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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Summer Memories

Our fondest childhood
of a summer's day
back home 

Story Tellers

Merritt Plantz
Ken Osborn
Sandra (Masters) Propst
Lee Wacker
Lolita Gilchrist Purviance
Claude Reyman
Adele Penhollow
Raleigh Emry


Merritt Plantz

When our chores were completed on the farm we would migrate to the ball field which was about half way from our farm to town. Each Saturday was a baseball game scheduled between the town boys and us country boys. And guess who usually won? The team with the more ambitious boys, which of course were the country 'hicks'. Then after lunch when it was too hot for another ball game we all ended up in the 'ole swimming hole' which was in the creek that bisected our farm. And of course nature had provided us with the necessary swim suits for swimming in the creek. 

And if the gods were looking down on us, the city fathers had arranged for a free show on main street or in the city park, weather permitting. What would make a depression era youth any happier than a day like that?

Ken Osborn
(as told by Anne)

One time the neighborhood boys were at the Raitt's house and decided to have a watermelon spitting contest. When their Mother, Luella, came home, the house was covered with watermelon seeds. They all took off running and Mrs. Raitt took off after them. She treed Ken and one of the Raitt boys and threatened all sorts of mayhem to them if they ever came down. She started laughing though and eventually calmed down and was pretty good natured about it, and let them come down from the tree after awhile. 

In actuality, it was the boys who were the first to start laughing at the sight of Mrs. Raitt at the bottom of the tree threatening them as to what was going to happen to them if they ever left the safety of that tree. (I think they were definitely old enough to have known better than to have a watermelon spitting contest in someone's house). She eventually started laughing too at the situation and let them off the hook (well, off the tree limb anyway). I think she was known to be a pretty "cool" Mom (softhearted in 40's language).

Another misadventure they had with neighborhood boys was launching a rock into an open garage window. They thought the sound was great (breaking glass), and launched a few more pebbles, but later found, to their parent's (and their dismay that they had broken a number of storm windows that were stacked in the "unused" garage and had to pay for the damages, and endure their parents' wrath, which was worse. I guess we didn't have to wonder why Ken's Mother had prematurely gray hair.


Sandra (Masters) Propst

I was never a morning person, but my bedroom was on the south side of the house and my room was flooded with sunshine early in the morning and knowing that there was no school, I would be up and going fairly early. Dad always left for work early each day and since this was the time before TV, after a quick breakfast I was out and on to play with the neighbor kids.

At that time, Salzmans were building their new home at 5th and Maple across the street from us, so I'd always have to stop and supervise the construction and this one day I found a gopher. I don't remember how the gopher died, but my cousin Ron Childs volunteered to take it home and skin and tan the hide for me, which he did. I kept that crazy pelt for a long time for some reason.

I'd go to the Spearman house and Geraldine and I would play until lunch time, then it was home and a meal with Mom, Dad and my brother Dan. After eating, Mom and I would clean up and do the dishes and then I'd play with baby Randy till it was time for his nap.

Dad wasn't much for yard work and gardening so he'd bribe us kids to dig dandelions. Ten cents for a full three pound coffee can. I remember Dan and I out on our hands and knees digging up those darn weeds. I wish I had a dime for every dandelion I've dug since. Since there weren't many flower beds or a vegetable garden at our house, I would go to my grandparents, Glen and Rose Masters, and help them with their garden. That's where I learned about gardening and came to love it. Grandma was a member of the Ainsworth Garden Club for years and she and Grandpa's yard and garden were always beautiful. 

This was before the time of an Ainsworth swimming pool, so the only water available to play in, except for the sprinkler, was Bone Creek. I loved to get on my bike and ride north of town and wade in the shallow water. We never worried about pollution, we just made sure that we chose a spot that was above any cattle pastures. I wasn't into polliwogs like my brother, but just getting wet on a hot day was fun. 

In the evening after supper and the dishes were done, I'd go and collect some of the neighbor kids for a rip roaring game of hide n' go seek, or if it was Thursday evening we'd go to the park and listen to the band concerts the high school band would put on. Then it would be home and to bed and read library books until midnight.

