Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Upon my return, I'll start reporting my June trip to Smith Center, Kansas. In the mean-time, enjoy (below) a healthy installment from the Echo Echo by Ivan Burgess of Smith Center. Ivan is the lone Democratic voice in Smith Center's "As the Bladder Fills Club."  You'll hear more about the "As the Bladder Fills" fellows in coming weeks.
This is final part of an interview I conducted in July, 2003, with 99-year-old Pearl Mt. Castle of Lewisburg, Ohio. Pearl taught school for forty years, usually fifth grade. She taught Sunday School for sixty-four years, retiring from that when she was in her nineties. She still lives independently on the farm and in the house her parents moved into in 1913. She still takes care of herself. She still sometimes refers to herself in the third person, in the manner of old school teachers. I've been asked what Pearl looks like, and this is how I responded: "Pearl is white-headed, fairly thin, of a medium woman's height - neither short nor tall. Her face has seen some years, but her eyes still have some fire in them. She was wearing a long, dark house dress when I interviewed her, she walks with a walker, she wears a built-up shoe and brace on the foot and ankle most damaged by the polio." I found that my job during this interview was to stay out of the way and let Pearl tell her story. Pretty much I succeeded in staying out of the way; there's no question but that Pearl can tell her story. Try and keep up with us, now.
Interestingly, Pearl especially appreciates the writing of Henry David Thoreau. "He writes about nature," she said, "the things you see right out there. You know what his love was - well, that's my love, the out-of-doors. That's why I am living here. I might not really be capable of living here by myself, and yet I do. This is the loveliest place in the world. I grew up here with nature. I know every inch of this seventy-six acre farm. I've picked berries, I've shocked wheat, I've brought in the cows and milked them. There's an old song: 'I ain't got nobody, nobody cares for me. I ain't got nobody, so I'm going back to the farm, to milk the cows and feed the chickens and I don't give a good gosh darn.' That's where I am in a way, but then I also have so many people who love me and respect me and keep in touch with me all the time. That's why I'm alive."

"What would it take to move you from this place?" I asked.

"When I breathe my last," Pearl said. "I would be lost - it'd be like sitting in jail to be in a retirement home."

"What if you lived in a different house or apartment?"

"I wouldn't have the closeness of all these friends and relation, and the out-of-doors that I have here," Pearl said. "So many interesting little things happen here. Walk to the door there and hear 'bob-white.'"

I asked Pearl about the characteristics of the people of the area. She said her high school class had high expectations: "From that class, there were two nurses, two doctors, two teachers, a couple farmers. Nineteen people in my class and they went to all walks of life. A musician. A dramatist. We have a couple little grandmothers, too. And one became a specialist in candy-making; her grand-daughter right now is running her candy business. She's known for her chocolates."

"Ambition, yes," Pearl said, "and we had potential."

Pearl's mother was more forward-looking, her father more conservative, which Pearl thinks is a common split in the people of the area - some progressive, and some not so progressive.
Ninety-nine percent of the people, Pearl said, were "staunch citizens, thinking of their fellow man, working together, and have a view of community, from the mayor of the town clear down to the lowest position you could have. And they are all equal - they live together, they understand one another, they're not fighting."

"I'm a great believer in that sort of thing, living with your fellow man," Pearl added. She quoted a poem she'd learned in the sixth grade, in which a fellow's name was not written in the "golden book" as one who loved the Lord. "Then write that I love my fellow man," the fellow said to the angel with the book. And the next night when the angel appeared again, the fellow's name was in the book of those whom the Lord has blessed, and "it led all the rest." He loved his fellow man.

Then Pearl said: "I suppose I shouldn't record this. People ask, 'Pearl, why did you never marry?'"

I said: "Pearl, why did you never marry?"

Pearl said: "I never had time."

