1860 photo taken 4 days after Mr.
Lincoln visited Lincoln, Illinois, for the last time. Info at 3 below.
His town does too.
Link to Lincoln:
Lincoln & Logan County Development Partnership
Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission of Lincoln, IL
Abraham Lincoln and the Historic Postville
including a William Maxwell connection to the Postville Courthouse
About Henry Ford and the Postville Courthouse,
the Story of the Postville Courthouse Replica,
Tantivy, & the Postville Park
Neighborhood in the
Route 66 Era
The Rise of Abraham Lincoln and the Founding of
also the founding of Lincoln College, the plot to steal Lincoln's
body, and memories of Lincoln College and the Rustic Tavern-Inn
Introduction to the Social & Economic History of
including poetry by William Childress & commentary by Federal Judge
Bob Goebel & Illinois Appellate Court Judge Jim Knecht
"Social Consciousness in William Maxwell's
Writings Based on Lincoln, Illinois" (an article published in the
Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, winter 2005-06)
Peeking Behind the Wizard's Screen: William
Maxwell's Literary Art as Revealed by a Study of the Black Characters in
Billie Dyer and Other Stories
Introduction to the Railroad & Route 66 Heritage
of Lincoln, Illinois
The Living Railroad Heritage of Lincoln, Illinois:
on Track as a Symbol of the "Usable Past"
Route 66 Overview Map of Lincoln with 42 Sites,
Descriptions, & Photos
The Hensons of Business Route 66
The Wilsons of Business
Route 66, including the Wilson Grocery & Shell
Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Lincoln Memorial
(former Chautauqua site),
the Historic Cemeteries, & Nearby Sites
Route 66 Map & Photos Showing Salt Creek &
the highway bridges, GM&O bridge, Madigan State Park, the old dam (with
photos & Leigh's memoir of "shooting the rapids" over the old dam), &
the Ernie Edwards' Pig-Hip Restaurant Museum in Broadwell
The Historic Logan County Courthouse, Past &
Route 66 Map with 51 Sites in the Business &
Courthouse Square Historic District,
including locations of historical markers
(on the National Register of Historic Places)
Vintage Scenes of the Business & Courthouse Square
The Foley House: A
Monument to Civic Leadership
(on the National Register of
the Route 66 Era
Arts & Entertainment Heritage,
the Lincoln Theatre Roy Rogers' Riders Club of the
Cars, Trucks & Gas Stations of the Route 66 Era
Churches, including the hometown
churches of Author William Maxwell & Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr
Factories, Past and Present
Food Stores of
the Route 66 Era
Hospitals, Past and Present
Hotels & Restaurants of the Railroad & Route 66
Lincoln Developmental Center
(Lincoln State School & Colony in
the Route 66 era), plus
debunking the myth of
Lincoln, Illinois, choosing the Asylum over the University of Illinois
Mining Coal, Limestone, & Sand & Gravel; Lincoln Lakes; & Utilities
Museums & Parks, including the Lincoln College
Museum and its Abraham Lincoln Collection, plus the Heritage-in-Flight
News Media in the Route 66 Era
The Odd Fellows' Children's Home
Memories of the 1900 Lincoln Community High School,
including Fred Blanford's dramatic account of the lost marble
fountain of youth
A Tribute to the Historians and Advocates of
Watering Holes of the Route 66 Era
The Historic 1953 Centennial Celebration of
The Festive 2003 Sesqui-centennial Celebration of
Lincoln, Illinois, including photos of LCHS Class of 1960
dignitaries & the Blanfords
Why Did the State Police Raid Lincoln, Illinois,
on October 11, 1950?
The Gambling Raids in Lincoln and Logan County,
During the Late Route 66 Era (1950-1960)
in this section tell about Leigh Henson's Lincoln years, moving away,
revisits, and career:
About Lincoln, Illinois;
This Web Site; & Me
A Tribute to Lincolnite Edward Darold
Henson: World War II U.S. Army Veteran of the Battles for Normandy and
the Hedgerows; Brittany and Brest; and the Ardennes (Battle of the
For Remembrance, Understanding, & Fun: Lincoln
Community High School Mid-20th-Century Alums' Internet Community
(a Web site and
email exchange devoted to collaborative memoir and the sharing of photos
related to Lincoln, Illinois)
Leigh Henson's Pilgrimage to Lincoln, Illinois, on
July 12, 2001
Review of Dr. Burkhardt's William Maxwell Biography
Leigh Henson's Review of Ernie Edwards' biography,
Pig-Hips on Route 66, by William Kaszynski
Leigh Henson's Review of Jan Schumacher's
Glimpses of Lincoln, Illinois
Teach Local Authors: Considering the Literature of
Web Site About
Leigh Henson's Professional Life
in this section are about the writing, memorabilia, and Web sites of
A Tribute to Bill and Phyllis Stigall:
Exemplary Faculty of Lincoln College at Mid-Twentieth Century
A Tribute to the Krotzes of Lincoln, Illinois
A Tribute to Robert Wilson (LCHS '46): Author of
Young in Illinois, Movies Editor of December Magazine,
Friend and Colleague of December Press Publisher Curt Johnson, and
Correspondent with William Maxwell
Brad Dye (LCHS '60): His Lincoln, Illinois, Web
including photos of many churches
Dave Armbrust's Memorabilia of Lincoln, Illinois
Fikuarts of Lincoln, Illinois, including their
connections to the William Maxwell family and three generations of
family fun at Lincoln Lakes
Jerry Gibson (LCHS '60): Lincoln, Illinois,
Memoirs & Other Stories
Dave Johnson (LCHS '56): His Web Site for the
Lincoln Community High School Class of 1956
Sportswriter David Kindred: Memoir of His
Grandmother Lena & Her West Side Tavern on Sangamon Street in the Route
Judge Jim Knecht
(LCHS '62): Memoir and Short Story, "Other People's Money," Set in
Hickey's Billiards on Chicago Street in the Route 66 Era
William A. "Bill" Krueger (LCHS '52): Information
for His Books About Murders in Lincoln
Norm Schroeder (LCHS '60): Short Stories
Stan Stringer Writes About His Family, Mark
Holland, and Lincoln, Illinois
Thomas Walsh: Anecdotes Relating to This Legendary
Attorney from Lincoln by Attorney Fred Blanford & Judge Jim Knecht
Leon Zeter (LCHS '53): His Web Site for the
Lincoln Community High School Class of 1953,
including announcements of LCHS class reunions
(Post yours there.)
Highway Sign of
The Route 66
Association of Illinois
State Historical Society
Class of 1960
Lincoln Community High School
LH's note: the material published on this
Web page is copyrighted by Norman Schroeder and is published here with his
Author's note to "Wisconsin Sunrise":
The "Wisconsin Sunrise" is just as I saw it one morning a
couple of weeks ago [November, 2001]. I really tried to catch the sun as I
said, but the lighting conditions were quickly gone. When the frost suddenly
turns to water vapor, the term in science is sublimation. Solid directly into
gas is what the term means. This is what I was observing as I made my trek
that morning before school started. Anyway it is raining now and the weather
has turned cold and damp. Deer season in full swing. The hillsides are colored
a "blaze orange" if you know what I mean. Saw a dead turkey in the ditch on my
way into town. Must have been hit by a car. We have a large number of wild
turkeys around here! The DNR program of reintroducing the turkey has been more
than successful. I think we got some of the breeding stock from MO.
Copyrighted by Norm Schroeder,
2001, with all rights reserved.
As I step out side this November day, the early morning
temperature stung my face and awakened me. Frost was on the
barn roof of my neighbor; the lawn was covered with frost. The
windows on my old truck were frosted over. As I looked out
towards last summer's cornfield, amongst the stubble of stalks I
saw a small flock of geese, perhaps seven or eight in number,
quietly resting. A lone sentinel, his neck out stretched out kept
an ever-watchful eye out for danger. The autumn brown stubble
field was covered with a light frost. My breath froze in the air.
My eyes adjusted to see the moon was low in the western sky.
The stars were dimming as the darkness of the night slowly
began to turn into day.
A slight breeze began to develop from the southwest as
my early morning walk to check on the progress of the change
of the seasons. Only a few of the maples still had leaves on their
branches. Some of the young oaks still held tight their autumn
brown leaves. The birch and elms were first to lose their leaves this year. Not many leaves remained with the strong winds from
last week's sudden change in weather. Where was Indian
Summer, I thought?
I found my old camera resting on the front seat of the
a few pictures left to be taken. I was anxious to take some
pictures of the sunrise today, as the eastern sky was clear. You
could make out the first signs of twilight. Low to the earth,
however, things began to change. I became mesmerized as frost
that covered the farmer's fields began to sublimate. The warmth
of the slight breeze from the southwest was changing the frost
into fog. The fog was held tight to the earth in the low-lying
areas. I could see the change taking place rapidly. I began to
hurry my walk looking for a place to capture the sunrise with my
Walking across my neighbor's field, I lost the first
rays of sunlight
behind a small hill. I hastened my pace. The frost was escaping
quite fast now as the wind was picking up so very slightly. The
geese began to move about nervously, as they were watching
I journeyed on.down an old cow path, towards a
Now the sun was almost in perfect position, a few clouds began
to form. I wanted to compose my picture with a few trees
silhouetted on the horizon against the sun. I journeyed onward.
The sun was silently resting on the horizon, but not for long. The
earth does not stand still. I needed to wait just a few more
minuets. As I waited, the warmth of the wind and the warmth of
the suns rays made the frost disappear into a low-lying foggy
haze. A mysterious haze was forming. It briefly held tight to the
autumn brown stubbled fields. Only if I could get a little more
sunlight thorough the low-lying mist, would I be happy with my
I continued the chase. The old cow path suddenly ended
farmer's gate. I could hear the quiet lowering voices of cows.
They too had been enjoying the early morning sunrise. The old
wooden gate was quickly pushed aside and I stepped into the
farmer's field. Suddenly before my eyes there was the revelation
of farm buildings. Out of the mist came first the silo, and then I
could make out the red barn, a tired windmill, and a wired corn
bin filled with the gold of fall harvest. In the glow of the morning
sunlight, windows of the farmer's house were opened to my
eyes. My eyes were held captive as I gazed at the century old
two-story farmhouse. The old house was gray and weathered,
but the windows were ablaze with reflected sunlight. A warm
color that reminded me of the burning glow of a kerosene
lantern. The farmer's dog let out a quiet inquiring bark; there was
a pause. as he waited for a response. None was returned and he
remained silent as the crispy foggy morning.
