Posts Tagged With: community

A Sweet Reminder of Our Plank Road Stories

On this fourth day of Christmas I spent the morning writing thank-you notes and eating holiday treats, including shortbread from Emily. Baked in a decorative pan, this traditional Christmas gift is as beautiful as it is delicious.  At our family celebration in Wisconsin, I admired the designs produced by Emily’s new pan. According to manufacturer Brown Bag Designs, “In the early years of our country, farm wives decorated their home-made butter by stamping it with carved wooden images. This shortbread pan reinterprets nine of these antiques designs to decorate shortbread – the best butter cookie of all.”

Plank Road shortbread pan

Emily’s “Plank Road” shortbread pan, officially titled American Butter Art by Brown Bag Designs

The nineteenth-century Yorkville families may well have used wooden butter stamps featuring images such as these.

At our Christmas celebration Emily and I conducted our own reinterpretation of the nine designs. We offer our list to readers:

  1. The fruit basket featuring an apple reminds us of Will McEachron’s orchard

2.  The pineapple, symbol of hospitality, reminds us of Vin Mather’s welcoming guests to the Mather Inn

3.  The acorns and oak leaves remind us of the oak grove near Gran Mather’s cabin and the lone oak on the Doanes’ front forty

4.  The horse reminds us of the race between Big Jim Doane’s chestnut stallion and David Banvard’s sorrel mare

5.  The eagle reminds us of Old Abe, famous Civil War mascot of the Eighth Wisconsin infantry and later emblem of J. I. Case Equipment in Racine

6.  The cow reminds us of livestock exhibited at the Racine County Fair and the Plank Road families’ new dairying venture

7.  The wild rose reminds us of the flowers in Grace Caswell’s Midsummer wreath and the hedgerows alongside the Yorkville settlers’ graveyard

8.  The sheaf of wheat reminds us of harvest time in Yorkville and farm wagons traveling the plank road to the Racine harbor

9.  The heart reminds us of the Plank Road community’s love and care for family, neighbors, and strangers

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Categories: county fair, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Play Ball!

IMG_2484Hilda and I never played baseball with uniforms, referees, coaches, or practices. Baseball, to us, was the game you played on the diamond by the well pit or out in the sheep pasture, whenever a family picnic brought in enough players. Players ranged in age from the six-year-old just learning to swing a bat, to Dad, who was permanent pitcher.

With Dad pitching, the young child’s hit managed to roll right past the pitcher’s mound, yet Dad always seemed to catch the ball hit by the teenager. Our games were more about everyone playing together than keeping score.

When writing Hattie’s War, we drew on our childhood experiences to create the neighborhood ball games in Hattie’s yard. This Saturday, we’ll be watching the Milwaukee Cream Citys play vintage baseball. Their games, played in an open field in a park ringed by oak trees, are much more like our games in the pasture than like watching the Brewers at Miller Park.

Please join us at Greenfield Park at 1:00 on Saturday, May 2 to see how base ball was played in Hattie’s day. Bring a lawn chair or blanket and enjoy an afternoon outdoors.  Details can be found on the Cream Citys webpage. Books will be available for purchase as well.

 

 

Categories: Childhood Memories, Hattie's War, Racine County, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons from our Fathers

Last April, a flooded basement put one third of our living space out of commission. Like many others in the Chicago area, we were faced with the ordeal of salvaging, cleaning up and rebuilding–again.

As my husband took off for a five-week trip to Asia, I was left to try to reconstruct our sons’ bedroom. On more than one occasion, I was brought to tears wishing that my father was still alive. Dad would have known how to do this. Dad would have come down to help me. Dad could have fixed this.

I recruited friends from church to help me put up drywall. Perhaps I should rephrase that–Greg and John put up drywall, and my son and I helped. Once it was in place, I spent Mother’s Day taping and mudding. Unfortunately, I had never done this before, and the book on drywalling that I had checked out of the library wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped it would be.

Still, I kept at it, and halfway through the room I realized that I begun imitating what I had seen Dad do when patching holes in our plaster walls at home. By using the same kind of  pressure on the drywall knives that Dad had, I was getting smoother walls. Too bad I was working in the closet by this time.

Lessons from our fathers stay with us long after they have left us. What a blessing when we discover a lesson that we didn’t even know had been taught.

In Plank Road Winter, Hans’s father dies in the Chicago Fire. But as writers, and as daughters whose father died six years ago, we know that Hans will continue to learn lessons from his father.

Thanks, Dad, for all you continue to teach me.

Categories: Chicago, Childhood Memories, Plank Road Winter, When We're Not Writing | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Introducing Plank Road Winter

On Sunday, September 30, 1:00-4:00 pm, Emy and I look forward to welcoming the public along with old friends and neighbors at the Plank Road Winter launch party.  The celebration will be held at the 4-H Clover Center, 17640 Old Yorkville Road, a few miles north of Union Grove,Wisconsin.  This 1885 schoolhouse stands at the very heart of the original Yorkville settlement.

