Memories from my Aunt Janet

When I was young, my grandfather still farmed the “Donley Place” and I drove the Massey Harris and Massey Ferguson tractors that my grandfather had purchased when my mom and my aunt were younger. He used those tractors to the day he died.

My mom is still very “thrifty” to this day, and her biggest fear has always been to be poor again.

Donley Place 1955
Donley Place 1955

The Summer That Changed our Life, written by Jan Janet Bollheimer and edited by Barb MIller
The Summer Visit That Changed Our Family’s Life

A golden field of oat stubble was the site of our memorable summer picnic dinner. It was the summer of 1951. Mom had prepared fried chicken in her aluminum Dutch oven pan and wrapped the pan in newspapers to keep it hot for our hour journey to what might become our new home. We made our journey in Dad’s old, black 1930’s Ford coupe which Dad had bought used—three girls, ages 10-7, squished together in the back seat and young Kenny sitting in the front, bench seat between Mom and Dad. The hour-long journey took us from our river home near Pontiac, Illinois, through the villages of Saunemin and Cullom, and north on what was known as the “one way slab” to a farm near the village of Herscher, Illinois. Where we were going on this sunny day and what we found at the end of that road and the tremendous affect it had on our lives is the essence of this story which so much resembles Laura Ingalls Wilders’ book, Little House on the Prairie.
Dad was to rent and farm the land where we had our picnic. The land was 160 acres of fertile land albeit peppered with lots of small rocks left as the glacier moved through the area a millennium before. The like-new two story house with four bedrooms and outhouse became our happy home for the next six years.
We were so glad that Dad and Mom had liked the farm on that Sunday in July, 1951. Later that same summer, we moved our meager belongings from our flood-ravaged, river home on the Vermillion River to the flatlands near Kankakee. A small, spring-fed creek on the new property was the only water that might get out of its bank, but it would not take out our entire cash crop, gardens, and destroy our home and outbuildings as had the swift moving Vermillion River on July 10th, 1950.
Barb remembers that she asked one of our cousins who drove the cattle truck with our belongings on it, “Where are we going?” The driver replied, “Why, to Herscher, your new home.” Barb thought he said, “Hershey” and she was thrilled to hear that we were moving to the land where the Hershey bars were made!
I can remember two teenage cousins singing Harry Bellefonte’s “Shrimp Boats are a Coming”, as they unloaded our valued family heirloom library table into the large living room. The rest of the furniture they helped unload were only the basics— beds, a couch, and table and chairs which Dad purchased at farm auctions throughout the years.
Life-long friends, Glen and Lucille Ahrends from Greymont, IL, brought a delicious meat loaf dinner for our movers and stayed in the afternoon to help. Lucille worked with Mom as they set up and made the beds. Glen and Dad made another trip to the river house to load the cows, chickens, and Troubles, our dog. The animals were set into their new barn, chicken house, and shed.
Functionality was the theme of our Depression-Era like family. What little money there was Mom and Dad spent on seed and gasoline for the tractor and feed for the animals, not nice furniture or clothing or store-brought food. Actually, during those first years on the Herscher farm, the only food purchases at the local grocery store in Herscher (where the clerk took the food down from the shelves as you asked for it) were flour, sugar, and coffee. Everything else was made at home or came from our farm, orchards, and garden. But we had love and cared for each other and were encouraged to think out of the box when making decisions.
We kids started school in late August, getting on the school bus for our long ride to the new Herscher Grade School. I was in fifth grade, Barb in third grade, Jeanne in second grade, and Kenny in first grade. Dad got on the school bus that first morning to tell the driver that Kenny had trouble walking up and down the steps and to ask the driver to protect him, “Please”. Kenny was born with cerebral palsy and had very limited use of his right arm and hand and his right heel cord was shorter than normal, so he walked with a limp.
At school, we registered ourselves telling our teachers that our last school was Oswego. The Herscher Schools offered a classroom for each grade all in the one building and a cafeteria with hot food and a very nice, indoor bathroom! We had come from a very rural school where, although we did have bus service, two grades were housed in each old, one-room school house that had been pulled to the site from throughout the township for a consolidated school called Oswego. Each teacher was responsible for two grades in each building. For lunch each day, we only had cold sandwiches. For us, that meant two pieces of bread spread with Mom’s homemade grape jelly. So you can imagine what having a hot school lunch meant to us.
The teachers at Herscher encouraged us to complete projects related to our readings (our favorite was a multiple page marketing booklet to invite families to our Colorado dude ranch) and to collect, label, and make books of wild flowers, insects, leaves, and rocks. We learned and recited poems like Eugene Fields’ “Three Men in a Tub” and “If” by Rupert Kipling. We picked up a handful of dirt at recess and learned it was part of the Mississippi River Basin. We made friends and giggled for what seemed like the first time.
Some Sunday afternoons, we visited Aunt Grace in Cullom and loved to watch the “Sealtest Circus” on her television set. We asked Dad if might get a television. We were just starting over financially and money was at a premium. But that fall, there was a lot of ear corn left in the fields after the harvest. It could be picked up, put on a wagon, and sold at the local elevator. A deal was struck amongst us kids with Dad. I would drive the old Massey Harris tractor and pull a grain wagon. (Dad had brought the old Massey from the river farm.) The three younger kids would pick up the field corn left in the field and throw it into the wagon. All of us kids bundled up on three cold Saturdays in November and picked up the ears of corn left in the field. As part of our bargain, when we had filled the wagon, Dad would decide whether we had collected corn to purchase a television. It turned out there was enough money and Dad kept his promise as he always would. In early December, Dad and Mom brought home a new cabinet black and white television set that took up a lot of room in our living room. Entering the front room after getting off the bus, we saw it! “Pinky Lee” was on and then “Howdy Dowdy”, brought in by the “rabbit ears” setting atop the cabinet. A few weeks later Dad put together a huge outdoor antenna and set it in the ground beside our house to get better reception. From this experience we learned trust and the necessity of a work ethic to meet our family goals and to get something we wanted. In retrospect, I doubt very much whether that wagon full of corn entirely paid for the TV, but it taught us valuable lessons.
