Friday, December 23, 2011

Winter Solstice on Viejas Mountain

After knocking El Cajon Mountain off our bucket list, my buddy Kathleen and I decided to tackle winter solstice on Viejas Mountain. It meant getting up at 3:00 AM, climbing in the cold dark night, and waiting on the windy summit until the sun rose. Winter solstice was actually on December 22 this year, not the 21st as most observed. I checked the weather report a few days before and it occurred to me that a rainy or cloudy forecast could be an excuse to stay in my warm bed.

Kumeyaay native Americans observed winter solstice on the Viejas summit and at one time there was still a T shaped rock formation pointing toward Buckman Mountain in the distant southeast. On solstice the sun rises directly behind the mountain.

After ditzing around trying to locate the trail head in the dark we were on our way up the steep, almost 2 miles straight uphill, rocky, bouldery trail through chapparrel, two puddles of light under the huge Milky Way.

Without any moon, we were grateful for our police grade flashlights, and at one point I heard Kathleen say only the foolhardy would be doing this. Indeed, we were the only ones out of 3 million San Diegans. Even in the dark Kathleen was going on about the biodiversity of Viejas. I was just focused on one foot in front of the other and periodically checking behind for the glowing eyes of a stalking mountain lion. We went through a verbal rehearsal of how we would handle a mountain lion attack, and I reminded Kathleen about the lady who saved her friend in Orange County a few years ago.

It was 39 degrees at mountain base, and about three quarters of the way up the wind started. The sliver moon became visible from behind the mountain, and the pale light of dawn began. We reached a collection of stones at the top, but the true summit was another quarter mile across a wind swept ridge.

We reached the stone circle of the summit just before sunrise and a few minutes later the only other solstice hiker arrived, a Menzies clan Scot by the name of Pat. Together the three of us watched the glow on the horizon,

and toasted the coming New Year with hot chocolate,

until the sun came peeking,

then bursting out behind the saddle of Buckman.

The Alpine Historical Society has documented an account of the winter solstice celebration on Viejas Mountain by a Kumeyaay elder, Maria Alto, in 1914, and I repeat it in entirety here as an abbreviated account would lose the significance of what used to happen here.

Long before Kwut’ah Lu’ e-ah (Song-Dance, or Viejas, east of El Cajon) mountain fell into the hands of See-i (Evil One), the Indians made a pilgrimage once a year to its very top to watch In’ya (Sun) come out of En-yak’ (East), and praise and honor him with song and dance.  For In’ya (Sun) was the great Ruler of All Things.  He governed the universe; he commanded the earth, nothing grew unless he caused it; he even dominated the bodies of men, some of whom he made energetic and strong, others weak and lazy.  When he disappeared at night he cast a drowsiness o’er the world, so that everything slept until it was time for him to come again in the morning.  Such a great ruler as he, received due reverence and worship.

For many preceding moons the young Braves prepared themselves for the race which began the celebration of Kwut’-ah Lu’ e-ah (Song-Dance).  They ate no meat while in training for this event, and daily they bathed and rubbed their bodies with Cha-hoor’ (Clear Rock).  This crystal made them light on their feet like animals, so they could jump over high boulders and run with the swiftness of deer.

When the time came, everything was in readiness.  The big circle on top of the mountain had been freshly prepared and cleared for the dancers and singers.  The aged and feeble, with the small children of the village, had been carefully carried up there the previous afternoon, that they might be on hand to take part in the ceremonies.

Then, in that mystic hour which is neither night nor day, the able-bodied ones made the ascent.  Last of all, after the others had reached the top, the runners came; swiftly they vied with each other over the steep trails - some so fleet they seemed to fly like birds over the course.

When all had reached the summit, the ritualistic ceremonies began.  With song and dance in the blushing dawn, they watched for In’ya (Sun), Ruler of All.  Opalescent streamers of golden radiance and flaming banners of crimson flaunting across the pearly tints of the receding night, heralded his arrival; while the people chanted songs of praise in honor of his wonderful light, and made obeisance in the dance in homage of his great power over all things.

Year after year this celebration took place till See’i (Evil One) grew envious, and cast a spell over the mountain; then the Indians feared to make the ascent any more.
One or two foolhardy ones made the attempt, but they found the trails tedious and wearisome.  The springs of water by the pathway were poisonous, and frightful noises like the hissing and rattle of snakes pursued their footsteps, and they gave up in despair.

So, though the old trails are faintly discernible and traces of the ring where they danced and sang still remain, no more does the red man swiftly ascend Kwut’ah Lu’e-ah (Song-Dance) mountain to watch In’-ya (Sun) come out of En-yak’ (East) in all his glory.