My journey was now about finished. As I turned towards
eastern sky, I saw on the horizon the golden sky. The sun was
now moving from the dawns early light into the full day.
Silhouetted against the morning light, a small flock of geese were
in flight. I watched their graceful movement. As they turned to
the south, they formed a thin undulating ribbon, a ribbon drawn
by the mysterious magnetism of the seasonal change. I took the
lens cap off my camera and snapped a picture. Then I looked
down and across the farmer's field. I saw that in just those few
brief minutes that I had lost the perfect light that I had imagined
that I could capture on the film of my camera. But I managed to
capture it in my mind. The challenge now was to place it into
Click went the shutter in my mind.
* * * * *
Respond to Norm Schroeder at
by Norm Schroeder
Norman Schroeder, 2001, with all rights reserved.
The countryside is blanketed with a light
covering of fresh snow this December day. There remain a few fields of
standing corn. Some are partially harvested with only few dozen rows left
to pick. The rows of corn with their ears dropping towards the ground
remind me of columns of tired soldiers standing at attention. Looking up I
feel the warm sunshine on my face and enjoy the bright blue sky. As I
look towards the west, I see my neighbor’s red barn and the churning
windmill. Retracing my steps in the snow from the woodpile I notice fresh
rabbit tracks. In a bush near the kitchen window the call of a cardinal
breaks the stillness of the air.
My arms are full of several pieces of
freshly split red oak. Summer’s warmth will soon be released by the fire
that father has started in the fireplace. The house is decorated to
celebrate the arrival of Christmas. The tree is decorated with the glass
ornaments handed down to us from my grandmother. You can hear the radio
playing Christmas music with an occasional interruption about the weather.
Pickles, the cat, is purring quietly on the sofa, nestled up in an old
quilt. Mother sits at her desk addressing Christmas cards and writing
short notes inside each one.
The fire is now brightly burning and I warm
up a cup of hot cocoa. Next my eyes turn toward the cookie jar and I sneak
a couple of cookies onto my plate. My mother asks me what I might want for
Christmas, as she continues to write cards.
I pause and think a moment. “ I want a model
airplane like my grandfather flew.” I reply. (It was not the first time
that I had asked for such a gift. The plane was on my list from Christmas
last year as well as a much anticipated birthday gift…all to no avail.)
My mother did not reply and the pen in her hand fell quiet.
She got up and went over to the radio and
switched the station to some polka music. It was” happy music” she would
often say to me. Her voice was now silent, as she did not speak of my
grandfather. He remained much of a mystery to me. She did not return to
her desk, but instead went upstairs. I heard the attic door open. Quietly
I stepped up the stairs to the attic. The attic door was now ajar. The
cold musty smell of the attic rushed to meet me. I cautiously peered
around the door. I could see my mother remove the lid from an old shoebox
that had been kept in the safety of her grandmother’s trunk. She took out
a bundle of old letters tied together with a brown piece of string.
Carefully she took out what looked like a book; it turned out to be a
diary. Tears were in her eyes. I turned away and quietly crept down the
It was not long before she returned and sat
down at her desk. She untied the bundle of letters and after sorting
through a number of them found the ones she was looking for.”Here.” she
said,” this is the voice of you grandfather,” and she gave me the diary
with the letters.
The letters were written on plain white
tablet paper, such as school child would have. It was written in pencil.
The date was December 24th.
I now heard the voice of my grandfather
speaking to me after 50 years of silence.
Now I began to understand the gifts of
Christmas he left for us.
December 24, 1943
Dear Mom and Dad,
I have just received my wings
and have graduated from Bombardier and Navigator School. What a great
Christmas present. I have the rank of 2nd Lt. That means a
little more pay.
The Texas weather here at San
Angelo has been pleasant. I do miss the snow at Christmas in Wisconsin.
Wish I were with you both to celebrate Christmas this year. Who knows
where I will be next year at this time. Tomorrow I will attend church on
base and have turkey and mashed potatoes, Uncle Sam style. I must close
now and write Marge.
RA GK 35 Govt.
NUE Washington DC 2:25PM 8-15-44
Mr and Mrs
Route No. 2
We Regret To
Report To You That Your Son Howard Geier is
Action While Performing His Duties Over Germany
Government Of The United States Of America.
The Adjutant General
RA GK 35 Govt.
NUE Washington DC 1:25PM 12-2-44
Mr and Mrs
Route No. 2
Received Through The International Red Cross States
Your Son, 2nd
Lt. Howard C Geier Is a Prisoner of War of The
Government. Letter of Information Follows From Provost Marshal General.
The Adjutant General
November 8, 1944
Dear Mom and Dad,
By now you have
received word that I’m a prisoner of war. In German they say
Kriegesgefangenen or for short “ Kriegies” I’m a guest of the German
government so say the prison guards. Each day begins with roll call at
7:00 AM. It does not take long to dress as I have only the one shirt,
jacket and one pair of trousers. No shoes, cap, gloves, socks or
underwear. The shoes that have been given me are 3 sizes too big. I have
one blanket and a pillow to go along with my burlap bag filled with straw
for a mattress. Our camp is about 50 barracks. The camp or Stalag Luff lll
must be in northern Germany as it is quite cold here.
I feel lucky to be
alive as there was difficulty in my parachute opening. But I managed to
get it open after falling for over a mile. I landed in a farmer’s field
near a road and it was not long before a German soldier on a bicycle
captured me. I offered no resistance, as my arm was badly broken. After
receiving medical attention I was questioned a number of times. I only can
give my name, rank and serial number, I told them each time. After 3 or 4
of these interrogations, I was placed in this camp. The International Red
Cross has visited me and they have by now told you of my fate. There is
little I can do but to write you the 2 letters each month that I’m allowed
and to sit and wait for the War’s end.
Tell Marge that I love her and will write her next.
* * * * *
Merry Christmas! It is late as I write to you this Christmas Eve. I miss
you both. I received word from the Red Cross that you are now aware that I
am POW. The night is clear and we have snow on the ground in our camp. The
windows have their wooden shutters locked by our guards. There was good
news today. A shipment of parcels from the Red Cross has been received in
time for Christmas. The parcels add to the food we receive from camp.
Each day we have 2 slices dark bread with jam and “ersatz” coffee for
breakfast. (The coffee is quite bitter and is made from ground acorns)
Lunch is a very thin soup made with barley and wormy potatoes. Evening
meal consist of dark bread with jam and “ersatz” coffee again. If it would
not be for our Red Cross parcels, I think many of us would starve. In each
one there is a can of powdered milk, prunes or raisins, a chocolate bar,
crackers, Spam, processed cheese, a bar of soap, and some times tobacco.
In my last one there was a harmonica in my package along with a deck of
cards. Cards and checkers help pass the time. Tonight we are to have a
chaplain and a small service tomorrow if the guards allow us. They have
given us an extra allotment of a few small bricks of coal for the cold
think of the warm Christmas dinners we had. I relive and relive those
precious days when Christmas was spent on the farm in Wisconsin. I miss
your homemade bread, the Christmas cookies, the hot cider, the stuffed
goose and dressing. I can only dream of an apple pie or the taste of an
orange. I remember the time when as a young boy, we trimmed the Christmas
tree with strings of popcorn. Tonight I would eat the decorations on the
tree, as I am so hungry. Two rows of barbwire fencing separate us from the
pine forest outside our camp. That is as close as I will get to having a
The gifts of Christmas take on a special meaning this year. It’s just like
you said to me when I was a boy, “There are Christmas gifts that money can
never buy.” The freedom to come and go as you please, to write and receive
letters that are not censored, to shop at a grocery store for food that
you like, to visit with my aunts and uncles, and other loved ones, to read
the paper, to listen to a radio or music, to sleep on a real mattress,
(not one made of straw and a burlap bag), to see children at a department
store telling Santa what they want for Christmas and listen the to
Christmas story at church as a choir of “Angels” sing “Oh’ Holy Night” by
would be nice to have the light of a candle to take away the darkness and
give us hope. In our barracks tonight we will sing “Silent Night” as I
play the harmonica. Each airman will say his own personal Christmas
prayer. We all wish to be home for Christmas next year. The fire in the
stove is only a glow now.
Blessed Christmas to all
* * * * *
I now opened
my grandfather’s war diary. The soil and stains still looked fresh as I
read from his pen.
* * * * *
Happy New Year
Received a letter from Mom and Dad dated November 10th,1944.
Wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving. Good to finally see a piece of mail.
Nothing from Marge. Hear that we are bombing many rail yards and trains.
Red Cross parcels are far between. The sun shines today, but it is cold.
It is always cold.
Jan. 15, 1945
Still cold and food is in short supply. Tomorrow is “Pay Day” - Red Cross
parcels are to arrive. The bombers fly night and day. Some bombs have
dropped dangerously close. Were called out of our barracks again last
night and took to a ditch as bombs exploded and sirens wailed.
January 29, 1945
It is quite late and we have been told
to be ready to march to a new camp.
This is the last entry in my journal for sometime I feel. The temperature
degrees and a blizzard is upon us. Must gather blanket and food parcels.
Some are making small sleds from their bed boards to carry their
belongings. The word is that the Russians are only 20 kilometers from
camp. Still no Gloves, socks.
April 12, 1945
Conditions here at
Stalag IV take on the appearance of a hobo camp. Can’t find anything worth
eating. Damp and cold. Have word that the war is just about over. For
many the war is over, as we can’t make it more than a couple of weeks.
Many guards are
just walking away. From the sound of the artillery our troops must be
close at hand.
General Patton’s 3rd Army 14th Armored Division
arrived at the gates. We have been liberated.
I never thought a tank could look so beautiful.