There was no discrimination against females in farming in the 1950’s. If you could reach the pedals, you could drive a tractor, either as a boy or girl. As a farm kid you were expected to help out on the farm with the animals and the garden, whether you liked it or not.
Barb reminded me of the afternoon on the Donley Place which is how the farm outside Herscher was known to us as, when she was only ten years old. Her job was to drive the old Massie Harris tractor. The tractor had a dangerous design. The two front wheels were close together and located under the front of the engine. Two back tires were large and set high under a small fender on the sides of the seat when Barb drove the tractor over a curved ditch on the farm. Barb had driven a tractor at the river since she was six, but this day, the ditch won. I saw the tractor begin to lean over and was scared to death! Petite, but muscular, Barb kept her hands on the wheel and did not leave her seat. The tractor was not damaged and was up-righted. Soon afterward Dad purchased an Allis Chambers tractor with evenly spaced four wheels, safer for all.
Dad found us a spot at the local 4-H club, the Milks Grove Farmerettes. We met neighbor girls and worked side-by-side with our 4-H leaders to learn how to make simple meals and how to sew an elastic band skirt and fringed scarf. We learned to give speeches and demonstrations and take on responsibilities as officers in the club.He loved his ten Guernsey dairy cows which we needed for milk. We consumed the milk and used it to make butter and then sold what we didn’t use to a dairy hauler. But, he dreamed of having a herd of registered, beef cattle and he devised a plan in his head to achieve that goal.
At that point in time, there were separate 4-H clubs for boys and girls, but girls could join one or both. I don’t remember any boys being in the girls’ club. Dad purchased $200 young, registered Hereford heifers for us. Dad was thrifty and knew how to “drive a good deal.” These first 2 Herefords fit his budget and fit his ultimate goal of owning a registered beef herd.
We joined the Milks Grove Farmers club and took on took additional leadership responsibility and exhibited our heifers at the Iroquois County 4-H Fair in July. But we also had to get our brownies made, vegetables canned, clothing projects completed, and posters made for our Brownie camera photo display before we could load our calves in Dad’s old cattle truck for the fair in Milford, an hours drive away. We were able to dress in pants at the fair, for this was a working experience. We hung out with the guys at the fair and ate free pickles and drank water at the church food stand. There was no money for us to eat at the food stands in the early days, nor to take a cooling spin on the carnival rides.
Before showing our cattle, we had to bathe them. We used Wisk for that. Wisk was a liquid detergent that was launched in 1956. We didn’t use it for the family laundry because it was too expensive. But Dad bought it and we used it on our beautiful red and white Hereford calves because he thought it made the white on the cows’ manes and spots extra white. After scrubbing the heifers up well, we rinsed them down with a hose, curry-combed their hair into pretty waves, and teased up the ends of their tails before taking them into the show ring before the critical, sharp eyed judges.
We showed our gentle, tuned down horned cows, Mickey and Cally, for the judges who evaluated them on their build and for our showmanship with the animals. We worked with our calves weeks prior to the fair leading them in donated Purina Halters and squaring their legs with a specially designed stick while holding their heads just high enough to show off their best qualities. Dad taught us to follow the judge’s eyes and to make sure that we looked at him and so did our cattle. We talked quietly to the cows to calm them and to get them to lead in a circle with seamless motion, without any jerking actions. We used the stick not only to square off the calf’s legs just right, but to rub their bellies while the judge was looking. Dad taught us how to humbly receive blue and a few purple rosette ribbons for our animals and for showmanship. We generally got A’s on our home economics projects too.
During that time we met a wonderful lady who had just moved to our neighborhood. Daphane had a crippled left arm caused by a recent case of polio. She maneuvered her left hand easily with her right hand. Daphane took us under her wing and taught us how to sew beautiful dresses with difficult patterns and techniques for our 4-H projects. We loved patient and creative Daphane as she created the tradition of Christmas fudge-making night’s tradition, taught us to use our home grown eggs for the best chiffon cakes, and how to use our home grown hamburger and catsup for the sloppy joe recipe that we use to this day. On a side note which shows how close all our lives are connected, Daphane’s husband, Felix, used to date our Mom in southern IL White County before she met our Dad. Felix also worked at General Foods when Barb worked there for a short time in the early 60’s and he worked with Barb’s future mother-in-law, Grandma Cuz, for many years. They became friends as well. It is a small world.
Mom and Dad were both entrepreneurs in their day. Dad, of course, farmed his 160 acres but also rented another 120 acre plot across the road from the Donley Place where he planted oats, corn, and soybeans. Dad was known in the area as a good farmer, knowing when to plant, cultivate, and reap. Five farmers in the immediate area of the section owned large pieces of farm equipment together, not new equipment but used equipment. The largest was the huge threshing machine they brought to our back forty of oats. When Mom and we four kids brought lunch to the threshers, we saw the dusty chaff from the oats thrown out the rear of that huge, roaring machine. The men took a short break and ate the roast beef dinner with homemade pie that we set out on the straw wagon.
Our neighbors, Jimmy Bowers; Kenny Walsh; Clyde Carmain; Mike Kroll; and Bill Stone worked together to bale hay, harvest corn and shell the corn. (Corn was not shelled in the field then as it is now. It was harvested on the cob and put in cribs that way. Later, the corn was shelled by a special “shelling” machine and then hauled to the elevator to sell.)
The men always ate well at each house where they worked. A lunch was brought to the field at ten in the morning, a full meal was eaten at the dining table of the host family, and another lunch was taken to the field about three. Guess who worked with Mom to prepare all of this food? Barb and I. Mom made three or four kinds of pies each day and began the roast early. We kids made salads and sandwiches, set the dining table, and made the Kool Aid (in later years and before that ice water) and coffee. The only exception was that for Jimmy Bowers we made tea because he had to have it for his ulcers. What a production!