The fifties were an idyllic time to grow up in Ainsworth. At that time it was a bustling town, when Saturday night meant no parking available on Main Street, where the most danger to a child were those drivers that thought STOP meant 'Slowing Travel On Past'. As a whole, we felt secure, we were still innocent and naive, and when we went to the movies, the good guys wore white hats and always won. I wish today's children could have that experience at least for one summer. 


 Lee Wacker

It's not easy for me to pick a favorite or special summer story, as they have all been favorites. I do remember a summer day in my life which has been with me since I was 16 years old. Thinking back I have always said, 'how dumb could I be'. The answer is , 'dumb and dumber'. 

All of you 'Midwesterners' remember the 'gravel pits' . They were usually (in my area) close to the river. Some were working pits and others were turned into recreational areas. This one was just known as the 'yellow banks gravel pit'. Yellow Banks was and still is, a high clay bank (hence, 'yellow') along the Elkhorn river north of Battle Creek, NE.

As a Sunday 'diversion', us Battle Creek Braves would meet at such places as the 'gravel pit' to talk about the 'current state of the Union' (if you fell for that one, I have an Igloo near the heart of Phoenix that I think you would be interested in). Anyway, this particular Sunday a number of us boys were at the gravel pit to talk, swim and etc. I have never learned to swim which I think was not an uncommon thing for a farm boy. Anyway I ventured into the gravel pit to cool off, assuming that it gradually tapered into the water. It did, but only to a very short span, then it dropped off to where, who knows. I recall yelling for help as I felt the sand under me give away and I started sinking into the water. I learned later, that my friends thought I could swim and thought I was trying to be 'funny'.

I can, to this day, remember frantically pumping my arms to keep afloat, but continuing to sink into the water. I reached out with my feet for some support of any kind and felt the tips of my toes touch the sand. I do, to this day, recall those toes digging into the sand, which was enough to get me back to the safety of the shore. But what a sense of helplessness ran thru my mind and it's still so vivid to this very day, some 50 + years later.

Since that day the fear of water has always been with me. It is ironic, in a way, that I eventually enlisted in the Navy during the Korean War. One of the requirements of the Navy at Boot Camp and later on, was that all Navy personnel be certified as being able to swim. Truthfully, I never learned to swim. The Navy¹s certifications were so loose that I was able to bluff myself thru all of the tests. 

I always made it a point as my family grew up that they all became proficient swimmers and was rewarded in this respect as 2 of the 3 children won many local, state and even regional honors as swimmers. 

Thanks for letting me share this story with you and I hope all of you stress the importance of warning your families of the dangers that can be associated with water.


Tornados and Dust Storms, and Sweltering Heat… Oh My!
by Lolita Gilchrist Purviance

As a country girl in Nebraska, I remember what fun it was to go out in the evening after a hot, windy day. The wonderful smell of clover and fresh cut hay would fill the air when the sun went down and the beautiful prairie skies were so awesome. I look forward to those summer pleasures whenever I return.

Another pleasant memory is the happy times I spent as a child playing with my sisters in the meadows on our ranch south of Ainsworth. There were grassy knolls and lowlands with ponds that my father said had been shaped by buffalo wallows in ancient times. In the spring they filled up with water and provided us with wonderful pools for wading, fascinating wild life to see and exciting places to explore. The beautiful wild flowers that bloomed all summer long were an endless source of pleasure for us. I have fond memories of the lovely, blue Spiderworts that covered the hills in June and the delicate wild roses that grew everywhere. I planted some Spiderwort in my garden that I found in a local nursery. They bloom all summer long in the shade, but cannot tolerate a hot wind. I don’t think they are the same, hardy Spiderworts that grow in Nebraska but they do bring back good memories of the beautiful, prairie wildflowers.

The meadows were a great place to search for rocks and Indian arrowheads, too. My father found a peace pipe in a field near the ponds. It makes me wonder how it got there and how long ago?

We also enjoyed playing in the large vegetable and flower garden that my dad raised each summer. It kept us busy watering and weeding. Thanks to him, I have always enjoyed gardening. What fun we had all summer long as country kids, barefoot and free! Although going barefoot was not without its hazards. Avoiding the sandburs, bumble bees, rusty nails, snakes and other unmentionable squishy things was a challenge but it was a savings on the shoe budget for my parents.