I am grateful this year not to be so "aged and feeble" that I can still take myself up a mountain. What an amazing experience this was!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Wreaths Across America 2011

The second Saturday in December every year volunteers turn out to lay wreaths on headstones of our veterans in national cemeteries. Over 1,100 volunteers turned out on this beautiful sunny day in San Diego to lay wreaths at Fort Rosecrans and Miramar cemeteries. Fort Rosecrans has veterans from the time of the Mexican American war, 101,000 graves in all. Miramar opened just last year after Fort Rosecrans ran out of space, and prime real estate it is, overlooking San Diego on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.

This year I didn't get many pictures since the growing-up-too-fast grandgirls and I were working most of the time signing in volunteers. Not an easy task as the list was not alphabetized! The photo shots would have been much like last year's Wreaths 2010, except that we had one of those envy of the country sunny San Diego days from the start.

Last year we laid wreaths in the area around the ceremony site, but this year all 1100 volunteers walked a half mile to the far end for our section. If it weren't that the way was through a cemetery I thought this could be a good workout route. Not only was the view spectacular, it was inspiring to be part of this cross section of San Diego come to pay tribute and who included Scouts, high school service groups, college students, employee groups, Blue Star mothers, at least two sheriff deputies, Children, Sons, and Daughters of the American Revolution, families, veterans, and active duty military among them.

Hayley, Jennifer, and I took our wreaths to lay, and when they were finished I asked who were their veterans. One of Hayley's was a female World War II veteran and we assumed she must have been a nurse. When we pulled back the wreath to check her branch of service - a surprise! She was a spy! Betty E Schneider. Born 1921, so she would have been only 20 years old when the US joined the war. We imagined she must have been German speaking. We tried looking her up on Google. Nothing. What a story she must have!

Next December, wherever you are, take time on the second Saturday of the month, lay a wreath on a veteran's grave. Take your children, or children, take your parents. Take your friends. Leave your cell phone, iPod, iPad and the rest at home.

As this Freedom Rider's jacket reminds us, we should stand for those who stood for US.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mr. Nute's Peach Fed Free Range Turkeys

Three hundred years after the original Nute colonist arrived in New Hampshire, our grandfather made a bold move to leave New England for Medora, Kentucky, there to manage a successful and innovative orchard enhanced by thousands of turkeys. And this is the story.

Raymond grew up in a well to do family in Fall River, Massachusetts, and as a young man attended first Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then the Massachusetts Agricultural College, now the University of Massachusetts. Unlike his father who was a mechanical engineer, Raymond majored in "pomology", the study of raising fruit. Whatever possessed this young man to study fruit raising is anyone's guess. He came from a long line of farmers starting with the original Nute was killed in his garden by Indians in the 1600's, interrupted briefly when his farmer/teacher grandfather moved from New Hampshire to Boston.

He was an officer of the Rifle Club, ran a 5 minute mile, and went to school with young men with names like Murray Danforth Lincoln, Merton Chesleigh Lane, and Lewis Phillips Howard. He could have had a life of ease living in the city, but after graduating in 1914, he got himself a farm in Lakeville, Massachusetts, a few miles outside town with a good sized house,

and barn.

Nor was the family happy when Raymond soon took a young wife, Alice, who was the daughter of a grocer. "She wasn't good enough for them", Raymond's daughter, Jeannette, recalls. Over the next five years, they lived on the New England farm and had two children. What made Raymond and Alice move their young family to rural Kentucky in 1920? Was it Raymond's best friend at Mass Ag moving to Ohio to found Nationwide Insurance, a cooperative insurance company for farmers? Was he recruited to Kentucky Orchards by the owner?  According to Jeannette, he wanted a place to try out his ideas.

Whatever the reason, the young farmer brought scientific farming to Kentucky with a flourish. A 1924 article in the Farmers Home Journal says:

"R.E. Nute is one of the most remarkable fruit pioneers in Kentucky, and the constant wonder of his neighbors, who predicted loss from the start because of his ideas on scientific growing.

That hill-top of apparently worthless land is now the wonder of the countryside. To begin with, Mr. Nute had to build a road to the top that auto trucks could navigate. The road was built. A saw mill was constructed so that lumber on the property could be converted into houses and a packing shed.

The ground was torn up and prepared with the aid of a Fordson and various plows, harrows, cultivators, and the like. Trees by the thousand were planted where only a few old ones were on hand for a nucleus. None in those parts believed in such modern devices as thinning out and spraying and cultivating.

