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3 Cheers for Charles!

14 Nov

Today’s Memory Dirt Road isn’t too far in the past. I’d say it’s about 3 fenceposts back. Or years. You choose. In my memory they’re the same thing. Three fenceposts and 46 minutes ago our Charlie Bear was born.

Happy Birthday, fella. You’re pretty awesome.

Thank you, Veterans

11 Nov

Today we will forgo the usual book blither in order to thank those who have sacrificed so much for us cowards, specifically our favorite veteran, Harold Carl Schelm.

739th AAA GUN BATTALION WORLD WAR II 1943 - 1946 Fiji - Finshhafen - Mindoro - Negros Panay - Mandanao - Leyte Harold C. Schelm Entered Service: December 22, 1942 Branch: U.S. Army Trained at Camp David, North Carolina Overseas: September 18, 1943 Returned: December 16, 1945 Theatre of Operation: Pacific Engagements: Southern Philippines Discharged: December 24, 1945 at Fort Logan, Colorado Decorations: Asiatic-Pacific Theatre Medal Philippine Liberation Ribbon w/l Bronze Star Good Conduct Medal Rank: Technician Fourth Class Total Time Served: Thirty-six months.


This man knew his first son only 10 days before leaving for years.


Here is a bit that our Gramma dictated for Grappa about his years in the war:

“On December 1941 when the Japs bombed Pearl Harbor war was declared.  We were at Uncle Bogue and Aunt Alvina’s house when we heard this news.  Little did we realize then what a change it would make in our lives.

In the spring of 1942 the decision was made to put an army base in the Grand Prairie area she already mentioned that was near Johnstown so I don’t think it is necessary anymore to reiterate.  Many farmers had to sell their farms in order for this to happen.  Work on this project went 24 hours a day to finish it quickly.  The first B-29’s came in by the fall that same year.

In the fall of 1942 as I was picking corn, hoping to make a killing, I received “Greetings from Uncle Sam”.  In December 1943 I was inducted into the army, sent to Fort Leavenworth.  From there shipped to Camp Davis, North Carolina.  On May 10 I received a furlough to go home before going overseas.

While I was home Larry was born on May 20.  In June, Irene left Larry in the care of my sister Eva and came to Camp Davis to spend a few days with me.  She always tells that she had seven train changes before getting to her destination, got into Washington D.C. during a blackout and in her own words was ‘too dumb to realize what was happening’.  Her last train was lit by gas lights yet.  She made it and we had several happy days to spend together.

On September 12, 1943 we arrived at Camp Stoneman, California.  We left there by boat to San Francisco.  From there won the USS Middleton for the Fiji Islands.  On September 20 we crossed the International dateline and on October 1 crossed the equator.  October 4 we disembarked at Lautoka, Fiji.  November 21, 1944 we boarded the SS Ainsworth.  November 23 we left for New Guinea.  While enroute radar quit turning.  All personnel was alerted to be prepared to disembark because they figured they had spotted an enemy submarine.  All motors were cut off and we sat there like a sitting duck on a pond.  Eventually all was well.  Also during this trip, a possible mine was spotted.  Our 90 MM guns were fired.  It hit the mine and it exploded far and wide.  Even I had spotted that mine.

On December 1 we got to Finchhaven, New Guinea.  We were unloaded from our ship into “ducks”what exactly is a duck to our camp which was home for a couple of months.  February 7 we departed on a LST to Filandia??? where a convoy of one hundred ships was made up.  We arrived at Mindora, Philippines.  While I was there I suffered back problems and was hospitalized six weeks.  When I left the hospital on a stretcher from Negros they hung we up on a C47 plane with no life jacket while every one else was provided with one.  I am not sure to this day whether they felt I wasn’t worth one or what.

I was in Leyette for another six weeks convalessing.  From here I was sent back to my outfit where each battery was taking amphibious training for the invasion of Japan.  News came August 14 of the bombing of Hiroshima and the surrendering by Japan.  We took over command at Illo Illo where we prepared guns for the troops going into Japan and hauling Japanese from the mountains to be sent home.

