grandmother’s handwriting.

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Black Raspberries


Mom filled the white bowl with black raspberries.

I pour Bossie’s white milk over them,

watched it form a pattern,

flowing around the raspberries–

a design in deep purple and white.

I thought it almost too beautiful to eat.

I was seven.

Now I rarely find black raspberries.  Red ones won’t do.  They lack intensity, the beauty.  Every year we went to Hunt’s Orchard north of Amazonia, Missouri, to buy black raspberries, took them home, sorted to discard the imperfect ones, then threw them way behind the garden next to the timber–huge trees, oak and hickory.  Eventually, these imperfections transformed into thriving black raspberry bushes.  We had our own patch, created from the discarded, the imperfect.

Mom fed us fresh raspberries for a few days.  The rest she used to create her famous pies, froze a freezer full.  Baked, they transformed a winter kitchen into the warmth and sweetness of my mother’s family devotion.

I bake pies, many kinds of pies.  I have never made a black raspberry pie.

 

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Note:  this will be published in an upcoming publication by the Story Circle Network.  In July my daughter, grandson, and I went to Hunt’s Orchard–yes, it still exists.  I asked about black raspberries.  We were too late; the season was over.  The timber behind the garden area was to the right in this photo.  The person who bought the land years later bulldozed down all the big trees.

Missouri Roadtrip—the Missouri River Bottom


My mother grew up in Fortesque, Missouri, a once thriving town which now contains 32 inhabitants. Mom’s dad owned a farm right on the Missouri River near the Rulo, Nebraska bridge. Then eventually, it was my grandmother’s and then belonged to Mom and her two siblings. We went to visit and found the river really high.

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For years we crossed the Rulo, Nebraska, bridge and came to a restaurant at this site to eat catfish, carp, and all the trimmings.  A few years ago a really large flood destroyed it. This is the new building but obviously it is closed because of high water.

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Back on the Missouri side looking across the soybean fields.  Strange sight to see irrigation proceeding at the same time the river is high.  The Corp of Engineers is releasing  water upstream where the river is really high. The bluffs in the distance are across the river in Kansas.

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Several times in my life I have seen water at least 15 feet deep from bluff to bluff.  A few years back I knew people who lived inside a big levee and for nearly three months had to go to and from their house in a boat.  Needless to say, that year no one raised a crop of anything.

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Without levees, the river would be over all the fields now.

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I walked down the main levee and took this photo under the Rulo, Nebraska, bridge.

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While in the river bottom we decided to take the loop drive through the Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge.  The last time I was here five years ago, there was more water and fewer lilies.  The smell of their blooms permeated the air.

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Apparently, this is bull frog heaven because they were certainly actively croaking. In October and November approximately 400,000 geese and ducks migrate through here.

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At the north end of the drive through the refugee this beautiful sight occurs.

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The tunnel between the trees continues for several miles.

Later when we drove back to St. Joseph, we drove down to the nature center and the river’s edge there.

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No swimming in the Missouri River.  They warn people every year, but alas, people still try and drown.  The river moves fast and the undertow will pull even strong swimmers under.

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I was not happy out here.  Ema, my daughter, insisted.  If a person fell in, there is no hope.  She, however, keep bouncing around and playing on it.

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Even though I grew up in this area, I am always amazed at just how green and wet it is there even when they have a dry spell like now.  Plus the humidity–not like here in the Panhandle of Texas–it does not cool off that much at night in Missouri.

 

 

 

 

Missouri Roadtrip-the Home Place


6CC097FA-6B1F-4C37-8170-6026A42B8C30This is he house where I grew up north of Fillmore, Missouri.  My dad lived here in this house from 10 year old to 90. He died in the month after his 90th birthday.  The house stands on the land my great grandfather established after he arrived from Switzerland in the mid 1800s.

3A97C88F-30A5-4A32-99E3-5E4D8E1172F5This is the only building left at the site of my grandparents original house and barns.  It is an old carriage house.  In this photo my daughter and grandson are taking a look.  One of the original stained glass transome windows from the house hangs in my own house. My grandparents were Lilliebelle Werth and Pleasant Lightle.

 

D44A6726-4FF1-4FB0-9F89-47F7E7C98391When I was a child, this was once a chicken house but mostly the farrowing house for our registered Hampshire hogs.  Later I learned that when first built during Prohibition, Dad held dances here which the sheriff checked to make sure there was no alcohol.

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This is corn and soybean country. The view reaches across the land from the back of the home place.  We met the young couple who own the house now. They keep everything spic and span just like my parents did.  I am grateful.

 

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Antioch Christian Church where we attended church when I was a child.  My mom’s fruit pies were famous here.

A Letter to the Man I Loved the Most


Today is your birthday, June 6.  I cannot wish you Happy Birthday because you fell into a coma a year and 1/2 ago and died several months later.  Our daughter came over and over to see you, unconscious, eyes staring into empty space.  She drove the five hours back and forth repeatedly.  Sometimes I came with her.