Set almost twenty years after the adventures of Katie and Florence, Plank Road Winter features thirteen-year-old Sophie Caswell, who longs to escape the dull farming community of Yorkville. Sophie’s plans are thwarted when the Chicago Fire leads to the arrival of twelve-year-old Hans Hoffman and his family at the nearby McEachron farm. While Sophie stubbornly pursues her dreams, Hans struggles to adapt to a world very different from his bustling Chicago neighborhood.

In the spirit of nineteenth-century community gatherings, the entertainment at the Plank Road Winter launch party will include traditional music provided by John and Susan Nicholson of the Milwaukee band  Frogwater and old-time dancing called by Patricia Lynch of the West Side Victorian Dancers.

We hope to see you there!

Categories: On Writing, Plank Road Winter, Racine County, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Another Summer

The lilacs in my yard, some of which have been brought to Illinois from the McEachron homestead, have bloomed and faded. The cold, wet spring has turned overnight into a blazing hot Memorial Day. Though I have another week of school, I am looking forward to summer days when I can dedicate more of my time to writing. (Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.) Another revision of Plank Road Winter is underway, and other stories linger in my mind, waiting to make their way onto a printed page.

I also have a quilt to make, though not as intricate as those in Plank Road Summer. I’ll be cutting up old t-shirts to make a quilt for my son to take to college. Pieces of his grade school, middle school, and high school years will travel with him on his new adventure.  A piece of my grade school days just came back to me. Mr. Schmidt, my first principal, just commented on our “About the Authors” page. Please click to the Comments on that page to find a brief memory of my early years at Yorkville School.

As another summer arrives, I hope you all find time to enjoy whatever changes the season brings to your life.

Categories: Childhood Memories, On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

“Plank Road Winter” finished during Blizzard 2011

What better way to finish writing Plank Road Winter, set in Chicago and Wisconsin in 1871-72, than by candlelight, with the power knocked out by the second largest blizzard in Chicago history? Though some people might have complained about the storm, for Hilda and me, it was a perfect gift.    In our own homes, we settled down to hot chocolate or coffee and, sheltered from the howling winds and blowing snow,  hammered out the last couple of chapter revisions.

Winter, with its shortened days and cold weather, can be a season of darkness and despair.  My few hours of candlelight, while the blizzard raged outside, were enough to make me thankful for central heating and electricity.  The next morning, when the sun was bright, I sent my teenagers out to shovel.  When a neighbor came by with a snowblower, I felt obliged to leave my manuscript and lend a hand.  Once outside, my children and I found that the snow that had cut us off from the wider world also reconnected us to the neighborhood, as we ventured through the drifts to see how others were faring.  We helped dig out an SUV that tried, unsuccessfully, to make it down an unplowed road.  We invited a neighbor boy to jump off our porch railing into the snow below.  There was time for simple pleasures we don’t make time for in the rush of our everyday lives.

Plank Road Winter captures despair and dark days, but the story also celebrates the neighborliness that gets us through our difficult times.  We look forward to sharing the story with our readers.  In the meantime, we hope that you have come through the Blizzard of 2011, and we would like to hear snow stories from your neighborhood.

Categories: On Writing, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Plain Old Summer

Last year, with our book fresh off the press, Hilda and I enjoyed our own Plank Road Summer. We traveled about from one book event to another, eager to share our story with others.  We felt like real authors, which seems a bit more glamorous than our everyday lives.

This summer, for me, has been exceptionally less glamorous. I had very good intentions, when the school year ended, about getting back to writing (We’re working on the sequel!). But on June 23rd, when I was home alone–no husband, no children–it started to rain.  And hail. And pour. Yard flooded.  Basement leaked.  Tornado sirens wailed.  Power failed.  Sump pump quit.  Basement flooded.  

Went outside to get a neighbor to help start the generator.  Fell and broke my right (writing) arm!  Neighbor arrived. Got generator going.

BUT couldn’t get to hospital because the streets were flooded.  My house was an island with water lapping against it on all sides. Called 911. A firefighter came to my rescue.  Waded a long block through knee deep water to the ambulance.  When I sat down on the gurney and lifted up my feet, my wellies flooded the inside of the ambulance….

Some of you can imagine the rest of my summer–a hot, itchy cast well past my elbow, sorting through sodden masses of possessions, drying out and reconstructing.  And family visiting from Japan and Baltimore in the midst of it. A month later came a second flood, and another family member took an ambulance ride through the flooded streets.

Life is what happens when you’re not writing. It’s the challenges, heartaches, celebrations that form who we are and make up our own story. It’s Plain Old Summer, which isn’t really plain at all.  It’s memories, adventures, emotions, family, neighbors.  It’s the kind of thing you could write a book about. Maybe I will.