Now we awaited orders to come home.  We got into San Francisco December ??.  Then on to Fort Logan, Colorado where we were discharged December 24, 1945 then home to my wife and son who I hadn’t seen since he was ten days old but who I couldn’t deny as he was the spitting image of myself.  Thanks be to God we were all together again.

Those were my army days.”

Thank you, Grappa, for those days.


Learn more about this handsome man here.

Rural Review

7 Nov

Here’s a chance to catch up on some of our Country Speak, in case we lose you in the middle of a system now and again:

Since understanding our isolated and unique childhood will help you to better understand us, then we had better help you understand some of the terms we throw around.  Understand?

One-Room Schoolhouse:  A misnomer.  Actually we had three rooms.  A bathroom, a porch (where we hung our backpacks and coveralls), and a classroom.  One teacher.  Grades K-6 in our case, although most others were K-8.  Not all grades were represented every year.

Country School:  The collective term for all the one- or two-room schoolhouses in the county.

Coveralls:  One-piece, army green outerwear that we donned in winter weather until the invention of snowpants.  Snowpants changed our lives.  I loved 1983.  If you had snowpants prior to that year please do not tell me about them. IMPORTANT: Coveralls are not to be confused with OVERalls. Overalls are the denim contraptions made famous by railway engineers. Coveralls were made famous by cold farmers and their cold children.

Town School:  Where town kids went to elementary school.  And where the rest of us ended up when we had finished Country School.

Town:  Ainsworth. Between 1400-1800 people depending on the census year.  Ten miles from our house, eight of which were dirt roads (see below.)

Road:  By definition roads are made of dirt.  They are covered in washboards when it is dry, and mud when it is wet.

Washboards: You know those bumpy, metal things on which pioneers washed their calico frocks? Translate that onto dirt. Make the bumps bigger, but just as hard. (This is NOT how we washed our cars.)

Rural Route: The beginning of every address for people living north of town.  (The people south of town had HC addresses.  They were weird.) Recently the state implemented a 911 system that requires actual street names.  It’s a major bummer.  I no longer know where my parents live.

Farmers: Live north of town.  Grow things like corn and pigs.  Wear caps.  Had Rural Route addresses.

Ranchers: Live south of town.  Grow things like hay and cattle.  Wear cowboy hats.  Had HC addresses.

Feed Lots:  Lots and lots and lots and lots of cows in one spot.  That’s why they’re called Lots.

Pick-up:  Not the clever line that Adam Beel used on my sister one  speech trip.  They’re what the rest of the world refers to as a “pick-up truck” or merely a “truck.”

Truck:  Differentiated from a pick-up by at least eight really bigs wheels.  Probably more.  They omit choking diesel fumes and loud metallic rumbles.  They are also responsible for washboards.

Quonset: A large semi-circular building made of corrugated steal.  Useful for storing hog feed, corn seed, trucks, and tractors; providing the only paved surface on which to ride bikes; and sliding down when the snow drifts up the outside.

Cow Tank/Cowboy Swimming Pool:  Either placed under a windmill to hold water for cows at pasture, or placed in our yard for summer water recreation.

Honey Wagon: Our self-imposed public forum ban prevents me from divulging the contents this tank-like contraption.  Know that it’s purpose was to take undisclosed contents from the pits underneath the hogsheds far away from our homestead.  If the wind was from the north it was never far enough.

Butcher Pen: You hope that I’m going to tell you that this is a writing implement that advertises our favorite meat shop.  Sorry.  It was the pen where Dad kept the pigs that, due to some physical deformity, couldn’t go to market.  We would sit on their shed and name them.  Stop it, it wasn’t that sad.

Rolling Coulter:  Pizza Cutter.  We were adults before we learned this is not  what the vast majority of Americans call the cooking utensil they use to slice their deep-dish.  A real Rolling Coulter is a sharp, wheeled object pulled behind a tractor to cultivate fields.  Farm and kitchen implements often crossed paths in our childhood.  Once my mother had me convinced I need to go borrow my uncle’s giant harvesting tractor to finish a recipe.  It said combine . . .