What happened to you?  Your mahogany hands and arms looked as they did when I first met you decades ago.  I looked at the signs of aging on my own; yours seemed so young, ageless.  But not your face.  I wonder if I would have recognized you on the street.  I remember the first time I saw you, sitting on a sofa–fancy, engraved silver tipped cowboy boots, shirt open half way down your chest, and your smile radiating across the room.  I knew immediately I had to have you.

What happened to you?  How could I have guessed I could be so wrong, decades of believing you just left, no explanation, nothing.  Then after you are comatose and I cannot talk to you, I learn a far different truth, a truth that never leaves me, a truth from which I will never totally recover.

What happened to you?  Charming, laughing, the man so many loved.  That you.  Did the other you finally dominate–the sad, disappointed, angry you?  The you few knew, the hidden you, the one I often held, tried to protect. Now I talk to your cousin, the one you forbade to tell me the truth I never knew, the friend I thought I had lost forever.  Yesterday we talked.  Today she left me a message.  She and I will never be the same, she filled with irreparable loss, your company, your mutual love, and I with a hole in my heart that can never be filled because I cannot talk to you.

What happened to you?  A decade ago when you came to see our daughter, it was like I had seen you only yesterday, in so many ways as if we had never been apart.  It haunted me.  You could have told me then, the truth.  But no, I had to learn it by accident from our daughter.  She thought I knew, that you had told me.

What happened to you?  I look at photos of us, young, filled with hope and love and promise, smiling brightly toward a camera.  I wonder how different my life might have been.  I will never know.

 

 

 

Memorial Day–Memories


While I was growing up, my mom grew peonies by the side of the vegetable garden.  Red, pink, white, huge spectacular blooms that always arrived around this time of year just in time for Memorial Day.  We would pick many, put them in mason jars and take them to my father’s and her family’s cemetery plots.  She has created a metal apparatus to hold them so the wind would not blow them over.  We took water to fill the jars.  We did this every Memorial Day always.

No one lives close any more.  There is no one left to take flowers there.

My mother’s family members are buried in the Mound City, Missouri Cemetery.

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My mother’s parents’ gravestone.  She was Nellie Narcissus Kaiser before she married rather late for back then–in her late twenties.  I never knew my grandfather.  He was so much older than she that even though he lived to be 80, he died long before I was born. My great-grandfather Kaiser was born in Switzerland and brought here as a child.

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The gravestone of my mother’s grandmother.  I know she lived with my grandmother and grandfather a lot of the time from family photos, but I also know that she died in San Diego.  No one ever told me how she got there or why.

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The gravestone of Aunt Julia, Mother’s sister.  She never married, loved fancy antiques and china.  I frequently use some of what she left me.  She came to see me rather often and we visited antique stores when she visited.  To say she was an independent woman is an understatement.

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My parents’ gravestone is on the right and Dad’s parents’ on the left–in the cemetery in Fillmore, Missouri.  My grandfather, Pleasant Lightle, had walked from Illinois to Missouri as a child according to family stories.  My parents met dancing. I always smile when I see the peonies planted at their graves.

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This is the gravestone of my great-grandfather, Dad’s mother’s father, who came to the US from Switzerland when he was 18.  According to my dad, he did not want to be conscripted into the Swiss army because at that time Swiss soldiers were being hired out as mercenaries.  His mother stood on the roof of their house waving until she could see him no longer.  They never saw each other again.  I grew up on the land he homesteaded in Andrew County, Missouri.  Andrew County is filled with descendants of immigrants who came from Switzerland.

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The old carriage house near the house where Dad spent the first ten years or so of his 90 years.  It is all that is left standing.

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The house where Dad lived the last 80 years of his life and where I grew up.

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When I was a child, the building in the foreground was used at various times as a farrowing house, once for Rhode Island Red chickens, and to store various farm supplies.  When I went to visit Dad after Mom died and we were at the cemetery on Memorial Day, a man came up to Dad and asked if he was Doyle Lightle.  They started chatting and I learned that when Dad first built it during Prohibition times, he held dances there.  The sheriff would send deputies to watch and make sure no one was drinking.  I had lived there and visited there for decades and had never heard this story.

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I took this photo standing on the levee next to the Missouri River looking toward the Rulo, Nebraska bridge.  This is the land my mother’s family owned.  On some Sundays as a treat, we would cross the bridge to a restaurant on the Nebraska side.  It was famous for its fried catfish and carp.

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This is country with lots of water and trees.  This picture was taken near Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge.  Several times in my life, I have seen flooding from the bluffs on the Missouri side all the way to the bluffs on the Kansas and Nebraska side of the river.  When I was a child, my uncle and aunt lived on the river farm until a flood reached half way up the second story of their house.  They gave up and moved to town.

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When I was a child, there were trees like this in lots of places on Mom’s family’s farm.  About this time of year we would hunt for morels and often pick a bushel basket full.  Mom dipped them in egg and cornmeal, then fried them.  We practically lived on them for week or two.  I was shocked as an adult to go into a fancy market and discover that dried morels were 95 dollars a pound.

