Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Flowers For Mama

My wife and I live in an old country farm home.  I don’t know how old it actually is, but easily dates back into the 1800s.  When this home was built everyone used outhouses, and although it was gone before I moved here in 1976 there is no doubt one would have been here.  Back in the day a lot of people planted lilac bushes near their outhouse as a deterrent to odoriferous conditions.  We are fortunate to have the prerequisite lilac remaining at the corner of our home.  Each spring for well over a hundred years that lovely lilac has bloomed as one of the first spring flowers in this area.
Each spring for the first few years we lived here a wonderful little lady would stop her ancient automobile beside the road in front of our home.  She would come to the door and ask if she could pick some of the lilacs to place on her mother’s grave in the cemetery in sight of our home.  Of course, she was always welcome to do so.  I never learned her name, or place of abode, but after several years she stopped coming to place those Decoration-day lilacs.
The above true story formed the basis of the fiction I wrote below several years ago.
Bless You For The Roses
Leo Lawton
Tom had been a hard worker in his youth, but after the accident he was never the same, and hard labor, which was all he knew, was now out of the question.  The train yard where he used to work was sorry to lose a good man, but they couldn’t be expected to pay a man that couldn’t work could they?  In his heart Tom longed for the day he could return to the yard and earn a good honest dollar like he used to, but his head told him it was impossible.
Marilyn had picked up where Tom had left off.  She went to work in the cotton mill, sitting twelve hours a day at the looms.  The problem was that she was only paid about half what Tom used to earn in his ten hour shift.  Only infrequently could Tom find some odd little chore he could complete for a neighbor with his one good arm, but the income from that made little difference in their day to day existence.
Mary and Tommy were both willing to help with the family income too, but Tommy’s shoe shine stand did little business on the cold January days.  Everyone wore overshoes as they trudged through the snow, and they were not about to stop and remove them to have shoes polished to complete a shift in the mill.  Mary mostly did chores around the house that it seemed her mother never had a chance to do.  Once in a while she baked a batch of sugar cookies, took them to Tommy’s shoe shine stand, and attempted to sell them, but few people had money enough in 1930 to buy sweet stuff.
When spring arrived the lady came again.  The poor lady had no money, but she always stopped by to ask for a single rose to place on her mother’s grave.  Marilyn was home because it was Sunday, her only day off from the mill.  She watched as the elderly lady picked a small blossom.  Marilyn picked a larger one and asked that she place it on the grave for her.  A little weaker each year, the frail old lady shuffled off to the cemetery up the road.  As she slowly returned past the house, she spoke to Marilyn who was hanging a bit of wash out to dry.  It was Sunday, but she had no other day.  The old lady spoke, “Bless you Ma’am, I talked with mother, and she told me she loved the roses.”
Tom asked who the lady was.  Mary said she thought she lived over near the Sprague place.  She had heard the poor old lady went through the garbage cans over at the little cafĂ© by the mill in the night, sifting for morsels.
Summer and fall sped by, and once more it was winter.  The mill was having a hard go of it, and there were rumors of it possibly shutting down.  As it were Marilyn was working only four shifts a week.  Her lowered income barely put food on the table, much less anything else.  Lord, how was she to put anything in the kid’s stockings on Christmas Eve?  There were patches on the patches on Tommy’s trousers.  If only she could afford even a small ribbon for Mary.  She had such beautiful hair.  She was behind seven months on her $12 monthly mortgage payment.  How much longer before the bank foreclosed?
The postman, who never stopped at their mailbox, made a brief halt one day in mid-December.  Mary rushed to get the small package addressed to “the folks at 101 Ruffles Lane.”  For the remainder of the day she could hardly wait for her mother to return from work.  Her father would not open the package.  He said, “Mother is now the breadwinner and it’s her responsibility to handle the mail.”  The hours dragged by as Tom and Mary took turns staring at the small brown paper wrapped package.  What could it be?  Tom decided it must be some sort of practical joke.  They didn’t know anyone that would, or could, send a Christmas present, but what else could it be?  Mary chose to wonder if it could be some small item her mother had ordered from the catalog store.
When Marilyn returned from work, long after dark, she was met at the door by her daughter saying, “Mother, come quickly, we have a package.”  Marilyn picked up the package as Tom and Mary watched in anticipation.  She slowly removed the string holding it together, then began unwrapping the dirty brown paper.  She clasped her hand to her mouth to suppress a scream as she dropped the package.  Wrinkled dollar bills scattered across the floor.  It had to be some kind of a mistake.  This must be meant for someone else.  She checked the address on the paper again.  It said, “them foks at 101 Ruffles Lane.”  That was their home.  Who could possibly be sending them money?  While Mary bent over and picked up the spilled bills, Marilyn studied the brown wrapper, and noted on the inside, printed in small neat letters were the words, “Bless you for the roses.”
Mary softly spoke, “Mama there’s more’n a hundred bills here.”