For us the war is
* * * * *
this morning and rushed down to the Christmas tree. Santa had arrived
during the night while I was asleep. New skis and a basketball caught my
eyes first. Last night we exchanged gifts with family and I was hopeful
that I might get my model airplane. But to no avail again. Then looking
carefully towards the back of the tree, I spotted a long rectangular box,
carefully wrapped in plain brown paper. No bow was attached. It was held
together with string that I recognized from the meat market, where my
father bought bratwurst. I carefully picked up the present, and slowly
opened the box. My mother turned away and walked out of the room. A warm
glow came over me as my Christmas gift made itself known to me. There in
the box was a wooden scale model airplane kit of a B-17. It was the
“Flying Fortress” that my grandfather flew.
few weeks were spent putting the model together and learning about the
airplane my grandfather flew. I went to the library and checked out books
about the plane. In the evening hours I would carefully cut out the parts
of the plane from balsa wood. Sanding, more sanding, and gluing each part
into place. The plastic bubble, where the bombardier sat, fit perfectly on
the nose of the plane. The gun turrets with their machine guns ablazing
were in place. The four engines, propellers turning looked so very real.
More sanding and then painting. It was painted an olive green. I placed my
grandfather’s air group insignia on the tail, aligning decals carefully
then glued on. I then remember that the aircrew got to name their plane.
was the name of my grandfather’s plane?” I asked.
working hand-in-hand with me, paused and said… “Marge.”
was named after my grandmother?” I pondered.
a little help from my father, we carefully painted her name on the nose of
the plane. After a coat of lacquer had dried it was ready to show to my
mother. The plane just simply looked grand. With my imagination it looked
like it could really fly. I placed it on a little plastic stand. The
wheels were down ready for a landing I imagined. I took the stairs down
from my room and walked into the kitchen where I found my mother. She
turned around and carefully looked at the plane. Tears again filled her
eyes. She went back upstairs. I heard the attic door open, and after a few
minutes she returned to the kitchen. There she stood looking down on me
with a warm smile. She knelt down. From a small white box she took out
something wrapped in soft tissue and silver in color. She pinned it on my
shirt and gave me a warm hug. I looked down and saw my grandfather’s
Respond to Norm Schroeder at
The Strawberry Festival
by Norm Schroeder
Copyrighted by Norm
Schroeder, 2002, with all rights reserved.
(In the voice of Mark Twain)
It was a
beautiful June morn, fresh blue sky, soft breezes from the south, wild
geraniums in bloom in the woods, and the strawberries were ripe. In these
parts there is local festival in a small community along the Cedar River in
a town called Cedarburg. Here the citizenry select the fairest young maiden
of the town and crown her the Strawberry Queen. They then proceed to have a
festival and pay homage to the strawberry of all things. Reading all of this
in the paper and seeing the placards around the town, I thought I would take
a drive down that way. Besides who wants to make hay when you can pick
strawberries I always did say. So I got the buggy out and found "Gravy" the
old mare eager to go. Ma was almost ready and after getting her parasol we
were on our way.
good time as he clip clopped over the back roads, by the small dairy farms
with the cows slumbering and chewing their cuds in the grassy fields. I
talked to Gravy as we drove along and told him what a fine horse he was.
After arriving into town that was busting with the excitement of ripe
strawberries I found it difficult to find a place to park. I continued to
compliment him but he did not think so well of me after I had to make him
parallel park. Not an easy task with so many buggies in town.
made it ok, but the word was out about the strawberry breakfast. I never saw
so many hungry, people. The line was over three blocks long and they were
still coming in by train, steamboat, omnibus, stagecoach, bicycles and on
foot. Even saw a few Injuns in line. Guess we have made peace with them for
Strawberries are late this year; in fact they had to import them from that
state to the south of us called Illinois. They were expensive as there was
an additional sales tax placed on them. They called it a Berry Tax. Well I
told them to BURY it and pass the sugar. They found no humor in my
remark. So I repeated it to get their heat up a bit. Well to my surprise
when I ordered a second serving they heated up my strawberries over a fire
and placed them on a dish of ice cream. I must say I think I may have
invented something. It did improve their taste as all those little nasty
bugs, ticks, lice and spiders that they normally garnish the berries with
were gone, or should I say skedaddled !
We then moved on to the streets lined with pyramids of
tents, I found myself rubbing elbows with all the riff raff and merchants,
peddlers and pickpockets and bums. I began to find myself at home. HA. The
sight was not unlike something you might witness from the ancient winding
streets and alleyways of Cairo, Egypt, Zanzibar, Hebron or cobble stone
streets of Algiers. There were gypsies on the street corners, playing their
fiddles, Indians from the Andes mountains of Peru playing their flutes, and
a couple of young cowpokes singing about lost love to their horses. Such a
sad song than I almost cried, but I decided to join in with them and sing a
few verses. We moved on as I was now getting thirsty and found a
well-stocked saloon and I enjoyed the bartender setting up a couple of
drinks on the house. Having satisfied my thirst we proceed to wander the
winding streets with its shops, bazaars and colorful striped tents. With
little effort we soon assisted the merchants and peddlers in relieving us of
our money and their priceless wares.
At the next tent was a three-fingered young man
peddling a combination of a potato peeler, cucumber slicer, cheese grater,
apple corer, and an electric popcorn popper and vacuum cleaner all rolled
into one. I could not help to wonder at all the patent claims and documents
on file in the patent office. (Enough work for a patent clerk to keep him
busy for his entire life. HA! ) He made peeling of potatoes an art form you
would have to visit France to see. I mean French fries, curly fries, potato
slices so thin you could see through them. Next he took some cucumbers,
carrots, turnips, onions, a few radishes and
pineapples to add color. He placed then into the bin of the slicer and, with
sweeping turn of the handle, the mixture flew out the contraption not unlike
bunch of hens in a hen house with a fox knocking at the door. He collected
the delicate thin morsels in a beautiful white porcelain bowl with a little
blue trim on it, and mixed them around a bit. Then he strung them to
together with a piece of red yarn he pulled from his underwear and strung
them all together in the form a lei. He said it was a Hawaiian salad you
could wear and eat at the same time. The crowd gave a thunderous applause to
his talents, and then he made the mistake of asking if there were any
That’s when the trouble began.
I raised my hand.
He said, "Yes, the man in the white suit and matching mustache."
" Could this marvelous invention slice a watermelon?" I asked."
He did not reply and I thought he might be hard of hearing so I repeated my
question in a louder tone, much to the joy the audience. HA HA. And for
I threw in, "If it could slice a watermelon, could it also slice a pie."
Well now the crowd was highly interested and entertained by my question and
I was enjoying their laughter.
"Next question," he said.
So I raised my hand again and inquired, " Could it cut or slice a deck of
cards in an honest game of Black Jack?"
Well now the crowd was down on its knees, not unlike it
was church and
confession. Laughter was overflowing onto the lawn. Then I noticed one gray-
haired old lady. She wore her hair in a bun and had lost her spectacles, as
she had laughed so hard. On the ground as walked away I found a set of
stained dentures with a gold tooth. A toothless old spotted spaniel,
saddened with age had been following me and was begging me for a handout.
That old mongrel then sniffed at them, scuffled them up and slapped them in.
He looked up at me with a sparkle in his eyes and smiled. Well that is the
first time I have seen a dog with a golden tooth.
I said to
him, " If the shoe fits, wear it." He gave a small bark of approval, smiled
again and ran off towards a carnival of tents.
But I was not done. I followed with this most
slice a bunch of tobacco leaves so I could make my own chewing tobacco in
the comfort of my own home? More laughter and applause from a most
appreciative audience, I might add.
Having made my point I skedaddled! But I was still
wondering how it could
pop corn and vacuum the rug at same time.
Well my eyes could not help but notice that the taxes
are still too high on certain
clothing apparel for young women. Many of the young ladies could not afford
a full pair of pantaloons; they could only buy half of them. Luckily it was
the top half. If we continue with these high taxes, we will soon see women
with pantaloons that will be prepared for the second coming of Noah and his
Let us pray
for forty days of rain. HA
was the tent of Madam Macramé, a clairvoyant from the southern parts of
France that borders Spain. She was dressed in a red spotted handkerchief
tied about her head, wearing golden earrings and enough beaded jewelry to
fill a palace. Her sign read "Fortunes Read, Palmology Tarot Readings,
Phrenology -- $1.00. I paid the dollar and thought of it as a good
investment as the mining stocks had not been doing so well of late. After
entering her tent, she asked me to wash my hands to so she might get a
Having the left over sweat from the
dog that had been accompanying me earlier, still on my hands.
I said, "Why not?"
The Madam smiled at me as she sat
down. I noticed she to; wore dentures and had a gold tooth not unlike my
canine friend had worn earilier.
I said," I think I’ve seen your
smile someplace before. Have we met? "
"No!" she said. "Let’s get down to
Her first question was " When were
Well, I thought to myself, if she is
for real, she should know when I was born.
I told her " Take a guess, it’s on
Her reply was August 4th.
" Close," I said, "but no cigar."
to reach in my breast pocket pulled out a cigar and lit it up. The real fun
was about to start. She seemed annoyed at me…so being a gentleman. I offered
her one, but she refused.
She took my
hand and looked at it with her good eye not unlike that of an old hungry
buzzard. With her other hand, and her crooked old wrinkly finger she began
to trace out my lifeline. She said I would not liveto the ripe age of 42. I
told her that I was 44 and never felt better. Her eyelids now narrowed and
she continued to gaze and read my palm. I pursed my lips and blew a little
puff of smoke in her face to add a little mystery to her reading. She was
annoyed. I leaned back drew another puff and wallowed the smoke in my mouth
for a few moments, then I puckered up and blew a perfect halo of smoke into
the air. To her amazement it rested atop the crown of my white locks of
hair. Her eyes widened for a moment then she said, " Would you mind if we
switched to a Tarot Reading, as the air in here is becoming a little heavy
to breath? "
all." I said. Break the seal on your deck of cards and deal me in for a
quick game." HA HA !
back to a small table and got a deck of Tarot cards. Two decks with a total
of 78 cards as I remember. "Anything wild in this game?" I bet you play a
pretty good game of 5 Card Stud, Eucher or Old Maid;" I said. She was not
amused. She allowed me to shuffle the cards and do a fancy double cut, not
unlike the cut a magician would use in his repertoire of card tricks.