Did I mention that I was driving the car in the fields and on the back roads when I was 13? Lunches had to be taken to the men in the fields. Mom did not drive.
Mom was an entrepreneur too. She bought baby chicks and raised them to become hens which lay eggs in her hen house. She was picky in the way the eggs were gathered so as not to anger the hens. I did not like picking up eggs, so Barb and I cased the eggs for the “egg man” that came to the farm every week to purchase them. Mom wrote down every transaction for the ten or so years she collected funds for us kids. Her egg book is still part of our family legacy. The roosters on the other hand, when they reached the right size, were killed, feathers picked after being plunked into a cauldron of hot water, and cut up to be frozen or for meals like the one that we brought with us to the farm in the summer of 1951. Of course, we were expected to help with that operation. Barb has a hard time eating chicken to this day because it brings to her mind that awful smell of hot feathers.
You see that Mom used that money for our hot lunches, our class rings, our yearbooks, our school clothes, and any special dresses we needed for church or school dances and graduation. Barb and I wore one of those special dresses on a 4-H trip to dine at Chicago’s Marshall Fields’ Walnut Room and to tour the Cracker Jack Factory.
When I joined the Methodist Church, Mom took me to Pontiac to J.C. Penney’s for a new dress. I wore that dress for my eighth grade graduation when three of my classmates and shy me were asked to compose and read the “Eighth Grade Will and Prophecy”. We wrote the Will and Prophecy on our own during the Saturdays in May. (Barb was also chosen by Mrs. Dickman, our eighth grade teacher and principal to write and read the “Eighth Grade Will and Prophecy” at her graduation.) The summer after my 8th grade graduation, I went with our Methodist Church and the rest of the new confirmation class to the Chicago Pacific Garden Mission to see a live radio broadcast. The broadcast depicted how Skid Row residents were being rehabbed by the mission. I think the church was trying to show us that drinking could lead to a life of ruination.
Mom rarely used her money to buy anything for herself. There was no money in the family budget for these special trips and dresses, rings, etc. from the cash crops Dad raised. It was Mom who provided them for us kids by the chickens that she raised. And we appreciated and loved her for all that she did to make our dreams come true.
This farm, five miles from any town, was a wonderful spot for our family. We rode our bikes, waxed down a fallen metal roof with waxed paper and slid hours on it, played kick the can in the evening with cousins, watched Dad “dowse” for water with a young sapling, cut delicious asparagus from an old, overrun cemetery up the road a bit, climbed fruit trees in our own orchard, played in the small creek on hot days, milked cows with and without a machine, and started our 4-H adventure. We learned to be a kid as well as a young adult on this working farm of the 50’s in Central Illinois.
I truly believe that our family had more opportunities available at this new place than if we had stayed on the scary, river farm in Livingston County. That sunny day, sitting on a worn comforter in the oat stubble, eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes led to our Dad’s decision that the Donley Place was where we should make our home. The house and buildings of that farm are long gone, but Rich, Barb’s husband, went back one time and picked up some rocks from the area where the house has stood and she has them in her flower garden as a remembrance of the good times we shared there.The Summer That Changed our Life, written by Jan Janet Bollheimer and edited by Barb MIller
The Summer Visit That Changed Our Family’s Life
A golden field of oat stubble was the site of our memorable summer picnic dinner. It was the summer of 1951. Mom had prepared fried chicken in her aluminum Dutch oven pan and wrapped the pan in newspapers to keep it hot for our hour journey to what might become our new home. We made our journey in Dad’s old, black 1930’s Ford coupe which Dad had bought used—three girls, ages 10-7, squished together in the back seat and young Kenny sitting in the front, bench seat between Mom and Dad. The hour-long journey took us from our river home near Pontiac, Illinois, through the villages of Saunemin and Cullom, and north on what was known as the “one way slab” to a farm near the village of Herscher, Illinois. Where we were going on this sunny day and what we found at the end of that road and the tremendous affect it had on our lives is the essence of this story which so much resembles Laura Ingalls Wilders’ book, Little House on the Prairie.
Dad was to rent and farm the land where we had our picnic. The land was 160 acres of fertile land albeit peppered with lots of small rocks left as the glacier moved through the area a millennium before. The like-new two story house with four bedrooms and outhouse became our happy home for the next six years.
We were so glad that Dad and Mom had liked the farm on that Sunday in July, 1951. Later that same summer, we moved our meager belongings from our flood-ravaged, river home on the Vermillion River to the flatlands near Kankakee. A small, spring-fed creek on the new property was the only water that might get out of its bank, but it would not take out our entire cash crop, gardens, and destroy our home and outbuildings as had the swift moving Vermillion River on July 10th, 1950.
Barb remembers that she asked one of our cousins who drove the cattle truck with our belongings on it, “Where are we going?” The driver replied, “Why, to Herscher, your new home.” Barb thought he said, “Hershey” and she was thrilled to hear that we were moving to the land where the Hershey bars were made!
I can remember two teenage cousins singing Harry Bellefonte’s “Shrimp Boats are a Coming”, as they unloaded our valued family heirloom library table into the large living room. The rest of the furniture they helped unload were only the basics— beds, a couch, and table and chairs which Dad purchased at farm auctions throughout the years.
Life-long friends, Glen and Lucille Ahrends from Greymont, IL, brought a delicious meat loaf dinner for our movers and stayed in the afternoon to help. Lucille worked with Mom as they set up and made the beds. Glen and Dad made another trip to the river house to load the cows, chickens, and Troubles, our dog. The animals were set into their new barn, chicken house, and shed.
Functionality was the theme of our Depression-Era like family. What little money there was Mom and Dad spent on seed and gasoline for the tractor and feed for the animals, not nice furniture or clothing or store-brought food. Actually, during those first years on the Herscher farm, the only food purchases at the local grocery store in Herscher (where the clerk took the food down from the shelves as you asked for it) were flour, sugar, and coffee. Everything else was made at home or came from our farm, orchards, and garden. But we had love and cared for each other and were encouraged to think out of the box when making decisions.
