Posts Tagged With: Elmhurst

The Way of the Road

Last week, I spoke at an adult forum at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Elmhurst, Illinois. I had led a discussion at the church when Plank Road Summer was published; in that book the moral dilemma of whether or not to break the law to help runaway slaves  provided a natural link to a discussion about how we make ethical decisions.

Until I sat down to prepare for this new presentation, I did not see any such obvious connection to faith issues in Plank Road Winter.  I began by considering the scenes involving disaster relief, since that is  a familiar topic to many churches. But as I delved further into the book, I discovered that the entire story is about stewardship, or managing one’s life with respect and regard for the needs of others. Though Hilda and I certainly instilled our own values into the characters and plot, only now do I understand how tightly the idea of serving others is woven into the fabric of the story.

From Papa going back to help the Kreuschers, to the community-wide disaster relief efforts, to a Pullman porter “loaning” money for train tickets home, Plank Road Winter is about using one’s time, resources, and abilities to serve the greater good of society. According to that Pullman porter, this is “Just friends helping friends. It’s the way of the road.” Summer readers will recognize “the way of the road” as the words of Gran Mather, first spoken when she instructed Florence to pull their light wagon off the planks onto the dirt lane to let a heavily-laden wagon go by. According to Gran Mather, “We are to ease the journey of those who are burdened.”

If your reading group or class would like to use “The Way of the Road: Lessons in Serving” or explore other aspects of the Plank Road books, take a look at our page of Resources for Teachers. The free, downloadable materials include a discussion guide on The Way of the Road and an eight-page Teacher’s Guide with discussion questions, classroom activities, and historical notes.  Other curriculum materials include spelling and vocabulary lists for both books and links to websites providing historical background and additional educational activities.

We would love to hear about how readers use these resources to dig deeper into our Plank Road Stories.

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Categories: Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Signs of Spring

Lilacs blooming on March 28, 2012, near Valparaiso, Indiana

For the first time in my Midwestern memory the lilacs are blooming in March.  The white lilacs in the front yard of my Indiana farmhouse must be confused indeed.  Years ago I dug up these shoots from the enormous hedge that rings the back yard at the McEachron homestead in Yorkville, Wisconsin.  Like the settlers who brought lilac bushes to Wisconsin from their homes in Eastern states, Emy and I have both transplanted lilac bushes from Wisconsin to our respective homes in Illinois and Indiana.

Most years my blooms in Northwest Indiana are about two weeks ahead of those in southeastern Wisconsin.  In fact, when Emy and I planned the Plank Road Summer launch party for May 2009, we ended up gracing our table with lilacs from Elmhurst and Valparaiso because the Yorkville lilacs were not yet in bloom.

It seems propitious that the lilacs are blooming again as Emy and I sign our contract for Plank Road Winter. We hope that readers of our first book will appreciate the fact that even in this wintry tale, the lilacs of Yorkville make an unexpected appearance.

Categories: Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Graue Mill Changed our Story

When Hilda and I first began working on Plank Road Summer, we didn’t exactly know how to go about writing historical fiction. One weekend when Hilda was visiting me in Elmhurst, I suggested that we go to nearby Graue Mill to “soak up some atmosphere.” I had been to Graue Mill before and knew that it was built in 1852–the exact year our story was set–so I thought the place would be a good source of inspiration.

We watched the miller grind corn and examined all the household items and farm tools on the upper floors. As we were looking at the display in the basement, Hilda said to me, “You know, we should put the Underground Railroad in our book.” Graue Mill, of course, is a documented stop on the Underground Railroad in Illinois–a place where fugitive slaves were hidden on their way to freedom in Canada.

“We can’t just ‘put it in,'” I said. I’m the historical stickler. I told Hilda we would have to prove that fugitive slaves traveled through the Wisconsin neighborhood in which Plank Road Summer takes place before we could put that information in our story. But then Hilda reminded me of childhood stories of a neighbor’s house with a tunnel to the swamp in which slaves had supposedly hidden. And we remembered that a building in Rochester was supposed to have been used in helping slaves.

When we started to research the subject, we did indeed find the solid evidence we needed to prove that slaves could have made their way past the properties in our book. (Saying any more than that would be a spoiler) But yes, Hilda, we could (and did) put the Underground Railroad into our book. In fact, it became a large part of our story–and all because of a visit to Graue Mill.

On Sunday, Sept. 6, I’ll be at Graue Mill from 12:00-4:00. Come buy a book, make a wool butterfly, add a plank to my road. And soak up the atmosphere of Graue Mill and the Civil War encampment on the grounds. It’ll be a great day for inspiration!

Categories: Childhood Memories, On Writing, Plank Road Summer book, Rochester Wisconsin, Underground Railroad, Why this story | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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