"Something I learned at the Black
Jack table," I said.
The Madam took the cards from a deck
called the Sacred Circle and played out three cards. One for the past,
another for the present and the last card was for the future.
The first card was the Ten Wands and
she said" You have taken on far too many commitments, and a sense of
oppression weighs you down. You must relinquish some of your self-imposed
responsibilities to achieve any of your goals; learn to delegate and leave
things that don't really need doing alone."
"You mean that I work too hard and
should take a nap. Great idea! When can I start?" I replied.
The next card was the Eight of Cups
and she said "This card tells me that you are about to t begin a change that
is necessary to bring something new and fresh into your life, a turning
point in your life that will bring you new friends and experiences.
"How interesting! Does it begin now,
or should I leave now so it may begin." I asked. I could tell she wanted me
to leave as her lips grew thin and tight as her gaze became more focused.
But I needed to look at the last card so I held my place.
The last card was the Two of Swords
and she said "You find yourself in a stalemate situation and you are neither
able to move forward nor retreat. It is best to sit back and wait for things
to blow over."
"Now that is going to be hard to do.
But I think you should get a new deck of cards as they appear pretty tired."
Haven’t you got some real cards? I bet you could really deal a good game of
Five Card Stud!" I said. She was not amused. That old dog I had met earlier
now was tugging at my pantaloons and pulled me away. I noticed he was
As I left the tent and my eyes
readjusted to the bright sun, I saw some Arabs had sent up a tent offering
camel rides to the public. Well must I say, I got in line with the rest of
the kids and paid my dollar and rode the beast. This was much to the dismay
of Ali Baba. Ali thought I was a little too big to ride his camel Mus’ad. (Mus’ad
being the camel’s name.) Well he was a fine beast, and we both had something
in common. We both liked to chew. He found one of my cigars and promptly
started to chew. I offered him a light, but he politely refused. He did
wallow that tobacco around his gums and suddenly spat a pretty good wad of
tobacco juice at the foot of Ali Baba. Mu’sad gazed at the crowd of children
with a most discriminating eye. Twitched his nostrils a couple of times,
barked a sound not unlike an elk in heat, and rolled back his lips a few
more times. Next he proceeded to take that cud of tobacco and masticate it
with a great deal of satisfaction and energy. When a young boy of about
fourteen was starting to act smart in front of his mother by whining and
complaining about how he wanted to leave and be with his friends, that camel
unloaded in the direction of that smart-alecky kid, and shut him up pretty
good. I was amused. Well I got a souvenir from the ride. A few camel fleas
hitched aboard and I knew it was time to skedaddle. I began to itch my way
back to find Ma and see how the Visa card was holding up.
The plastic Visa card finally melted
down and I thought we were through.
Well never say "never." There were still more shops, tents, and alleys to
had had enough and went back to the horse and buggy and lamented to Gravy
how fortunate he was only to have to work like a horse. I will need to go
to Nevada or California and strike it rich panning for gold or investing in
the silver mines of Carson City.
Well enough of this rambling on. I found the buggy, backed it up and Ma got
in. We headed back home breathing the fresh air, enjoying the countryside
and all its marvelous road construction. Now the building of roads and
bridges is where the real money is.
Respond to Norm Schroeder at
It was early December and it was snowing undecidedly.
Mother drove through our small town on the way to my grandfather’s farm. The
tinseled Christmas decorations played in the wind as they swaggled from the
streetlights on Main Street. Candy canes, toy soldiers, angels, and
Christmas wreaths. A banner proclaiming "Peace on Earth" hung across the
intersection of Main and Mill Streets. It billowed in the chilly north wind.
My faced was pressed hard against the cold window. Rubbing the frost away
with my mitten, I could see a man dressed in his Salvation Army uniform. He
was ringing a bell on the street corner as he stood by his red kettle.
Cling, cling, cling, and ring the bell did sing. Christmas shoppers, heads
bent down, scurried along sidewalks. Few noticed him this Saturday morning.
The news was not of peace on earth, but of war. And for Mother it was the
war at sea which occupied her mind.
Mother had been unusually quiet. The long delay of letters from my father at
sea was a constant worry. The sinking of liberty ships in the North Atlantic
as reported in the newspaper gave her no comfort. It was even on my older
brother’s mind as he delivered the local newspaper. We all wondered if
Father would be home for Christmas. We drove on - the windshield wipers
flip-flopped, flip- flopped. Quietly I again looked out the window of the
car. I could see the frozen millpond where willows lined the shore. There by
the abandoned icehouse stood a solitary pine tree. Here children and parents
were in the process of decorating. By the end of the day it would be
transformed into a magical Christmas tree for the town. The millpond is
where children, dressed in their stocking caps skated carefree. A small
brown dog was learning to "skate" on the ice, much to the delight of the
small children like myself. I looked upon them with envy. This Christmas
would be different, I sensed. There was emptiness within me. I had learned
from my older brother that Santa was not real. When I asked my mother, she
only answered with silence. I sat with my doll wrapped in a blanket and
leaned my head on my mother’s lap as she continued the drive.
It wasn’t long before Mother turned on the radio of the car. When she did,
Christmas music began to play. I began to feel more cheerful and my thoughts
turned to what gifts I might be receiving this Christmas. Mother asked me
what I wanted for Christmas. " I have not made a Christmas list yet," I
answered softly. It was the first time that I had not written Santa a
letter. There was a sudden bump and clapping from the road. I pulled my head
off my mother’s lap and saw that we were passing over an old wooden bridge.
I knew that in a short time we would soon be at my grandfather’s farm.
The car climbed up to the crest of Waddams’ Hill. I pressed my face hard
against the window again. From the ridge, I could see the outline of the
woods of my grandfather’s farm. In the valley below I could see a tired
train - the smoke and steam trailing from the black engine. It was pulling a
solitary passenger car, two boxcars, an empty flat car, and a red caboose; a
train that was winding its way through the valley where my grandfather
farmed. The train would make its way again past the farm early in the
morning, blowing its whistle once or twice at the railroad crossing as it
announced its presence in the valley. Then farmers and grandfathers would
pull out their pocket watch and set the time of day anew.
The fields were now covered with fresh snow. The snows came early this
winter. In the field were the tied bundles of corn shocks holding on to
their autumn brown color. A pheasant flew into the wind and blowing the snow
as it passed in front of the car. We crossed the railroad tracks and turned
by the redbrick schoolhouse where my mother went to school as a child. In
the windows were paper snowflakes that the children had made celebrating
winter’s beauty. Soon I saw my grandfather’s mailbox at the end of the lane,
the flag still up waiting for the mailman to deliver Christmas cards and
letters. Mother turned the wheel of the car and we now drove down the lane
towards my grandfather’s house.
The windmill turned restlessly as it stood proudly next to the red barn with
its spotted stone foundation. My grandfather’s old gray truck was parked
next to the granary. Grandfather was getting ready to go to the mill to
grind feed for grandmother’s chickens. Mother stopped the car, then pulled
my scarf tight around my head and reminded me to put my mittens on tight.
She gathered a brown bag of groceries from the back seat that Grandma had
asked her to get from town. I held my doll close and covered her with a
blanket again. Mother opened the door for me and I stepped out and looked
In the corner of the yard Grandmother had decorated a snowman that my
grandfather had made for me. The snowman was dressed in my grandfather’s old
black hat and grandmother’s red velvet scarf. His face smiled with an orange
carrot nose and an old corncob pipe. The black coal eyes and buttons shined
and seem to make him come to life. I shuffled my feet slowly towards the
house. I did not need the red boots my mother made me wear as the walk was
freshly shoveled. As I looked up I saw my grandmother’s warm smiling face
through the porch window. She greeted us as she walked out on to the porch
of the old white Victorian farmhouse. Pickles the cat rubbed herself around
my boots and meowed. Mother returned to the car and drove quietly back to
Such a beautiful house! A pair of cardinals was feeding at the bird feeder
that hung from a birch tree next to my grandmother’s kitchen window. The
summer porch was now decorated for Christmas. Grandmother had strung fresh
cut garland from the porch banisters and railings. A Christmas wreath, with
its red bow, hung on the side of the house below the upstairs sitting room.
The Christmas tree had not yet been placed in the parlor window. It sat
outside waiting for Grandfather to put it in the Christmas tree stand.
Tomorrow after church, Grandfather would bring it into the house, and then
Grandmother and I would decorate it.
Grandmother left the door open as she hurried to greet me with a warm hug.
She stood there in her ruffled apron and told us to hurry in. I could smell
that she had been baking gingerbread cookies - my favorite. Grandmother
carried my small suitcase in as I was allowed to spend the night. Sleeping
in Grandmother’s soft feather bed was a special treat. Grandfather had to
sleep in the downstairs guestroom. Grandmother and I would talk long into
the night that night. That was when we talked about Santa, how important it
was to believe, and the meaning of Christmas.
I awoke early the next morning to the smell of fresh ground coffee that
Grandmother had made for breakfast. Rubbing my eyes as I walked down the
staircase into the kitchen, I was greeted by the warmth of an old
cream-colored cook stove. The breakfast table was set with buttermilk
pancakes, maple syrup, freshly fried canned sausages and scrambled eggs
(eggs that came from grandmother’s chickens). Hot cocoa was steaming in my
cup. Grandfather looked up with his cheerful blue eyes, eyes that reminded
me of my father, and asked if anyone had seen his old corncob pipe. There
was silence as I looked at grandmother. He poured his second cup of coffee
and he said that after finishing the chores he would set up the Christmas
tree in the parlor for us to decorate. Grandmother thanked him and told him
not to hurry as we were going to be busy making Christmas cookies, fudge and
The day passed quickly, baking and frosting cookies. We were making fudge
from Grandma’s secret fudge recipe, and baking Mother’s favorite Christmas
bread. The bread had been started the night before, as the yeast had to
raise the dough slowly. The hickory nuts we gathered from the fall were now
being used. Two oranges sat on the table from which grandma would make a
special orange glaze to be baked on the bread. With a small pearing knive,
Grandma showed me how to make a small heart in the crust of the bread adding
my initials to it. As it would bake the heart would swell, not unlike my own
heart as this bread served as my gift to my mother. It was to be her
favorite Christmas present from me.