Nute did. He knew how. He came from Massachusetts with his family and buckled down to work. The trees were pruned, dusted, sprayed, cultivated. A big bean spray pump and duster, taking care of two or more rows at a time, destroyed all insects and pests. Borers were gotten rid of with "paracide" planted around the trunks every year. Lime sulphur dust took care of the upper works of the orchard.

Although Mr. Nute has already attained a one-pound peach, on rare occasions slightly over a pound, a two pound peach is one of his ambitions.

His packing house is another wonder to fruit growers, who now come for miles to see, and often to buy peaches. Not long ago visitors made the pilgrimage to the top of the hill in such numbers one day that $100 worth of peaches were sold in the front yard. Some of the peaches are snapped up at 10 cents apiece as curiosities. Last year a number of Mr. Nute's products took first prizes in the Kentucky State fair."

This photo was taken at the Massachusetts farm shortly before their move to Kentucky. They still have that refined New England look.

A short time later, they are looking more like Kentucky farmers.

Raymond's fame as an orchardist brought other agriculturists from around the country and he was sought as a speaker for meetings and radio. By 1928, Raymond was looking another way to boost his orchard's profitability and from this came the concept of raising turkeys in his 100 acre orchard. From a start of two hens and a tom, his flock grew to over 7000 birds, and a mill was added to the orchard to grind the grain. The birds provided natural and labor free fertilization, ate the insects, weeds, and dead fruit on the ground, and apple trees that usually produced fruit every three years were yielding fruit every year.

So grew Raymond's fame as a turkey grower and innovator, and he became known as the Turkey King of Kentucky. He collaborated with the University of Kentucky, presided over State Farm Bureau meetings, and continued to raise his family on the farm.

Then, in the midst of this tremendous success, it ends in 1937, and Raymond moved his family away to small town Washington, Kentucky, then to Vanceburg and became agricultural agent for Lewis County, never again to show the world what a hard working young man from Massachusetts with a Mass Ag education could do with a 100 acres of hard scrabble land, some peach and apple trees and a few turkeys. What happened? Jeannette says the owner of the orchard died and the land was sold.

This Thanksgiving as you all are enjoying your fabulous turkey dinner, eating until you can't push yourself away from the table, be thankful for the farmers in the country who have made it all possible with a few hours cooking on your part.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Abraham Dillow (1839-1910), Veteran, West Virginia Fifth Infantry

While I was back visiting my old Kentucky home a couple weeks ago, one of my goals was to search out some ancestor graves. I had researched where they were buried but finding an old cemeteries and grave stones can be a daunting task in the hills of Kentucky. The sparsely populated county of Lewis County listed 29 known cemeteries, many of them small family or no longer used plots on private land.

On a beautiful October day, I set out with my cousin Allen to find our great grandfather's grave on Pleasant Ridge in Fly Branch. Well, Pleasant Ridge wasn't even one of the 29 listed and Fly Branch wasn't on any map. Even having been to the cemetery once before, Allen wasn't quite sure where was this obscure burial ground. He did know, though, to leave behind his yellow vintage Mustang and we took his wife's car, knowing it might get beat up a little.

We found Fly Branch, we found the gnarly, rutted little road up to the ridge, from there we had no idea. It was one of those another door opens moments when we came across a young man repairing his deer blind. Who knows what deer hunters use those for, just a little house on stilts, like a tree house without a tree. I say the deer is already handicapped by not having a gun, why do hunters need to build a place to hide.

On to the story - Allen, of course, knew the man, Dane, one of those blue eyed Scotch-Irish-German Appalachians, good looking, long haired, and friendly. He owned much of the property on the ridge and was raising his family miles away from any civilization. Hosting and guiding hunters on his ridge was one of his several businesses. Yes, he knew the cemetery. Said his cousins went there to be "spiritual". Allen said this meant to smoke marijuana, another one of our young man's businesses on the property. As most Kentuckians would, he offered to guide us as far as we could go with a vehicle. From there, we'd be on foot.

We made our way along the ridge,

until we came to a clearing that was clearly the cemetery site. It was indeed a peaceful place. I could see why they came here to be "spiritual". I had asked Dane why the cemeteries seemed to be up on ridges. "They wanted to be closer to heaven", he said.

This was the final resting place for Abraham Dillow, our great-grandfather, descendant of Revolution and War of 1812 veterans, and a veteran of the Civil War himself. He buried first on this ridge two young adult children in the late 1890's, Willard and Sarah "Dolly", who very likely died from tuberculosis but searching those death records is a task for another day. He buried a wife, Sarah, who died from "brain trouble", likely a stroke, and three years later he was laid to rest here, marking his grave with his rank and infantry regiment, the West Virginia Fifth.