My husband Jerry, who grew up in the city, has taken an interest in my stories and wants to share some of his Nebraska experiences, as he has spent many summers trekking across the Midwest with me for vacations, weddings, reunions, anniversaries, and funerals. He has been a good sport in spite of the flat tires, overheated cars with no air-conditioning and violent storms.

He recalls with amusement, his first trip the summer of 1959 after we were married, heading for Nebraska across Wyoming on Highway 20 to meet his new in-laws. He warned me numerous times all the way, that we were sure to encounter blinding dust storms, gigantic hail, or worse….a terrifying tornado! His mother’s family moved away from Kansas during the depression years and her accounts of the harsh weather left a vivid impression on him. I had heard frightening tales also, but I reassured him that I had never seen a tornado in all the years I lived in Nebraska and dust storms were a thing of the past!

A dark cloud loomed ahead of us through both states but it did not concern me, although Jerry kept saying he didn't like the looks of it. As we approached the North gate to the ranch we could see evidence of a very recent storm. The road was blocked with downed trees so we tried the back entrance and the house was nowhere in sight! Chickens and branches were scattered everywhere. By then, things were not looking good to me either. We carefully made our way through the darkness and found the house covered with trees.

My mother was waiting up for us that evening when all of a sudden it felt like she was in a vacuum and she saw tree branches settling down like matchsticks outside the kitchen window. Just as quickly as it had started, it was over. Huge, old cottonwood trees in front of the house were tossed on the roof. What a shock! We had missed a tornado by less than thirty minutes and our car most likely would have been on top of the house, too, if we had arrived on time.

The next morning concerned neighbors who had come to assess the damage awakened us. Jerry spent the next two days helping my father remove the trees. My brother-in-law, Kenneth Osborn pitched in too.

Well, so much for my new "city dude" husband’s initiation to Nebraska. He is an old pro now, as I think he has experienced most of the extreme weather conditions of summer; torrential downpours, hailstorms, gale force winds as well as flooded country roads. He said, "At least in Washington all we have to contend with is volcanoes and rain 365 days of the year".

Jerry also remembers an interesting trip south of Wood Lake where my father had cattle pastured for the summer. My Uncle Andy, who was visiting from Oregon, came along for the ride. It was Jerry’s first time to travel through the back roads of the sand hills and it was a typical searing, hot day.

My dad grew up near Moon Lake and was familiar with the area so he was taking short cuts across the hills, stopping frequently for a drink at one of the many windmills we passed.

Mother and I were sweltering and we begged them to turn back but the men were enjoying themselves. For some reason they could not hear our complaints over the hot winds that were blasting us in the back seat of the car! They finally left us to cool off and visit at Bump and Myra Gudgel’s ranch while the men enjoyed the rest if the trip without us!

Jerry thought he was in the real Wild West!, as he had never seen so many windmills, cattle and sand hills before. He was sure they had followed every cow trail and rut in the whole county. Little did he know that those were the roads!

Jerry’s story makes me think of an interesting summer experience that Elizabeth Cameron, my Uncle Angus’s mother, told me. She and her husband, who was the country doctor for Johnstown, were on a house call and had a breakdown in the sand hills. They walked a long distance in the hot sun to find help. The rancher’s wife gave them a cool drink of well water and fixed them a simple, sliced tomato sandwich fresh from of the garden, which was all she had to spare. Elizabeth thought she had never tasted anything so delicious! Her memory of the sweet taste of those tomatoes was never equaled and lasted her a lifetime. She was in her eighties when she shared this summer story with me. I believe Elizabeth’s maiden name was Peterson.

One summer I let my little "city" boys visit my parents and sister Cindy in the country. When they got back, the boys told their father they thought Uncle Wayne and Grandpa Frazier were really lucky, because they got to ride tractors all day long and didn't have to work like he did!