That Sunday it was bitter cold. Grandfather’s old car would not start nor
did his old truck. So he started the green tractor. Pop! Pop! Pop! it went.
He hooked it to an old sleigh kept in the barn and down the road we drove to
church - Grandfather on the green tractor, Grandmother, Pickles, and I
bundled in Grandmother’s quilt. We were as warm muffins from the oven, as we
glided along riding in the sleigh. "Best have the car fixed by Christmas,"
said Grandmother," for we do not want to ride to church on Christmas Eve in
a sleigh pulled by a tractor." That evening mother came to pick me up and I
told her that I had made her a special Christmas present. She smiled and
gave me a hug, but she was still quiet. The newspaper she gave grandmother
told of another liberty ship sunk at sea. Still no letters from my father.
"Will father be home for Christmas?" I asked. Mother did not answer.
Other children at school were also questioning if their father would be home
for Christmas and if Santa was real. It was the topic of conversation on the
playground, some believing others confused, and some saying grownups don’t
believe in Santa. I told them that my grandmother believed in Santa. This
seemed odd to quiet a few of them, but others only laughed to my hurt. In
the classroom our teacher read the poem, "Twas The Night Before Christmas."
She and the music teacher prepared for the Christmas program to be given by
our class. The music teacher would take us to the small gym and we practiced
our Christmas carols to her accompaniment on an old upright piano. The
children then put on a small play about children and Christmas. The program
ended with a wish for all people to have peace on earth as we sang "Silent
Night.". Then our teacher would hand each of us a candy cane and wish us
Merry Christmas as the parents came to get their children. I felt the
absence of my father again.
The following week came the celebration of Christmas on the farm with
Grandfather and Grandmother. There was much talk about the loss of life at
sea as a friend of my mother had received a telegram with the sad news " We
regret to inform you…. ." I could not help but notice that we had received a
telegram also, but mother hid it in her writing desk not having opened it.
Its message would remain sealed. Mother, along with my older brother and I,
drove out to my grandfather’s farm to celebrate Christmas Eve and Christmas
Day. The night was still, the snowdrifts along the roadside and in the
farmers’ fields glistened in the moonlight. It was a silent night, and
clear, as we retraced the road again to the farm: over the bridge, up the
hill, down into the valley, across the railroad tracks, past the little red
schoolhouse, and down my grandfather’s lane to the Victorian farmhouse.
Candles glowed in every window and Grandfather’s Christmas tree stood
proudly in the parlor. I knew Christmas was almost here. The windmill slept
in the cold winter night as I looked towards the barn. My eyes widened as I
saw a meteor streak across the sky. I wondered if my father had seen it and
where he might be.
Grandfather was waiting for us at the door. We went into the parlor and
placed our gifts around the Christmas tree. On top of the old player piano
burned a solitary candle. Next to it framed in gold was a picture of my
father in his sailor uniform. My mother went over to it and quietly wiped
the tears from her eyes. Grandfather gave her a warm hug again. He turned
around and said we will open our Christmas gifts Christmas morning and we
needed to get ourselves ready for Christmas Eve services at the country
Since we were still warmly dressed it wasn’t long until we had all climbed
in Grandfather’s old Packard and were driving down the lane on our way to
church. The sermon was given and the Christmas story told again. We ended
the service with a prayer for peace for all lands. We sang, "Joy to the
World." as we left church each child got a small brown bag with an orange,
candy cane and popcorn ball. I thought of my father again as he especially
On our way back to the farm it was windy and snow was blowing and beginning
to drift. I must have fallen asleep in the car on the way back, for I was
tired. Hearing the distant sound of a train whistle awakened me. It was then
I noticed that I had been sleeping in a small trundle bed next to my mother.
She lay there sleeping quietly. I pulled the quilt from my bed and went over
to the frosty window. There in the moonlight I could make out the "Christmas
Train" pulling away slowly from the railroad crossing as if it had stopped.
A single passenger car, dimly lighted, continued its journey into the night
with the wind blowing the snow across the barren fields and lonely roads. I
then looked into the sky for Santa and his reindeer. For a moment I thought
I had seen something fly across the face of the moon. Looking again, it had
vanished. "Was it Santa?" I asked myself. It was Christmas and I still
believed. I returned to my bed and closed my eyes and fell fast asleep
waiting for the arrival of Christmas and its early morning light.
As the morning unwrapped itself from the night, I awoke again. In a dreamy
state I found myself feeling warm and cradled with warmth. My sleepy eyes
saw the Christmas tree in the parlor aglow with lights. Below its
outstretched limbs were Christmas presents joyfully wrapped in holiday paper
and red bows. Surrounding the Christmas tree was a small train waiting for a
child to wind and make it go. On the piano bench was a sailor cap. I looked
up, rubbed my eyes and saw my father’s blue eyes smiling at me. He had
carried me downstairs, in my sleep waiting for me to awaken. When I did, I
understood the special gift that the "Christmas Train" had brought to me
that early Christmas morning.
Respond to Norm Schroeder at
Copyrighted by Norm Schroeder, 2003, with all rights reserved.
As graduation day approaches our local high school, I reflect upon my high
school years. I sit with the faculty of school where I teach, behind the
school board members, administrators and our speaker for this afternoon. In
a few moments these young men and women will march across the stage and
receive their diploma. A few of the graduates will look out at the audience
of family, friends and guests, take that one last look at their assembled
class, and move on to their next endeavor. For many of them they will not
personally reacquaint themselves with their classmates or teachers. The
realization that that this era in their life is about to close, brings tears
to some and for others, great joy of relief and accomplishment. For most,
that opportunity to reacquaint themselves with their high school classmates
will come in the form of an invitation to attend their high school class
reunion. Did the reunion committee track you down with a little help from
the FBI or CIA? As a last resort, perhaps, they found help from your mother
or a brother or sister. Did you remember to return the RSVP? For myself the
notice arrived in the mailbox on the porch.
The invitation to attend my class reunion arrived in the mail over six
months ago. With some hesitation… I opened it. At the bottom of the page I
recognized one of the names on the class reunion committee. Even after high
school some of my classmates were still socially active in keeping our class
together, keeping in touch. Some truly friends for life. For me, I suppose I
was easy to find. My address had not changed since graduation.
Inside of me I felt a strong yearning to acquaint myself with former
friends, classmates and a few of my former teachers. It would be a chance to
relive some of those memories of the sanguine days of our high school years.
I mentally began to prepare myself to attend. It seemed like only yesterday,
but twenty years have already passed since my graduation from high school.
Was I ready to attend? That is the question that I needed to answer and was
Looking in the hall mirror, I noticed that I had put on a few pounds over
the past few years. (My mother is such a good cook.) Grudgingly I decided to
lose a few pounds to make myself look a bit more youthful. I also noticed
more than a few gray hairs had made their self-visible. I made a note to get
a bottle or two of "Just for Men" dark brown hair coloring. The television
advertising of the desires of a more youthful look was having its effects on
me. Five minutes in the shower and the dark brown gel would do wonders to
erase much of the age that has crept up on me. So, I whimsically dreamt.
Working in a retail environment under fluorescent lights had done nothing
for my pink skin…I noticed. From the local paper I filled out a registration
form for a number of discounted tanning sessions at a local tanning salon.
Their motto was " You can get that man, with one of our tans." Anyway I
wanted to look like I had been to Arizona or Florida over the winter playing
golf. When the golf course would open up, I would be out on the links mowing
grass to work on my tan. (I had worked part-time at the golf course since
high school.) I wanted to look real good and tan! If this was not enough I
enrolled in the local fitness club at half price for the past few months.
Running on the treadmill, lifting weights, and of all things I began to eat
my vegetables. My mother noticed! My trainer had given me a special diet,
and more exercise which would help me lose some of the flab. Exercise, I
thought, is this what they really mean by graduation exercises? I had
acquired more than just a few pounds at my job in retail sales. The mirrors
in the fitness center do not hide the truth of one’s appearance.
In about three months the people that came into the store had noticed quite
an improvement in my looks and many were generous with their compliments. I
am really beginning to feel good about my reawakened youthful appearance. I
became a regular reader of Man’s Health, took fast releasing,
fortified vitamins, and drank carrot juice! When I looked in the mirror … I
found I didn’t look over forty-five.
Our class reunion was to be held at the local Elks Lodge. Great I thought,
there the lighting would be low and no one will notice the little lines that
have crept around my eyes and across my forehead. The festivities were to
begin with cocktails at 5:30 P.M. Dinner to follow at 7:00 PM. Well, I
thought, I should plan on arriving about 6:30. That would give me enough
time to visit some of my classmates and choose a table where I felt
comfortable; making sure that the table lighting was subdued. I made it a
point not to seek out or to sit with those who have already made a
million dollars or more and may have formed their own company. And who knows
what classmates have been to graduate school and are engaged in scientific
research for some pharmaceutical company or work or I Net company having
tons of stock options? All of this making the rest of us look like a
collection of hapless failures that gather at the local laundromat on a
My self, I was still living at home, still saving for a house. I have held a
steady job at Barr’s Shoe Store now for over twenty years. My title is
assistant store manger. "Making happy feet" is the store’s motto. (It’s on
my nametag and business card.) I still have the upstairs bedroom that I had
when I was in high school. The view from the dormer looks out onto a
maple-lined street. It’s quiet and peaceful. I can see the playground where
I played ball as a kid. As I look back on my accomplishments, I’m still
proud of the trophy I received in the third grade as being the spelling bee
champion for Central School. My framed blue ribbon, that I won at the county
fair for having the best Pez collection, hangs on the far wall next to a
framed picture of me and the shoe store manager proclaiming me as employee
of the month. Next to an empty milk glass and a plate of half eaten
chocolate chip cookies, sits a glass enclosed ant farm. It has been a source
of constant company for me since my high school science fair days. I’m still
self-conscious and cautious as always. I still have my high school
graduation present- an Amity leather wallet. A small little circular ring a
little bigger than a quarter is embossed into the wallets inside cover. Like
a good boy scout, I have been prepared for that special moment for over
I make a mental note to ask mother for the keys to the station wagon next
Saturday night. . It is a cream colored, four door, Ford Country Squire with
the fake brown wood trim. I write a small note to myself on the Boss Drug
Store calendar that hangs on back of my bedroom door. " Class reunion at
Elks Club" and highlight it in yellow. It’s the only entry for the month of
August. Mother thinks that it is nice that I’m going to attend my class
reunion. She is as interested as I am in what had happened to many of my
classmates over the years.