The four boys from Lost Creek, Kentucky, joined the Union Army at the beginning in 1861, three of the boys going to the eastern campaign with the West Virginia Fifth and the fourth south with the Kentucky 14th into Georgia. Abraham and his brothers, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington Dillow, fought at Cross Keys, Second Bull Run, and through Shenandoah Valley with General Sheridan.

This summer I went to Manassas where the Second Bull Run was fought and traced the footsteps of "Milroy''s Brigade" over the three day battle where 10,000 were killed or wounded on the Union side alone. I tracked the "Deep Cut"

Henry Hill,

other troop movements where the brothers went up against the forces of Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet, and found the little muddy stream called Bull Run where the first shots were fired that started this conflagration.

We have a family photo of Abraham in his uniform.

Abraham returned to Lost Creek after the war, married Sarah Ann, and named his first two sons Ulysses S. and Alfred Sheridan. All the brothers survived the war. Two of the brothers married sisters of Sarah Ann.

"War is hell", Sherman said. Our four lucky brothers came home. Many do not. I called my favorite veteran today, Allen, great grandson also of Abraham, glad that he came home from his four years in Vietnam.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Nightmare on Front Street

I like to stay in a bed and breakfast or small inn when I travel. I get to hang with the local folk, breakfast is often tasty, it usually costs less, and the money goes to the local economy. Stay in a big chain hotel and I might as well be in Chicago.

So, when I decided to go back to the home town of my childhood - Vanceburg, Kentucky - I went on online to find a nice little bed and breakfast. The decision was helped along by my Janie sister saying there wasn't a hotel within 25 miles of Vanceburg. She had lived in Vanceburg for several years before moving to Charleston a couple years ago.

Online searching found few pickin's but the one "Inn" listed on a Kentucky tourism website seemed to be just what I was looking for -

Take a step back in time to a place where noise, congestion and life's pressures have been forsaken. The McKellup House Inn is located in downtown Vanceburg, Kentucky, a million miles from a big city (at least it will seem that way). Relax and renew at the McKellup House Inn! We offer: four guest rooms, each with a private bath...period furnishings, a ground-floor guest room with ADA-compliant bath. Each room has been furnished with antiques reflecting the pre-civil war house. Beds include polished brass, iron, or carved oak. Although at this time we do not offer breakfast with bookings, we will do everything possible to arrange for whatever your needs or desires may be.

The online photo looked good, a nice historic inn,

My suspicions should have been raised on making the reservation - which took several phone calls - and the lady answered Redbud Realty, but, hey, it's a small town and people do a variety of things to make a living. Then she went on to say not only was there no breakfast, but no TV, no phone, no wireless. OK, I could live with that. I was looking to get away.

I arrived in town about 1:30 PM and went to check in at my little inn on the river. Well, the real live place looked a little different from the online photo. The paint was peeling, the landscaping had died, all blinds were drawn. Lookin' pretty run down,

Knocked on the door several times, no answer. Checked the address. Yep, this was 226 Front Street. I thought the hostess must be out getting some welcome snack and tea, so I went over to the Historical Society for a few hours to work on our family history.

Returned at 4:30 PM, still no answer. Hm-m-m. I asked the people sitting on the porch across the street - they still do this in Kentucky, kind of nice - did they know when the owner might be back.

"No, but they live just down the street, in the green house on the corner".

I hustled down to the green house. No one home there either, but a note on the door addressed to me gave a number to a pizza shop. Call there and someone would come to let me in. Now, tell me, how was I supposed know to go to the green house, and not the Inn to check in?

Sure enough, a lady drove up in a pick up truck about 10 minutes after my call, but I'd had to walk some distance into town because there was no cell phone service on Front Street.

The inside of the Inn was dark. No snack or tea. We sure have been spoiled in those European B & B's. The door was open to a downstairs bedroom, antique bed all right, but no mattress and the bedclothes were strewn on the floor. This must be the ADA room. All the other downstairs doors were closed. My room was upstairs, and it had a nice look.

My room would have been Civil War looking if not for a jacuzzi tub taking up a quarter of the space. Funkiness aside, a warm Jacuzzi bath could have been neat later in the evening were it not for a sign that said "Sorry, I don't work". The lady showed me how to turn on the gas heater hanging on the wall. Not like anything I'd seen before, a pilot light that heated up two bricks when the flame was turned a little higher.

I had a feeling and asked the greeter lady whether there were any other guests staying at the Inn.

"No, but I'll be staying downstairs after I get off from the pizza shop. I'll be late, so I hope I don't wake you up."

Well, at least there would be someone else in the house during the night. I was planning to be out late myself.

I went over to my cousin's house for dinner, and he asked if I wasn't going to stay with him and his wife, Nancy. I hadn't seen him for almost 50 years but I said no, I'd wanted to stay at least a couple days at my Inn and get the flavor of the town, and I liked being right next to the river.

