Monday, February 28, 2011

Last WWI Doughboy Dies

Frank Buckles, the last of the World War I doughboys, died on Sunday. He was 110.  Buckles drove an Army ambulance in France in 1918. 

Buckles was only 17 when he enlisted, lying about his age to get to serve. An astounding 4.7 million Americans served in the Allied armed forces between April 6, 1917, when the United States entered World War I, and the Armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.

When President Wilson and the United States Congress declared war after several years of a non-intervention policy, our standing Army numbered only about 100,000. The National Guard numbered around 120,000. The National Defense Act of 1916 enabled the country to increase armed forces numbers through the first nationwide draft.

Going from nothing to something was a monumental effort. And it was done on one day - June 5, 1917. All men between the ages of 18 and 31 were required to show up at a makeshift draft office on June 5 and sign up for military service.

The government was not sure that everyone would show up as required by the Act, so they closed schools and businesses, creating somewhat of a party atmosphere. One day did not yield enough men for the war. Two additional dates that year signed up a wider range of ages.

I've been interested in this because my grandfather was one of those men.  He received a deferment because he was the sole support of his wife and child. I still have the paperwork he received granting the deferment.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Truth more interesting than fiction

My grandmother grew up on a farm in the early 1900s, the youngest of five children. Though farms - particularly at that time - were known for requiring an abundance of hard physical labor, apparently my grandmother was not called on often in that regard.

 I wish I'd talked with my grandmother about her growing up years. The few details I have were passed along by my mother who hadn't spent much more time digging for details than I did.

 After she completed 8th grade in country school, "they sent her to sewing school in town."  That's what my mother said. I always took that statement at face value, imaging my grandmother in a room with many other young women, head bent over a sewing machine. I thought this, until I began digging into  history of that time for my novel.

As it turns out, the town where Grandma was said to have gone to 'sewing school' didn't have sewing schools, per se. Rather there were many seamstresses who took on as apprentices young women of good social status who hoped to meet young men of good character. This would happen because the seamstresses were invited to the house parties hosted by their clients. The young apprentice seamstresses went along, there to meet the right young men.

I find the images of seamstresses and house parties and young women of the right social status meeting young men of good character far more interesting than a sewing school.  My mind runs wild with the possibilities. I'm writing fiction, but starting with a few good facts makes it all the more fun.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Feeding the hungry

I've always wondered how birds survive the winter cold. It seems impossible that their little bodies can hold enough heat to survive freezing temperatures. Even worse when constant snow cover makes it hard for them to find food. I worry about the birds. I do.

Though a snow drift at least three feet deep covers half the prairie, it's gratifying to see that the prairie continues to provide. In spite of the snow, in spite of the wind, the prairie plants continue to stand upright.  Nothing pretty to look at - only brown and black remnants of once-brilliant black-eyed Susans, sunflowers and purple coneflowers silhouetted against white drifts. But the dried flower heads continue to sprinkle a buffet of flower seed on top of the snow - an ongoing feast for the birds, field mice and voles.

Each seed head produces hundreds of seeds, so it's likely the food will outlast the winter. And the birds are taking advantage. Their little foot prints cover the ground under each plant.

Once again, the prairie says to me - 'Don't worry. We've got it covered."

Thursday, February 10, 2011

New England Memories

Last fall my husband and I took a driving tour of New England. These states are known for their granite. The Granite State -  New Hampshire - takes center stage.

I knew when we set out that I wanted to bring back granite for my garden. Granite was truly the only souvenir I wanted. What, exactly, I would do with the granite, I had not decided. But granite would be the tangible memento we could point to and say 'remember' about our trip.

One small problem. Do you know that granite weighs 168 pounds per cubic foot?  Even if we could find a cubic foot of granite, picking it up and getting it into the van would have been a formidable task. But at least we had a van - more convenient than the year we loaded rocks into our luggage in Alaska!

I adapted my quest to possessing much smaller pieces of granite from each state we visited. What a delight to find that the granite we discovered (and picked up) along trails, rivers, and roadways comes in an amazing range of colors - green in Vermont, black in New Hampshire, pink in Maine. My good-natured husband cheerfully helped me find and carry blocks of granite, which can be remarkably heavy even when the pieces are smaller.

In our travels, we saw that collecting pieces of granite and assembling them into cairns is a popular way for travelers to commemorate their journeys. This was particularly true on Mount Washington, NH, which is crossed by Appalachian Trail hikers, and at Acadia National Park in Maine. Hundreds of these man-made piles of stones dotted windswept expanses on the mountain and high points of the craggy ocean shore.

By adding granite pieces to existing cairns and creating cairns that were uniquely ours - we created memories and left memories in New England for those who followed us.  We brought boxes of granite pieces and the memory of cairns back home to Iowa - where I assembled a cairn in my garden.

Cairns are temporary structures. Memories of vacations can be fleeting. But for now, each time I pass by the cairn, I enjoy a rock solid memory of the people we met, sights we saw, and experiences we had in the granite states of New England.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Big Foot in Iowa!

Ever since I was a kid, I've enjoyed seeing and identifying animal tracks.  Each animal is so distinctive.  Snow provides a unique opportunity to see what wildlife live on or travel across our property. No matter how fresh the snow, by the time I get out in the morning, some animals will have passed by.

I know because of its tracks that a neighbor's cat is a regular traveler down our front walk. I also know that a rabbit lives north of the drive but finds a daily reason to bound across the drive and through my garden. Occasionally I see the rabbit. Except for its tracks, I never see the cat. We also have dogs, deer, and many birds. Their tracks tell me so.

A few weeks ago, I indulged myself with a pair of snowshoes. Compared to other members of the animal kingdom that traverse our yard, my tracks are HUGE! A true big foot. These snowshoes encourage me to take a wider, closer and more frequent look at what is traveling our property.

Our 2 1/2 acres provide plenty of room to roam. But occasionally, I head north and lay down tracks across my neighbors' lawns. 

After a break of several days, I recently took that northern route. A new snow had fallen and when I first saw snowshoe tracks, I thought they were my own from a previous walk. Upon looking closer; however, I saw that the shape, length of stride, and even route were different. I realized with some delight that I was not the only one of my species in this territory!

I wonder if my animal neighbors see my tracks, scent my trail, and wonder about their new neighbor?  I do know that my invisible cat friend likes the trail I have tramped down. Its prints now follow mine!