The day of the class reunion is finally here. The family wagon is washed,
waxed and vacuumed. 1977 must have been a good year for Fords. A little
green pine tree air-freshener hangs from the cigarette lighter. My dark
brown hair looks real good I tell myself as I check myself out again in the
review mirror. Off to the Elks Club I drive. When I arrive, I’m careful of
where to park. I feel it is best not to bring to much attention to the fact
that I am still driving my parents car. This feeling of being a little bit
uncomfortable and insecure is nothing new. At the registration desk I found
that my nametag was missing so they had to make a quick one for me! One of
the girls sings that song that has haunted me over the years…Norman, ohh, oh
darling Norman. I blush and head for the bar thinking that I must have
forgotten to mail in the RSVP.
It was after the meal and a couple more old fashions when I began to relax.
It was there that several of my classmates and I were discussing the
successes and failures in our lives over the past twenty years. Then someone
asked the question " Do you remember our commencement address?" Without
exception almost everyone did. When I began asking other friends and later
relatives, that event passed without being recorded in any detail Most of my
classmates could not recall their commencement address from college.
Let me "visit" that event with you, or should I say "invite" you to my high
school graduation and the commencement address so vividly etched into my
As I close my eyes I can see Lincoln High come alive with its hustle and
bustle of students standing by their empty lockers one last time. I can see
that we are dressed in a blue mortarboard, tassel and matching gown. We are
standing inline in the hallway outside the gymnasium. There is the constant
chatting with friends, the making of well wishes, telling jokes, and a small
prank or two as we were all placed in alphabetical order. Over the intercom
came the cue for us to begin our march into the gymnasium, into the rows of
folding chairs placed on the gym floor to the familiar song " Pomp and
Circumstance’. I hear the tired piano come to life as the music teacher,
Miss Dorothy Sharp, plays the first chords of the traditional melody. We
march in tall, proud, young and full of youthful pride and ambition. I see
my mother and father sitting in the bleachers. Father has his camera and
flashes a picture of me as I walk by. I smile as other cameras join in and
record the event for prosperity.
We sit down in the same seats that we have been so carefully rehearsed only
the day before, lest we get out of line and get the wrong diploma. The
basketball boards have been cranked back towards the ceiling and secured. We
sit facing the stage at the east end of the gymnasium. The scoreboard and
clock have played their last game for our class. We rise and we all join in
and say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. The flag hangs just above the
scoreboard. The tired velvet black curtains trimmed in gold frame the stage.
The stage sits above the basketball court to the east end of the gym. Here
the dignitaries sit to anoint us with words of wisdom. On the stage floor
reside two vases of pink gladiolas on each side of the podium. On the floor,
just to the left of the podium, sits a recently tuned upright piano with
Miss Sharp. The superintendent now makes a few opening remarks. The pastor
follows with a prayer. The school board president has a few remarks for our
class, of which his daughter is a part. He quotes Lincoln and something from
his Gettysburg Address. (I have a feeling it is the only famous quote he can
recall.) Mr. Hodgson, the principal, now introduces our speaker for our
We all have noticed our speaker as soon as the curtains have parted. He sits
apart from the others of our community here gathered for this important
occasion. He is dressed in a white suit with a blue button down collar and
dark blue tie. We notice that he is wearing dark glasses and is led to the
podium with his white walking cane. It is our speaker Allen Potter. In the
short introduction he is simply addressed as " A teacher of the blind:" I’m
puzzled. How can a teacher of the blind be blind? He gives us a short
biographic sketch of himself explaining how he became blind as a child
because of an illness. The faces of his parents, uncles, aunts, home,
church, the sky, his hometown, dad’s car, and the sports heroes are all
frozen in time. The year was 1971. A time of peace demonstrations and of a
conflict in South East Asia. He said he was only fourteen years old at the
time. He now must be in his fifties. He has titled his presentation after
Helen Keller’s short story, "The Seeing See Little," or "What did you see
having passed this far or failed to see?"
I now remember the trouble that the principal had in the setting up of a
large white screen sitting on a tripod with chrome legs positioned at the
back of the stage. A slide projector with a carrousel of slides was plugged
in and the long cord with a control button to advance the slides was turned
over to our speaker. Of all things, I thought, this is going to be a
commencement address with a slide show presented by a blind person. How can
a blind person do such a thing? We are keenly attentive to our speaker, in
fact I remember the astonished feeling I had, for I wear glasses and it is a
secret fear that I always had that I might go blind. Our class was unusually
quiet as well as were the rest of the guests. We are now totally captivated.
The lights of the gymnasium are now turned off except for the glowing red
exit lights. With a cue from the principal, he begins his presentation. I
remember it more like a conversation one would have with a gentle uncle. His
first slide is that of himself at the age of fourteen. He tells us this is
how he looks even today. According to him he had not aged. We laugh a
little. Next are the pictures of his parents, brothers and sister. It looked
like a vacation picture from out west on a camping trip. The trailer in the
background, and he and his dad were showing off the fish that they had
caught that day. They were first on his list of heroes. Next he showed us a
picture of Helen Keller and told us of her accomplishments. Author, lecture,
could speak foreign languages, all of this without ever hearing her own
voice or the voice of her teacher. He told us her first words were "water".
He held in his hand some cards from which I think he was reading. I began to
wonder if he was really blind or was this just a stunt.
The next slides were that of Ray Charles and Chubby Checker. He said he
enjoyed their music and did not notice their skin color. How could he, he
said, all people look black to me. There was a quiet laughter that filtered
through the crowd. Next he showed a slide of the constitution of the United
States of America. He said he had read it wondered if we would remember its
importance. Liberty, freedom, and justice we experience, are not
particularly seen, but we see their injustice and its effects. He showed us
slides of the Grand Canyon, the president’s faces on Mt. Rushmore, the
Golden Gate Bridge, the rugged Rocky mountains, a summer rainbow, puffy
clouds, a farmer’s wheat field, an old abandoned house in need of paint,
children swinging from a swing, playing baseball, and a marching band at a
football game, a homecoming queen and king, and a girl and boy dancing at
the prom followed by what may have been their first kiss. He told us to
notice the little things that are so often missed as we live each day. I
remember at that moment the scent of lilacs drifting into the gymnasium.
Next came a picture of his "bride" he called her. She was so youthful and
had a captivating smile; smile that he never saw, I reconciled to myself.
Next were the pictures of his two children, dressed in their play clothes
playing in a sandbox. Not unlike the one I had played in. Each picture
brought back a special memory to me and I’m sure our audience.
Next came a picture of a covered bridge and fall foliage. He said he liked
to hike along a country road and listen to the sounds of a running brook and
the squeak of the boards as he walked across this bridge. It was not unlike
the bridge from Madison County, Iowa, that my mother had once described
where she met my father. Next there was a slide from the view of a
microscope. They were cells. We had been taught about the importance of
cells in Mr. Proctor’s biology class; how one cell can make a difference,
especially if it is cancerous. That brought a chill to me then and still
does today. He must have enjoyed nature as he showed us slides of snow
crystals, arching rainbows, flowers in a garden, pollinating bees, the wave
of a pounding surf, blinking lightning bugs, popping bubbles, early morning
dew, colorful butterflies, a colt and her mother, cows in a meadow, Halley’s
comet, and pictures of stars and galaxies.
He walked out from behind the podium as if to get a better look at the slide
of the Milky Way he was describing. He said he wanted to get a better view.
We laughed. He backed up nearing the edge of the stage. Then without warning
he turned around and "looked at us", took one step off the stage falling to
the gymnasium floor scattering his note cards in disarray. The audience
gasped, he was unshaken. "I should have looked before I leaped." He quipped.
His note cards, now in disarray, lay on the gym floor. He asked Victoria
Thornton, who sat in the first seat in the front row, the class
valedictorian, to put them in order, as they were all numbered. We now could
see that they were all in brail. She was embarrassed. He said "The seeing
see little," and quickly had them all back in order. I think the lesson
there was we need to learn how to see and feel what we see.
He found the edge of the stage and with out a moment’s hesitation, jumped
back up and found the podium, with just a little help from Mr. Hodgson.
Addressing the graduation class, "We do not understand our fate or how we
will land. " He turned the accident into a learning situation. " Each day is
an opportunity to see and to learn." Carpe Diem it is said in Latin
Mrs. Eberle would quote.
If you can’t "see", try to understand, for you have been given the gift of
sight. Remember how to use it. Remember what you have gained from it. Life
is so much easier if you just do kind things. Be kind to all of God’s
creations. Remember to laugh, especially at yourself.
I remember his parting words as he wished us well.
"Be of good health; be generous with warm hugs; do good work and keep in
touch. If I can’t see you, you know that you are on my mind. The little
lessons in life, the little kind things that you do will be the most
important. I now pass that on to you," He said. He left the stage but not
Our class was called to stand. Our names were announced and we came forward
to receive our diploma. As done in generations before us, there was the
congratulatory handshake, and the lifting of the tassel from its right side
to the left as we were presented our diploma. We marched out into the world
leaving our graduation behind us… we thought.
Thanks for attending and reminiscing my high school
graduation with me.
I still like
chocolate chip cookies and milk.
Respond to Norm Schroeder at
"The Christmas Walk" is copyrighted by Norman Schroeder,
2003. All rights reserved.
The Christmas Walk
A light dusting of snow has just fallen this cold November day. It does
not quite cover the blades of grass in the lawn, but it does cover the
sidewalks. The gaggling sounds of geese are heard overhead as they hurriedly
fly south. I see where a rabbit has been in my yard. On the sidewalk I
notice the small footprints of children scuffling along their way to school.
I’m out sweeping the porch steps off while thinking about this year’s
Christmas Walk. I pick up the morning paper and return to the house to get
my car keys to drive downtown.
