Friday, September 30, 2011

A Death in the Ozarks, March 1928

This picture is a deeply sad one. It shows my grandmother and grandfather burying a son, John Lewis Durning, who died at the age of 17 on March 22, 1928.  

The picture is taken at the Cass cemetery, which is located in the Boston Mountains of rural Franklin County. This cemetery is on the slope of a hill across the highway from an old sawmill. You can see it from the highway; its on the right as you head south and trade the twists and turns of a steep mountain for a flat road. An old Baptist Church used to be nearby -- I don't know if it is still there. Most recently, a Job Corps camp was located near it. And, of course, the mischievous Mulberry River is not too far away, nor is Turner Bend.

This location is usually a beautiful setting, framed by hills covered with thick stands of trees and bordered by a stream feeding into the Mulberry. But it was not beautiful on this day in 1928. The picture shows it was overcast; the hill in the background seems bleak. The nearby bare trees add to the desolation you can see in my grandmother's face and to the stoic grimness of my grandfather. The casket is leaning a bit because the grave was dug on sloping ground.

The casket looks to be a fancy one that had to be carried from Ozark or Fayetteville; neither was an easy trip. Likely the cost of such a nice casket was a burden on the family finances of a hill country farmer.

The grieving woman in the picture had a beautiful name, Lillie Samantha. She was born in Johnson County, Arkansas on January 31, 1889 or 1890 (her tombstone says 1889, her social security record says 1890).  Her parents were Gains Harris and Narcissa Belle [Bowman] Harris.

The Durning picture archives (a big shoe box) has one picture of my grandmother as a young woman.  She looks pretty and sophisticated in it; more like a city girl than a hill farmer's daughter. I have to wonder about the story of the hat.

Lillie Samantha [Harris] Durning was a Baptist during the first part of her life, as were the Durnings and lots of folks in the Ozarks. Many years ago, I found some papers in the Franklin County Court House showing that the Durning family -- which had arrived in Cass from Tennessee in the late 1840s -- had donated the land for the Baptist Church located near the cemetery where John Lewis was buried.

My grandmother later became a Jehovah's Witness. An aunt told me that she had left the Baptist Church soon after the death of John Lewis because of her feelings about the unfair loss of her young son. When I knew her -- I thought she was the nicest and kindest person I had ever known -- she was active as a Jehovah's Witness, and the church was an important part of her latter life.

The man in the picture, Elias Nathaniel Durning, was born on April 21, 1882, in Franklin County, Arkansas. He is wearing the hat and overalls of a farmer, plus a nice shirt. He was still wearing the hat, or one like it, and overalls during the 1950s when I visited him. Gruff but playful, my grandfather seemed to be a quiet man; he was not in good health for some time before his death.

How did Lillie Samantha Harris, born in Johnson County, meet Elias Nathaniel Durning of Cass? It likely came about because she moved with her parents to Franklin County sometime after the turn of the century. The 1900 census showed them living in Newton County; the 1910 showed her parents were living in Wallace Township of Franklin County; it also showed Lillie S., aged 20, was married to Elias N. and they had two small children and an infant. They married on November 25, 1905.

In 1920, Lillie and Elias Durning were still living in Cass and had seven children; the youngest was one year old. In 1930, they had five sons and five daughters living with them in Hogan Township of Franklin County (near Denning and Altus). Plus one son in the Cass cemetery. By then, the family had moved away from Cass to the southern part of the county.

Both of my grandparents lived into their 70s, with the later years of their life spent in Fayetteville. My grandfather died in February 1960.  My grandmother died in May 1964.  Both are buried in the Cass Cemetery where they left their son on a sad March day in 1928.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Finding M. W. Fodor: Fulbright, Vienna, and Me

The Road to M. W. Fodor

You have probably never heard of M.W. Fodor, a foreign correspondent in Vienna from about 1919 until the Anschluss in 1938, who wrote for the Manchester Guardian and several papers in the United States. Until about three years ago, I certainly did not know who he was. I found out about him in a roundabout way.

One day in 2008, I remembered that in late 1968 I had sent a letter to Sen. J.W. Fulbright about my experiences in Vienna. In 1967 I had received the J.W. Fulbright Scholarship for Undergraduate Studies to attend the Institute of European Studies (IES) in Vienna, and I wanted to show my appreciation with the letter. Of course, Fulbright had neither funded the scholarship nor selected its recipient, but it was created for one student in Arkansas in his honor after he had traveled to Vienna in 1965 for an honorary doctorate, and while there, had met with IES students.

