Weekly Columns!

All your favorite weekly columns and letters to the editor- online!

 Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

Editor's Notebook, by Bill Blauvelt
While preparing the Jewell County Memories columns for this newspaper, I've read about the activities of those employed to teach the rural schools of Jewell County a century or more ago.
I let my imagination fill in for what wasn't reported by the newspaper writers. It was customary for the schools of that era to primarily employ single young women. There were some exceptions. My Grandfather Wrench was one of those exceptions. After completing the tenth grade, received a teaching certificate and was hired to teach a rural Mitchell County school. I remember him talking about his experience teaching a school that included students older than he was.
At that time, it was common for farm boys to skip school when their help was needed on the farm. Consequently, it often took more than the prescribed 8 years to complete grade school. My father was 16 when he completed grade school and 20 when he received his high school diploma. I don't remember how old Grandfather Wrench was when he started teaching but I suspect he wasn't much more than 16.
Soon after school started in 1896, a Jewell County editor commented in more than one issue about the versatile teacher who not only kept school but was breaking horses on her daily ride to and from school. Apparently, the "school marm" was relying upon a "green broke" horse that added some excitement to the trip to and from school.
While several of pupils rode horses to the country school I attended, I never had a teacher who lived within riding distance. My father, however, told a story about the teacher who rode home on his horse.
As I remember the story, the young teacher had implored her pupils on opening day, "Please don't embarrass me when we have company!" Though the pupils were gloating about running the prior year's teacher off, the new teacher soon had their support. She played with them during the recess periods but demanded and received their attention during class periods.
As her home was about 5 miles from school, throughout the week, she boarded with another family and walked each day about a mile to school.
The day she rode home double with my father, a blizzard had blown in and she didn't want to set out on foot after school. Instead she accepted an offer of a ride. Dad had previously offered to take her home but she had professed to being afraid of his horse which often bucked and cutup when starting out for home. Dad confessed to me that he and the horse were just putting on a show. When they had an extra passenger, there was none of that nonsense displayed.
This week I read an item about a teacher who, in spite of a strong wind and blowing dust, kept her word and took her pupils out for a Friday afternoon hike.
I could see that happening when I attended Pleasant Valley School. Special activities were often planned for Friday afternoons. Somedays we got to put our books away early and help the teacher clean the school house. Other times we might have art class, play softball or go for a hike.
As a grade school pupil, I often considered my teachers to be "old" but most were probably in their 30s.
On a nice spring or fall afternoon, hikes were among my favorite school activities. In the name of science and learning about nature, it was fun to go hiking with the teacher and fellow students.
At least once we went to see a prairie dog town. As we approached the prairie dog town, a lookout sounded the alarm and all of the animals took cover in their tunnels.
So the wise teacher had us lay in the grass and remain motionless making nary a sound for what seemed like an eternity. I was sure a rattlesnake or coyote would sneak up and carry one or more of us off. That didn't happen, the prairie dogs got over their fright and left their holes and I still remember the hike.
Another time we visited a long abandoned farmstead. We explored the house, barn and all the outbuildings imagining what the people must have been like who once lived there.
We hiked nearly two miles to examine the irrigation canal. Found water running in a creek and I suspect most of us got a little wet and muddy before returning to school.
Several pupils rode horses to school, and if one of the horses got loose, the teacher helped with the roundup.
Some days when recess came the teacher had to stay inside and grade papers, but I preferred those days when the teacher came out to play. Some of the teachers played much like the students. If the game required running or rolling on the ground, the teacher did so. The teacher's strength was appreciated on those days when we made snow forts and had heavy balls of snow to lift into place.
We challenged a neighboring school to a softball game but the game was rained out. Rather than make us attend class that afternoon, the teacher dismissed school early. Because we expected to have visitors on the school grounds who might excite our horses, none of us rode horses that day. After dinner, the teacher loaded us in her automobile and attempted to take us home. The roads were not well graded and none had any gravel. That trip also made memories.
One recent Sunday afternoon, Rita and I drove part of the route. As a grade school student, I never doubted the teacher would make it with her old Chevrolet and some bigger boys to push. But after attempting it that afternoon, I understand why she later bought a Jeep.
Wish I had a picture of her Jeep. I know the rural mail carrier that served the school drove a Jeep to which a Model A car body had been attached. As I remember, the teacher's Jeep had a homemade body. I suspect both Jeeps were WWII surplus that left the factory with canvas tops.
After the war, conversion shops modified the all purpose vehicle for civilian use much like the more recent shops that converted the plain jane vans the factories were turning out into mobile party yachts with swivel chairs, tables, refrigerators, sinks and even sleeping arrangements.
Today the factory has added lots of options and ginger bread to the WW II Jeep. I'm not sure what has happened to the fancy conversion vans but they appear to have lost favor.