The destitute old lady didn’t return the next spring.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Louis Bowen Lawton - Medal of Honor Awardee

He was born March 13, 1872 at Independence, Iowa the son of Albert Wheeler Lawton, and grandson of Nathan Lawton the surveyor of a village in Michigan.  When asked by the town’s future postmaster the name of the village Nathan remarked he did not know, so the town of Lawton, Michigan was named for him.  Nathan was the grandson of Oliver Lawton, who along with his family had moved west from Rhode Island to central New York in 1789.
Louis graduated high school as the class of ’88, and entered West Point in the class of ’93.  He married the former Theresa Kelsey in that same year of 1893, and they had a daughter Josephine in 1894, and another, Anna Marie in 1899.  He entered the service in July 1900 as a 1st Lieutenant with the 9th U S Infantry.
            The Boxer Rebellion was an anti-foreigner movement that began in northern China in 1898.  Its main purpose was to force all foreigners from Chinese soil.  The Righteous Harmony Society, known as Boxers by non-Chinese, believed they were invulnerable to bullets, but that did not seem to be the actual case.  An eight nation force, including the American 9th Infantry, was sent to put down the rebellion.
            During the battle of Tientsin, where Colonel Liscum was killed, Lawton crawled on his stomach through a muddy field, where the bullets spattered like hail, to bring re-enforcement to his regiment. He was shot twice, but he kept on crawling and accomplished his mission before he collapsed. His injuries were such as to necessitate his retirement from the army, and he was promoted to the rank of major just before his retirement.  The regiment took a 10% casualty loss.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Henry Ware Lawton - Medal of Honor Awardee

Henry Ware Lawton was born on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1843, in Ohio.  His father, George, traveled to California in 1850 ostensibly to build mining equipment for the gold rush miners, but if the truth be known he may have sought gold himself.  In 1852 while George was yet in California his wife died leaving Henry and his siblings with no parent.  Henry was raised for the next several years by a Mrs. Moore.
April 16, 1861, barely 18 years of age, Henry joined Company E of the 9th Indiana Volunteers upon President Lincoln’s request to the nation.  On July 21st of that same year Sergeant Lawton was mustered out, his three month tour completed after having fought several battles through West Virginia.  On August 20, 1861 he joined for a second time, this time with a company of the Indiana 30th Vols. as a 1st Lieutenant.  His unit fought their way through Kentucky, Tennessee, and on into Mississippi where he fought at Shiloh and Corinth.  On May 7, 1862 he was promoted to captain.  He fought on at Chickamauga and Chattanooga.
He saw action at Tunnel Hill, Rocky Face, Dalton, Resaca, Adairsville, Cassville, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain, Smyrna Camp Ground, Chattahoochee River, and Peachtree Creek all in Georgia as part of Sherman’s march toward Atlanta.
On August 3, 1864, Lawton was in command of Company A.  He led his men in an attack across open ground against the rifle pits defending Atlanta.  Two other brigades were to charge at the same time, one on Lawton’s right and the other on his left.  The brigade on his right was repulsed by the enemy, and the one on his left never attacked, but Lawton’s brigade captured the pits and managed to hold them against two determined attempts to retake them.  That November he was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant Colonel and took command of the regiment.
For his determined action leading the men in taking the Atlanta rifle pits he was awarded a Medal of Honor for “distinguished gallantry”.
Henry Ware Lawton went on to win accolades in the Indian Wars following the cessation of hostilities of the Civil War.  Lawton, Oklahoma was named after him.
In the 1890s he fought at El Caney in Cuba during the Spanish American War.  Yet later he lost his life as one might expect, engaged in battle in the Philippines.
Information from “Lawton – Forgotten Warrior” by Rudolph Rau was used in this presentation.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