Claude Reyman

At first this seemed a great task for me to accomplish. I gave a lot of thought, pondered, thought some more, placed a few notes on my pad, then I felt an angel present and they gave me the answer. It was not one day but 8,760 days or 210,240 hours was my fondest childhood memory. From my birth till I was 24 years old, my parents, Bruce and Edith Reyman are and will always be my fondest memory. My years of growing up are and will always be a "rewarding challenge" that was guided by my parents. They both provide love, care, concerns, offered challenges, and provided guidance through these years.

My father and I did not always agree and we both had harsh words many times through these years. I can remember that I had the "willow" placed on my behind due to my poor judgment. My poor judgment can be summed up with two actions - 1. I loved to throw chickens over the fence to see how far they flew. Once in a while, a chicken would clear the 10-foot fence then "plunk" to the ground. Of course this caught my parents attention and the end results - a willow and a couple of "swats" firmly implanted wrong from right in my mind. 2. I just loved to go to town but more so, it was thrill for me to hide from my parents. They would look for hours in all of the building on the ranch. Finally, my mother would go get the car and honk the horn - results, we're going to town and out I would come. Yes, you're right, the willow was used again and then suddenly it came to mind that I ought to change my ways.

Bruce and Edith are my fondest childhood memories. They nurtured me from my first breath of air until I was drafted into the service. They provided piano lessons for eight years of my life and still I have two left hands. Being on a ranch, with all the cattle smell, barnyard aroma, gathering the eggs from the hen house caused me to have a bad case of hay fever. I can remember they took me to Valentine on Wednesday and Saturday for my shots. This went on for about 10 years. Bruce did not need a SOP (for some military minds that is classified as Supplemental Operation Procedures); he was able to plan the days work in one split minute. At an early age, I learned to milk cows, feed some pigs, gather the eggs, empty the ashes from the stove, ride to the north range to move cattle, harness the horses and other many items to numerous to mention. But, we still had time to rest, relax and have fun together.

I believe that most thrills I had were going fishing. We would get the old "cane" poles, some minnows from the Fairfield creek, pick up a 10-gallon cream can and off we would go to the lakes. We fished Big Alkali Lake, Ell Lake, Trout Lake, Red Deer Lake, Clear Lake and some others. We normally came home with several hundred "bullheads", not the best fish to clean as you well understand. Even in the wintertime, we fished through the ice. Many times I noted vehicles on the lake, then the ice would give out and the end results was the top of the car sticking out of the water. It was cold and windy; yet, we loved to see who could catch the most fish.

So you see, my fondest memory was my parents. What they taught me, what I learned, the work that I became skilled with, and the love they provided for me. This was not one day but 24 years of fond memories. My hope is that I shared some of this with our daughter, Major Lynda Snyder as her experience and talents have exceeded mine. Each day of my life is a "rewarding challenge" and I just learn a little more of what my parents taught me in my daily experience.


A Summer Day's Memory ~ August 1954
Adele Penhollow

The summer of my thirteenth year was "mostly" fun. School friends lived nearby, our fruit trees produced wonderful things, and the annual canning had just finished up.

My hometown, Syracuse, N.Y., is in the center of the state. Our highway systems make it easily reached from all other New York points. I remember that some of our distant cousins came to visit, and we made our plans to attend the New York State Fair, which is always held at the end of August, through Labor Day. 

My mom, aunts and uncles, and, of course, Grandma, were busy getting lists made so that "nothing would be forgotten". Foods were prepared, someone went to get the ice for the coolers, and I gathered tons of napkins. 

The distance to the Fair Grounds from our home was about eight or nine miles, so the drive wouldn't be long, but the wait "in line" would be outrageous. The heavy traffic and finding a parking spot was always the source of impatient remarks from someone in the car who hated the heat, the humidity, or who giggled at the growling of tummies.

After Dad and Uncle Mike succeeded in the parking lot (glaring shade), we trudged to the main gate, and paid our admissions, everyone carrying something. Our food was in three large coolers, I remember. "Coleman is a good company", Dad said. It was a Saturday morning, and we luckily found a picnic area with shade. That was one benefit to being "local", since so many travelers who came later scrounged for a table. In those days, we weren't accustomed to buying meals away from home, even if it was "the Fair". 