Categories: On Writing, Plank Road Summer book | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Everybody Joined the Dance

I was asked to speak about Plank Road Summer at a couple adult and youth Sunday school classes. Since an author never turns down an invitation to talk about her book, and the church was close to my heart, I agreed.  Though we didn’t write our book as a moral tale, we don’t need to search very hard to see faith issues at work.

The 1850s Wisconsin community was facing a moral dilemma–what side would they take on the slavery issue?  When Hilda and I started writing our book, every character in the neighborhood was against slavery.  How could anyone have an opinion other than that?  But as we dug deeper into the issues and laws of the time, we realized that some people in that community would have believed that following the law of the land was the right thing to do.  The law stated that slaves were to be returned their masters in the South. 

This became a starting point for my Sunday morning conversations–what would you have done? Would you have helped the slaves? Would you follow the law? Would you risk a $1000 fine?  We came to understand that the people of the time would have faced an moral dilemma–when the right choice may not have seemed as obvious as it does to us today, 150 years later.

What issues do we have today that are dividing our communities?  Health care, illegal immigration, human rights, political divisions.  We face moral and ethical dilemmas every day, some close to home, and some at a national or international level.

My hope is that as we face the issues that divide us, we can remember one lesson from Plank Road Summer: In the end, everybody joined the dance. It didn’t matter who won the horse race or who was an abolitionist or who was part of the posse–everybody joined the dance.  As a country and as local communities, we need to take time to celebrate the unity we share, despite our differing opinions.  How would our world be better if we listened more, accused less, worked together, and invited everybody to the dance?

Categories: Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas, Underground Railroad | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Friendly Competition at the Fair

IMG_4697IMG_4699The county fair is home to such competitions as cattle shows, tractor pulls, demolition derbies, pie auctions, and goat-milking contests.  I admit that my sister author Hilda rose victorious when we battled one another last weekend in the goat-milking competition at the Racine County Fair.  Oh, the humiliation we authors must suffer in search of publicity for our books.   Other than being soundly defeated in the competition, I had a lovely day at the fair.  

Our book tent featured an antique drum carder which fairgoers could crank to card wool for bookmark tassels.  We also had live music–our own fiddler Matt Lutze, Hilda on penny whistle, and editor Phil Martin on accordion.   We saw familiar faces and met new readers as people stopped by to purchase a book or find out more about Plank Road Summer.    Even the Fair Royalty visited our booth to add planks to the road we were building.

During every summer of our childhood Hilda and I spent five days at the Racine County Fair.   During the weeks prior to the fair we practiced showing our sheep, refinished furniture, sewed clothes, or worked on whatever other 4-H projects were to be entered into competition.  In our day, we could hardly take five steps at the fair without seeing someone we knew.   The fair was a community celebration, and everyone wanted to be part of it.

In Plank Road Summer this is the spirit we hope to communicate in our depiction of the first Racine County Fair.   I confess that after my defeat in the goat-milking contest, I am feeling a bit like the loser of the horse race.   But strike up the music– in a true community celebration, no matter who wins or loses, everyone can join in the dance.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“They wrestled for it”

“I think they wrestled for it.”  This was one Wisconsin student’s answer when we asked who had the right-of-way to the planks if two wagons were traveling toward one another on a one-lane plank road.

Since the book launch in May, Hilda and I  have spoken to various groups at schools and museums and bookstores.  Last week we were guest speakers at the Graham Public Library in Union Grove, Wisconsin, as part of the 50th anniversary celebration of our hometown library.  In  our historical presentation, we spoke about how the stories we’d heard as children had influenced our writing.  Several members of the audience also had stories to share that evening.

The biggest news is that we think we have found the old McEachron tollhouse.  A former neighbor from a mile or so east on the plank road (just past the Rise) said that she had been told that her house was once a tollhouse.  As Hilda and I drove by the the house in question, beyond the tree branches and building additions we saw the unmistakable lines of a tollhouse like the one on the cover of Plank Road Summer.  We suspect that this is indeed “our” tollhouse, moved to that location after the Plank Road era.

One woman recalled that when she taught at Waites Corners School, Edith McEachron would visit and tell stories of the early days in Yorkville.  Potawatomi Indians were present at the birth of one McEachron baby.  When the child was born, the Indians took the baby outside and tossed it to one another, leaving the McEachrons to wonder whether they would get their child back safely.  They did.

One man mentioned that his family home in New York State was on the national registry of Underground Railroad stations.  Every plank road, every community and crossroads, has stories to share–and some are better than fiction.

As to the question of the right-of-way, the more heavily laden wagon stayed on the planks, while the lighter wagon would pull onto the dirt lane.  But I bet that somewhere along those many miles of plank roads, there’s a story of how two men wrestled for the right-of-way.  Let us know, please, if you uncover such a tale.

Categories: History of Plank Roads, Underground Railroad, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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