In the response to my letter, Fulbright, as I recalled, had written a note at the bottom of the typed page saying something like, "I had a similar experience while I was in Vienna."  In fact, here is the actual letter, which I finally found hidden in a box:

Recalling that letter, it struck me that it would be interesting to know what Fulbright did while he was in Vienna. So, I consulted four of his biographies, which gave a similar account of his stay there from late summer 1928 to early summer 1929.  His biographers told how he had had hung out at the Café Louve, a cafe frequented by American and British journalists, and had made friends with a journalist by the name of M.W. Fodor, a Hungarian, who then was a correspondent for the Philadelphia Public Ledger, the New York Evening Post, and, I think, the Manchester Guardian

According to the biographies, Fodor had invited Fulbright to make a trip with him through the Balkan states in Spring 1929 to interview diplomats and government leaders, and they had made the trip, getting to Athens, where Fulbright fell ill and had to break off the trip to return to Arkansas. Then, the story continues that Fulbright and Fodor frequently corresponded during the 1940s and 1950s.
Picture from Ken Cuthbertson. 1992.
 Inside: The Biography of John Gunther

Then I stumbled on an essay about Fulbright and Vienna by Walter Grünzweig, University of Dortmund, in a publication Fulbright at Fifty: Austrian-American Education Exchange, 1950-2000. In it, he recounts Fulbright visit to Vienna and his relationship with Fodor. He argues "the Vienna experience was formative for the later foreign policy specialist and the creator of the most important venue of international exchange the world has known." His arguments for this assertion can be found on pages 4 to 13 in this document: .

Finding Out More About Fodor's Years in Vienna

Reading Fulbright's biographies and the Grünzweig paper, I began to wonder who this Fodor person was. On-line searches yielded some bibliographical information, but little about him and his life. Since Fodor's death in 1977, this once well-known journalist has faded from sight and his accomplishments are largely unremembered. For example, Fodor still does not have a Wikipedia entry.

Intrigued, I decided to do some research on M. W. Fodor to see what I could learn about him. And I have spent many hours during the past three years accumulating information about him, his life, and his times. First, to learn more about Fodor, I read his two main books, Plot and Counter-Plot in Central Europe (1938) [also published in a slightly revised version as South of Hitler] and The Revolution is On (1940).  Then I tracked down most of the magazine articles that he wrote for magazines such as Nation, Atlantic, and The New Republic. After that, I found dozens of his newspaper articles that he had written for the Washington Post in the years immediately following the end of WWII. I am still searching for some of the more elusive of his published articles. 

One of the first things I learned about Fodor is that he kept very interesting company and had some famous  friends. Two of them were particularly important in the first half of his life: Dorothy Thompson and John Gunther. Fodor was  a mentor to both Thompson, a journalistic dynamo, and Gunther, an exuberant, ambitious man, who clearly greatly admired Fodor. Both Thompson and Gunther were immensely successful journalists, and Fodor shows up prominently in their biographies. Also, Fodor and his wife are sympathetic characters in Gunther's roman à clef (about British and American reporters in Vienna in the first part of the 1930s). In the novel, Fodor is a journalist named "Sandor."

Another of Fodor's friends was William Shirer, who seems in his many books to be a self-absorbed man. Of course Shirer's fame came primarily from two books:  Berlin Diary, mostly about his reporting from Berlin in the '30s and the massive Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.  From his many autobiographical books, it is clear that he considered Fodor to be a friend, and he gives the best account of what was happening to Fodor and his family in Vienna in March 1938 just before the arrival of German troops in Vienna. However, Shirer was confusing when giving some details about Fodor. He wrote the Fodor was Jewish, but from all other accounts he was a practicing Quaker when in Vienna. Also, he refers to Fodor's wife as "the beautiful Slovak," but better sources say she was from Hungary.
This picture was on the back dust jacket of Fodor's book,
Plot and Counter-Plot in Central Europe
Other friends and acquaintances included Vincent (Jimmy) Sheean and G.E.R. Gedye, both fabulous writers who were colleagues at times of Fodor, but were not close to him. He appears briefly in one or more of their books. Also, Friedrich Scheu, an Austrian who wrote for a British paper in the 1930s and seemed to know Fodor fairly well.

In their books, these journalists provided more information about Fodor and his work and life in Vienna. In addition to them, Fodor appears briefly in the memoirs of at least a dozen other journalists or political figures who were in Vienna in the 1930s. Without exception, Fodor is presented as the man who knows the most about what is going on in Central Europe and the Balkans and is willing to share his information.

The Later Fodor Years:  The Fulbright Connection

While it is possible to get a good sense of Fodor and his life from about 1920 to 1940, information on the later years is sparser.  We know from the Thompson and Gunther biographies about what happened soon after his arrival in the United States and how he made a living while here. Also, we can find newspaper articles about him speaking in different cities throughout the country.  But, details are missing. For example, Fodor's entry in the Hungarians in America, 1963, says that he studied at Olivet College in Michigan in 1942 and that he received an "Hon. LL.B Sheffield, England." However, I found nothing that corroborates this information or provides details. The University of Sheffield law school, which I contacted, says it have no record of awarding such a degree to Fodor, so it may be from another college in the area.