It was 10:30 when I returned to the Inn. It was a bit spooky, completely dark, no light on, no one there, so I sang to myself walking up the stairs. I had trouble getting the heater to work. For some reason, the pilot light was off and I couldn't get the d--- thing fixed. And it was starting to smell like gas in the room. So, back downstairs, drive to the edge of town to get cell phone service, and call the number for the pizza place.

This time a guy came over, and after blasting the heater with a blow torch looking lighter for a few minutes, the pilot came on. The room still had a gas smell so I asked him to open the windows since they were stuck.

I slept in my blue jeans that night with the windows open. That elegant looking little bedspread was all the cover there was.

The next morning as I was leaving, the lady was out on the porch smoking a cigarette so she must have come in sometime during the night.

"The heater has a problem", I told her. "Could you have someone look at it today".

I spent the day exploring the town and running around with my cousin, Allen, catching up on 50 years of our adventures and misadventures. We are indeed from the same genes.

Kentucky is beautiful, and my Inn was right on the Ohio River.

Vanceburg is well past its heyday when it was a bustling, thriving river town, barges, and river boats up and down the river, tobacco growing in the fields. My grandparents' Victorian house just down the street from my Inn was beautiful in the 1940's, but now run down much like the Inn.

The house next to the Inn is a fixer upper,

Once beautiful houses are up for sale.

The town seems to have little activity,

Even the railroad through town that used to carry coal from the eastern coal fields, and livestock, and people has rusted.

Exhausted from the day, I returned to my Inn about 8:30 PM. It was dark, and as soon as I stepped inside I could smell the gas. Back down to the green house - no one home. Drive to the edge of town to get cell phone service to call whoever is running the place. Got that d--- Redbud Realty machine. Couldn't even get hold of the pizza shop, wherever the h--- it was. Back to the Inn, hold my breath and run upstairs to get my bag before the place blows up.

Gracious hosts they are, my cousins took me in.

Nancy smiled. "Had enough flavor?". I remembered her eyebrow had gone up when I told them the first night where I was staying.

It's a sad requiem for another Kentucky town.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Wanted: A Few More Good Men and Women to Chance an Arm

While going through my Dublin photos this morning to make our much procrastinated movie - not as procrastinated as Patty's posts - of our Ireland/Iceland trip, I came across a story apropos to this week's announcement of three women who share the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize.

Inside St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin hangs a door with a hole,

and this is the story.

In 1492, two great Irish families, the Butlers of Ormond and the Fitzgeralds of Kildare, were engaged in a bitter and bloody feud. Seeking sanctuary, Black James, nephew of the Earl of Ormond, and his men fled into the Chapter House. The Fitzgeralds followed in hot pursuit.

Their leader Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, realized that the fighting was out of control. Through the closed door he pleaded with Black James to accept a truce. Suspecting treachery, Black James refused to let Fitzgerald inside. Fitzgerald hacked a hole in the door and thrust his arm through as a pledge of his good faith.

This daring gesture was enough. The door opened and the two warring factions received one another in peace. Some believe that this event is the origin of the expression "to chance your arm", meaning to take the initiative. The door has become known as the "Door of Reconciliation".

Sunday, October 02, 2011

William Elwood Dillow: A Man for All Seasons

When I used to pop over to my Uncle Elwood's house in Vanceburg, Kentucky to play around with his accordion, I could tell even then he was a different kind of guy. His house was filled with Mexican things and he was always reading a book or listening to the radio. In the 1950's people in this river town didn't have Mexican things in their house, much less ever seen a Mexican. But I shall get to that later.

Elwood was Ramona's oldest brother, first born to Jacob with the blue, blue eyes, and Grace, a handsome little woman, in 1906. Vanceburg was still a bustling river town at the turn of the last century, but the Dillows and their growing family lived on a farm just outside of town. Jacob, a farmer and teacher, brought up seven well educated kids.

By age two, Elwood already had a grown up seriousness needed to head this bunch of kids.


1912, Elwood, Maurice, George Jacob,

He would have worked on the farm while getting his education, and Ramona recalls he started a chicken raising business on his own on the hillside behind the farmstead. He already had a confident attitude by his high school years.

In the summer of 1923, while still in high school, he took a summer job at the Howell Cutting Plant making buttons, and wrote about this experience in the June 29, 1972 Lewis County Herald,

Each employee stood before a machine, in design much like an engine lathe. A stepped pulley in the machine enabled the worker to determine a speed correct for the button blank that he was then cutting. Individual machines took power from overhead shafting.

