Powers of a Church

                

As a rule I mull over and then go after my blog subjects, but on a chill December Sunday one came right to me.

I turned down the top corner of the morning paper to read a short notice about a Christmas service.  What was unusual was that it would be held at a restored church close to where I grew up; in the details were caroling, cider, cookies, and a warning to dress warmly because the building was not heated.

We were to eat lunch with friends at Pokagon State Park near Angola that day, so the 3 p.m. celebration at Historic Powers Church on Old Road 1 was good, if not perfect, timing.

   

In the middle of the Midwest (York Township of Steuben County), where corn is grown and stored as it was in centuries past, sits the two-room church. It was constructed in 1876, the centennial of our nation.  The Powers Family had settled there 40 years earlier and donated the land.  Building costs were under $2000.

   

Non-denominational worship services were held every week at the Powers Church for about 50 years.  Then, for another 20 years, it hosted funerals and other community events.  The family and other interested persons refurbished it in the 1970s: with original pews, wallpaper, stoves and pump organ, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

 

As we walked in we heard selections of the Christmas story from Luke 2, and a dulcimer accompanying folks who sang the same carols that had echoed in the same place 140 years before.

  

I looked out a window at a large boulder on which was mounted a plaque telling the church’s history, beyond which is an old cemetery.

Those who rest there would be glad to know their house of worship is still a place where people come to hear the Christmas Story.  It is also open for Sunday services three weekends during the summer.

Currently there is a campaign to raise $40,000 needed to replace the original steeple.  If you are interested in helping, contact Marcia Powers at powers.mep@gmail.com.

Those Little Orange Books

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First edition of one in the biography series which appealed to boys and girls.

I often had my nose in a book after the third grade, and usually it was a biography.  Stories about famous people which centered on them when they were my age fascinated me.  I read what they said, what they did, what their families were like and how their way of life differed from mine.  There were over 200 in this series; all were published in the 1940s and 50s by the Bobbs-Merrill Company of Indianapolis.

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The covers morphed into blue by the time I checked them out in grade school.

Reading one after another before we studied American History in school, I found that Martha (Patsy) Dandridge and Abigail Smith grew up to be important figures in the colonies. Children who would be leaders on the frontier often had poor childhoods but close families.  The little biographies are classified by some as fiction, because they contain conversation that we don’t know happened, but might have.  The events which the talking evolves around really did, though.  And we were smart enough at the time to realize nobody had an electronic device to record what was said.  Even if they did, who knew the kids would turn out to be key figures of our past?

I just reread Teddy Roosevelt, All-Round Boy, publication date 1953.  From years of doing research about our 26th president, I find most of it to be correct.  Many facts are drawn from TR’s autobiography written in 1913.

I was fortunate to find an old library book in good condition which previewed my current collection of Theodore Roosevelt biographies.

Someone is checking up on the vintage books and issuing revised copies.  Florrie Binford Kichler, who formed Patria Press in 1997 (Bobbs-Merrill was acquired by Howard Sams and then Macmillan in 1985), had read many of the books in her own childhood.  She said she’d had rheumatic fever when she was eight, which required bed rest for three months. “My face lit up every time Aunt Mary came to visit with an orange biography.”  Her first was about Mary Todd.

Silhouetted drawings interpreted events in each subject’s life.  I know from spending time in the Houghton Library at Harvard that this amusing incident took place.  Theodore Roosevelt, and his friend, Freddy Osborn, tipped their hats to the wife of the US Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish.  They forgot that the frogs they had been collecting were in the hats.

Baby Boomers also recall the faceless illustrations on the inside pages.  They resemble scherenschnitte, or paper cutting, which was popular in the early American colonies.  Very different than today’s Who Was… series which plop on the covers a post-modern-looking giant head and shrunken body of the subject.  They, of course, are starkly accurate and leave little to the imagination.  I always liked to think I was there in the chapters of the Bobbs-Merrill ones.  It felt like I could have been in the same room or yard or school, watching and listening.

How about it?  Were you interested in those little orange books?  If so, did it lead to a lifelong love of history?  I’d be interested to hear your story.