Part of the problem is that Fodor's books and articles have very little autobiographical information, and little that he wrote after 1947 is easily obtained. After becoming editor of the Berlin edition of Die Neue Zeitung, he wrote -- I am sure -- editorials and other materials for the paper, but copies of the newspaper are in just a few archives in the U.S. and Germany.

Fortunately, some biographical material is available through his private correspondence with J. William Fulbright.  Sen. Fulbright was among the famous people Fodor knew, the two reconnected in 1940 when Fodor came to the University of Arkansas to give a public lecture. Fulbright was then president of the UA and introduced Fodor to the assembly.

Picture from Ken Cuthbertson. 1992.
 Inside: The Biography of John Gunther

Then, later in the 1940s, when Fodor had taken on a new job with the U.S. occupation forces in Germany, he began sending Fulbright information, insights, and views of events in Germany, Central Europe, the Soviet Union, and other world hot spots.  From 1948 to 1957, he sent 65 to 70 memos, plus about 100 letters (some with information, some with personal communications) to Fulbright.  It is clear that Fulbright valued these memos and letters -- he sent copies of many of them to colleagues and to the CIA -- and had high regard for Fodor.

The letters exchanged by Fulbright and Fodor, plus his memos, are in the J. William Fulbright Papers at the University of Arkansas Special Collections Library.  From the memos and letters, we can track where Fodor was living and what he was doing from 1948 to 1957.

Reading Fodor's memo and letters showed the vast extent and reach of his knowledge of world events, and the people making them.  Also it showed that by 1948, Fodor had become a staunch anti-communist crusader, something not wholly compatible with his liberal views and outlook in Vienna. The war and its aftermath changed people; for example, compare Shirer's Berlin Diary, written before the war, with his book, End of a Berlin Diary, published in 1947, which has a nasty, revenge-laden tone. Clearly, the war and its aftermath had affected Shirer, and it affected Fodor. 
Streetcar Advertising in Gienow-Hecht,
Transmission Impossible

Fodor's memos to Fulbright stopped in 1958 when Fodor and his wife, Martha, moved back to the United States, where he worked for the United States Information Agency (USIA) in Washington D.C.  Martha died shortly after their return, in January 1959.  Fulbright and Fodor exchanged a few letters after that about personal matters.

In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Edward R. Murrow, the famous journalist, to head the USIA. In Fall, 1953, Murrow had filmed a "See It Now" program in Berlin; during it, he interviewed Fodor, calling him "one of the greatest reporters I have ever known."

You can see Murrow's interview of Fodor, beginning at minute 29:40 of this 58 minute program, at this link:   (This is a fascinating video of Murrow's news program, with the great journalists of the early 1950s, such as Howard K. Smith, reporting from this besieged city.)

I read somewhere that Murrow appointed Fodor to an important USIA post, but have found no confirmation of that.  Fodor retired in 1964, and lived until 1977.

Finding A Part of Fodor

I do not claim to have gained great insight into M.W. Fodor, but have formed some impressions about him.  For example, I think that although Fodor lacked the flamboyance of Thompson, the ego of Shirer, the grand vision of Gunther, and the powerful prose of Sheean and Gedyes, he had one gift that made him their equal:  an amazing memory that helped him accumulate knowledge about his subjects that far surpassed the knowledge that others had.  

Also,while some of his famous journalist friends wrote from the heart, some to make money, and others because they were born reporters who had to tell their stories, it seems to me that Fodor wrote because he found out things, and made connections between them, and wanted people to know about them.

The good news for me when searching Fodor was that the subject of this research was, from all the accounts, a very likable man: Quiet, unassuming, a bit shy, generous, a good friend. Fodor was widely praised for his generosity and collegiality. And he led a most interesting life, meeting some of the leading political and diplomatic figures of his day.

The Biographical Sketch

Finally, after three years of accumulating a huge amount of material on Fodor, I have written a short biographical sketch of him. In writing it, the goal was to boil down the massive amount of information I have accumulated to the basic facts about his life, and to fill it in with a little of texture. The biographical sketch is much like a slightly long encyclopedia entry.

Much more could and should be written about Fodor's life, simply because it was so interesting and varied. Hopefully, the biographical sketch can be expanded over time to capture more details of his work as a correspondent in Vienna and as the editor of Die Neue Zeitung in Berlin.  

My research has many gaps. I found little about his ancestors, parents, and early life in Budapest. Many details are fuzzy: where exactly did he study engineering? Where did he work in England? What really happened in England during WWI? What was he doing from 1958 until his retirement in 1964?

