Let Us Now Praise Working Fools

In the beginning, I learned to call it “helping.” Helping wasn’t a burden, a demand, or an imposition. Helping was something people did naturally, and being allowed to help around the house was considered a perfectly acceptable way for children to enter the mysterious world of grown-ups.

Trailing behind my mother with a dust cloth, or venturing into the yard to carry bundles of sticks for my father garnered smiles of approval. I enjoyed approval, and so I looked for opportunities: cutting flowers to make the house pretty, or picking up my toys. I collected windfall apples in a bucket; pulled low-hanging cherries from trees;  set the table and dried the silverware; folded the wash cloths; put newspapers in their box. (more…)

This Reaching is Alive Yet

“July Fourth 1934” ~ J.C. Leyendecker

While it’s possible my mother saw J.C. Leyendecker’s cover illustration for the July 7, 1934 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, it’s certain that she celebrated that July 4th with her own mother.

It would have been one of the last celebrations they shared. In November of that year, my grandmother died: leaving my sixteen-year-old mother to care for three sisters, cope with the vicissitudes of life during the Great Depression, and bear what she perceived to be the shame of poverty.

She rarely talked about those years unless questioned. When I asked if she remembered anything from that last July 4th with her mother, she laughed and said, “I know there would have been watermelon!” (more…)

The Ghosts of Camels Past: From Winsome to Weird

Doug Baum & Gobi check out El Paso’s “Tumbleweed Times”

I suspect Mary Shirkey would have enjoyed meeting Doug Baum, founder of the Texas Camel Corps. Clearly, she would have enjoyed meeting Doug’s sidekick, Gobi: especially if they met during the camel’s seasonal shedding, when Gobi’s fine, undercoat hair could be collected.

Mrs. Shirkey seems to have had entrepreneurial tendencies, combined with a decent amount of chutzpah. In a letter written to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis from San Antonio on August 12, 1856, Henry Wayne, the U.S. Army Major charged with overseeing Davis’s Great Camel Experiment, described the results of his encounter with Mrs. Shirkey as the camels traveled from Indianola to Camp Verde.

Published in: on June 17, 2015 at 8:59 pm  Comments (72)  
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The Ghosts of Camels Past: From Tunisia to Texas

At the entrance to Old Camp Verde

North of Bandera Pass, the Texas hills soften, then flatten and spread into ranch land, orchards, and towns. Where the former Great Western Cattle Trail intersects Verde Creek Road, a turn to the east brings you to the parking lot of the Camp Verde General Store and Post Office: an establishment with a century and a half of history, an abundance of modern wares, and a significant commitment to retailing.

But if you turn west, away from the store, choosing instead to follow the narrow, two-lane road along the cypress-lined banks of Verde Creek itself, you’ll come to the ruins of the general store’s namesake: the original Camp Verde. Established in 1855 as headquarters for Jefferson Davis’s so-called “Great Camel Experiment,” the camp had a short but memorable run as the U.S. Army’s only North American caravansary.

Published in: on June 6, 2015 at 8:16 pm  Comments (92)  
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One Stitch at a Time

Joe Cunningham, Quilter

As far away as the days of dial-up connection and overly-enthusiastic “You’ve Got Mail!” messages can seem, I remember them well.

Partly because of my age and partly due to circumstance, I’ve never used a computer at work or in school. By the time I graduated from high school, the IBM System/360 was around, but it wasn’t meant for home use. Thirteen years later, I entered graduate school just as the Apple II entered the world: still, notebooks, pens, and typewriters remained my tools of choice. Ham radio and aerograms connected me to the States during my years in Liberia, and as for varnishing — no one needs Excel spreadsheets or Word documents on the docks. (more…)


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