She said: "I had plenty of boyfriends. I could laugh. I had a sense of humor. Knew what was going on in the world. Liked education. Education has been my field. If there is anything left to my estate when I am gone, it's going to scholarships, to education. Education - that will put the world on top, that and taking care of your fellow man. That's my philosophy."
(501 W. Third #12, Smith Center, KS 66967)
"Do you know the three most important things for having a winning football team," Ivan asked. "Offensive line, offensive line, and offensive line."
"Someone," Ivan said, "I don't know who it was, I don't think I'd ever heard of him, but someone once said 'if you build a better mousetrap the world will beat a path to your door.' Well, don't be lookin' for anyone to be battering Jack Benn's door down. Jack has been having a coon problem down at his place on West Court Street. So Jack put on his best outdoor game face and set a trap for the coon. In the middle of the night Jack got up and went outside to run his trap line. One of the neighborhood cats was in the trap eating the coon food and the coon was up on the bird feeder stuffing himself on sunflower seeds."
"At Paul's Cafe last Monday," Ivan said, "they had twelve kinds of pie listed. If I was a waitress and someone asked me what kind of pie I had, I would tell him: we got one crust and two crust, cream and fruit. Then let him order."
"Darren Meyer got caught up in that dreaded sequence web," Ivan reported. "You know how that works. First Darren made a new sign for Lasting Impressions. He done such a good job of that, his wife insisted that he repair the front steps. And, of course, he done an outsanding job of that. Now Darren don't know it yet, but the next project is a new front door. There is only one way to avoid the dreaded sequence web - that is to do such a poor job on the first project that the wife don't ask you to do the second project. I don't know why these young married husbands never learn that."
"And another thing," Ivan said. "As expensive as lumber is, it is kind of hard to realize it grows on trees."
"Bruce Miles wondered," Ivan said, "if, when you hit a honey bee at seventy miles per hour, is that glob on the windshield honey? Fortunately Elizabeth Ohmstede, the bee lady, was there. She said part of it was honey and part of it was guts."
"When I was a kid," Ivan said, "I used to hear old people talking about the weather being 'close." That was on the days when the humidity was high. Well, last week there was a couple days that could be described as 'close.'"
"I see a driver's ed car around town." Ivan said. "So must be having a driver's ed course at the local school. My driver's ed consisted of getting in, starting the motor, and letting out the clutch. Lettin' out that clutch would cause some buckin' and jumpin' but when you got her smoothed out, you were a driver."
"Last Tuesday morning I heard three different amounts of rain," Ivan reported. "I gave each one of them my stock answer - 'that's about what I had.' It's just so much simpler to say 'that's about what I had' than to go slogging out to the rain gauge and trying to read the amount in these plastic gauges that are hard to see through."
"You can always tell when you sweet corn is ready," Ivan said. "It is ready the day after the coons have stripped all the ears off the stalk."
"By fall of the year," Ivan said, "I always lock my car so people won't be putting turnips in." [Ivan, in Wisconsin, it's zucchini. You no more than turn your back or run into the convenience store for a soda and you come out there's a bushel of zucchini in your back seat.]
"A brunch had to be invented by a woman," Ivan wrote. "You can't have breakfast because she is going to a brunch. You don't have dinner because she has been to a brunch."
"The thing I like about the Fourth of July," Ivan said, "is that it is the last holiday until September 6th. The older I get, the more that holidays screw up my entire schedule. There is nothing I like better or that is more comfortable to me than routine. I hate being forced out of my routine."
"Stay ahead of the possed," Ivan always closes.
JULY 15, 1998

The air is still so humid you can see the moisture in it. Out here, the humidity is like a wall in the distance, a blue wall that marks the edge of what we can see. It's supposed to be hot again today. Our July weather is right on schedule. 

At the corner of Highway E and Sheldon Road, the winter rye has been harvested. All that's left is straw. The only field of peas that had remained along Highway E has been harvested too.

In the field where once there had been water standing, where peas have since been taken, now there are hundreds of little white stakes set in rows. Don't ask me - I don't know.

At the Soda farm along Highway E south of Five Corners, the evidence is clear that one of the big outbuildings and a small one burned yesterday.


JULY 16, 1998
Speed and scale are interrelated. Driving sixty miles per hour, the telephone poles are closer together - it's only when you're walking that you recognize how far apart they are. A conestoga wagon headed west - the hopeful settler sees the wide open spaces reaching beyond forever. From a jet, the view of the open space of the west is reduced; we can cross in an hour or two or three what used to take a very long summer.

In car or pick-up, you do not get the same sense of the road as you do walking, when you notice every hill. You do not get to hear the plants and animals talking. Because you remove yourself from "land time" when climbing into an automobile, your senses are altered - it is the large you notice, not the small and quiet. The anger of the red-wing blackbird - you can't feel it as you travel in a fast-moving vehicle. The kreee of the hawk - can you hear it? Because we miss these things in passing, we come to think they are not there, or are not important.
When we slow to a walk, we see how much different the world becomes.

A neighbor has water spraying across his lawn. I would not do that. Having a lawn to take care of is bad enough - you don't want to encourage it.

Again this morning - a dove in the driveway. Sun on the house is blood ripe red.

Sea gulls are flocking in the fields along Highway E, awaiting our plague of locusts perhaps. They've been here more than a week, I think, and the flock seems to be getting larger.

The leaves on the corn are curled tight. Does the corn wish for water? It was warm again yesterday. Today is not expected to be so hot as it has been.

There are three crows on the Ripon High School football field. They are talking a game all their own, calling plays I don't understand.

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