A Different Slant, by Chuck Mittan

A short time ago, a filmmaker friend of mine asked for advice on Facebook regarding a viable location to shoot a few scenes for a short western he's directing. Apparently, what he needs is an old-west main street to be used for his wide, "establishing" shots. Before I could type a response, several other friends answered in the manner I was planning to: that the Stuhr Museum in Grand Island has such a main street. So, instead, I added a comment saying I knew the museum had a long history of allowing films to be made there.
Later, I got to thinking. I hoped that was still correct. I am aware of several film projects to use the museum as a location, however, the last one I was aware of was the adaptation of Willa Cather's "My Antonia," filmed way back in 1995.
Friday night at the Prairie Lights Film Festival in Grand Island, we watched a creepy but good feature-length film called "Bender," from Los Angeles. Knowing every film at Prairie Lights must have a Nebraska connection, I wondered how this film from southern California about events that took place in Kansas qualified for the festival. Surprisingly, the director was in attendance, all the way from L.A. He said his search for an old west town to use for his "wide shots" had eventually led him to the Stuhr Museum, by way of the Grand Island Chamber of Commerce. Even though most of the film was shot on location in southcentral Kansas, he was grateful enough for the help he received from both the museum and the chamber of commerce that he wanted to hold the film's world premiere in Grand Island. Fortunately, they have a nice little film festival there every year.
Our film, "Leaving Kansas," screened to a nice crowd the following morning. During the question and answer session that followed, someone in the audience said, "Obviously, you used a real cop and cop car. How did he feel about the way he was portrayed in the film?" What a compliment that was, considering we had used neither a real cop nor a real cop car! We were, however, helped by a "real cop" to overcome some of the challenges of making such a scene look good. Brad Baker, Nuckolls County Sheriff, helped immensely with his donation of several items and is appropriately credited in the film.
"Backwash," a science fiction short Kathy acted in, was among the films that screened Saturday night to the largest crowd I've ever seen at the festival. The Prairie Lights Film Festival is held each October at the Grand Theatre, a beautifully restored Art Deco movie house in downtown Grand Island. Like the Crest Theatre in Superior, it is operated as a nonprofit organization by volunteers.

Country Roads, by Gloria Garman-Schlaefli

Traveling along the rural country roads, one can't help but notice the many abandoned farm houses, barns and outbuildings here and there. Years ago, there was a family residing on every quarter section, but times have changed, along with farming practices. Farms have gotten larger in order to support the farm families of today. The older farmers have retired and moved into town and some of the farmsteads are never used again.
There is nothing worse than watching what once was a well kept farmhouse slowly deteriorate as the days and years fly by. Once a happy home to a family is now empty and silent. Roofs of these abandoned houses are sagging, back doors swing loose in the Kansas wind and windows are cracked and worn. Exterior paint is peeling and tall weeds surround the house that once was a show place.
Such was the fate of the empty farmhouse I called home about 40 years ago. Longing to become a farmer, my husband began discussing purchasing a farm near our hometown during the early 1970s. After several disappointments we were finally able to purchase a farm on contract from an older farmer who was also a friend of my parents. Our sons at that time were five years old and one year old and we were renting a house in town. I assumed we would continue to live in the comfortable town house while we farmed, but I was not aware of what challenges awaited me. There was an older house on the farm, but it had not been lived in for 20 years. The doors had been left open and the local wildlife had started calling it their home. My parents, in-laws, and husband kept telling me the wooden floors and decorative woodwork were in such "good condition" and the house had "good bones." They all ganged up and began telling me "this" and "that" could be done to make it livable once again. So, keeping an open mind, I agreed to help bring the house back to life. Blood, sweat and tears went into the restoration project, making the old house into the family home of our dreams. We proudly moved into the house within a year. As the boys grew older, more space was needed, so a new addition was built with a fireplace that I always dreamed of having. In the 20 years we lived in that beloved house, wallpapering was done, remodeling was done, a new roof replaced the older one and the exterior was painted twice. A patio was added onto the east side of the house where the rich White Rock Valley could be viewed. Many memories were made in that house. As we became "empty nesters," eventually my husband and I made the decision to purchase a Victorian house in town and soon we left the farmhouse behind. Visits were made to the farmhouse from time to time but as life moved on and unexpected changes happened in my life, my attention shifted to other priorities.
Now decisions have to be made about the old farmhouse. I avoided thinking about the practical options. Maybe a metal roof could be added and with my love of "decorating" it could be turned into a rental hunting lodge. Putting pencil to paper, the cost far out weighed the profit. Maybe I could fix it up and it could be a "summer" or "get-away" home, but that too was crossed off the possible list. There was no other option left. It has to be removed. Removed sounds much better than saying torn down or destroyed. Seeing it falling down hurts so much more than having it removed. Discussion was held with my son and, with his encouragement, along with my husband's encouraging words, arrangements were made.
On a recent weekend, my son, his wife and their two daughters, along with me my husband, came together at the old farmhouse. Our camper trailer was brought up and we held a picnic. The girls laughed and played out in the farmyard as my son shared some of his childhood memories with them. We all pitched in getting all out of the house that needed rescuing. What I had thought might be a sad time was turned into a fun time. Family memories continued to be made on the farmstead that weekend.
I'm sure that in the future, even without the old farmhouse being there, family visits will continue to be made as the farm yard will be maintained. I can see ahead to some camping times, picnics, wiener roasts and some great adventures for the granddaughters and their parents. All creating continuing family memories.