John Sterling Lawton - Medal of Honor Awardee

John Sterling Lawton, born May 13, 1858 was a descendant of Thomas Lawton who, along with his brother George, emigrated from Cranfield, Bedfordshire, England in 1639 to the newly forming colony on Rhode Island.  John was born and raised in Bristol, Rhode Island.  By the age of 21 he was a Sergeant in Company D of the 5th Cavalry of the United States Army stationed at Fort D. A. Russell in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Before the coming of the whites the Ute Indians had traditionally lived in Colorado, Utah, and northern New Mexico.  In accordance with their Manifest Destiny the whites believed they were destined to own all land from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and therefore the Indians must be placed on reserved areas rather than have the right to wander wherever they chose.  After the close of the Civil War in 1865 the whites began in earnest to assimilate the entire west.  In a treaty with Colorado Territory’s Governor Evans in 1863 the Utes had been promised all Colorado land west of the Continental Divide.  Five years later in 1868, ten tribal chiefs were invited to Washington to renegotiate the treaty.  Under the new treaty the Utes were established on two reservations, one at Los Pinos and another 150 miles north on the White River.  Another five years passed until the United States government once again wanted more Ute land in 1873.  This time the Utes lost four million acres to the U S Government.  Colorado became a state in 1876.
In 1878 a new U S government agent named Nathan Meeker was assigned to the White River Reservation.  Inept at best, unscrupulous could also be considered, Meeker never got along with his charges.  By early September 1879 matters had worsened to the point Meeker asked Colorado Governor Pitkin for military protection.  Major Thomas T. Thornburgh, commander of Fort Steele, near Rawlins, Wyoming was notified by the U S War Department to move with sufficient troops to the White River Ute Agency.  Thornburgh outfitted about 200 cavalry and mounted infantry for the journey.
On September 29, 1879 Thornburgh’s men crossed the Milk River, eastern boundary of the Ute Reservation.  The Utes considered this an act of war.  Suddenly a shot rang out.  Unknown who, or which group fired it, a battle was on.  Thornburgh circled his wagons in a defensive posture.  Within the first hour Thornburgh had died and command was assumed by Captain Scott Payne who was also wounded.  Trenches were dug within the circle of wagons.  During the first night when the Indians didn’t completely surround the besieged troops, two men, Sergeants John S. Lawton and Jacob Widmer volunteered to go for reinforcement.  They were successful in their foray and three days later 35 men from Fort Dodge arrived with ammunition.  On October 5th 255 men arrived from Fort Russell in Cheyenne.  At that point the Utes decided any further action on their part was useless, and surrendered.
The two Sergeants were each awarded a Medal of Honor for their perilous ride through the night.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Stream

The precipitation, whether rain, snow, or other, that falls on several hundred acres of landscape ever so slowly makes its way downhill to a low-lying swampy area.  Here it gathers in pools that with the aid of a beaver dam flow together forming a pond.
Various wetland bushes and shrubs grow in and near the small valley.  These are sustenance for the resident beaver family, as well as perching and nesting sites for kingbirds, kingfishers, red-wings, and other feathered pond denizens who remain through the summers raising a brood on a yearly basis.
Living in the water in harmony with the beavers are several families of muskrats.  As they eat small reeds and grasses, there is little competition for food supplies so they get along with apparent ease.  There are also some sort of small minnows in bunches that somehow worked their way upstream.  Common frogs and bullfrogs each claim some small part of the pond as their personal territory.  That is until some larger critter decides it belongs to them.
Each summer season at least one pair of geese, and a pair of ducks will nest within the quiet waters safe from nearly all predators except man.  Occasionally a garter or water snake will prowl on shore, or take to the water if it seems to have a chance at a resting frog.
Such is life in the pond before the water spills over the beaver dam, or through an intentional spillway used to maintain a certain water level.  After a half mile travel along the small stream bed the water comes to this small pond beside the Cemetery Road.  Here resides another beaver family.  The town crew has a log placed in the water to preclude the beavers raising the water level higher than the road bed, but the beavers are yet able to maintain enough water for their use.
The water travels down through a wooded area for another half mile before arriving at County Road 10.  Here there is another attempt by man to keep the beaver from blocking the pipe under the road.
On the other side of the road is where Dean Cox and I decided to go swimming on the first day of April when we were about 14 years of age.  That was a mistake, but we didn’t know it until we were in the water.  I don’t recall there was any ice floating, but there might as well have been.  As it was a spur of the moment decision we had no towels so were forced to stand in a slight breeze to dry off before putting our clothes back on.  That was colder than the water.
The little stream moseys along for another mile before crossing State Highway 68.  All the while it is getting slowly wider and deeper as other rivulets enter its course.  It continues on for another mile or so until it joins with Lisbon Creek.  Then that flows into the Oswegatchie River near Heuvelton, NY.  So goes a flow of water that drains thousands of acres of prime farm land in this area.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Old-fashioned Maple Syruping