At present, another researcher -- a graduate student in Budapest -- is starting research on Fodor, and perhaps she will be able to answer these and other questions.  No doubt that her work add much more information about Fodor's life and times, and will allow a more complete story to be told.. 

In the meanwhile, I have posted the biographical sketch on Scribd, and it can be accessed at this link:      
If you read the biographical sketch and find mistakes and omissions, please let me know. I intend to update it as I get more information. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Five Best Things about Birch Bay, Washington

Living in a small resort community in the extreme northwest of the U.S., I like to think about the good things that come with life here. After more than four years in the area, I have found the following are the five things (plus some bonuses) I like best about Birch Bay, Washington.  

Above-Average Sunset in Birch Bay
1.  Spectacular sunsets.  Birch Bay gets many different types of cloud formations, some with rain, others just blowing through for our enjoyment. At sunset, these ever-changing clouds over the Pacific Ocean create brilliantly original sky colors that reflect on the water to make unusual ocean hues.  Add a floating flock of ducks, gliding sea gulls, feeding herons, and boats, islands, and snow capped mountains in the distance, and the sunsets are often memorable.

2.  Birch Bay State Park.  The park stretches almost a mile along the ocean, and offers a great place to picnic or play. It has open space for Frisbee and football, a basketball court, and lots of picnic tables. It provides a great vantage point from which to view the unfolding sunsets. With the park, access to the ocean is always available.
Shoreline of Birch Bay State Park

3.  Wildlife on Terrell Creek.  Terrell is a small creek connected to the ocean. At one time, salmon migrated up the stream, and efforts are underway to restore it for salmon. It lies a few feet from my deck(s) and window(s), so I get a good view of all the action going on in and around it. The creek ebbs and flows with the ocean, attracting a wide variety of wildlife. Heron regularly come to spear little fish. Sometimes river otters swim in to catch fish and munch on them on the creek bank. All types of ducks float on the creek, efficiently diving for their prey.  A kingfisher is usually sitting on a telephone line that crosses the creek, waiting to drop life a rock to scoop up a small meal. Eagles and hawks regularly fly by. You know they are around when you hear the sea gulls screaming their heads off. In the spring and summer, the sweeps and bats are busy darting about, feeding on bugs in the evening.

River Otter in Terrell Creek (photo by Jim Kundell)
4. Fresh Berries. Birch Bay is a short drive from the overflowing berry fields near Lynden. In the later part of June, July, and early August, piles of fresh raspberries, blue berries, and straw berries are a short drive away -- either pick’em yourself or get berries that were picked and put in a box that day. In September, blackberry bushes are ubiquitous for free picking, if you can put up with the thorns.

5.  Lots of other things. I have to cheat and have more than one fifth favorite thing about Birch Bay. These rank about the same:

The C Shop (Great neighbors; the best chocolate and bread.)

Clean Air/Cool Summers (After living most of my life in the south, my sweat glands were pumped up; they have now atrophied after a few years here. The temperature very rarely reaches 80, and when it does, the ocean breeze makes it tolerable. The oxygen-rich air from the ocean is energizing.)
Ice Cream at the C Shop, a Birch Bay Hub

July 4th Celebration (Crazy anarchy rules the day; uncoordinated mayhem in the skies over the Bay)

Moderate Politics (If I had a choice, I would to be surrounded by people who think as I do -- sort of like living in San Francisco. The second best option is to have competitive politics in which the winner is often the person closest to the reasonable middle.)

Squirting Clams  (When the tide is way out, you can walk out several hundred yards on the tide lands and find the squirting clams. They can be identified by the holes in the sand, often with the ends of their small "tubes" they send up to … I don’t know, breath or eat or something. If you stick your toe in the hole,  touch the “tube” with a stick, or stomp hard by the hole, the clam usually will squirt out some water. The best ones with have a mighty squirt, with water falling on your head, or at least, on a leg.  A competitive sport with a kid is to go out and see who can get the other person the wettest from clam squirts.)

Waiting for the Fireworks on July 4th
Spectacular Mountains  (Glance beyond the bay and, on a clear day, you will see snow covered mountains. To the north are the Canadian Cascades that surround Vancouver; to the west is Mt. Baker, the second highest peak in Washington and a slumbering volcano. You can drive to the small city of Glacier, just before the vertical drive up to the National Park, in about 45 minutes. In 90 minutes you can be in the snow, even in August.)

