Posts Tagged With: Plank Road

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

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

Dancing the Highland Fling

For the last two weekends, my daughter has danced in Highland Dance competitions. Both times, she medaled in the Highland Fling.

The Fling is a victory dance. Traditionally, Scottish warriors danced the Fling on the shields of their vanquished foes. Even today, dancers stay in the same place as they dance the Fling.

Actually, it is Hilda and I who should be dancing–perhaps atop old manuscripts. We have conquered! Our most recent manuscript of Plank Road Winter has been accepted by our editor.

The hard work at our recent retreat has paid off, and we should see our sequel in print this fall.

I hope we are not the only ones dancing for joy at this news. We have faithful readers who have been awaiting the sequel, and we are glad that your long wait is almost over.

Categories: Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , , | Leave a 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

At the Well

Mather Inn Well

Emily Demuth and her daughter, Louisa, at the Mather Inn well excavation.

  

The archaeologist, Norm Meinholz, was digging at the site of Mather Inn again this month.  This time, I managed to get back to Wisconsin while the dig was still open. Meinholz had uncovered part of the old foundation and established the exact location of the Inn, when  it stood facing the Plank Road.   The Mather Inn itself still stands  a stone’s throw away–it was moved many years ago, and now faces what would have been the Section Line Road between the Mather and McEachron properties.   

Just a few paces west of the foundation, the archaeologist had found the well.  Stones formed a perfect semi-circle (only half had been uncovered).  It was easy to imagine Katie pulling a bucket  of water from the well, setting the bucket on the stone rim, and peering at her reflection–even though that scene was edited out of our book during an early revision.    

Many scenes never made it into the final version of Plank Road Summer, including one which our mother particularly liked.  This lost scene was the first introduction to the Mather Inn from Katie’s point of view:  

“Katie walked past the grand front door that led to the parlor and the ballroom upstairs–that was for guests.  She hurried round past the porch on the west side, which led to the dining room–that was for teamsters.  At the back of the house she rapped at the kitchen door–that was for neighbor children.  Mrs. Mather was very particular about the proper use of doors.”  

As I walked around the original site of the Inn and stood where the front door had once been, I slipped back in time–back to when traffic sounds were the creak of a harness or clopping of hooves, and when water came not from the faucet but from a bucket drawn daily from the well.  Had Hilda and I seen this circle of stones a couple of years ago, I’m sure we’d have kept the well scene in our book.  

Click here to read a newspaper article about the first dig.  

Categories: History of Plank Roads, Mather Inn, On Writing, Racine County, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Writer or Archaeologist?

I didn’t always want to be a writer–I had other plans for my future.  For a long time, I wanted to be an archaeologist.  I remember digging up bits of old pottery from the rock pile behind the sheds. Finding a particularly colorful piece, I imagined some woman’s sadness about her favorite vase being broken.

My greatest archaeological discovery was a small arrowhead that I found in the pickle patch when I was twelve.  My brother and sister insist the only reason I found it was that I was too busy looking at rocks to pick pickles.

Seeing the Indiana Jones movies in high school fueled my desires–so much so that when I went away to college, I ended up with the nickname “Indiana Emy.” As it happens, my journey took me in another direction, and I never did find much more than that treasured arrowhead.

Archaeological dig at the original site of the Mather Inn

But last fall, an archaeological dig took place at the original site of the Mather Inn.   And I missed it!  A real archaelogist dug up shards of flow-blue pottery, and old nails, and even an entire jug, intact.  By the time I visited in October, the dig site had been covered back up.  But as I kicked about the site I spied a bit of white shining in the sun.  Not an arrowhead, but a broken shard of pottery.  Perhaps a bit off a plate, a platter, or a chamberpot from the Mather Inn. Somehow that little bit of physical evidence brought our Plank Road story closer to life.  Florence and Katie are fictional characters, but the Mather Inn was real.  Meals had been eaten, teamsters had been served, dishes had been washed.

I’m glad there are people at work, digging up bits of the past for us.  And though I’m not one of them, maybe my writing can help preserve the past as well.

Categories: Childhood Memories, History of Plank Roads, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

A Plank Road!

Authors Emily and Hilda Demuth on a plank road!

Authors Emily and Hilda Demuth on a plank road!

Emma, an "unknown Laura" and Olivia on the plank road at the Dousman Stagecoach Inn
Emma, an “unknown Laura” and Olivia on the plank road at the Dousman Stagecoach Inn

Though Hilda might deny it, I believe we were giddy with delight when we first walked along the plank road by the Dousman Stagecoach Inn.   Never before had we been able to point to a plank road when describing our book to potential readers.

The “Days Gone By” event sponsored by the Elmbrook Historical Society put us right in front of an inn along a plank road and even provided girls running about in prairie dresses.  In truth, the girls were dressed up for a Laura Ingalls Wilder contest–but we couldn’t help but think of our characters Katie McEachron and Florence Mather when we saw them.   Unfortunately, one of our Lauras in the photo got away before we could identify her.

Spending an afternoon in Brookfield, Wisconsin, among people who keep history alive warmed our hearts, despite the chill of the day that made signing books difficult.  Many thanks to the volunteers at the Inn, and to the parents who brought their children to the event.  Someday those children will be the ones passing our shared history to future generations.

Categories: Plank Roads | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wade House Arts & Crafts Fair: Top Ten Delights

10.  Viewing the only known photograph of the Wade House featuring the plank road out front

9.  Setting up our book tent under an oak tree near a hitching-post and watering-trough like those at the Mather Inn

8.  Enjoying the sound of hoofbeats and the jingle of harness fittings as the stagecoach passed us on its rounds of the Wade House property

7.  Watching brother-in-law Franklin learn to card wool with an antique drum carder

6.  Helping children make butterflies and bookmark tassels out of rainbow-colored wool

5.  Seeing children’s faces when they learned the wool had been dyed with Kool-aid

4.  Being so enthralled by conversations about wool that Emily had to remind me to mention the book

3.  Hearing people say that after reading about us in the Sheboygan Press they had come to the fair specifically to buy our book

2.  Signing a book for a little girl descended from the Mathers of Racine County

1.  Finding Plank Road Summer on display in the Wade House gift shop

Categories: Uncategorized, Wade House | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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