We kids started school in late August, getting on the school bus for our long ride to the new Herscher Grade School. I was in fifth grade, Barb in third grade, Jeanne in second grade, and Kenny in first grade. Dad got on the school bus that first morning to tell the driver that Kenny had trouble walking up and down the steps and to ask the driver to protect him, “Please”. Kenny was born with cerebral palsy and had very limited use of his right arm and hand and his right heel cord was shorter than normal, so he walked with a limp.
At school, we registered ourselves telling our teachers that our last school was Oswego. The Herscher Schools offered a classroom for each grade all in the one building and a cafeteria with hot food and a very nice, indoor bathroom! We had come from a very rural school where, although we did have bus service, two grades were housed in each old, one-room school house that had been pulled to the site from throughout the township for a consolidated school called Oswego. Each teacher was responsible for two grades in each building. For lunch each day, we only had cold sandwiches. For us, that meant two pieces of bread spread with Mom’s homemade grape jelly. So you can imagine what having a hot school lunch meant to us.
The teachers at Herscher encouraged us to complete projects related to our readings (our favorite was a multiple page marketing booklet to invite families to our Colorado dude ranch) and to collect, label, and make books of wild flowers, insects, leaves, and rocks. We learned and recited poems like Eugene Fields’ “Three Men in a Tub” and “If” by Rupert Kipling. We picked up a handful of dirt at recess and learned it was part of the Mississippi River Basin. We made friends and giggled for what seemed like the first time.
Some Sunday afternoons, we visited Aunt Grace in Cullom and loved to watch the “Sealtest Circus” on her television set. We asked Dad if might get a television. We were just starting over financially and money was at a premium. But that fall, there was a lot of ear corn left in the fields after the harvest. It could be picked up, put on a wagon, and sold at the local elevator. A deal was struck amongst us kids with Dad. I would drive the old Massey Harris tractor and pull a grain wagon. (Dad had brought the old Massey from the river farm.) The three younger kids would pick up the field corn left in the field and throw it into the wagon. All of us kids bundled up on three cold Saturdays in November and picked up the ears of corn left in the field. As part of our bargain, when we had filled the wagon, Dad would decide whether we had collected corn to purchase a television. It turned out there was enough money and Dad kept his promise as he always would. In early December, Dad and Mom brought home a new cabinet black and white television set that took up a lot of room in our living room. Entering the front room after getting off the bus, we saw it! “Pinky Lee” was on and then “Howdy Dowdy”, brought in by the “rabbit ears” setting atop the cabinet. A few weeks later Dad put together a huge outdoor antenna and set it in the ground beside our house to get better reception. From this experience we learned trust and the necessity of a work ethic to meet our family goals and to get something we wanted. In retrospect, I doubt very much whether that wagon full of corn entirely paid for the TV, but it taught us valuable lessons.
There was no discrimination against females in farming in the 1950’s. If you could reach the pedals, you could drive a tractor, either as a boy or girl. As a farm kid you were expected to help out on the farm with the animals and the garden, whether you liked it or not.
Barb reminded me of the afternoon on the Donley Place which is how the farm outside Herscher was known to us as, when she was only ten years old. Her job was to drive the old Massie Harris tractor. The tractor had a dangerous design. The two front wheels were close together and located under the front of the engine. Two back tires were large and set high under a small fender on the sides of the seat when Barb drove the tractor over a curved ditch on the farm. Barb had driven a tractor at the river since she was six, but this day, the ditch won. I saw the tractor begin to lean over and was scared to death! Petite, but muscular, Barb kept her hands on the wheel and did not leave her seat. The tractor was not damaged and was up-righted. Soon afterward Dad purchased an Allis Chambers tractor with evenly spaced four wheels, safer for all.
Dad found us a spot at the local 4-H club, the Milks Grove Farmerettes. We met neighbor girls and worked side-by-side with our 4-H leaders to learn how to make simple meals and how to sew an elastic band skirt and fringed scarf. We learned to give speeches and demonstrations and take on responsibilities as officers in the club.He loved his ten Guernsey dairy cows which we needed for milk. We consumed the milk and used it to make butter and then sold what we didn’t use to a dairy hauler. But, he dreamed of having a herd of registered, beef cattle and he devised a plan in his head to achieve that goal.
At that point in time, there were separate 4-H clubs for boys and girls, but girls could join one or both. I don’t remember any boys being in the girls’ club. Dad purchased $200 young, registered Hereford heifers for us. Dad was thrifty and knew how to “drive a good deal.” These first 2 Herefords fit his budget and fit his ultimate goal of owning a registered beef herd.
We joined the Milks Grove Farmers club and took on took additional leadership responsibility and exhibited our heifers at the Iroquois County 4-H Fair in July. But we also had to get our brownies made, vegetables canned, clothing projects completed, and posters made for our Brownie camera photo display before we could load our calves in Dad’s old cattle truck for the fair in Milford, an hours drive away. We were able to dress in pants at the fair, for this was a working experience. We hung out with the guys at the fair and ate free pickles and drank water at the church food stand. There was no money for us to eat at the food stands in the early days, nor to take a cooling spin on the carnival rides.
Before showing our cattle, we had to bathe them. We used Wisk for that. Wisk was a liquid detergent that was launched in 1956. We didn’t use it for the family laundry because it was too expensive. But Dad bought it and we used it on our beautiful red and white Hereford calves because he thought it made the white on the cows’ manes and spots extra white. After scrubbing the heifers up well, we rinsed them down with a hose, curry-combed their hair into pretty waves, and teased up the ends of their tails before taking them into the show ring before the critical, sharp eyed judges.
