Just in the Nick of Time: The Spring-Summer Obits

It seems it’s taking a long time to gather obit snippets.  I think families must be rethinking what they include and have decided to curb their odd comments about the dearly departed.  The notices are becoming more predictable and standardized.  However, I have managed, by careful scrutiny, to cobble together yet another grouping of short excerpts from the newspaper over the spring and summer.  And just in time, too, as Labor Day Weekend is almost upon us.  Here goes….

F. H…. “F.H., 92, passed from this life on July 5th and has probably fired the timekeeper who kept him here longer than he planned.”

R.W…. “It was said that he had a PhD in goose hunting; he [really] earned his nickname “Gooseman.”  He was [also] a member of Ducks Unlimited.”

E.T…. “She volunteered through her church for several disaster recovery events and was proud to be chain saw certified.”

F.A…. [Lt. Col. USAF (Ret.)] “F. was a happy child.  When he was quite small, his mother would dress him up in a little sailor suit and have him sing.”  [I suppose this presaged a career in the armed forces!]

B.D…. “B. has made his final curtain call.  He married his high school sweetheart on January 31, 1940.  B. and B. cut class and eloped to the local courthouse, making it back before school ended for the day.  They were married for 61 years.  [He waited until retirement to pick up his acting career; he had several appearances in movies (e.g. Firestarter II, Out of Step, Baptists at Our Barbeque), commercials, and voice-overs]  B. played Old Man Winter in the Questar [Utah energy utility] gas commercials.”

M.H…. “She never missed The Price Is Right and loved to line-dance with her girls to the “Boot, Scoot & Boogie” while Mark’s (her “sweetheart”) band played.  She was proud and close to her grandkids and was their “Nana Banana.”

M.A…. “She and husband, B., spent many a weekend attending gun, knife, and teddy bear shows” [what an odd mix of interests…].

K.A…. “K. was known as the Queen of Clean.”

M.F…. “Mother, Gram,Ya, G-G Mo, Bingo Nazi, and Queen of all tat she saw was born on…in….  M. was very proud of er Dutch heritage and loved to tell people that ‘You ain’t much if you ain’t Dutch!’  M. was a force to be reckoned with and will be missed.”

F.K…. “She just ran out of time.”

B.C…. “‘Punky’ was an avid hunter and fisherman who lived for the thrill of the kill.  The greatest joy in his life was his three baby girls [granddaughters].  He was an amazing cook and had one hell of a golf swing.”

A.W…. “After fighting a fierce battle with Pulmonary Fibrosis, [undergoing] five heart bypasses, [surviving] a horse that fell on me, and cancer, I have fulfilled my journey here on earth….”

F.P…. “She was a pain in the butt, but we loved her anyways.”

J.M…. “To her family and friends, J. was the ‘Asian Martha Stewart’.”

G.L…. “She was known for her fudge recipe, for which she paid the princely sum of one hundred dollars many years ago.”

L.P…. “Along with her passing, she took her famous homemade bread recipe and her beautiful crocheting.  C. had a great dislike for the color yellow.”

And finally, at 81, D’s tastes were eclectic–she must have been fun:

D.S…. “She loved to read, play cards, watch old western movies, and listen to Barbra Streisand.  [She] gave up bowling after 2006 heart surgery.  Recently, she went to a Lady Gaga concert with her two granddaughters.  Her dream was to go on an African safari, but she had to settle for the next best thing, the Wild Animal Park in San Diego.”

Published in: on August 29, 2011 at 3:16 pm  Comments (3)  

Views From the Windshield, Hotel, and Kitchen

After about 3000+ miles to and from one of my favorite spots on earth, Stratford, Ontario, I’m safely home again.  Despite my concern of driving into excessive heat in the mid-west, I must have been north of the worst of it.  I made it to my destination after 3 and a half days of steady driving, road construction, and some rain storms in Nebraska. 

Not to bore anyone, but the Stratford Shakespeare Festival Shows were superb.  If you drive that far, you’d better take in a lot of shows!  I saw 7 and all were beyond super.  The real standouts were Richard III, with a female actor playing the title role.  Seanna McKenna was amazing as Richard; she inhabited the role and became a manipulative creature.  The staging was minimal and the costumes were understated, emphasizing the actors.  I don’t have to see this show again, as nothing could top this production.  American actor, Brian Dennehy, appears in 2 productions, one of which I saw: Twelfth Night.  What a fun romp with music from across the decades of the 20th century!  A John Lennon (from the Yoko Ono Band days), dressed in a white suit with long hair delivered pizza at one point.  It would take too long to explain, but trust me, it was a perfect touch.  Other shows were: Merry Wives of Windsor, The Misanthrope (Moliere), Hosanna, Camelot, and  Jesus Christ SuperstarSuperstar was stunning and once the show closes in Stratford in early November it will head (cast, set, and musicians) to La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego, CA.  It might even make it to Broadway in 2012.  Keep your eyes and ears open and if it comes to NYC, do try to see it.