Birch Bay with Canadian Cascades in the Background
I have a shorter list of things that I dislike about Birch Bay (hint: frequent rainy and overcast days is among them), but I will save that for later.  When the sun is shining here and we are, at last, enjoying summer, it does not seem right to gripe about anything.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Pauline Davis Steele, Fayetteville (Arkansas) Educator and Evangelist

Pauline Steele, or Mrs. Steele as we knew her, was my favorite teacher at Jefferson elementary school, barely edging out Mr. Trahin (third grade). Among the reasons I thought she was a great teacher: she appointed me to be the projectionist for her fifth grade class, and I gained great vocational experience threading the movie projector with the endlessly fascinating films that we watched to augment our education. Who can forget such epics as "Amazing life of a proton", "Appreciating your parents," and "The solar system."
Mrs. Steele in 1961 with Skip Carney

Beyond her excellent judgement in selecting students for key positions in her class, Mrs. Steele was a generous grader. My report card shows that I got E for every subject in her class for the entire year. And not only was she obviously a brilliant grader, she was a truly nice person. I liked her so much that I stayed after class several times a week to help her clean the blackboards and beat the chalk out of the erasers.  The year with Mrs. Steele was very pleasant. She was a very good teacher who took a deep interest in her students.

A couple of years after my cohort graduated from Jefferson elementary and moved on to junior high school, Mrs. Steele also departed, becoming the counselor at Woodland Junior High School.

Aside from some chance encounters with her while I was in junior high school, I do not recall ever seeing or talking to her after I left Jefferson. However, I did run across a small book she wrote that was published locally in the late 1970s, titled "Hill Country Sayings and Ozark Folklore."

1962 Woodland Roundup; Mrs. Steele as Indian

Thinking back about Mrs. Steele, I thought I would rummage around the internet to see what I could find out about her.  I did not find much, but what I did find rounded out my memory of her a bit.  Here it is.

Pauline Davis was born on July 5, 1908, the daughter of L.V. and Eliza Davis. She grew up in a big family in West Fork. The 1920 census shows that she was living there with her parents and four siblings (Lafayette C[laude], age 27; Floyd V., 21; Gregg M., 18; and Paul C., 15).  According to the 1930 census, she living in Kansas City, Missouri.

I remember thinking that Mrs. Steele had some Indian, or Native American, background. Apparently others also thought so, and may have some evidence (see picture from 1962 Woodland Roundup). However, I found nothing indicating that she had such a background.

Pauline Davis became Mrs. Pauline Steele when she married a man named Cooper Steele on July 17, 1935. I could find no record of what became of him.

Mrs. Steele worked for a while in the 1930s as a local telephone operate in Fayetteville, and she attended the University of Arkansas in the later years of the 1930s, earning her teaching certificate.

She was a teacher in the Fayetteville school system for decades.  A newspaper article in the Northwest Arkansas Times on August 23, 1947, lists her as a teacher at Jefferson Elementary school.  I think she taught there until 1959 or 1960, when she moved to Woodland to become a counselor.  According to the Northwest Arkansas Times, she was elected president of the Fayetteville Faculty Club in 1962. (I think the Fayetteville Faculty Club was an organization whose members were teachers in the Fayetteville school system.)

Northwest Arkansas Times, Dec 11, 1964
Mrs. Steele had an interesting life outside of teaching. In 1952, an article in the Northwest Arkansas Times mentioned that she was an Assembly of God minister in West Fork (July 22, 1952). In 1961, the paper noted that she was co-minister (with Mary Ruth Branham) of the Northside Assembly of God Church (June 20, 1961). In 1964, the NWAT reported that she had became an evangelist (Oct 24, 1964, p. 8)

According to a memorial web page for Mary Ruth Branham, Mrs. Steele and Mrs. Branham from 1964 to 1976 "crisscrossed the country from Virginia to California as evangelists."

She continued her work as an evangelist and minister until her death on September 29, 1979. According to her obituary, she was at the time minister of the Evangel Assembly of God Church in Springdale.

She is buried at the Baptist Ford Cemetary, south of Greenland, north of West Fork, on old Hwy 71.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lavender Dog Biscuits Forever!

Last year while visiting Friday Harbor on San Juan Island (Washington state), I found myself in a type of store that I had never seen before. The store, Pelindaba Lavender, sells products that are lavender scented or lavender flavored. The store is not a small one, and it has shelves lined with a slew of products, many of which a person would never associate with the plant. According to the Pelindaba Lavender website (, the company sells over 240 products.

The Friday Harbor store has a relaxed new-age feel, with calm music, subdued light, and stolidly earth-mother type sales persons.  Most of the products are crafted, not mass made; some are created by local artisans. They are attractively packaged. Though not cheap, prices seem reasonable for premium goods.
Pelindaba Lavender Farm, San Juan Island

The largest array of lavender products is for "personal care"; they include soaps, shampoos, creams, and other skin care products that incorporate the lavender scent. A related set of products are called "therapeutic," purportedly useful for reducing headaches and providing other health benefits. Another set of products is for the home (to make things smell better), and floral decor and candles can be included on this list.