System:  Giant sprinkler.  They spin in a circle around fields which are, not by coincidence, planted in a circle.  Stacy and I will own this one some day:

Irrigation Ditch: There are two seasonal definitions Summer:  Big man-made ditches that bring water hundreds of miles to  fields where it is pumped into systems or brought through little ditches and tubes down the rows of corn.  AND  Fall, Winter and Spring:  nearly empty schoolyard boundaries where students can play during recess out of the sight of their teacher.  Remaining amounts of water are useful for peeing contests and ice skating.

Irrigation Ditch Road:  Roads, usually with two tracks, one for each wheel, that run along irrigation ditches.  Theoretically they are for use only by irrigation district personnel.  Theories-schmeories.

Sandhills:  Think desert dunes covered with scraggly grasses.  So, so gorgeous.

Horizon:  Many of you in the tree-littered parts of the country may have never seen one of these.  It’s where the land and sky meet.  Without trees.  Really, really pretty.

Bromegrass:  A tall golden grass that covers irrigation ditches.  If you pinch your fingers at the base of the seed head and strip them up off the stem you can make “Baby Yucca” plants.  We might have done that a few thousand times as children.  I have an entire essay about bromegrass that won an award in High School.  If my Mom didn’t accidentally throw it away when she was purging floppy disks, I’ll share it with you sometime.

We Love our Mummy

31 Oct

You all are in for a treat today! No trickin’! You see, we have this really fantastic mom. She’s always been that way. I suppose she always will. Occasionally we’re reminded of the ways in which she is fantastic. Today, specifically, countless Halloweens come to mind. Halloweens during which we donned the creations of  that lady. Some of our costumes were homemade from their very beginnings. Some were yanked from household closets. Some were stolen from unsuspecting construction workers. Those things matter not. What matters? The fact that we were never clad in polyester/synthetic fur/plastic mask/made for Walmart/highly flammable costumes. (Well, we had ONE highly flammable costume, but darned if we can’t find the picture. I promise that when we do, we will post it, regardless of season. It’s THAT good.) I wish that I was always so intrinsically motivated as a mother. Well, maybe it wasn’t intrinsic motivation at all. We may have just been really high maintenance daughters. Nah. That couldn’t have been true…Anyway, to you I present The Vogelsang Sister Halloween Costume Gallary:

See these? Ghosts. Cliché? Nope. How many ghosts do you see wandering the sidewalks these days? That’s what I thought. These are costumes only rivaled by Charlie Brown.

Next photo please…

You’ve seen these before (in black and white and itty bitty). A lion. A flower. Faces encased in cardboard. I’m wearing an old dress and Christina is wearing a gunny sack died green. Brilliant. Innovative.

This is District 13’s student body dressed up for the holiday and in front of our schoolwide Halloween art project. How cool is that, right? These costumes were obviously pinched from our father’s closet. Christina has more power as the “White Hat”. That’s as it should be.

The overall costume is ripped from our p.j. drawer, but the bonnets? Those were handcrafted my our mom. The diaper/trick or treating bag? Another homespun accessory. The bottles? Well, sometimes people keep things in storage too long….

DUH-da-da-DAH! Best costume EVER!!!! “Beware of the Abominable Snowman” Yep. Wondering which costume we ganked from construction workers?? Look no further. I can still smell the crumpled newspaper shoved down our britches. We had to answer a lot of questions that night. That’s why Mom made signs. Most Abominable Snowmen don’t wear signs. Betcha didn’t know that.

Good, huh? We’d love to hear about your past costumes. Please? Sometimes my discussion requests get ignored, but this time I’m Serious (serious enough to capitalize). And with that I wish you Happy Halloween, Blessed Reformation, and a Joyous Candy Collection Day.

Deep, Dad. Deep.

24 Oct

Last month while my parent’s were here in Michigan I was working on a post.  As usual I was stuck.  My mistake was in letting my Blogger’s Block become public.  Dad, always quick to the punch, or possibly just punchy, had this sterling advice:

Plant it deep and pack it in.

It’s a post.  Get it?