We showed our gentle, tuned down horned cows, Mickey and Cally, for the judges who evaluated them on their build and for our showmanship with the animals. We worked with our calves weeks prior to the fair leading them in donated Purina Halters and squaring their legs with a specially designed stick while holding their heads just high enough to show off their best qualities. Dad taught us to follow the judge’s eyes and to make sure that we looked at him and so did our cattle. We talked quietly to the cows to calm them and to get them to lead in a circle with seamless motion, without any jerking actions. We used the stick not only to square off the calf’s legs just right, but to rub their bellies while the judge was looking. Dad taught us how to humbly receive blue and a few purple rosette ribbons for our animals and for showmanship. We generally got A’s on our home economics projects too.
During that time we met a wonderful lady who had just moved to our neighborhood. Daphane had a crippled left arm caused by a recent case of polio. She maneuvered her left hand easily with her right hand. Daphane took us under her wing and taught us how to sew beautiful dresses with difficult patterns and techniques for our 4-H projects. We loved patient and creative Daphane as she created the tradition of Christmas fudge-making night’s tradition, taught us to use our home grown eggs for the best chiffon cakes, and how to use our home grown hamburger and catsup for the sloppy joe recipe that we use to this day. On a side note which shows how close all our lives are connected, Daphane’s husband, Felix, used to date our Mom in southern IL White County before she met our Dad. Felix also worked at General Foods when Barb worked there for a short time in the early 60’s and he worked with Barb’s future mother-in-law, Grandma Cuz, for many years. They became friends as well. It is a small world.
Mom and Dad were both entrepreneurs in their day. Dad, of course, farmed his 160 acres but also rented another 120 acre plot across the road from the Donley Place where he planted oats, corn, and soybeans. Dad was known in the area as a good farmer, knowing when to plant, cultivate, and reap. Five farmers in the immediate area of the section owned large pieces of farm equipment together, not new equipment but used equipment. The largest was the huge threshing machine they brought to our back forty of oats. When Mom and we four kids brought lunch to the threshers, we saw the dusty chaff from the oats thrown out the rear of that huge, roaring machine. The men took a short break and ate the roast beef dinner with homemade pie that we set out on the straw wagon.
Our neighbors, Jimmy Bowers; Kenny Walsh; Clyde Carmain; Mike Kroll; and Bill Stone worked together to bale hay, harvest corn and shell the corn. (Corn was not shelled in the field then as it is now. It was harvested on the cob and put in cribs that way. Later, the corn was shelled by a special “shelling” machine and then hauled to the elevator to sell.)
The men always ate well at each house where they worked. A lunch was brought to the field at ten in the morning, a full meal was eaten at the dining table of the host family, and another lunch was taken to the field about three. Guess who worked with Mom to prepare all of this food? Barb and I. Mom made three or four kinds of pies each day and began the roast early. We kids made salads and sandwiches, set the dining table, and made the Kool Aid (in later years and before that ice water) and coffee. The only exception was that for Jimmy Bowers we made tea because he had to have it for his ulcers. What a production!
Did I mention that I was driving the car in the fields and on the back roads when I was 13? Lunches had to be taken to the men in the fields. Mom did not drive.
Mom was an entrepreneur too. She bought baby chicks and raised them to become hens which lay eggs in her hen house. She was picky in the way the eggs were gathered so as not to anger the hens. I did not like picking up eggs, so Barb and I cased the eggs for the “egg man” that came to the farm every week to purchase them. Mom wrote down every transaction for the ten or so years she collected funds for us kids. Her egg book is still part of our family legacy. The roosters on the other hand, when they reached the right size, were killed, feathers picked after being plunked into a cauldron of hot water, and cut up to be frozen or for meals like the one that we brought with us to the farm in the summer of 1951. Of course, we were expected to help with that operation. Barb has a hard time eating chicken to this day because it brings to her mind that awful smell of hot feathers.
You see that Mom used that money for our hot lunches, our class rings, our yearbooks, our school clothes, and any special dresses we needed for church or school dances and graduation. Barb and I wore one of those special dresses on a 4-H trip to dine at Chicago’s Marshall Fields’ Walnut Room and to tour the Cracker Jack Factory.
When I joined the Methodist Church, Mom took me to Pontiac to J.C. Penney’s for a new dress. I wore that dress for my eighth grade graduation when three of my classmates and shy me were asked to compose and read the “Eighth Grade Will and Prophecy”. We wrote the Will and Prophecy on our own during the Saturdays in May. (Barb was also chosen by Mrs. Dickman, our eighth grade teacher and principal to write and read the “Eighth Grade Will and Prophecy” at her graduation.) The summer after my 8th grade graduation, I went with our Methodist Church and the rest of the new confirmation class to the Chicago Pacific Garden Mission to see a live radio broadcast. The broadcast depicted how Skid Row residents were being rehabbed by the mission. I think the church was trying to show us that drinking could lead to a life of ruination.
Mom rarely used her money to buy anything for herself. There was no money in the family budget for these special trips and dresses, rings, etc. from the cash crops Dad raised. It was Mom who provided them for us kids by the chickens that she raised. And we appreciated and loved her for all that she did to make our dreams come true.
This farm, five miles from any town, was a wonderful spot for our family. We rode our bikes, waxed down a fallen metal roof with waxed paper and slid hours on it, played kick the can in the evening with cousins, watched Dad “dowse” for water with a young sapling, cut delicious asparagus from an old, overrun cemetery up the road a bit, climbed fruit trees in our own orchard, played in the small creek on hot days, milked cows with and without a machine, and started our 4-H adventure. We learned to be a kid as well as a young adult on this working farm of the 50’s in Central Illinois.
I truly believe that our family had more opportunities available at this new place than if we had stayed on the scary, river farm in Livingston County. That sunny day, sitting on a worn comforter in the oat stubble, eating fried chicken and mashed potatoes led to our Dad’s decision that the Donley Place was where we should make our home. The house and buildings of that farm are long gone, but Rich, Barb’s husband, went back one time and picked up some rocks from the area where the house has stood and she has them in her flower garden as a remembrance of the good times we shared there.