A Nation Divided

A man who would be an American president agonized over a situation which could tear the nation apart.

But it wasn’t Abraham Lincoln, and it didn’t concern slavery.  It wasn’t even a division between north and south.  It was George Washington, worried about the east and the west.  The issue was geography: the wilderness which separated original states from the land beyond the mountains to which its citizens were moving.  Would another country try to take this bountiful land from under our noses?

Washington was concerned that we could lose the area on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains to France or Canada, or both, if a better way across those mountains was not figured out.  According to author Peter L. Bernstein in Wedding of the Waters (2005), pioneers moving west didn’t really have an allegiance to the east; with abundant natural resources, western territories could soon wield power on their own.

Patomack Canal company logo

GW’s solution was simple: build a canal system which would hasten travel between the two areas.  He succeeded in engineering the Patowmack Canal to bypass rapids and waterfalls, and began it in 1785.  The waterway was meant to connect the Potomac River with the mountains, but it went bankrupt after he died.

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The Great Falls of Virginia.  C&O Canal Trust

Conditions for constructing a canal were somewhat in better in New York than Virginia (even though Thomas Jefferson thought even that would be next to impossible).  The United States bought approximately 1/5 of our current land area from France in 1803 via the Louisiana Purchase.  In 1825, due to Governor DeWitt Clinton’s persistence, creativity, and Irish immigrants’ hard labor, the Erie Canal succeeded in marrying the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes.  It was possible to travel east to west and west to east in a fraction of the time it took on horseback, or rivers, whose depth and other natural obstacles prevented a smooth path between settlements.

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The Erie Canal.  cbsnews.com

Five miles an hour seems like a snail’s pace, but at that rate of speed provided by the Erie Canal and horses which pulled the packet and freight boats, travel time was significantly reduced.  Passengers and goods could go 363 miles in a comparatively short time.  Citizens settled in new cities and frontiers while farmers sold their surplus crops.  And the United States economy boomed.

Then…the railway system came on the scene.  It copied the same route, with trains giving a much faster option for getting from here to there.  Soon the Atlantic Ocean would be linked by tracks not only with the Great Lakes but with the Pacific Ocean; the Erie Canal, even though expanded, fell into disuse.

It was a vital chapter in our history, though.  It needs to be remembered for both its economic contribution, and the thought that it may have saved a “divided” country.

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The notion that the Erie Canal saved the early union is just one I’ve uncovered studying for my new book.  I’ll be sharing others along the way, and project that I may be ready to publish in another year.  Canals have a loooooooong history, for sure.

The Will to Live

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Eva (left) holds her sister Miriam’s hand as they walk out of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945.  From Eva Kohr’s Facebook page.

On July 4 a precious soul name Eva Kor, age 85, was liberated from her body.  She passed from the world not far from the site of the concentration camp in Poland where she and her twin sister were orphaned and held against their will during World War 2.  Throughout 1944 and into 1945 they suffered through Nazi Dr. Josef Mengele’s inhumane genetic experiments amid horrific living conditions.

Her story is well known, retold in a documentary made this Spring which earned several regional Emmy awards.  The CANDLES Holocaust Museum in Terre Haute, Indiana (Eva’s longtime home) was organized and nurtured by her.  She wrote two riveting books.

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I was honored to meet Eva in March after she lectured at Indiana Tech in Fort Wayne.  We could have listened to her much longer; she said she had always been concerned that Jews who died at Auschwitz were remembered more than the ones who survived.  Afterwards she waited patiently as assistants looked for a card reader to process payment for the books.  I wrote a check, so I was one of the first to buy them and have them signed.  “Forgive and Heal,” it reads.

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Her books reveal the same horrors as others of people who endured the Holocaust: The Hiding Place, The Boy on the Wooden Box, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Secret Holocaust Diaries.  But hearing her in person was something I will never forget.