It would be natural to wonder why my brother-in-law, Ron, is adding wood to a woodstove set up in his lawn, when everybody knows they are designed to heat indoors, not out.  I could say that Ron sometimes marches to the beat of a different drum, but that would only partially explain this strange behavior.  Taking a second look at this photo you may note there is a pan atop the stove merrily boiling away.
The second photo shows what the inside of that little wood stove looks like when it is being properly fired.  That’s a fairly hot fire, but has to be fed regularly to stay that way.  A pile of wood can disappear into the maw of that thing more rapidly than one might think.
In this photo you can note the results of that fire under the pan.  A slow rolling boil sends clouds of steam into the atmosphere slowly condensing the maple sap in the pan into maple syrup as the water dissipates.  The piece of metal leaning against the side is ward off the slight wind from that side as an aid to boiling.
I can tell you may be wondering where that sap comes from.  It is from a sugar maple tree.  Usually a person uses a battery drill to make a small hole in the tree trunk.  A small tap with a tube is snugly set into the hole, which then has a container attached to catch the resultant flow.  The temperature must be above freezing, and it helps to have bright sunny days to insure the sap will flow freely.  This jug is nearly full and ready for collecting.  Careful observation will show the railroad tracks some 100’ away.
This is Ron collecting a full jug and pouring it into a pail which will be placed in the back of the waiting Polaris Ranger for transport to the boiling area.  Once back at that point, with fire stoked, and pan filled, it’s time for a break.

We happily retire to the break room, a past garage converted to a man cave, where a friendly game of eight ball can fill in a few minutes before the next tending of the fire must be performed.  The entire syrup making experience is considered no more than a good time with the happy result of two or three gallons of fine syrup at the end of the season which may last a month or so.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Amish Youth

I spent a part of the afternoon with my brother-in-law, Ron.  He is in the midst of making maple syrup.  It is only for his family’s personal consumption, and done in a very primitive way.  He has about twenty taps installed in maybe a dozen trees.  They will produce possibly 2 or 3 gallons of syrup in a month long season.  We used his Polaris Ranger to go into the woods to gather the available sap from buckets attached to the spouts.  After returning to his home we poured the sap into a stainless steel flat pan about 16’ X 24” placed on top of a small wood stove set up in his back yard.  It wasn’t long after we had a good fire burning in the stove that the sap began a slow boil.  The rising steam gave evidence the sap was beginning to thicken into the future remaining syrup.  Between 30 and 40 gallons of sap will boil down into a gallon of syrup.  We needed to tend the fire under the syrup pan every 15 to 20 minutes to insure a proper boil, but in between we played several games of pool on the table he has set up in an old converted garage.  All in all it was a fine afternoon.
Later, on my way home I came to a fork in the road.  The road I live on split off the road I was driving on, in a wye.   Very near the intersection I spotted an Amish wagon with an attached team of horses.  They didn’t appear to be moving.  I started onto my road and traveled several hundred feet, all the time watching the Amish wagon in my rear view mirror.  The wagon never moved although I could see an Amish man near the horses’ heads trying to encourage them on.  I stopped and backed up to where they were.  Then it dawned on me that these were more children than men.  The oldest was about 14, while with him were two boys of maybe 10 and 8 years old.  I asked if they had troubles.  The older boy told me the team just couldn’t pull the wagon loaded with logs onto the road.  He had come out of a wooded area and attempted to enter the roadway at an angle.  Two wheels on one side were on the asphalt, but the other two wheels had sunk in the roadside wet sand.
I asked if the somewhat small team of horses would allow me to attach my pickup ahead of them without panicking.  The elder Amish boy was unsure, but offered to unhook them if I thought my truck would pull the load.  He asked if my truck was a four-wheel-drive, which surprised me as I didn’t realize he would know anything at all about trucks.  I assured him it was, so he pulled a pin, allowing the horses to be driven away from the load.  I then backed my truck up to near the end of the wagon tongue.  The Amish lad produced a chain, hooked it to the tongue, and I attached it to a trailer ball on the back of my truck.  With the transfer case in four-wheel-low, and the transmission in 1st gear I slowly tightened the chain, and kept right on moving until all four wagon wheels were on the asphalt.  We unhooked the chain and he hooked the light team of horses to the wagon again.  He offered to pay me, but I assured him I wanted nothing for my help.  He was a fellow human needing a little assistance, and I was lucky enough to be able to help when it was needed.  We waved to each other as I drove away.