As I drive I’m still thinking of the Christmas Walk. It will take place
the first weekend of December. Soon an announcement will be placed in the
local paper and on placards around town that inform us of this upcoming
event. The Christmas Walk is sponsored by merchants and service
organizations that donate their time and money to promote the spirit of
Christmas. A historical home is often selected as the setting for this
annual event. The local historical society asked if I would talk to my wife
Martha and see if we would like to place our house on display for the
holiday season. (Hmm, did I say yes and forget to tell Martha?) I have
always taken pride in my home and worked hard to keep it up. It is a home of
a steep red tiled roof, shuttered windows, fieldstone foundation and
walls…not the typical clapboard siding or brick often found in the older
homes. It is a home rich in character and comfort. It was one of the early
homes of the community built from the stones that were gathered from the
farm fields that surround the community. It sets near the wooded park where
in summertime families gather for picnics, reunions, band concerts and
graduation exercises. I have enjoyed many a warm summer evening listening to
the band concerts through an open window in my study.
My town is quite proud of its Christmas Walk. Many people are drawn to
the community and its charm to celebrate the season. It is a quiet town
where once passenger trains made a daily stop at the depot. The depot still
stands and serves food, not passengers. (The last passenger train left town
in March of 1969 and the last freight train passed through the week before
Christmas of 2001.) The state is in the process of acquiring the right of
way to turn the rails into a bike trail. The town changes slowly.
The children of the community still wait with anticipation for the
millpond to freeze over so that they can ice skate. The streetlights are
decorated with garlands…each light pole hand wrapped. Each streetlight is
crowned with a large green wreath. Tied to the wreath you can see a red bow
blowing in the wind. A community Christmas tree is carefully decorated with
strings of colorful lights and handmade decorations by local artisans. Next
to the tree sits an old red sleigh filled with a large brown bag with
joyfully wrapped presents. Just before you cross over the bridge you are
reminded of the time by an old village clock standing tall and proud. Its
hands pointing to the large Roman numerals we learned as schoolchildren. You
can see the small children pressing their rosy faces against the frosted
windowpanes of the family car as it passes over the bridge by the millpond.
The children are dreaming of Christmas day and the presents that Santa will
leave under the tree at home, I remind myself.
My car stops at the only streetlight in town. It is at the corner of Mill
and Stafford Streets. I park my vintage Ford that I have restored and put a
nickel in the meter. A banner suspended across the intersection proclaims
"Peace on Earth". An old man sweeps the snow from the walk as a volunteer
from the Salvation Army rings his bell. The pealing bell calls us to give. I
walk over to the red pot on its tripod stand and make a donation. He thanks
me and wishes me a Merry Christmas and rings his bell again. I’m on my way
to the hardware store to purchase some more lights for the pine tree out in
front of the house.
I ran into the president of the Historical Society and he reminded me for
a second time that they wanted to feature our house for the Christmas Walk.
My reply was it would be ok. (I think I did talk to Martha about it.)
Thinking about it again, I recall that she felt a little anxious about
people coming into our house that we did not know. I reminded her how she
had enjoyed the other homes of the community. I felt that we could do it
with some neighborly help from the local business people and the Junior
Woman’s Club. She was a past member and served on various committees in the
community. She reluctantly agreed. Our home would need a good house cleaning
she told me, and I agreed to give her a big helping hand.
We have lived in this old fieldstone house now for almost fifteen years.
I saw the house listed in the local paper. I phoned the realtor with an
offer and when I drove by the realtor’s sold sign was already up. My wife
told me that the owner was placed into a nursing home. I knew her and her
husband both, as I delivered the newspaper to their door when I was a young
boy. His name was Glenn and his wife was called Emily. I was told that Glenn
had helped his dad and uncle build the house. They were both from Germany
around the turn of the century. That would be slightly over hundred years
ago. When in 1948 Glenn’s health began to fail, he and Emily decided it
would be a good time to give up milking and sell the cows, move to town, and
take care of his aging mother who was living in the house at the time. It
was a difficult decision to make as all their life had been spent together
scraping out a living by farming and milking cows. It was all that Glenn and
Emily had known. You could tell that he had worked hard as his hands were
strong and callused from the years of milking cows and farm work. I remember
them both with fondness, especially at Christmas, for they would invite me
in this old stone house and serve me hot cider and her special fruit cookies
by the fireplace on a cold winter’s day.
It was the mid part of November when we began getting the house ready for
the Historical Society and their Christmas Walk. The downstairs rooms needed
just a thorough cleaning, windows washed, drapes cleaned, rug shampooed,
woodwork tightened up and touched up with a little stain and paint where
needed. Martha wanted a nice coffee table and a new set of love sofas to be
placed by the fireplace. The old Philco TV was taken to the Goodwill store.
I began to feel a bit of a pinch in my wallet. We haven’t made it to the
upstairs yet, I thought.
The upstairs had been remodeled by the previous owners some thirty-plus
years ago. We were always going to do it, and now was the perfect time to
get it done. We had about twenty days to complete the task. It was our
intention to change the wallpaper in what was a children’s bedroom that we
now used as a guest bedroom. An antique wrought iron bed, painted enamel
white, was to be placed in the room. We found a small bureau with an
attached oval mirror at an antique store that had been refinished nicely.
Martha would use one of her handmade quilts to add a warm touch to the room.
A small shelf I made to attatch to the wall would hold a Seth Thomas steeple
clock. A small bookcase would provide a place to place a few old books and a
couple of stuffed bears my wife collects. An antique brass lamp would sit on
an end table next my grandmother’s sewing rocker. A new colonial hooked rug
was laid on the hard maple floor. The floor still looked good, as they had
been refinished shortly before we took possession of the house. New drapes
were brought in to coordinate with the new wallpaper. Luckily for me, we had
only one small window in the bedroom. A picture a local artist had painted
of a barn was framed and hung on the wall.
The adjoining room had been used as a small reading room and catch all.
It was one of those rooms you kept closed when company comes into your
house. It had cheap wood paneling placed over one end of it and the
wallpaper was in need of something not so dated. The large floral pattern
from the era of the 50’s just never did much to the room. A good friend from
our church offered to help me with the remodeling of the room. I wanted to
strip the walls of the old paper and remove the paneling. The crown moldings
would be replaced and a new dimmer switch was to be wired in. I also would
rewire the room to accept a computer connection. I wanted a new computer
desk and a new laptop computer. An antique ladies writing desk I had
refinished I planned to move into the room. This would become my computer
desk. I would but have to wait until after Christmas for the laptop for they
would be on sale after the holiday. I went to the library and checked out a
couple of Bob Vila’s videos on "This Old House" and got some helpful hints.
I wish I were as good at woodworking as Norm Abrams is. However, my friend
was good at woodworking and had helped others with their home remodeling
projects. It was estimated that it would take an additional week to remodel
the room. It was well within the time frame we were working under.
The following week I rented a steamer and we began to peel the wallpaper
off; it was while we were removing the wood paneling that had been glued and
nailed to the wall we made a small discovery. An old small closet that had
been covered up with a sheet of plywood and the paneling laid over it. The
little closet would make a nice little built-in library I thought.
The closet held a surprise. There was an upper shelf in the closet,
hidden from view by the door jam. Attempting to remove the shelf I found it
still contained an old cardboard box filled with some old ledgers left over
from the farming days and a bundle of old letters, cards, and papers etc. I
removed it and sat down to examine its contents. I found an old Wallace
Farmer magazine dated Feb. 1903. I read its yellowed pages. It was
interesting to see how prices have changed over the years for milk was five
cents a quart, eggs were fourteen cents a dozen, sugar four cents a pound,
coffee fifteen cents a pound, and gasoline ten cents a gallon. There was a
recipe written on a small card for a woman’s shampoo. I learned that most
women washed their hair once a month with borax and eggs for shampoo. This
would be followed by a lemon juice rinse. Old newspaper clippings were
inserted here and there in the ledger: Dillinger seen in northern Wisconsin
was one of the featured stories dated from April 1934, and a pair of movie
tickets stubs to the Majestic Theater, dated 1919. I remember hearing about
it at a local meeting of the Historical Society. It was one of the three
movie theaters our town had at one time. Now we do not have any. Another era
in our town’s history has quietly passed by. A collection postcards from
friends and pictures of Glenn’s family filled a small scrapbook. It was a
time capsule of their social gatherings and trips. I found a train schedule
of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad, a token for the trolley car No. 26
that once traveled down Mill Street and a receipt from Dr. Nutt for some
apples reminded me of the ski hill where an apple orchard once stood. The
family ties began to emerge. I found a small bundle of letters, one of which
had been sent to Emily from her twin sister. Also wrapped in a plain vanilla
envelope was a small journal she had kept as a young girl. It was within
this journal I began to find out who Emily was and why the Christmas of 1903
was so dear to her. It too held a "Christmas Walk."
Getting back to the house, Martha and the local merchants began arriving
at our door to decorate the house the week before Thanksgiving. The florist
was there placing some early red poinsettias around the house and a large
pine wreath was hung on the side of the house with a spotlight directed
towards it. A smaller wreath made from some grapevines hung on the front
door. It was tied with a gold bow and some pinecones. A Christmas tree was
set up in the living room in front of the double bay window. Old glass
Christmas tree ornaments that Martha had been passed down to Martha from her
mother in Germany were tastefully hung on the tree. I again got to hang the
little "pickle" for children to find on the tree. A local antique dealer
placed an old wooden rocking horse next to the tree. Martha let me set up my
Lionel train around the base of the tree. It made me feel like a kid again.
An old toy fire truck, a Mrs. Beasley doll, and an old Victorian dollhouse
were added beneath the tree. A special arrangement of white poinsettias in a
wicker basket was placed on the coffee table in front of the fireplace. A
pinecone wreath was hung over the fireplace and a couple of old lanterns I
had refinished were tied with red bows and placed on the mantle. An antique
brass carriage clock from France that reminded me of the time of day was
placed on the opposite end of the mantle next to the Nutcracker standing at
attention. The Nutcracker was dressed in his uniform of blue trousers, red
jacket and black hat. His jaw was set firm and straight.