The employee would place a mussel shell in his hand held tong. All the while the tubular saw in the headstock was revolving. The tail stock had a wood plug movable longitudinally. As stated above, the worker moved the shell into the revolving saw by using a rachet in the tailstock. The buttons were sawed quite rapidly, many blanks being cut from the shell before it was discarded.

The spool in which the saw was mounted was unique in that the tapered tubular saw was secured by a handmade key. The keying of the saw within its spool, the aligning of the spool within the head stock, the filing and jointing of the saw would at times tax the most skilled employee.

As an experiment, some of the discarded shells were spread on the Vanceburg hill road.

After high school, Elwood completed two years of college in preparation to be a teacher, most likely at Morehead State Teachers College, and the July 8, 1927 Portsmouth Daily Times reported the Lewis County school board had announced teachers for the rural schools for the year. Elwood was assigned to Rock Creek, a rural school upriver past Quincy. It would have been one of those one room school houses for the early grades before children were bused to a consolidated school. Commonly, the rural school teacher would board with a family in the area, returning home on the weekend if they had means of transportation. Given Elwood's ingenuity, he would have had transportation. In a letter to Ramona, he described fixing up Jacob's 1909 Ford Coupe that had been caught in a flood at the confluence of Gander Branch and Dry Run and washed a couple hundred yards downstream. "I bought the damaged Ford, put another body on it and had a serviceable auto".

In 1930, he was still living at the farm with 5 younger siblings. His next younger brother, George Jacob, had died in 1925 at age 17, diabetic at a time when insulin was very new.

In 1932, he married Goldia Richmond from Camp Dix back in the hills of Lewis County, also from a large family of 11 children whose Kentucky roots went back several generations, and a year later they had their only child, a daughter, Delores, "Tootsie" we called her, red haired from the Dillow side of the family.

Tootsie recalls her Dad building a camper on the back of his pick up truck when she was in the third grade and traveling the family to Roma, Texas on the Rio Grande and now a center of drug trafficking, kidnappings and gruesome murders. Why did the family go to Roma in 1941, and why Roma? Tootsie recalls the purpose was for Elwood to immerse himself in Mexican culture and study Spanish. He had a Mexican lady come to the house twice weekly to tutor him in Spanish and Tootsie went to school. Roma was likely picked at random as the family drove toward Mexico and this was a rural town as far as they could go without actually going into Mexico.

They stayed only 3 months, Elwood reluctantly returning as Goldia was lonely and homesick. In a February 1942 letter to Ramona soon after their return to Vanceburg - Ramona had moved to Hartford the previous year to marry Raymond - Elwood writes,

Dear sister,

In your last letter you asked me to tell you about our trip, stating you would be interested. In starting to tell you of our return trip I would like to remind you that Roma was located 88 miles down the river from Laredo, Texas, a city of some 40,000. First we traveled some 70 miles down river to a little Texas town called "Hidalgo" from which I crossed International bridge on foot to Reynosa, Mexico, where I purchased a small basket full of Mexican wares. Goldia reserved for herself the choice and you can't blame her. The remainder was insufficient to go around. At her home, I am told they clamored for more Mexican cigarettes. Many articles can be bought but the "turista" is compelled to pay a plenty. Much crude earthenware is offered, grass woven articles, serapes, huaraches, etc. On my return I stopped in a music store where I bought a few used records, all in Spanish or by Latin American artists. Eloise has one "Sur de Rio Grande" and on reverse "Mi Unico Amor" (My Only Love), a very beautiful and typical Mexican melody. I have a recording of the "Hermanas padilla" (Padilla sisters) which I treasure very much. It could be quite easily true local people here do not enjoy such melody - be that as it may, I enjoy some of the Mexican music, the language and think some most beautiful women can be found south of the Rio Grande.

To continue with the trip - we traveled 3 days and still weren't out of Texas. But to go back a bit, we came up near the Gulf Coast, taking a side trip of some 35 miles in order to see a part of Gulf of Mexico. A glimpse at any map will show you Texas is almost land locked by long chains of islands... 85 degrees when we left the border with south wind at out back = radiator persisted in boiling over every time I was compelled to stop. It got so cold on our return in Kentucky we had to use hot water before the Ford would start. As for trouble on our entire trip we had nearly none. I had one puncture in 3500 miles... wore a pair of old tires "bald", unable to have them retread, so like many another North American, I'm in a pickle. Crossed 3 tall bridges on our return, paying first at Greenville $1.90, then 80 cents to cross Tennessee and last and least 45 cents Tyrone Bridge across Kentucky River.