Don’t worry, the next time you go out to help build a fence you’ll get the joke.  If not, well, don’t feel bad, Dad’s jokes have been lost on us for years.

It's been this way all my life, I tell you.

And so today, since you’re already deeply mired in the mud of a Memory Dirt Road Monday I’d like to share with you two special jokes that our father wrote.  I guarantee that you have never heard these before (unless you know our father, in which case you’ve probably heard them anywhere between 6-422 times in your life.)  Are you ready?  Okay, here’s the first:

Q:  If you’re flying down the road in your canoe and a wheel fell off how many flapjacks would it take to cover a doghouse?
A:  Nine, because ice cream doesn’t have bones.

What?  You don’t get it?  Try this one instead:

Q:  What’s the difference between an orange?
A:  A bicycle because a vest doesn’t have sleeves.

Still nothing?

Okay, fine, we don’t understand them either.  But we never let on.  We just laughed and laughed . . .

You should probably do the same.

Ding ding ding ding DING! We HAVE a winner!

17 Oct

So, a few weeks ago I posted this. Well, actually, I posted something entitled “Prairie BeLLS are ringing”. It makes more sense than “Prairie BellES…” doesn’t it? Sure. Why would I make such an editorial choice? What would push me to go in and CHANGE my title, thus changing the meaning of the post??!? One would think it was because I had discovered that I had misspelled the name of my beloved alma mater. And sure, that was sort of the case. One may even assume (may) that I received a belittling phone call from my sister during which she explained to me (amidst judgemental giggles) that “bells” and “belles” are not the same thing and that we were, in fact, NOT Prairie Bells. We were Prairie Belles. You know, the girls who on the Prairie did reside. Oh. That made sense. How stupid was I?!?! Quick! Change it! CHANGE IT! Before someone sees this appalling spelling snaffoo! Save yourself the embarrassment post-haste!

So that’s just what I did. Then, later that day, as I was red-facingly explaining my little error to our mom, the waters of my understanding became muddier still. See, Mom was pretty certain that I was initially correct. What? Surely not. Really, Christina has a correctness rate of about 99.823%. We, as a family, rarely give her question. But in this particular case our dear mother felt as if she could find concrete evidence proving one of her daughters fallible indeed. Dig, Mom, dig.

Well, she dug (dig it?), and produced the most beautiful little snippet of vindication I ever did see. May I present to you “District 13 – Prairie B-E-L-L School” yearbook pages for 1984-85. CHECK THESE OUT!!!!!

See? That's me in the blonde pigtails. Christina has the perm. Our Aunt Sandy gave her that perm. In her kitchen. That's Mrs. Hall. She was my first favorite teacher. She brought animal hides for show-and-tell one day. I was particularly fond of the muskrat hide.

See the Halloween picture? We are the Lion and the Flower. Apparently there was sale on large cardboard discs that year. The track meet picture? Staged. Can you believe it? And the Christmas play? Christina ALWAYS got to be Mary. Me? A shepherd. What? NOT fair.

Where My Past Meets My Present and Changes Blogs

10 Oct

Thanks to the generous flour mill lending of my fellow other-blogger Jeannette, and Super Walmart’s affordable bag of wheat berries I set out on a whole new journey last week – grinding my own flour.

For those of you who worry that this might be the very last straw – ha!  ha!  Get it?  “Straw!” – in my journey towards being a conservative-crunchy-granola-homeschooling-weirdo, fear not.  I either entered into that territory a long time ago, or I’m no where near it.  I can’t really tell.  But crunchy granola is super-duper yummy.

The tie-dyed shirt might be incriminating evidence.

Anyway, you’re probably wondering what flour grinding has to do with my past, or reading classic novels.  Hold on just a second.  I’ll get there.  Just be patient.  I have to help you slowly navigate through my mind, which is a bit of a dangerous journey.

As we tore open the bag of wheat and reached into the little berries I was immediately transported back to the quonset.  You remember the quonset, right?  It was in the Rural Dictionary which you were supposed to commit to memory, so I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

The quonset was where we stored pig feed.  Do you know what pigs eat?  Do you?  Have you ever really thought about it?  The answer is not ham.  Or bacon.  You’re confused.  In books pigs eat slop.  And to be sure, we did not own a garbage disposal and my family always called the one in my Gramma’s house “the electric pig,” but that is hardly the sole sustenance of the porcine species.