Our foods were pretty simple, but there was plenty of everything, except lemonade. That disappeared in less than two hours, from those huge Coleman thermos jugs. We had eight kids in the group. My two sisters and me, and five cousins. The seven adults had plenty to talk about, but WE wanted to get to the Midway !! (What else ? ) 

After pleading with our parents, *promising* to be at the Dairy Building at 3:00 p.m., they let us go as a group of teens. The only things missing were radio-controlled collars! One of our uncles was always trailing us somewhere in the crowd. Freedom wasn't really the same thing back then, as it is today. Know what I mean ? Funny thing, HE knew that WE knew he was there.

The great monster roller coaster was my fear in the Midway. Yes, I was ridiculed, but I couldn't help it. I also thought it was stupid to take a crazy mechanical ride after eating lunch. I didn't think I was the one who was wrong. Still, my cousin, Rick, promised to sit with me and prevent me from falling out. Does anyone else remember the day you discovered your own blind trust ??

I don't remember too much about that coaster ride, except someone yelling for a towel. I *do* remember getting hosed down near the merry-go-round by a nice lady. Being embarrassed was the tiniest part of my experience that day. Mom had to find a place that sold T-shirts, so that I could continue to stay in the family group. It's hard enough being thirteen, but that was just one of those days that kept coming back to haunt me in later years.

Every now and then, I wondered why everyone else took that coaster ride like troopers...even repeating the experience, as if insanity was normal at the Fair. Well....fine! 

At the end of that day, I gladly helped my parents put stuff away, took my bath, and by bedtime was suitably hungry for real food again. My dad sat up with me, telling me about "the time he was a kid, and ".... 

That memory of the day at the Fair meant more to me than any of the ordeals or fun, or exhibits. There just isn't anyone else like my dad.

Raleigh Emry

I have mulled over our topic for the past few weeks. What is my favorite memory of a summer day back home? Several of your essays prove that I wasn’t alone in the difficulty of narrowing a favorite memory down to just one. I can’t decide on a single example. Therefore, I will write about fishing with both of my grandfathers.

When we lived on the Niobrara River, US-183 did not then go from east of Ainsworth to Springview. Although the highway has now been there for nearly fifty years and bisects the western part of our land, our canyons during my childhood were as rural as you could possibly be in America. The long approach to the bridge from the south was therefore not there. This approach reinforced with rock now forces the river channel to the northern side. When we lived on the Niobrara, the river was free to meander from bank to bank. Sometimes the channel would carve precious land from our side of the river and sometimes it would run along the north side. It had done this for thousands of years.

In some of its early meanderings, the Niobrara carved out channels along the southern side and they became surrounded by willows. Willows then held the dirt so larger trees could take root. The small channels, now cut off from the main channel, became oxbow lakes. Busy beavers further subdivided the small lakes. The result was bayous full of pan fish… primarily bullheads and sunfish with an occasional prize of a bass or bluegill. In the winter months we trapped beaver and hunted waterfowl throughout this maze of bayous. In the summer, we fished.

Grandpa and Grandma Emry lived a mile up-river on what was then the Jim Finney place. If you drive on US-183 today and look upriver on the south side, you will see the farm buildings at the far end of the meadow in the bottomland. My Hood cousins also lived there. Their mother, Freda, had died and their father was no longer around, so my grandparents willingly took on the heroic and loving duty of raising a second set of kids. My sisters, brother, cousins and I fished the bayous whenever we could escape the daily regimen of chores. Grandpa Emry also loved to fish when he had the time, so he would often join us. Most of us fished with willow fishing poles we cut from the thickets. Grandpa’s prize pole was about twelve feet long. With it, he could reach halfway across most of the bayous and drop his worm right in front of a waiting fish. The water was clear and still, so we could most often watch the fish take the bait.

Sunfish and bluegills have rather tender mouths and they usually don’t swallow the hook. Bullheads though, which look like little brownish catfish, would gulp hook, line and sinker if you would let them. If they swallowed the hook, it was about impossible to get it dislodged from their tough little guts without dressing the fish on the spot. If you could see the fish take the bait, you could often avoid a difficult problem by quickly setting the hook and hope to snag the bullhead in their tough lips instead of deep inside.

