Sunday, October 2, 2011


"Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief,"

Is this even politically correct now?

"Doctor, lawyer, merchant, chief."

As a child I never wanted to be a chief; I wasn't even an Indian much less a chief.

We would recite this lines when we got dressed and counted the buttons on our clothes: button one, rich man; button two, poor man; and so on. Or if noticed that someone had lots of buttons, we would go through the same verse.

If you had more than eight buttons, you'd start over again, but I remember almost never starting over and often stopping in the first line. Girls had a better chance of getting into the second line.

WIth no television and limited access, our heads were filled with little verses and mind games. Cousin Cheryl came with a verse during one of her rare childhood visits from MInneapolis or California. It was designed to appear as a speech:

"Ladies and gentlemen, horses and mules,
I hate to tell you, but you're all darn fools.
I come before you to stand behind you...
Admission free, pay at the door
Grab a chair and sit on the floor!"

That's all I remember but I found this version:

"Ladies and gentlemen, horses and mules
Cross-eyed mosquitos and bold-legged fools
I've come before you to stand behind you
To tell you something I know nothing about
Next Thursday, which is Good Friday
We'll have a father's meeting for mother's only
Admission free, pay at the door
Grab a chair and sit on the floor!"

From the third grade which was at the end of the hall on the second floor of our school and was designed more as a foyer to the fire escape at the rear of the building, I remember:

"Christopher went
When he was sent,
And came when he was told,
And all together
Whatever the weather
Was brave, bright and bold.
When he was nine, or maybe ten,
He traveled the world again and again
With a cape, a cap and a fountain pen."

It's probably the only poem I remember.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Crab Apple Tree

Throughout my summer day I pass by a tree filled with tasty ripe but tart pie cherries. It is simple to reach up, grab a couple and eat the tantalizing miniature orbs. Propelling the seeds across the lawn is a part of the enjoyment even though I'm reminded each time of their potential by the many seedlings in that area.

Some fifty years ago about the same time of the year, late August or early September I would repeat the same moves with some modifications. I would be on a tractor driving to and from the fields towing a wagon either filled with grain from the combine or silage for the silo. If the route took me pass the chokecherry bushes, I would load up on the berries that turned my mouth blue and my throat would, in a sense, choke. Hence, the name of the berry. Later in the season after emptying the silage from the wagon, I would detour under the crab apple tree and grab enough to keep me busy nibbling while driving to the field. They were so tart that they had no other use. But I loved the diversion.

Not many fruit trees survived the North Dakota winters, in fact my favorite crab apple tree had been joined by several plum and pie apple trees at their planting but stood essentially alone as I ate of it. Our Ziegler grandparents enjoyed adventuring into new territory with fruit as they had several apple trees and in the 50's a pear tree that actually produced pears. On the other side of the garden were patches of raspberries and strawberries that were the envy of my childhood. I don't know that the pear tree has survived these 50 years.

There are stories of man who wandered the West sowing apple seeds and who became known as Johnny Appleseed. His good fortune apparently didn't infect our part of North Dakota.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Churning butter

A wandering glance around our kitchen took my eyes momentarily to an old butter churn; the large glass jar has a slight crack. My wondering why we kept this dust collector was immediately overshadowed by a question of who used it and when and even where.

There's something in the rears of my struggling mind that says Mom may have made our butter at one time, after all we were on a dairy farm and always milked cows. Before the years when we were selling raw milk, the milk was separated into skim milk and cream, the source of butter. I know that Mom's mother made their butter.

Walking into grandma's house always smelled like a farm house, but then it was a farm house. The smell might have been stronger here than in other farm houses because they separated their milk in the house. It was the only heated building on their farm.

Passing through the first entrance gave one no warmth from the winter cold as the first room was more of a porch, where one would leave your coat that had brushed against the cows and the boots that followed the pigs to their feed. A single step up and through a second door on your left put you into the big main room of the house. It was the almost "everything" room. Straight ahead was a second room which was the "living" room furnished with a couch, a couple easy chairs, a old ornate china closet and a pump organ which later was replaced by a piano. Uncle Lenhart like to tickle the keyboards.

Off the living room was a small master bedroom, and years later a bathroom was added in one corner. Off to the right in the main room were doors to the upstairs and downstairs and a cooking area. The wood cook stove served to heat the house and prepare the meals. As the house was modernized an electric stove was added beside the wood stove and the hand pump was replaced with faucets for cold and hot running water.

I never got over 12 years old, before grandpa died. He had a big overstuffed rocking chair by the window just to the left of the main entrance. Tall and lanky, as I remember him, and seldom a smile. He had a cane, as I remember, that he'd try to hook us with. Boy, that memory is vague. He always seemed old, but then he was 60 when I was born, and 72 when he died.

During my childhood, the neighbors still gathered together in the late summer for threshing. There's a story about grandma when the threshing crew was at her house and she was responsible for feeding them. I'm sure that the food was home grown and cooked, which included baked bread and homemade butter. As the crew gathered around the table filling their plates, grandma had forgot to put butter on the table and so when one of the crew not seeing any butter, called out, "Please, pass the butter," she was very embarrassed.

So a quick glance around the room took me back some sixty years. And the butter churn continues to gather dust until it instills another memory even though it's owner is still not known.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Picture of Mom and Dad's wedding

Somewhere in the flatlands of Wyoming is a third cousin with the name of Gary Weisz, Weisz being the birth name of our mother's mother. As member of my generation, he has retired and finding time to do things like dig through the genealogy of the Weisz family. One of his reference points is the consolidation of names and dates that I had gathered from my mother and put on the Internet as a reference. I am so grateful for his efforts because I have not had a chance to upgrade my data for about a decade and the information is getting stale.

During one of his monthly phone calls last week he referred to a picture of a wedding party picture on the steps of St Johns church in Hebron. A couple days ago I received a print of that picture with attached names. It was a picture with Erna and Erwin as the bride and groom, with two attendants on each side and the parents on a higher step behind them. I don't know that I had ever seen this picture and was treasure to receive.

A week earlier he sent an invitation to the Weisz family reunion in Kaylor, South Dakota, in June 2011. It is a great opportunity to catch up with what is happening in the Weisz family or get to know them for the first time. You'll also meet some Zieglers there.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

First crocuses of the spring

It's hardly past the first week of February, but this year in the foothills on the edge of the Willamette Valley the first colors of the year are peaking through the underbrush. They're yellow, these first bloomers, unlike the wild purple ones on the north side of the hills of the western North Dakota prairies.

There's a fondness for crocus in my being. Maybe this came from grandma Sax, Marie, who seemed to have some on her table soon as the first ones appeared. Maybe this came from Mom who would drive me to the more prolific hill almost a mile from the house before I was grown enough to either walk that distance or drive a vehicle. We'd pick them when we went to get the cows in for milking, which, when I was in grade school, was as soon as we got off the school bus in the afternoon.

Conveniently the crocus would bloom around the first of May so they were available to put in the May basket that I'd put on the doorstep and ring the doorbell for Mom. I have no idea from where the tradition came, but after I rang the bell I'd run away and Mom would come out chasing me, catch me and give me a kiss. Well, at least that happened once and stuck in my mind as annual forever. Maybe this is the memory or emotion in the back of my mind that sparks the romantic part of me when the crocuses show color in the spring.