No, they eat grain.  I guess.  I never actually gave a lot of thought to what pig feed was until I tore open that bag of wheat and little particles floated up my nose and into my memory bank.  That wheat smelled exactly like pig feed.

I know, you’re thinking that I probably found it all very unappetizing and had to abandon my plans to become a anti-establishment, hippie, tree-hugging, unschooler who lives in a commune. Well, fear not.  I am wholly dedicated to yummy pizza crust.  Because pig feed smells good.

Again, I think you are confused.  It’s the pigs that don’t smell good.  And definitely what they turn the feed into reeks the hairs right off your nostrils.  But the pre-digested food?  That’s a smell Yankee could put in wax and burn.

The sniffing is genetic.

And it tastes good, too.  Or at least that’s what Dad always said when he tried to shock us by chewing on a pinch of the Baby Pig Food.  We learned later that the secret ingredient in that rich, black formula was molasses.  Plus, it was an excellent source of iron.

You made it this far into my scary mind journey, are you ready to go a little further and find out how this all connects to classic literature?  Well, then you’ll have to follow me, over to my other blog . . .

Are you coming?

I Don’t Know What You’re Talking About

28 Sep

In an effort to thwart a bad cases of Blogger’s Block, and because we have not revealed enough of our olfactory oddness and possible parenting laziness, today I offer up another of our favorite forms of humiliation:

Grab Bag Special

Embarrassing aspects of this photo:

We’ve chosen a lovely place to pose – the doorway of the bathroom.  Not a bathroom, or our bathroom, or the special, fancy-soap guest bathroom.  Nope, the bathroom.  We had one.  That’s it.  But we thought that was normal.  Also, that bathroom is oddly located right off the living room.  Which is kind of convenient since it provided a comfy place to lounge while waiting for your turn in the one bathroom.

And then there’s the macrame plant hanger in the background.  It was one of many in our house.  At one point my parents must have been really in to macrame, we had cones of cord and scores of wooden beads in our basement.  My money’s on the 1970s.  Ours plant hangers were lovely, but you should have seen the piece my aunt had.  It was enormous, like a suspended end table with a glass top.  Or bottom, I suppose, since it was hanging.  Actually, it would be a glass middle, because  under the glass was this hugemongous, white, puffed-out tassel.  It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  In macrame.  No, strike that.  It was just the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Well, since you’re already gawking up in that direction I suppose I might as well mention what Stacy’s got going on up top.  That’s a dusty rose lace heart adorned with country blue ribbon.  Home decór doesn’t get more elegant than that, my friends.  And I’ll tell you a secret:  Stacy and I made those.  Good news, don’t you think?  I mean, if this mothering gig doesn’t work out for us I’m pretty sure we can get jobs in the interior design industry.

Okay, fine, enough ignoring the obvious.  Did you see that shirt I’m wearing?  See, for two years I played volleyball.  Volleyball was my thing.  I bet you’re thinking, “Hey, I thought she said she was scared of balls flying towards her face?”  You’re right, I am.  But in volleyball I saw an opportunity to send balls flying across the net via a killer serve which would theoretically reduce the chance of the balls coming my way.  Obviously I did not understand the meaning of the word “volley.”  But I did spend $9.78 on wearable proof that I was “an athlete.”   That’s really about all it takes to be good at sports, right?

And finally, the necklace with the t-shirt?  Nice, touch, don’t you think?  I’m just glad it didn’t choke me.

Well, there you have it.  Only a bad hair day could have made this picture more embarrassing.

Prairie Bell(e)s are Ringing

29 Aug

As the school year begins I often get wee bit nostalgic. (Nothing overly sentimental, mind you, but thinking back’s kind of fun, right?) My sister and I are members of a wonderful minority: country school scholars. Yep, we got our educational beginnings in a good ol’ fashioned one room schoolhouse. To be fair, our school had 3 rooms (bathroom, coat room, classroom), but it wasn’t much larger than most middle class living rooms (those of you living in fairytale castles – picture your closet).  And every year at this time we were drooling with school year anticipation.