Pelindaba Lavender's most surprising products are those created for pets, including lavender-flavored dog biscuits. They look good, but I did not sample them. However, I did sample some of the food products for humans.  These include flavored chutney, honey, sugar, and chocolate. Even more exciting: you can snack on lavender chocolate chip cookies while sipping lavender flavored lemon aid. I bought some lavender-flavored coffee beans, which turned out to be a nice treat on occasion.

The Pelendaba products can be purchased on line at this web address:
Pelindaba Lavender Farm, San Juan Island

After this visit to the Pelendaba store, I filed information about it under "might be good place to buy Christmas presents for someone who has everything," and promptly forgot about the store. I was reminded of it this August when two friends from Athens, Georgia, came to Northwest Washington for a visit. On their list of things to do was: visit a lavender farm on San Juan Island.  I was happy to join them.

So, Harry and Brenda Hayes, with me tagging along, drove from Birch Bay to Antecortes to catch the ferry to San Juan Island. (How come I always think it is too warm to take a jacket on a ferry ride, and it never is?)  With little effort (and help from a GPS), we quickly found the Pelendaba lavender fields, which provided sweeping views of deep purple.  

The farm has lavender plants carefully cultivated in neat, long rows.  It grows several different types of lavender plants (who knew there was more than one?), which are different sizes, shades of purple, and configurations. Most of the lavender fields are fenced it, with admonitions to keep dogs outside the fence. The cultivation is organic.
Pelindaba Lavender Farm, San Juan Island

Some signs in the fields explain that this San Juan Island land is not optimal for growing lavender.  Apparently, it has the wrong type of soil (too acidic or too alkaline) for the best lavender, and the sloping land has sub-optimal drainage. Nevertheless, the owners have created beds that suppress weeds and provide the right amount of water to grow a vista of striking plants. 

The farm has a store, plus exhibits that explain how the lavender essence is extracted from the plants and used in its products.  After drinking some of their lavender lemon aid, I concluded they were doing a good job.
Binding the Harvested Lavender

Brenda, Harry, and I enjoyed visiting the lavender farm, and agreed that it seems to be a clever entrepreneurial idea that has been nicely executed. This type of artisan, sustainable business is well suited for an island economy and provides it a valuable boost. We lifted our bottles of lavender-flavored beer to toast the Pelendaba Lavender farm and wish it prosperity. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How One Can Lose One's Way in the Primeval Forest: Pioneer Tales of Arkansas' German Immigrants

Arkansas Echo
January 12, 1894

(Note the following is one of a series of Pioneer Tales published during 1893 and 1984 in the Arkansas Echo, a German-language newspaper in the Little Rock. See the information following this Pioneer Tale for information about them and what has been posted so far. This story is about the difficulty of negotiating the thick forests of Arkansas.) 

"What?" many of you will ask. "Are there still primeval forests in Arkansas?"

Yes, certainly, dear reader. Although there are no Brazilian or even African jungles through which a person must carve out a path with an ax. Still, there are enough woods left that it is not an impossibility occasionally, without being a little tipsy or hung over, to become completely lost in them.

Dr. Van Vleck in Jackson, Michigan has medicine
to help with hemorrhoids

Old Lady Sting could tell a story about that. She lived, of course, with old Kobes right in the middle of the woods and knew the paths and roads around there like the back of her hand.

One day she had been to town and afterwards cheerfully took off for home. Remarkably, the path appears to her to be terribly long, and it absolutely will not come to an end. She finally becomes suspicious and observes that she has clearly lost her way. However, she goes untiringly forward, since eventually she must come to a fence or house.

And soon she in fact sees a fence and a house. "Hello," calls Frau Sting, as an old man comes out onto the porch. "Tell me, good man, where I am; I have been lost,"

"Old lady, look," he responded. "Don't you know your own house and husband anymore?" 

A light comes on in Frau Sting's head, and she sees she is actually standing by her own fence and that the old man is her own husband, Kobes. Strange, she mutters, and goes, ashamed, into the house.

Another story happened to me. Once I wanted to make a keg of beer, and therefore to sow a patch of barley. I heard that a German living eight miles from me had barley seed to sell. I got the directions there described exactly to me. First, straight ahead, then turn right, then left, then right again, and so on.

One day I took my horse and a bag and left on that trail. As long as we went on the wide road everything was fine. But when the fork in the road came, I was truly in doubt whether to turn left or right. But that was quickly decided: I flipped a coat button -- what in such cases is always very useful -- and the button said "right". So, right I go into the woods.

But now the woods turned into a true virgin forest. And I had ridden for a good hour, but still no fence, no house. Then at last it went up a rather steep hill. And arriving on top, I could see no house, but before me lay a magnificent panorama, a splendid view for miles over the river valley. But I did not want anything to do with such beauties of nature today, I wanted to reach my barley man. Therefore, return and on with the search. And again I travelled mile after mile, but still I did not come out of the wilderness. Then, at last, I am again on top of a hill, and as I look around, there, O Horror! I am approximately at the same place I was earlier. Now it became a little uncomfortable for me, since it was still a good way until I would reach my destination.