Across the room stood a piece of furniture handed down from my mother. It
was an Early American pine hutch decorated with some draping garland
interwoven with small white lights. A small wooden replica of a sleigh sat
on the buffet. It served as a Christmas card holder. The sleigh was filled
with old Christmas cards from the turn of the century, part of my collection
of old holiday postcards. Martha placed an arrangement of three white
Christmas candles tied together with a red and green plaid ribbon next to
it. On top of the hutch was placed an animated Salvation Army band. They
were little chipmunks that played Christmas carols when plugged in. "How
cute!" everyone would say. The upstairs bedrooms were trimmed in matching
antique white pillows and comforters. An old trunk added a bit of nostalgia
to the room. The book The Night Before Christmas was opened and
placed on an end table. An old gas lamp that had been electrified and its
white bowl added a warm touch. Martha had picked it out because of the
little blue flowers in its crown that set it apart from other lamps of the
era. Antique pictures frames were purchased and placed throughout the house.
Some of the relatives I had not seen before were spending Christmas with us,
so to say.
The kitchen would be the place of entry, as people would come into the
home. Before they would go into the house the guest would slip into surgical
footwear so as not to track into snow, mud or dirt into the house. Once in
the kitchen they would see a collection of fine cheeses that our community
is proud of. Two wineries from our state would offer a wine tasting to the
guests along with the cheese and crackers. A plate of Christmas cookies
would be on display but a "Do Not Touch" sign was added for my benefit.
Christmas cookies would be on sale in the garage along with hot
cinnamon-flavored apple cider at the end of the tour by the Jr. Woman’s
Club. With the purchase of your ticket you could also ride a horse drawn
sleigh down Forest Avenue to the bike path and then along the Mill Pond,
enjoying the sound of the clopping hoofs and jingling bells on the harness
of the one horse drawn sleigh. Along the way other homes would be decorated
in the spirit of Christmas. If the weather is cold you could enjoy the
softness of the fresh-fallen snow and the ice-skating on the frozen
millpond. Carolers from local church choirs would stand next to an enameled
black sleigh with its gold trim in the yard. The carolers would rejoice in
the songs of the season as guests arrived at our home. In the windows of the
house, Martha placed grapevine wreaths with little candles aglow, making the
house look warm and cozy.
It is now December, 2003, I remind myself, and we are trying to capture a
brief moment of Christmas past. What was it like in 1903? The first
automobile to drive across the United States makes its way from San
Francisco to New York City in sixty-three days … no highways then, lucky to
find gasoline. No motels, restaurants, service stations or garages to repair
you car. It is the time of the Wright Brother’s first powered flight of the
airplane at Kitty Hawk, N.C. Theodore Roosevelt is president and is off
camping in Yosemite with John Muir after making a visit to San Francisco.
This was the year of the now famous "Teddy Bear." Electricity is coming into
the towns and villages of Wisconsin. There is a local phone company and
phones are becoming more popular in the homes of our town. Steam powered
trains move from cities to town to villages on a regular basis. People walk
to church, walk to one-room schoolhouses, walk to a neighbor’s house for a
visit. I gathered this from the newspaper clippings and postcards and
letters I found of Emily’s. It was in a letter that she had saved from her
twin sister and through her journal that I learned about how she and Glenn
had met. The Christmas present she received in 1903 when she was just
fifteen years old began to unwrap itself.
I discovered that Emily had been an orphan. She had been given a ticket
and placed aboard a train along with other orphans from the east and taken
to small towns in the Midwest and placed into homes. Churches often had in
their bulletins a notice announcing the arrival of the Orphan Train. The
Churches were seeking families to take in the children. Emily had been in
three or four homes by the time she was fifteen. She had worked hard as a
domestic in helping other families with the household work. Cooking,
cleaning, baking, sewing, cutting firewood, and milking cows were some of
her chores. When times got hard for a family where they no longer could
afford to feed or clothe her they notified the superintendent of the
orphanage of her return. Most often she was glad to get out of the household
and all the work and poor living conditions she had to live under. She began
to see this happening again in the fall of 1903. The family that had taken
her in was breaking apart. The father was spending more time in the tavern,
spending what little money there was. The mother and her baby were moving
out, back to Minneapolis where her parents lived. The move was to take place
by the end of the year if the mother’s baby remained healthy. Emily did not
want to go back to the orphanage, and tried in vain to find her twin sister
for help, to no avail. The records of the orphanage were sealed and not open
to children. It would be another twenty years before they would reunite.
Emily had attended a small country school at various times. She wanted to
be a schoolteacher if she ever got the chance to go to high school, and then
a normal school for her teacher certificate. She met Glenn at a church
picnic the summer of 1903. They developed a friendship. Glenn was three
years her senior. She worked out of the house at times to earn extra money.
Glenn had started to help his ailing father run the farm. They milked
sixteen head of Holstein cows twice a day. Emily would be sent over to help
during harvest time and was paid ten cents an hour for her work. (Most
workers earned twenty cents an hour.) She saved her earnings. This allowed
her to buy a few yards of fabric from the mercantile to make a dress for
church. She had one pair of shoes, shoes now too small for her feet as she
was still growing. Most often she went barefoot in summer and wore old
leather work boots for shoes, except for Sunday when she wore those tight
fitting shoes as she walked to the small country church.
The winter of 1903 was snowy and cold. The woodstove burned almost
constantly at times to keep the house warmed. Emily often had to split the
wood from the woodpile and fill the wood box in the house three times a day.
Her journal was her closest friend. She was not looking foreward to the
celebration of Christmas; she did not know when a letter might arrive with a
ticket for her to return to the orphanage out East. At church the week
before Christmas, Glenn had asked if she would like to go to church with him
on Christmas Eve. She agreed and was happy just to get out of the house. It
was then she would tell Glenn of her return to the orphanage. Where was she
going and what family would she be living with next? These were the
questions that kept her awake into the long night. She remained a custodian
of the orphanage until the age of sixteen. Boys were often let go as soon as
they found work, often as early as twelve or thirteen. It was in her journal
that I found out how she escaped from the control of the orphanage.
From her journal she writes:
December 25th, 1903
My Dear Friend,
Last night Glenn stopped by the house and walked me to church. I dressed
in my best dress, and borrowed a coat and scarf from my stepmother. It was a
quiet winter evening; stars glistened in the cold air and the snow cracked
beneath our footsteps. I could hear sleigh bells of the horse drawn-sleighs
as they passed down the road in front of my house. I thought Glenn might
pick me up in a sleigh but Toby, Glenn’s horse, went lame from pulling some
logs out of the timber and was kept in the barn until he got better. We
walked the remaining two miles to church. Inside the church there was a
Christmas tree, decorated with little white candles. They were carefully lit
as the sermon began. The lanterns burned brightly from overhead as the old
pump organ came to life. Each member was given a small candle. The light was
passed from one to another as the service began. The church glowed in the
candlelight with the spirit of Christmas. We sang "It Came upon a Midnight
Clear," "A way in the Manger", and "We Three Kings". A young woman stood in
front of the congregation and played "Silent Night "on a violin. It was so
beautiful I wiped tears from my eyes. The story of Christmas was told again.
We sang our last hymn "Joy To The World." Glenn has such a nice singing
voice . I told him should be in the church choir as we finished the hymn. As
we left the church we wished the pastor Merry Christmas and shook his hand.
Glenn’s Uncle Albert and Aunt Tillie stopped to offer us a ride home. We
accepted and Glenn told of his problems with his horse. His uncle George
said that Glenn could borrow the sleigh and horse for the rest of the night.
He could then take me home and return it in the morning. But first we were
invited to their farmhouse for hot cider and fruitcake if we wanted. Glenn
graciously accepted and we visited awhile. His aunt gave me a small present
of some red mittens that she had knitted. I was so thankful. We looked at
some pictures through a lanternslide projector of far away places in the
world. His Uncle Albert put a record on the Victrola and we listened to it.
It was beautiful music. "Such luxury !" I
thought.. Glenn said we should be getting on and walked me to the sleigh.
We got in, his aunt Tillie place a couple of warm bricks in a tin box to
help keep our feet warm. We bundled ourselves up in an old buffalo robe at
our feet and we drove down the lane, bells jingling along the way. Glenn
drove the sleigh across an open field down towards an old gristmill. There
he parked the sleigh and we walked beneath the moonlight out onto the
millpond and we pretended to ice skate. It was so much fun! As we walked
back to the sleigh I asked him to stop for a moment as I had something to
say to him. He said to me in his quiet voice " Let’s continue to walk on
this Christmas evening, for I have something to ask of you." We turned
around and walked back out onto the ice of the frozen stream and we quietly
pretended to skate again. "Who goes first?" I asked. "Ladies first." he
said. With a heavy heart I proceeded to explain to him my situation: I was
about to return to the orphanage and that this would be the last time he
might ever see me. How fortunate he was to have a family of relatives
nearby. I had no father or mother. I did have a twin sister, but I have not
been able to persuade the orphanage to tell me of her whereabouts. I was
legally the custodian of the orphanage until I reached my sixteenth
birthday. The superintendent had been notified that I would be returning for
placement again. I was simply waiting for a train ticket back East to begin
all over again.
Glenn listened closely and attentively with deep concern for my plight.
"You know they can’t do that to you if you will marry me. That is what I
wanted to ask you. Will you?" he asked in a calm and reassuring voice. It
was then I fell into his arms and wept on his shoulder. He held me close and
let me cry my happiness out. He comforted me with the words ," I won’t let
them take you from me."
"I think you are trying to say yes." he said after awhile. He lifted me
up, twirled me around and said, "Merry Christmas! "Emily …you have given me
the one and only Christmas present I will ever need… yourself." Glenn simply
said again in his soft and quiet reassuring voice "Merry Christmas!"
He placed his hand in mine and we walked back to the sleigh. We drove off
to the jingle of the bells and fresh snow falling on a moonlit night. We
took the long way home over snow covered fields, through a small woods and
down the lane to my house. It was well past midnight and Christmas was never
I’m the happiest girl in the world!
May the Christmas Season find your "Christmas Walk" the beginning and a
reawakening of the spirit of Christmas. Let your journey continue to be a
blessed one with family and friends.
December 25, 2003
Respond to Norm Schroeder at