The trip back was more long driving, roadwork, and a doozy of a border interview going from Windsor, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan.  It took about 20 minutes and the officer wasn’t satisfied until he rooted through my ice chest looking for heaven knows what.  I did add a detour through Illinois en route home to visit Quincey, IL and Edina, MO (across the Mississippi River).  Back in the late 1800s and into the 1900s, family members lived there and as long as I was that close, why not stop.  No residences are left, save one where the youngest brother lived for a while.  I was able to add some genealogy information I got from church records, so the extra miles and hours were worth it!  One weather item worth mentioning, my last night going home was spent in Laramie, WY.  A sunny afternoon turned into a thunder storm situation.  I was in my room and towards the end of an active storm cell, the sun broke through and produced one of the brightest rainbows I’ve ever seen, accompanied by a second rainbow, that was fairly vivid.  With dark clouds behind the colors it was quite effective.  Then, slicing through the rainbows were several forked lightning bolts.  (Of course, my camera was in my car, so you’ll have to use your imagination.)  It actually looked surreal and like an illustration on the cover of a third-rate sci-fi novel.  But it was breath-taking to witness.

Back home, I’m faced with the garden harvest, so I’ll be looking out of the kitchen window a lot in the coming weeks while preparing and freezing green beans, tomatoes, and beets (yes, you can freeze beets), and other garden bounty.  Lara and I planted a special type of tomato that is good for sun dried tomatoes.  We experimented the other day with putting a tray of prepared tomatoes, covered with cheesecloth, on the dashboard of my car to “bake” in the heat of a closed car–and, no, my Toyota does NOT reek of tomatoes.  It worked!!!!  In fact, the finished product is too dry and we’ll use it crushed as a topping or in home-made pasta as a flavoring.  Next tray I won’t leave in as long so we get a more leathery sun-dried product which will work better in olive oil.

Gotta run and cut tomatoes to dry.  Meanwhile the bean plants are growing more beans.  It never ends….

Published in: on August 23, 2011 at 5:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

They Had No Choice

Well, I’m back from my Shakespeare trip and will share the view from the windshield next week, but in the meantime, as indicated in the last posting I put on my blog, here is the history article which appeared in the Syracuse Islander last week while I was away.  Hope is shines a different light on the experience emigrants and their animals endured in the 30 odd years of the wagon train journeys.

Early wagon train with oxen

They Had No Choice: Horses, Mules, and Oxen on the Trek West

With all the recent July celebrations marking Pioneer Days, which included parades and rodeos, one might wonder what the logistics were in using what we often call beasts of burden to successfully haul families and belongings west on those wagon trains.  Unless you are fortunate enough to own a horse, you might not realize the math associated with using horses, and by extension, oxen to travel a long distance. 

Go back in time with me for a moment to about 1840 or 1850: Once a family decided to emigrate west, and if you had the money, you would look into purchasing a Conestoga wagon and oxen team, as horses weren’t the first choice to be used as an animal team for a long haul.  But more on that later. 

The overland journey from the starting point at Independence, Missouri to Oregon or California took about five to six months across about 2,000 miles of country which was difficult and challenging at times.  It was also a huge investment; the journey alone would cost a man and his family about $1,000 in addition to the $400 Conestoga wagon.  (In 2011, the comparative value of an 1850’s $1.00 is about $25.00-$30.00.  Therefore a lot of bartering happened: land and/or material goods for a wagon.)  This wagon would have a canvas top stretched over a frame of curved metal slats and waterproofed with linseed oil.  The wooden wagon was reinforced with iron at strategic points, but sparingly, as iron would add weight, which could slow down or exhaust the animals pulling the wagon.  There are even documented reports of custom-made double-decker Conestoga wagons–the Donner family of the ill-fated Donner Party had one–but they were the rare exception to the usual version.

Between the years of 1840-1860, oxen were the animals of choice to pull wagons.  At $75 each, mules were more expensive than oxen, which cost about $25.  Horses were used as a last resort: they were expensive and each horse needed about 20 pounds of grass or hay each day to maintain a good weight.  Oxen were more adaptable to grazing on the sparse vegetation of the prairie and less likely to stray from camp.  Since hay did not grow naturally on the prairie, it would have had to have been brought along somehow for any horses, not usually an affordable convenience.  Once at the final destination, oxen could be used as draft animals to plow the land and help the homesteader start a farm.  Oxen were also less appealing to steal than horses on wagon train raids by American Indian tribes.  On the down side, oxen could become just as reckless as horses when hot and thirsty and were known to cause stampedes in a rush to reach water.

These poor animals, who had no say in their fate, were expected to pull wagons with loads between the recommended 1,600 pounds and the maximum of 2,500 pounds.  Research offers the average emigrant family used wooden barrels to pack 800 pounds of flour (often used as a place to safely pack the dishes to reduce breakage), 200 pounds of lard, 700 pounds of bacon, 200 pounds of dried beans, 100 pounds of dried fruit, 25 pounds of salt, in addition to kegs for hauling water.