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She Likes the Beatles

Shannon and I went to go see William Clark Green in McKinney the other night, must say I was impressed. He’s the next big thing in Red Dirt Country and puts on a hell of a show.

She burns through money like I burn through smokes
But she says that I need to quit
Cause if I die from cancer in 25 years
She’ll have to pay off the debt
No she don’t think I’m funny she don’t laugh at my jokes
I could care less about all her shoes
My parents both hate her but it evens out
Cause her parents both hate me too

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Waiting on a statement from Bibi Netanyahu

Egypt on Tuesday urged U.S. authorities to exercise restraint in dealing with racially charged demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri – echoing language Washington used to caution Egypt as it cracked down on Islamist protesters last year.

It is unusual for Egypt to criticize such a major donor, and it was not immediately clear why the government would have taken such a step.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/egypt-urges-us-restraint-over-missouri-unrest-2014-8#ixzz3ArjDBnuE

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America’s In a Bad Mood

KISD should take note before pushing this huge new bond program, their chance of success is beyond their control to spin the message. The electorate is in a very bad mood.

Polls from major networks, researchers and newspapers agree: America’s in a bad mood.

In just one week, polls found politicians of all stripes are hitting approval numbers with record lows. The president finds himself roughly as popular as a trip to the dentist. The entire Democratic Party gets the thumbs down. Oh, and so does the Republican Party.

But it doesn’t stop there. Americans are also bummed out about the future in general, especially the economy. Things are so low that even an old favorite, sugar, polled poorly.

Pollsters say it all adds up to a country that feels “everything is terrible,” as one put it, a mood that campaigns should consider as they head into the midterm homestretch, when turnout should be all about enthusiasm — not pessimism.

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Bloody Tuesday

From Maureen Hagan on July 1, to all council members:

Although the council has decided to renew my appointment to the Parks and Recreation Board, I am resigning in protest. The termination of volunteer members without cause and before their terms have expired is most troubling. Council’s swift actions are based on personal preferences and disregard the years of volunteer service given by many of Keller’s citizens.

The realignment with Spring elections could have been done through a gradual and systematic rotation of boards by extending or reducing their service by 6 months. Instead, you arbitrarily obliterated existing boards and appointed those with whom you share political ideologies.

The city council is solely responsible for the direction of any municipality. Boards and commissions act in an advisory capacity and have no vote in city matters. Linking appointment tenures and elections gives a perception of cronyism. Diversity as well as city wide representation on boards should be our goal.

As newcomers to the ranks of elected officials, I think you have shown poor judgment and a lack of transparency in this sudden purge of Keller’s boards and commissions.

Maureen Hagan

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Good Ground

I was born and raised on a dirt farm in Iroquois County Illinois. My dad wasn’t a farmer, but his family and my mom’s family were. They grew corn and soy beans, rows and rows across the flat country of North Central Illinois fill my memories of being a kid. My best friend lived three miles away from our place, and it was nothing for me to ride my bike to his house to hang out even as young as 5 years old. My maternal grandfather lived 5 miles away, and it seemed my brothers and I were at his house all the time. He farmed about 500 acres and we started helping him work on the farm at a very early age. Memories of sitting on my uncle’s lap while we plowed fields is still one of my most vivid memories of my early life.

I remember my mom warning us not to play in the cornfields as we could get lost and not find our way home. I always thought it was silly as the rows were perfect paths back home, and if you went the wrong way, you would just have to turn around and go the ½ mile from the fence line back the other way.

When I was about 8, we moved off the farm and started our journey moving all over the world. When I was back in Illinois for my Grandmother’s funeral, the same thing that always does popped into my mind. What if my mother hadn’t taken the job working for the US Army? What if we had stayed in Iroquois County? What would I be doing today?

It is a very hard question to answer, and what changes the outcome even more is soon after we left the farm my grandfather died. It changed everything in our world, and if we were still living there I don’t know what direction our life would have taken. I wouldn’t change our experiences moving around and seeing the world for anything, and some days I still have that feeling of a nomad pop up.

For years I’ve spent weekends out driving around the country looking at places to buy, some small and some large. There is still that pull to go back to a farm and live the simpler lifestyle but as I age, the realization that I will never again live on a farm becomes more real with every passing day. I’ve become citified. Hell, I pay somebody to mow my grass at my house, let alone take care of a larger place.

Anyways, what brought this on, is I heard a song from about 10 years ago this morning that brought back a lot of memories. When this CD from Montgomery Gentry came out, Nicholas was travelling the nation playing baseball. I still remember driving the down the highways in our Suburban listening to this CD with the truck full of teenagers headed to a tournament somewhere. The first time I heard the song it brought in a flood of emotions about where I grew up. Now when I listen to it, it brings back a flood of memories of those days watching the boys play ball, but it also confirms that I have put my roots down once and for all.