I found similarities between Eva and Miriam’s rural European childhood and things I know about Indiana families of the 30’s.  They had plenty of land to grow vegetables and crops, a ramshackle farmhouse, milk cows, and flower and vegetable gardens.  They did chores inside and outside, as did their two older sisters.  But the family was Jewish, unlike most of the population there.

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Eva and Miriam next to their mother, at home.  This crumpled photograph was the only thing Eva took from the house after she was able to return.

In 1940 the Hungarian army took over, coercing local children and adults alike to join their campaign of hate toward the Jews.  In 1942 their travel was restricted, and the next year the Mozes family was placed under house arrest, made to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothing.  Though they tried to escape across the border, they were put on cattle cars and taken to Osciewin.  That is Polish for Auschwitz.  The section they were taken to was called Birkenau, three kilometers away from the main camp.

Eva and Miriam’s father and sisters were immediately taken away, and after their mother answered a soldier’s question about the younger girls being twins, she was, too.  They never saw them again.  They were tattooed with numbers on their forearms and taken to awful barracks to live where there were corpses and rats on the floor.  With only coffee (boiled water) and a piece of dark brown bread to sustain them each day, they pledged to watch and care for each other, knowing if one of them perished the other one would be carted off to one of four gas chambers.

“They are burning people.  They are burning Jews.  Don’t you know that they are burning everybody who is here?’ a child told Eva.

Eva’s recollections of Mengele, a man she said was handsome and charming, are chilling.  He treated the children as lab animals.  They were taken three times a week to a large gymnasium, photographed and observed for eight hours at a time.  The Mozes twins were injected with different children’s blood or given shots with diseases they never knew.  Others were disfigured.  One injection brought Eva near death.

She heard Mengele say,”Too bad.  She is so young and only has two weeks to live.”  Eva said then and there she decided to live.  And she did.  Several near escapes of being mowed down by machine guns followed before the Soviet Army came to release them from the camp in the first month of 1945.

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Eva and Miriam after the war.

They were reunited with an aunt and returned to their home briefly, but after seeing how neighbors had looted their belongings, left for Cluj, Romania where the aunt had an apartment.  In 1950 they joined another uncle in Haifa, Israel, where they lived in a youth village set up by the government.  Both joined the army; both married.  Eva’s husband was an American tourist from Terre Haute, Indiana.  The couple moved there and started a family.

In 1984 she founded CANDLES, Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.  The group located 122 survivors in ten countries, helping many deal with issues they had.  Miriam passed away in 1993, but that same year Eva discovered a doctor named Minsch in Germany who had worked at Auschwitz and signed mass death certificates. She gave him a personal letter of forgiveness in which she also included Mengele.  She said it lifted the burden of pain she had been carrying for 50 years.

Eva continued her mission at CANDLES until her death last week in Poland, on a trip she led for the 75th anniversary of their liberation.

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Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on July 4, 1826, 50 years after they signed the Declaration of Independence.  We consider them fathers of our free country.  Eva Kohr died on July 4, 2019, 75 years after she walked away from Auschwitz.  She completed her liberation by forgiving the doctors and others who hurt her, and taught us all to do the same.

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“I hope, in some small way, to send the world a message of forgiveness; a message of peace, a message of hope, a message of healing.  Let there be no more wars, no more experiments without informed consent, no more gas chambers, no more bombs, no more hatred, no more killing, no more Auschwitzes.”  –Eva Mozes Kor, Declaration of Amnesty.

When we heard her in Fort Wayne, Eva said that one of her regrets is that she had never been able address a session of Congress about her experiences.  What a tribute it would be to let our Senators and Representatives know that we think one of her children should carry out her wish.  It would extend her mission: the power of the will to live, and the power of forgiveness.

Note: I originally stated that the soap given prisoners at Auschwitz was made with fat of people who had been exterminated, which Eva was told and believed to be true.  Charles Moman, a good friend of hers, says that this is not factual. 

Who Am I?

When the results from my ancestry.com DNA test came in, I wasn’t too surprised.  According to them, my mother is my mother and my siblings are my siblings.  I am mainly derived from English/Welsh people, with some German and Scots Irish mixed in.