And that was just the food.  Personal belongings such as rifles and ammunition, shovels and other tools, cooking utensils, some clothing, furniture, and a priceless heirloom often made the trip, too.  Heavy items like furniture were often abandoned to make more room in the wagons for the elderly or very young, which increased the weight the draft team pulled.  If you were able-bodied, you walked or, if lucky, rode a horse.

The oxen team could safely manage a speed of about two miles an hour, meaning if all went well and the ground was dry and fairly level, the wagon train could average between 10 and 20 miles per day.  Despite taking precautions for the well-being of the necessary draft team, many animals succumbed to heat, starvation, or dehydration; it is said that if you lost your compass, you could just follow the smell.  Of the estimated 40,000 to 60,000 oxen alone that pulled wagons in the westward migration between 1840 and 1860, some 11,000 died along the trail.  They truly had no choice. 

Once arriving at the western terminus of the journey, the oxen, mules, or horses that did survive faced a life of pulling plows and other farm machinery over the parched earth in the Great Salt Lake Valley and elsewhere.  Farm machinery used by the early settlers of Syracuse is on display alongside the back building of the Syracuse Museum.  Come see how hard farming was for your ancestors as they sat on ox or mule powered cultivators, beet seed drills, and alfalfa drills to get the plowing and planting accomplished. 

Our summer hours are Tuesday-Thursday from 2-5pm and by appointment (801-825-3633).  The museum is located on 1700 South (Antelope Drive) just before 2000 West.  Stop by and visit us!

Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm  Comments (1)  

“The Chicken Chronicles”–Part XI (and other odds and ends)

Chicken news has slowed down considerably this year; I guess all the problems with backyard suburban chicken flocks have been put to rest.  However, it has come to my attention that June 20-26 was Chicken Week in Utah–and I missed it! 

The event schedule made the local news and included such mesmerizing offerings as: workshops for successful raising of chickens, ducks, geese, and turkeys; chicken coop construction 101; feeding protocol; and breed identification.  This just confirms what we all realize by now, that Utahns take their poultry seriously.  Also happening during the week was the Tour de Coop, where one drives around with a map and visits backyard coops, both unique and upscale.  (See my blog of April 11, 2010 for more information on this plus images of amazing chicken coops.)

I should have remembered this event from last year, as the signs were all there: chicks could be ordered and picked up at Dallas Green’s Farm and Garden Store down from us  about 2 miles on Antelope Dr., it coincides with the first day of summer, and I had threatened to get my daughter several chickens and a coop for the backyard for Mother’s Day (the dog would love to herd them!).

The folks in small towns who had their feathers ruffled about chicken ordinances have settled down, so I am guessing all concerns were resolved.  It has been all quiet on the Wasatch Front in the newspaper so the entertainment value has disappeared regarding chicken flaps.  All over the top of Utah, young ‘uns are happily gathering backyard eggs from their flocks and roosters.

The end of July also saw the return of Pioneer Days with the attendant parades, fireworks (professional displays and shooting them off in neighborhood driveways), rodeos (complete with the Whoopie Girls in the Ogden Rodeo), country music fests, and rodeo and agricultural queens.  Last year I wrote about the mutton bustin’ the young kids participated in as well as the bronco and bull riding.  It all happened again and I missed it again except on the evening news programs.

Grandson Ethan has switched from swimming lessons to karate.  After three months of hard work and lessons several times a week, he earned his yellow belt (the first color in a rainbow of belt colors).  His age group is the Little Dragons, so his yellow belt has a black center stripe instead of being solid–that’s reserved for the older set en route to a black belt.  He seems to enjoy it, so most afternoons just before dinner we’re down the road apiece at Pinnacle Martial Arts.

Ethan removing his white belt.


Being belted with his yellow belt.


So proud!

 The garden is in full tilt now, though the tomatoes refuse to ripen from green to red.  Just being stubborn, I guess.  I posted photos earlier in the spring and now the photos I’ve included below will show you how much the garden has grown.  We’ve been enjoying carrots, lettuce, beets, zucchini, scallions, and beans–both wax and green.  The peppers are also slow to produce, but we’re still hopeful.  Fresh basil has been enjoyed on pasta already and we’ve got fresh parsley.  The cilantro was a disappointment: it went to flower right away.  There must be some trick to keeping it in just leaf form.

The back garden


Beans and pepper plants

Zucchini with blossoms

I will be taking a break next week from my blog as I’ll be driving up to Stratford, Ontario and meeting up with friends for yet another (my final?) Stratford Shakespeare Festival.  I thought last year was my swan song when I attended the Festival on my way home from my long sojourn east.  But here I am getting ready for a long solo road trip and heading across the border one more time.  I have several history articles ready to share when I return, as I had to prepare 2 in advance of August deadlines that would come and go while I am away. 
On my way home, I’ll be routing myself through Keokuk, Iowa; Quincey, Illinois; and Edina, Missouri so I can visit the towns where some of my family members lived 100-150 years ago.  I discovered all this while working on the family tree, so I’m excited about that opportunity.  I figured I would be this close, why not stop by the towns and check out addresses.  See you all again in two weeks!
Published in: on August 2, 2011 at 7:01 pm  Comments (1)