Texas is a large and progressive state. There one sees nearly everything. In some areas you can see countless oil wells with many tanks mammoth in size in which to store the crude, cotton lands, hard and softwood forests, experiment farms for brahmas and their crosses, beautiful highways, bridges, and luxurious roadside parks.. south of San Antonio the never ending semi-desert, a real contrast to anything to be seen elsewhere, a region apparently belonging to Texas-Mexicans. Would venture to say 95% of the people in some counties are Latins, always speaking their Spanish, not the best Spanish to be sure because time, space, and alienation from the madre Espana has resulted in many changes.

Why did I come home? Simply because Goldia could not adjust herself to the desert and different people and had worried herself sick. I urged her time and again to return by bus leaving me but she would not take the step. Since her return, she's happy indeed. Toots re-enrolled in school. Goldia back on the job. Much the old routine with plenty of Kentucky winter to mix with it all. My trip was most enlightening and enjoyable, one I shall never forget, money wisely invested. For further study of the language, I may this year go to Northern Metropolitan Center where I can locate Mexican, Cuban or others. I could never get Goldia interested. War came on and I was unable to enroll Toots in Mexican schools. If you want to know anything else, ask questions. I include my last available Mexican coin. Elwood Dillow

Roma, Texas, 1942,

Wasn't it like the times to sign a letter to your sister with your full name, and to give her your last coin?

Back in Vanceburg, Elwood went back to farming and teaching. He had his radio fixed to receive Havana, Cuba, and read his Spanish books and listened to his radio until he could no longer see or hear.

He died in 1993 and is buried at Morgan Cemetery at the head of Grassy along with his wife of 61 years, Goldia.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sweep at Western Montana State Fair

Before summer is completely gone -

Before our blog dies from lack of material -

And, before Patty gets around to writing on our Ireland/Iceland trip -

I thought I would post our winning entries at the 2011 Western Montana State Fair.

Jennifer won first place ribbons in Photography for

and from Ait Ben Haddou in Morocco,

Honorable mentions for the moth in Majorelle Gardens in Marrakkesh,

and her HomeCat (that's as in homeboy or "hommie"),

I took first place in Still Life for this spice shop in Marrakkesh,

and second place in People for these two camel herders on the road from El Er to Fes, Morocco.

Jennie tells me these first and second places were from hundreds of entries.

In addition, little Isabella took a first place in Art for an abstract piano, second place for a painting of a cactus and desert creature, third places for paintings of a chicken and abstract chalk drawing, and honorable mentions for a foil sculpture and Dragon named Steve.

Jennifer won a blue ribbon for her pickled beets, red for canned tomatoes, and yellow ribbon for strawberry jam. She won two first place ribbons for needlepoint tooth fairy pillow and crewel of garden gate with flowers. I shall have to get a photo of these, they are gorgeous.

Montana, watch out for all of us in 2012! We are getting ready for you!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Semper Semper Fi

We - my DAR buddies, that is - spent our usual Wednesday afternoon/evening cooking for the West Battalion Wounded Warriors. Let me say, if you are feeling you need a hug, cook for a bunch of Marines and there will be plenty. They certainly know how to show their gratitude.

I was looking for a new angle on photos. I mean, how many pics can you take of a bunch of ladies in red, white and blue aprons cooking? So I took a stroll through the parking lot.

Naturally, it was filled with a plethora of monster or just regular giant trucks that any self respecting Marine would be driving.

Some augmented with a macho motorcycle,

but it was the small details on the windows that belied the culture and warrior identity of the Marine.

Pray for our troops, Jesus. I could swear that's a take off of the St. James Cross in that design.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Grace Dillow, A Handsome Little Woman

Grace was our maternal grandmother, a "handsome little woman", said the Portsmouth Times in 1902 when she and Jacob with the blue, blue eyes eloped to get married. According to our mother, Grace's mother, Mary Jane, disapproved of the marriage. Why, we have not been able to imagine, and the dead don't talk. It turned out to be a long, fruitful, and happy marriage, and without it I wouldn't be writing this today.

Mary Jane had been through her share of tragedy by the time Grace was born in 1883 in Lewis County, Kentucky. When people ask what part of Kentucky you are from, you give your county - chances are unless you're from the big towns of Louisville or Lexington no one would know the hollow or farming settlement you were from. So, if you're from Lewis County, I could say I'm from out on Grassy and you would know it. If you're from Kentucky, I would say I'm from Lewis County and you would know. And if you're from anywhere else, I just say I'm from Kentucky.

Mary Jane was unmarried and widowed for three years when Grace was conceived. Family legend was that William Martin married the young widow while she was pregnant in order to give the child a legitimate name, but more than a hundred years later we have learned things did not happen that way. That, and Mary Jane's tragedies, are stories for another day.