 

 


 

 

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Because My Brother and my Son are much better writers than I am

My Grandmother passed away last weekend and I’ve been in Illinois all week attending to family matters. My brother Rich had this to say the other day about our grandmother:

* My grandma died Sunday night. Grandma had been in a nursing home for several years after it became clear that she wasn’t safe living alone, even with family in the same small town and regular visits from a nurse.

I thought I had prepared myself. She was 93 and had been in hospice for over a year. But something has stuck with me from the phone call I got soon after Grandma died.

Grandma’s breathing was labored for a while, then she took a deep, final breath and tears rolled down her cheeks as she passed away.

* Grandma was a huge music fan and told me once that she saw Glenn Miller and his big band. I was blown away by that. I was just starting to get into that man’s awesome sounds (go watch “Orchestra Wives” and you’ll get a real sense for how the kids went crazy for Miller’s music), and Grandma told me how wild and loud the show was and how everybody was dancing their hearts out.

Grandma drove to Nashville numerous times to soak up performances at the Grand Ole Opry She saw everybody, everywhere. I’m convinced that she attended triple the concerts that I’ve ever seen. Grandma’s brother was a guitar player in a country/bluegrass band in Kankakee back in the day, and I’m pretty sure I get my love for music from her.

She loved to dance. And she could cut a rug with the best of them until well into her 80s. The woman stomped on the terra every day of her life.

* Grandma was constantly on the go and traveled all over the place. She came to my high school graduation in Germany. She visited us when we lived in Utah. She went out to California I don’t know how many times. And if she didn’t have a destination, she’d make one by driving around until she found something to do. Maybe a garage sale. Maybe an old friend.

Grandma traveled regularly to her original home near London, Kentucky to see family and friends. They lived in the hills, and Grandma rode a horse to school when she was growing up. She used to tell stories about wearing a buffalo skin blanket in the back of the family car.

She was an unbelievably good cook. I used to go to her house sometimes just so I could beg her to make me some liver and onions – something nobody else could do as well as her. The first time I ever ate rabbit was when grandma cooked it for me. She’d bought it from a co-worker at the General Foods factory in Kankakee.

Grandma worked hard at that factory, which made dog food. She worked hard her entire life, from Kentucky to Kankakee. But I never heard her complain and she made great friends at that factory. We’d always run into them when we went out on the town together. She was one of those special people who seemed to know everybody and everybody loved her. It was like hanging out with a working class celebrity, I kid you not. She had a real presence that everyone around her could feel. People were naturally attracted to her.

* Grandma loved to go out to the taverns with her friends. She wasn’t against going to the riverboats on occasion, either. She didn’t live in a big house, quite the opposite. She wasn’t into conspicuous consumption, except for making sure she always got her hair done just so.

Instead, she wanted to have fun. And, man, did she ever have fun. I once laughed so hard at one of her stories that I dropped my beer can on her floor, which made her laugh. She didn’t drop her beer, though.

* Grandma treated her 22 grandchildren like they were all her favorites. I was the oldest male grandchild, so maybe I got extra special treatment every once in a while. At least, I felt so.

I’m told I’m the one who came up with the “Gramma Cuz” nickname for her. All her grandkids and great grandkids called her that. She was married briefly after divorcing my grandfather and kept her second husband’s name Cousin for reasons I never really asked about. Some things, you just don’t discuss with a lady.

Grandma taught me how to crochet once. I was spending a Christmas break from college with her and we couldn’t go anywhere because the weather was bad. Some of my friends made fun of me when I told them what I did over break, but, truthfully, it wasn’t about the crocheting. It was about spending time listening to my grandmother tell her stories and feeling as close to her as I’ve ever felt to anybody in my life.

* I think I told you already that Gramma Cuz met John F. Kennedy. I believe it was 1959, and my grandfather was a Teamsters guy. He took Grandma to a union event in Chicago and Kennedy put his arm around Grandma, kissed her on the cheek and told my grandfather that he had a beautiful wife. To the day she died, nobody could ever say a bad word about JFK in front of Grandma. Ever.

* Years ago, we were in her kitchen in West Kankakee and we talked for the first and only time about growing old. Grandma got really angry as she explained how she absolutely hated the idea of slowing down with age. She wanted to grab hold of life by the throat each and every day and and have fun, damnit. No slowing down for her. That just wasn’t her way. Aging was an enemy, something to be fought.

Watching her slowly fade away, first at her house and then in the nursing home, broke my heart. When dementia finally occupied her almost non-stop, I had to force myself to go see her. But she always knew who I was, even at her most distant. Her eyes would light up when I walked in and she’d hold my hand. But she was soon gone again, lost in an incomprehensible world that I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

I knew she was suffering. I knew how much she despised the fate that ultimately overcame her. And so it was almost a relief when she passed. At least she will have peace, were my first thoughts.

But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about those tears running down her cheeks at the end. She’d lost her fight. The fun was truly over. No more traveling, no more new experiences, no more children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, no more crazy fun music, no more of life’s simple pleasures and beauties.

I’ve been haunted by those thoughts for days. But Grandma is indeed finally at peace and no longer suffering. So, I’m trying now to focus on how grateful I am for the love she gave her family, for the example she set of hard work and harder play and for always being there for anybody who ever needed her. She was one of the finest storytellers I knew. It’s not so much what she said, but in how she told those stories. I write a lot like she talked. I’ve been blessed to have her genes.

 

And my son Nicholas wrote this:

I received the very unfortunate news that my Great Grandma Cuz passed away yesterday evening, she was 93 years young. There was a time in my life I thought she would live forever–she had more energy than people a fraction of her age well into her 80′s. She had many rare and exceptional qualities, and was a genuinely great person. To know her, was to love her.