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I had secretly hoped that a recessive gene would pop up that hadn’t with my brother or sisters.  We’ve been told the story that an 18th Century grandfather married a Native American, and there are those in our family who have darker complexions and near-raven hair.  But no.  The same ingredients figure into all of us in different amounts.

We had a head start on many heritage hunters, however.  Both my parents enjoyed researching their side of the family tree.  My cousin is an expert geneaologist, judging projects and hand-drawing beautiful charts of those we don’t have photographs to associate with, who lived before the invention of the daguerreotype and the bulky equipment required to produce it.

I’ve come to realize which of my dimensions could be attributed to my city boy father and country girl mother.  I just didn’t separate where they got them from, specifically the countries of their ancestors.

British traits include apologizing automatically, finding queue jumping the ultimate crime, maintaining a stiff upper lip, and being sarcastic.  Yep, I have all of those.  Welsh — on the shy side, introverted, and a bit emotionally unstable.  I don’t think I said more than two words in public until I was a junior in high school.  Oh, and I mistakenly googled Welsh Terrier traits, which include aggression toward others, digging holes, intelligence and a friendly spirit.  Those who know me can take what they want from that.

From the German side, I acquired organization, punctuality, and efficiency.  I always arranged my classroom to a T (but can anyone blame me for losing a bit of it after daily skirmishes with the kids?).

The Scots Irish connection is most interesting to me.  Historically, when British lords took over their land in Scotland, they moved to the Ulster area of Ireland.  Then en masse (150,000 to 200,000) Presbyterian Protestants emigrated to Pennsylvania in the mid 1700s.  They spread to  Appalachia, then on to Ohio, Indiana and westward.  They (we) hold to loyalty, family pride, and tradition.  And some paranoia.  You can’t be too careful, can you?

I chose not to dwell on my inherited physical characteristics, although I like that I share the my mom’s nose and my dad’s blue eyes, fair skin and light hair reminiscent of my aunts, and so forth.  That stuff changes with age anyway.  In this life, the things that matter are what you’ve got in your heart and soul.  Some are inherited; many are chosen; I hope I have chosen wisely.

Checked Out

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I think about what it would be like to drive a little horse cart to the general store in 1900.  It is 6:30 on a May morning and the birds welcome me along the path we share to town.  I loosely tie the leather straps to the post and give my “engine” half an apple for waiting patiently on me while I shop inside.

Two men playing checkers on the porch smile as I enter the door.  I take out a paper and pencil list from my reticule, choosing potatoes, a little sugar and flour, and some oyster crackers for soup.  As wooden floorboards creak under my feet, I browse the new fabrics on the shelf and wonder which color would make a nice shirtwaist to wear to church.  The storekeeper, not unlike Mr. Oleson, tells me bits of news as he totals my order in his head.  I pay in cash and he gives me change.

Well,  that was then.

This morning I decided to make an early trip to the grocery.  It was 6:30 a.m. and the traffic wasn’t too bad.  I followed my list pretty well, allowing for bargains I found in the toy aisle for Christmas boxes later on in the year.

Where was the friendly storekeeper?  Not behind even one of the 15 cash registers fronted by quiet, still conveyor belts and unlit ID numbers.  Self checkouts were the only option before 7:00.

I offered my store card to the glass counter.

“Scan your item and place it in the bag,” the voice pleasantly told me.  I don’t know her name, but I believe she is a cousin of Barbara, our GPS lady, or Lucy, our friend’s GPS lady.

This worked for three items.  I thought I was following directions and being courteous, especially since she hadn’t bantered over the news with me (but I did pick up a morning newspaper to buy, so that was a consolation).  “See attendant,” she said.  I didn’t see any.

Then I waved at a guy at the end of the computers, and he came over.

“These were BOGO,” I said, pleased I remembered the acronym for “buy one, get one.”

“It will show up at the end of the order,” he told me.

The UPC codes mostly scanned OK, including the fruit stickers.

But the lady kept telling me to place the item in the bag.  The bags were full.  There was no more room, and I still had half my order in the basket.  Could I put the half I’d “processed” in the basket with the unprocessed items?  Would an alarm go off?  Would she yell at me?