And then my tummy growled wretchedly, something that certainly is not a pleasant feeling. O.K. once again return, but this time, I do not turn right, but left. And again, I rode mile after mile and I made a plan, where I would quarter myself during the coming night.

Then, thank God, at last a fence, a house. At my questioning, the man gave me the comforting news that I am at the sought after destination with the long sought barley man.

After I had quickly strengthened myself with food and drink and had obtained the barley, I took off for house and I arrived, on a dark night and totally without hindrance, again happily to my mother.

In those two cases, everything turned out  o.k. It went differently for a young boy who on a December afternoon went to look for cows, which people here let run free in the woods year in and year out. If they do not come home on their own in the afternoon, they had to be fetched.

The youth couldn't find the animals this time, and the cowbells that otherwise would point the way were not to be heard. And he had in the morning noted which direction they had taken. During his ramble through the woods, it had become fully night, and he wanted to go home. He had just gone over a path and wanted to return on it. But the path was no longer there. Very astonished, he stood still, and then it occurred to him that the path lay to the right, so he went right. But he came to a creek where he had never been before.

Now he begins to call and believes he hears an answer, and goes in that direction; in the meanwhile, he calls again, but gets no answer. He is now standing in the dark woods and doesn't know where from or where to. Fortunately, he has some matches in his bag. At the base of an overturned fir tree, he builds a fire and lays hungry and tired next to it, and thinks.

The fir tree has caught fire, so he does not need to worry about wood. He rakes together near the fire as many fir needles as he can reach and lays himself on the straw. As he has just fallen asleep, someone grabs his shoulder, and he jumps up, startled.

"Boy," says his father. Why didn't you come home?"

"Yes," says the boy. "Where the heck am I? I got lost and didn't know where to go, therefore I wanted to camp here."

"You blockhead," the old man flew off.  "You aren't even a hundred steps away from our fence. I saw the fire from my bed and wanted to know what was going on here. But that you could have been lost, I wouldn't have dreamed. We thought you were away somewhere."

It was one a.m., as he, frozen through, came home. The cows had arrived just as he had left.

Introduction to the Pioneer Tales

This pioneer tale is one in a series published in 1893 and 1894 by the Arkansas Echo, a German-language newspaper in Little Rock. The stories are intended to show the challenges and adventures facing German immigrants when they came to settle in Arkansas. So far, the following posts have introduced the Pioneer Tales and provided translations of several of them:

Pioneer Tales of Arkansas' German Immigrants (background of the newspaper series)

Arkansas Echo, November 3, 1893

Arkansas Echo, November 10, 1893

Arkansas EchoNovember 17, 1893

Arkansas Echo, December 1, 1893

Arkansas EchoDecember 8, 1893

Arkansas Echo, December 22, 1893

Arkansas EchoDecember 29, 1893

Arkansas EchoJanuary 5, 1894

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Greenland, Arkansas in the Late 1930s

In the late 1960s and 1970s, I drove through the small town of Greenland, on the southern edge of Fayetteville, just past the airport, dozens of times, barely noticing it.  Before the opening of Highway 540 connecting Fayetteville with I-40, the route to Little Rock was either on Highway 71 or the pig trail, and if you took Hwy 71, you were through Greenland before you even got serious about the trip.

The only time I remember stopping in Greenland was in the 8th grade when the Hillcrest Junior High School B team played there in a basketball tournament.  I think the final score was something like 12 to 8.  I can recall nothing remarkable about the place.

Greenland comes to mind because I just read a small gem of a book by Fred Starr, titled Of these Hills and Us, published in 1958. In it, he tells the story of how he and his wife moved in 1935 from western Oklahoma to the  village of Greenland, population 140, to “wrestle with the other fellow’s youngsters” (p. 56).  He and his wife, Florence, whom he had married in 1928, had been teachers in Oklahoma, living for several years in a “teacherage ” there, which I take to be group housing provided for teachers (p.35).   

Starr begins the book with the story of a washday in Oklahoma when, because they had an infant son, Joe Fred (who later became mayor of Fayetteville), he -- helping out his wife -- had washed about three dozen diapers, and they were hanging them out to dry when a dark cloud suddenly blew in a dust storm. It came so quickly they were unable to get the diapers off the line before the wind gave the diapers a  “sandy red bath” that would make washing them next time twice as hard.