Born in 1920 in rural Kentucky, she was blessed with the oral tradition of story telling and always told the greatest stories. But she was also one of the best listeners. As a kid your voice is not always heard, but Grandma Cuz would always want to hear everything going on in my life and ask sincere questions wanting to know every detail while listening intently with a big smile on her face. I think it was also her way of teaching us how to be great story tellers like her.

She also made the best liver and onions ever, and on several occasions I would eat so much I’d upset my stomach to the point of making myself sick. After dinner I would go catch fire flies in her yard to help burn off all that amazing food. Then I would go sit on the floor next to her chair and play with all the cool toys she bought me at garage sales earlier that day while she watched the rodeo on TV. It was always so hard to leave her place, because even with all her grandkids, great grandkids, and great-great grandkids, she always knew how to make you feel loved and special.

Grandma Cuz had a magnetic personality and effected everyone she knew in a positive way. My kid sister, Reagan Lucille, is her namesake, and shares many of her exceptional qualities. While we will miss her, she has left many of her qualities here with us, because she was such an amazing and influential person. There will never be another person like her, but we will all strive to be as much like her as we can…and of course we will always share her stories.

I named my youngest daughter after two of the most influential people in my life, Ronald Reagan and Lucille Cousin, my grandmother. They always had a special bond, and as another brother remarked this week that I had named two of my kids after different grandparents, Nicholas George after my maternal grandfather and Reagan after my paternal grandmother, and both had more than just a few good qualities of the people they are named after. I will miss her terribly, but she is in a better place. It was good to see so many family members, but the circumstances sucked.

 


 

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Grandma and Reagan a few years ago

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On to the future

Tonight was my last official City Council Meeting as I will be at a Conference in Houston on the 20th where we will have a booth at their trade show.

I have enjoyed my time on Council, enjoyed meeting all the great citizens of Keller and helping to make Keller a better and more fiscally conservative town.

I have a lot of people to thank, and I will probably leave off more than I should. First, I would like to thank John Hoffmann, a great friend and guy that taught me a lot in the past 5 years we served together. John will always be a great and close friend.

All the folks I served with on P&Z, especially Jay Brown, Arelyn Cox and Dan Truby. Truby is also a close friend, and always a guy I could call to get a different view on things. Arelyn, what can I say, I gave the guy a key to my house and said fix it after it flooded, walked away trusting him to make my house whole again, and he didn’t disappoint.

The Council Members I served with, Mitch Holmes, Jim Thompson, Ray Brown, Gary Reaves, Tom Cawthra and Pat McGrail, I learned a lot from these guys.

Giovanni, what can I say, he was my mentor and my friend through everything. When I told him during the 2010 election the only thing I wanted in return for all the help on his campaign was to be there when he got sworn in, he remembered it and made sure I was on the floor of the State House in January of 2013 with Reagan at my side to see him take the oath of office. A memory I will take to my grave, don’t think I smiled that much in one day since Reagan was born. I will always be there for him to walk door to door, or work the polls when it’s 105 degrees or listen to him speak 400 miles an hour at 2:00am when he gets back to his condo after a session. It is a privilege to call you my State Rep and my friend.

To Senator Kelly Hancock, Rep Matt Krause, Rep Stephanie Klick and Rep Jonathan Stickland, thanks more than I could ever say for all the work you do and the support. I am proud of all that you do for our area.

The staff at City Hall, Dan O’Leary who I could talk frankly to and get a straight answer. Steve Polasek who came into his own as a great City Manager, who sometimes was a little too hard headed for his own good but would see the light with a little convincing. Chris Fuller, a guy that has such a great future in his business, Keller has no idea what a great employee they have in him, hey, I admitted multiple times on this blog that I had a man crush on him and that still stands today. Chief Hafner, who runs the tightest ship that you can ever imagine. Brenda Slovak who was there when we as a family had an issue that only she could handle with the professionalism that she shows every citizen day to day. Jonathan Phillips was always there to answer my stupid questions and make me laugh when I needed it, Keith Macedo there to talk some sense into me on tech issues and Deanna Reaves to help answer the hard questions on Economic Development. Dona Kinney and her staff for making Keller the preeminent city in the area when it comes to Park and Rec. Especailly thanks to Sheila Stephens, who is the face of Keller. We knew each other long before I got involved in politics, and she is always so positive and it rubs off on people. Stan Lowry, hey, he kept me out of trouble for 5 years, he should put that on his resume. To Tom Elgin and his whole staff, who would scramble at a moments notice to find all the weird historical data that I would ask for at the last minute. All the department heads to the folks mowing the grass, they all make the elected officials in this town look a lot better than we actually are.

To all my supporters and friends who stood by me, even when I seemed to talk way too much during meetings. To Bob Hill and Randy Leake who made writing on this stupid blog fun on days when it seemed like another post was like another job. To Jim Carson that originally talked me into writing for his blog, thanks. To my business partners who understood why I needed to leave the office yet again to attend a City meeting or to look the other way when we passed on a job in Keller that we could have done and made money on.

But especially to my family who put up with me missing choir concerts or birthday celebrations to attend a Council function. My wife has been very supportive over the past five years, and now it’s time that I spend some more time with her and Reagan. I’ve told everybody that wonders, no, I’m not going away. I will still watch meetings, attend when I can and speak when somebody up at City Hall pisses me off. I will also stay involved in the political side, helping local and other candidates and giving money when I can. I do have a knack for reading a political race and giving advice, it’s just hard to get a candidate to listen sometimes

Maybe in the not to distant future I will run again, the last time I stepped away from a Council position it took me 12 years to win another election. Maybe it will be that long again, but then again, there is an election every year in May.

I’ve posted this song more than any other on this blog, maybe because it’s one of my favorites, but maybe because it really speaks to me.

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