 

 

 

 

My Mother–Barbie Doll


Barbara Lewis Duke, pretty petite, blue-eyed and blond, my mother, one fearless, controlling woman.  Long after Mother’s death, Dad said, “Barbara was afraid of absolutely no one and nothing.”  They married late:  34 and 38.  He adored her unconditionally.  She filled my life with horses, music, love, cornfields, hay rides,      books, ambition.  Whatever she felt she had missed, I was going to possess:  piano lessons, a college education.  Her father, who died long before I was born, loved                 fancy, fast horses.  So did she.  During my preschool, croupy years, she quieted my hysterical night coughing with stories of run aways horses pulling her in a wagon.      With less than one hundred pounds and lots of determination, she stopped them,               a tiny Barbie Doll flying across the Missouri River Bottom, strong, willful, free.

Note:  this poem is in my book “On the Rim of Wonder” and was also recently published in “Inside and Out”, a collection of writings by women.  It is available on Amazon and published by the Story Circle Network.

Addendum:  My mother loved horses and flowers.  When I look at the flowers around my house I think of my mother.  And, yes, I have horses.  The following photos are dedicated to my mother’s memory.

 

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My mother’s mother and father.

 

Blood Quantum: A Poem for Our Time


 

My grandson cuts himself into 16 equal pieces:

4/16 Urhobo from Africa

3/16 Spanish from Spain

4/16 European–two Swiss German great, great-grandfathers

(Werth and Kaiser), Irish, English and who knows what

3/16 Mexican–whatever mixtures that may be

2/16 Navaho

 

Who am I? What am I?

Who are you? What are you?

Do we really know?

Who sets the rules?

white men

black

Indian

Native American

Irish

English

German

from where and for whom?

 

He looks Navaho:

-blue black straight hair

-pale brown skin

-obsidian eyes.

One four year old girl asks him,

“Are you American Indian?”

His six year old self says nothing.

She repeats,

“Are you American Indian?”

He says, “It’s complicated.”

 

The Navaho won’t claim him, too little blood.

He needs 1/4, not 1/8.

Caddy and Fort Sill Apache allow 1/16, not Navahos.

1/4 blood is for

-Sioux

-Cheyenne

-Kiowa

-Navaho

1/8 works for Comanche and Pawnee.

Some Cherokees only want a Cherokee ancestor.

 

But he is none of those.

Is he Navaho?

Is he white?

The old South goes by the one drop rule:

one drop of Negro…

Is a person with 99/100 per cent white

and 1/100 black, black?

Who says?

Kids at school ask, “What are you?”

He tells them.

They say, “You’re lying.”

 

I only know specifically about two ancestors,

the Swiss Germans.

Another great grandfather disappeared during the Civil War.

I don’t even know his name.

Who am I?

Who are you?

I think I’ll get a DNA test.

Then I’ll know how many pieces I need to cut myself into.

 

Note:  This was originally published in my book “On the Rim of Wonder”.  I had a cousin send me 75 pages of ancestry information.  I looked up more myself.  That one great grandfather remains a mystery.  I had my DNA done.  It did not match what I expected from the ancestry work.

Blood quantum is the term the US government used to determine whether a person would be qualified as an Indian.  Now many Indian Nations use it to decide who can be on the tribal rolls and who cannot.

 

 

Mom’s Pumpkin Pie


Mom made fantastic pies of all sorts so much so that when she took a pie to a potluck, people would rush to get a piece even before they acquired any other food.  The only pumpkin pie my grandson likes is Mom’s.  He seems to like the idea that he is eating something his great grandmother created.  Today, I taught him to make homemade pie crust and Mom’s pumpkin pie.  Here he is crimping the edges after rolling out the dough and placing it in the pie pan.

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We made two pumpkin and one pecan today.  Here is the recipe for Mom’s pumpkin pie.  He ground the cinnamon–pieces of bark from a friend’s mom’s tree in Ethiopia–using an old fashioned, wooden grinder.

1 1/2 cups cooked or canned pumpkin

1 1/2 cups milk and cream or evaporated milk  ( I use 1 can evaporated milk)

3 eggs

3/4 cup brown or white sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg ( I grated this fresh)

1/2 teaspoon ginger

Dump everything in a blender.  Place your hand on the lid before starting the motor.  Blend a few seconds, until smooth, and pour into pastry-lined pie shell.  Bake at 450 for ten minutes, then bake at 350 for 30 minutes longer or until firm in the center.

Placed with Mom’s original typed recipe is this note:  “Juliana, if you use half evaporated milk it gives a wonderful flavor and I like white sugar best.” I use white sugar.

The finished product looks like this.

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This recipe makes a lot of filling so if you do not have a large pie pan, you will need to bake some of the filling in another pan.  Since we made two today, we baked the left over without a crust in another oven proof dish–pumpkin pudding.