So Grandpa Emry, in his soap-weed straw hat, bib-overalls, and nary a tooth in his happy face would drop his hook and wait and watch. Occasionally, he would look up at us kids and grin, wink, and then return to his concentration. As a bullhead approached his hook, Grandpa would get more and more focused. Just at the right moment…FLING! In his excitement, instead of a quick, short jerk to set the hook, he would instead give a quick heave-ho and the fish would fly out of the water and sometimes up into a tree behind him. His long limber willow pole provided plenty of leverage and whip action. On one occasion, the bullhead, only biting worm and not hooked flew high into the air. It flopped and flailed on a high, southward trajectory far into an alfalfa field in the bottomland. We kids laughed hysterically and chased off into the alfalfa in search of the high-flying bullhead. With the help of Grandpa’s dog, Charlie, we found the fish and returned it to Grandpa’s bucket. Grandpa Emry was always as tickled about his antics as we were.

Our reward, if we would dress our catch, was a fish fry. If the fish had clusters of eggs inside, we would save them too. Mom would roll the fish and roe in flour and fry them up in lard or bacon grease and we would feast.

My Grandpa and Grandma Reynolds didn’t live near the river. Although they had ranched in Keya Paha County, when I was young they lived in Brown County, just east of Johnstown near the cemetery. Later they moved to Long Pine and lived right across the street from the Long Pine Coca Cola bottling plant. When they came to visit us on the river, Grandpa Reynolds sometimes joined us to fish. Nevertheless, my memorable times fishing with Grandpa Reynolds was when they lived in Long Pine. Grandpa Reynolds was a trout fisherman. Pine Creek was his fishing hole.

Now when I wrote "trout fisherman", I know that you envisioned a man with fly rod, waders, fishing vest and hat stuck full of trout flies. That wasn’t Grandpa Reynolds at all. Grandpa Reynolds had a cane pole and he fished for trout with worms. A foot or so above the hook he placed a big red and white bobber on his line. Between the hook and the bobber were several lead split-shot sinkers.

Trout are shy fish. You must approach a fishing hole very stealthily. When I was young I didn’t have all the paraphernalia but one of my first purchases was a fly rod and I waded barefoot in the creek. When I fished for trout, I usually worked upstream so I wouldn’t rile the water in the holes as I approached. I would take my fly rod and deftly flip my fly or Mepps spinner upstream of a hole and let it glide through. With luck, a flash of color, a ripple of water and a tug on my line let me know I’d hooked a trout!

While my brother and I fished for trout in this traditional way, Grandpa Reynolds would place himself right below the powerhouse at the milldam and fish in the swirling waters of the discharge chute. Before he began to fish, he filled his pipe with Velvet or Prince Albert and tamped it with his thumb. He then struck a farmer’s match and while it was still flaring from the burning phosphorus, would touch it to his loaded pipe and take some deep puffs. Now, with his stoked pipe and a steady stream of tobacco smoke drifting down stream, he was ready to fish.

He sat on the concrete abutment below the powerhouse and perhaps eight feet above the water. After carefully baiting his hook with a big wad of earthworms, Grandpa would swing the big bobber and baited hook out over the water. Then he would begin to swing it right and left up and down stream. At the appropriate instant and with an extra heave, he would toss the bobber up into the millrace of the powerhouse. KERSPLASH! The bobber would land in the water and would quickly swirl out of the swiftly moving channel down stream. When it had completed its drift, Grandpa would lift it again, set it into motion and KERSPLASH… toss it back up into the swirling water. He would repeat this futile process over and over again.

Now everyone knows that you can’t catch trout by splashing giant red and white bobbers into their lair. You have to be stealthy around trout! Any shadow or splash will scare a trout up or down the stream and into the next hole in a flash of rainbow color. Either that, or the trout will hide in the overhanging weeds and brush and refuse to show itself at all.
Grandpa Reynolds didn’t know the proper and only way to catch a cunning trout. Nonetheless, by the end of his fishing expedition, which may have been determined by his lack of tobacco, he would take his milk-pail full of trout home so Grandma Reynolds could fry them for supper.

Both of my grandpas were very special men in my life. They taught me a little bit about fishing, but they taught me so very much more about doing things my own way.

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