At the time of Grace's birth, Mary Jane had come back from Illinois to Vanceburg with her two surviving young children, "Sis", age 7, and Jesse, age 4. Mary Jane was supporting her family working as a seamstress, and living next door to her father, George Caseman, who at age 53 was raising six of his children as a single parent and working as a farmer.

A History of Lewis County in 1912 described the area as "its surface is much diversified by hill and dale, and watered by many creeks whose sparkling depths, clear as crystal, are filled of fish of many kinds...a hill country with fertile valleys, the nest of the eagle and the den of the fox and mountain lion". Indeed, I can recall the neighbor men gathering at our farm to hunt down a mountain lion that had been spotted before it ate one of us kids.

In the 1880's, Vanceburg was coming out of an era of being a booming Ohio River town to being a railroad town, both means to ship out the farm products and transport West those looking for adventure or better times. In 1880, Lewis County had a population of 12,.407, almost the same as today, 289,658 cultivated acres, 2,772 males over the age of 21, 4,653 horses, 306 mules, and 4,165 hogs. Chances were you came from a farming family and married a farmer.

Mary Jane had a marriage to a farmer from Fleming County soon after Grace was born but at this time we don't know how long he stayed around. Likely he had died by the time Mary Jane married again to William Martin in 1890. Almost all 1890 US Census records were destroyed in a fire, so we don't know where the family was living at that time, but by 1900 when Grace was 17, the family was living on a farm about six miles out of Vanceburg in Valley, Kentucky, so small it no longer is identified as a town or has a post office. All left identifying Valley is the cemetery. Grace's older half-sister "Sis" and half-brother Jessie had left the home by the time of this census.

Living in Valley in 1900 was a young and good looking teacher, Jacob, who would have been Grace's teacher at Clarksburg. Jacob was the first of many generations in his family to pursue a life other than farming. He was living on his father's farm while teaching, along with five siblings and two grandchildren of Abraham and Sarah Dillow. It must have been a lively place, but perhaps a pall hung over the farm as two other children of Abraham and Sarah, Dollie and Willard, had died in the 1890's.

Grace hung out with girlfriends before she was married,

but by age 19, she and the young teacher with the blue, blue eyes had eloped. As the paper said, she was a handsome little woman.

They stayed in Portsmouth for the next two years, Grace working in the shoe factory and Jacob in a steel mill, before they dared go home to Vanceburg. By that time, they had saved money to buy a 30 acre farm outside town. "We had the only brick house around", my mother said, so Jacob and Grace must have worked hard to save their money. They had the first of seven children in 1906 and the last in 1922, all born at the homestead. Mary Jane lived nearby across Dry Run Creek with William Martin, grandma-ing all these grandchildren from the marriage she had opposed, a melding of the Scotch Irish Dillows and German Casemans, and - as we may see in future stories - some English thrown in. Our mother remembers Mary Jane as "the best grandma you could want", so all those grandbabies and a settled life with William perhaps softened her up from the hardships of her own life.

Grace and Jacob raised all the children at the homestead, farming as well as Jacob going out to one room country school houses to educate the children of the hills and hollows. Our mother recalls that Grace "liked to keep the house nice" with wallpaper and rugs. The house was German style brick with five rooms downstairs and two upstairs, a potbellied stove in the living room for heat and a wood burning stove in the kitchen for cooking, and no indoor plumbing, so you know what that means. Elwood, their oldest child recalls the 1913 flood of the Ohio River, "waters were in this barn and Pa had placed planking to reach the barn. He removed some second floor boards from the barn loft, built a Jon boat in which we boated (across the flood waters) to grandparents' home".

Grace in the tobacco field at the homestead,

Grace and Jacob, a gentle couple

Grace in front of the homestead,

and in their later years.

Tragedy hit the family in 1925 when the second eldest, George Jacob, died at age 17 with complications of diabetes.

The six other children grew up and became teachers and farmers, providing Grace and Jacob with 14 grandchildren. Mary Jane lived nearby until her death in 1935. Jacob died in 1953, and Grace's letters from that time on speak of the sadness and loneliness she felt even though surrounded by family.

The homestead and farm was bought by the youngest child, Wilbur, a farmer, and one of his children tried to restore the house in the 1970's and 80's. I visited the homestead in 1984 and took this photo. Grace's gardens were gone, but the beauty of the setting is evident.

I also went out to our farmhouse on Grassy and found the one room school house where I started my education with my father as the teacher, eight grades in one room. It was those one room school houses in the hollows that kept most of the population of Kentucky from being illiterate.

Grace died in 1968 at age 85. The house was torn down to put through a freeway.