I thought that if I’d had a smartphone extension rod, I could have made one of those vlogs that I haven’t seen but a friend recently told me about, and send it to Jimmy Fallon.

Four more waves to the computer guy and I was almost done.  I had to have help with coupons; I guess the money I owed was more important to the lady than the cents off.   I paid with a check, handing it to the CG, and loaded the rest of the things into my basket.

I thought I heard her say, as I wheeled out the door, “Take your receipt and your bags, and get the h— out of here!”  But it was probably my imagination.  I was checked out, and she was already helping someone else.

 

I Like Antiques

My grandmother’s stoneware mixing bowl.

My name is Margaret and I like antiques.

I’m not sitting at the monthly meeting of a help group, but if I were there would be a hatstand at the door, and a bowl and pitcher sitting on a sideboard in the center of the room, circled wagon train style by old wooden chairs of different sizes.

In recent years the “simplify” movement has hit us all.  I have downsized (really, kids) some of the things I’ve held on to for many years.  I was able to say “Goodbye” and thank them for the memories.  But there are other things that have a lot of meaning for me, connections to history, both mine and the world’s.  I need them.

For example, a few years ago at my aunt’s sale I was able to buy her grandmother’s, my great-grandmother’s, commode.  My mom said that as a little girl she remembered it in her bedroom.  Crafted of oak, it has carved acorn drawer pulls; I put it in our guest room.  Over it hangs a photo collage of the family farmhouse from which it came.

My great-aunt’s dishes are something else I will keep until it’s time to hand them to one of my daughters.  They are ivory bone china with a golden wheat pattern and rims.  If you haven’t read my book, “Folks on the Home Front,” this is the lady who was a single schoolteacher during World War 1, and who wrote letters to her brother, my grandfather, in the service.  I published many of them alongside his and my grandmother’s.  She was funny, feisty, and beautiful.  She battled rheumatoid arthritis all her life, and as far as I know it never conquered her spirit.  That’s what I see when I look through the glass of the dining room hutch doors at her plates, cups and saucers.

I’ve been able to get a few momentos which remind me of Theodore Roosevelt, whose life is deeply embedded in my love of history.  From eBay I bought a copy of the “Our Young Folks” magazine, which Teedie and his brother and sisters read during their childhood in Victorian America.  To think that a child read this at the same time he was reading his subscription just melts my heart.  And they are really good stories, too.  I wish somehow I could publicize it to kids today.  Hey, that’s a good idea.  I will work on it.

Personal possessions of my dad keep me in touch with him, although he has been gone for 35 years.  I have his push mower that I used to cut our grass with when I was 12.  I’m going to get it fixed up this summer and use it again.  It will be good exercise; I will remember him every minute I’m straining to move it across the yard.  The grass will have to be pretty dry, though.

I love jewelry but don’t wear much of it myself.  My aunt’s collection was immense.  I bought some pieces at her auction which she wore to work in her 55-year career as a secretary on Capitol Hill.  I wonder, which ones were she wearing when she “bumped” into General Eisenhower in an office doorway in the 40’s?  Or when young Jacqueline Bouvier stopped by Senator Jenner’s office with her Graflex camera one time during the McCarthy Hearings?

Old photos fill a large trunk in my house (I actually bought this one at my favorite store, Paper Moon, in Roanoke).  They represent a century and a half of photography.  Every time I look through them I see some in a new way.

I was once in the background of a televised appraisal at the Antiques Road Show (if you’re interested, I can tell you the episode number and digital time).  It was in Cincinnati in 2013, and of course the most valuable thing we brought was a little rocking chair my husband picked up at the last minute, a 75 year-old handmade Appalachian work of art that had belonged to his parents.  They appraised it at $800 to $1000, and we were very pleased to find out its value.

But…you probably already know the bottom line that’s coming…the value of my antiques cannot be put into numbers.  They are connections to the past, reminders of those I love and respect, tangible pieces to touch and look at.  I like them.  A lot.