His wife was so distraught she told him, "If you’ll take me out of this country….I’ll live in a tent! I’ll live just anywhere and do anything to get out of his mess.”
Fred Starr in early 1940s

Starr took her up on her offer, and found a job teaching in Greenland, taking a pay cut from $140 a month to $50 a month, though the Greenland school board suggested he might get up to $60 a month.  He didn't know it at the time, but both he and the Ozarks have rarely been so lucky as the day he arrived. He spent much of the next 40 years telling the stories of the hills and the neighboring hill folks in a clear, sympathetic voice.  In doing so, he left us a colorful picture of life in the Arkansas Ozarks in the late '30s and early 40's before modern life changed things. Also, he gave us a vivid picture of life in Greenland at the time.

Starr's first encounter with his neighbors came on the day they moved there. As he tells the story, the house they rented in Greenland was on a hill so steep the moving truck could not drive up it. So the  mover left all of their furniture and belongings at the bottom of hill. 

Fred was hesitant to move everything up the hill that day, but his wife was afraid that it would rain, so she insisted they carry everything to the house before it got dark. One of the first things he grabbed was their most priceless possession, an antique grandfather clock that had been a gift from his grandmother. So, he wrapped his arms around the heavy clock, which was just about as big as him, and was struggling to carry it up the hill when he ran across one of “natives,” who stopped and seemed astounded to see him carrying the big clock.  After following him and watching him for awhile, the man went over and tapped Fred on the shoulder.  According to Starr:

…he inquired, gazing wonderingly at the huge timepiece, “Say, mister, why in tarnation don’t you carry a watch.

A few minutes later, this same man told Starr:

“…I hear tell you’re the new teacher. Well, iffen I’ze out shootin’ school professors I’d never in the world aim at the likes of you.”

Starr, his wife, and small boy quickly settled into the rhythm of their new surroundings. He joined the locals in the daily trek to the post office to check to see if the train arriving that morning had brought them any letters from the relatives they missed. He set up an account at the dilapidated general store that was chock full of goods that only the owner – a generous man to a fault – could find. He joined in the conversations of the men who squatted in front of the store on good days, and sat inside the store on bad days, about their favorite topic: the weather. And he became acquainted with his neighbors, a superstitious lot, who knew how to read the signs to determine such things as when crops should be planted or hogs neutered. 
Fred Starr in late 1950s

After a while at the first house on steep hill, his wife insisted that they move, fearing their son would fall out of the yard. Well, another problem probably disturbed her more. The neighbor across the road had a big bull and lots of heifers, and they made an impression on her son.  Starr described it like this:
...Our two-year old was beginning to imitate the bull's bellow. If by chance we had a caller, the off-spring made it a point sometime during the stay to get down on all-fours, approach the visitor with a low grumbling in his throat and say menacingly, "This old bull is goin' to git you." The child's mother considered this very embarrassing.
They moved to another house in the town, but could not stand the hard water there, and moved again, this time to a 20 acre farm, the Hively place, two miles south of Greenland off Highway 71 on the West Fork River.  It was during this move that they found local lore warned against three moves. Also, they learned from their neighbors never to move a broom or a cat to a new residence.  They didn't.

Much of the Of These Hills and Us is about life at the Hively place and another farm they moved to a couple of years later. They had had a daughter there (another son, Jon Larry, arrived before they moved to the farm; many of us remember him as the head of the Fayetteville Youth Center in the early '60s and as a local sports editor), raised a cow, kept some bees, neutered their pig, found water, killed hogs, listened on the party telephone line, went to church, and celebrated Christmas, all with the advice and help of the locals. In telling the stories of these events, Starr introduced the reader to some remarkable neighbors whose folkways enriched the Starr family in their work and life. 

Starr clearly loved his life in the Ozarks, though he had to scratch out a living teaching; delivering the Northwest Arkansas Times [NWAT] newspaper; writing a column for the NWAT, the Tulsa World, and other newspapers; and farming. His wife, born in the flat lands of western Oklahoma, was less enamored with the hills, but slowly came around. 

As Fred and Florence Starr gradually changed from "furriners" to Ozarkers, they learned to trust the wisdom of their Greenland neighbors, and they gained their own insights.  Talking of a “city cousin” who came to visit and was dismayed by their isolated lives, Starr write,

She knows only one way to be rich – by having a heap. But we have learned by living here in the hills – shut off from the world for a spell – that one can be contentedly rich by wanting little.”

Later he wrote, “poor folks have a poor way, rich folks have mean ones.”

From 1958 to 1971, five of Starr's books were published. Of these Hills and Us was the first and, I think, the best. It certainly was the most popular, published in three editions (1958, 1960, and 1971). The book is a small masterpiece of autobiography, character study, and folklore.  It is humorous, clearly heartfelt, and genuine -- in the best sense of the word. As with all of his books, Starr wrote Of These Hills and Us in unostentatious prose, with common language and colloquialisms, enhanced by droll humor.

Thanks to reading Starr's book, I will never think again of Greenland as just an extension of the Fayetteville urban area, a place with a red light that threatens to slow the trip to a destination to the south.