District 13. Prairie Belle School. Isn't that a sweet name for a school? It was ours.

Usually we would take a late summer pilgrimage to Norfolk (or sometimes Grand Island if we were feeling fancy) to go school shopping. Once laden with new jeans, tennis shoes, pencil boxes, and backpacks (if we were lucky) we patiently twiddled our thumbs until the first day of school. And, oh!, the wait was painful. There is almost nothing to this day that ignites nervous anticipation in my heart like the first day of school. Would I get to hang my coat on a high hook like the wiser students? How would Mrs. Hall arrange the desks? Would there be new contact paper on the class table? What games would be popular at recess? Would it be too hot to wear my new jeans? Would my schoolmates (all 3 to 6 of them) remember me? Had anyone gotten a new hairdo over the summer? What would my classroom job be? SO MANY QUESTIONS! And all would be answered in that one day. I might go so far as to say that the first day of school was the BEST day of school, but jumping to extremes leads me to abandon Halloween, Christmas pageant day, Field Trip day, and Valentine’s day. It’s a close race, folks.

The sleepless nights and elevated heart rates were all worth it on that first day. Armed with a fresh box of Kleenex (usually generic), a bag full of unmarred supplies, and a Care Bear lunch box (or was it Strawberry Shortcake? Smurfs? Christina, help me out here) we would trepidatiously enter that stucco learning fortress. Our school had a wonderful smell. The scents of bromegrass, cornfield, chalk, powdered tempura paint, construction paper, and mouse droppings combined to form a comforting olfactory cocktail that culled academic prowess from our pores. (Don’t question it.) As we slowly inhaled, gazed around our beloved building, and found our seats, we found ourselves – that crumble of a piece that had been missing all summer.

I’m saddened that these rural institutions are largely things of the past. I’m desperate for my own children to have the same experiences of school that were given to Christina and me and a few lucky others. But, as with so many things, their experiences will be different from mine – their memories just as sweet.

And the Winner is . . .

15 Aug

Just kidding.  We can’t pick favorites.   Plus, we have nothing to offer as a prize except a hardy round of applause, and even that might be virtual. (clap, clap, clap)  That didn’t seem too hardy.  What about this?  (CLAP!!!  CLAP!!!  CLAP!!!)  Still pretty lame.  So sorry.

But we did gain these impressive stats from this little exercise:  We have EIGHT readers!!!  We never hoped for so large a number.  Of course, one of them is our Mom, but she still counts, right?  Right, Mom??  Mom, are you still reading?  Oh, well – we have SEVEN readers!!!  This is very exciting.  Here are their entries in the great caption contest:

Mom plunges her way through another Halloween with a couple of her 'ghoul-friends'.

Oh, just wait until we pull some photos of our Halloween costumes.  I’ll give you this much as a teaser:  The Michelin Man.


Girls, we should be on the Paris Fashion runways!!! We be stylin’.

I’m fairly certain there is nowhere more geographically or ideologically distant from Paris fashion than our hometown.


Woman plunges GOLD from her ears and lives to tell about it!

As Dad always says, “If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts, and earwax were made of gold . . .”


“The Three Plung-e-teers” – For a small fee, we’ll take care of all your plunging needs AND serve you a tasty home-cooked meal while wearing a smile and sporting the latest fashions.

I have no doubt that these three women did two of those things very well.


Look at what I pulled out of the toilet!

What toilet?  We had an outhouse.  A three-seater.  I’ll tell you about it sometime.


The Golden Girls...the early years...

Oddly, this is very, very close to the truth.


Just heading out to an LWML meeting.

And combined with this one you nearly have the whole story.

But I’ll get to that tomorrow.  For now, I’ll leave you with one last caption.  Guess who sent in this gem?

I needed to exercise censorship before I sent a box of photos home with my daughter

Mom?  Mom?  Are you still out there?  You still love us, right, Mom?

(crickets chirping)