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Stillwater, Minnesota High School Junior English Students Want To Know

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It couldn’t have been a better time and place. It was an exceptionally balmy April 11, 2014, and I was the guest in Stillwater High School teacher Peter Schield’s Junior English classes. Fresh spring air wafted gently though the open classroom windows, and much to their credit, the students conveyed very pleasant vibes as they entered the room, then later with their ‘thank you’ and/or pleasant nods as they exited the classroom. I so appreciated their polite withholding the desire to be sitting outside in the sunny breeze, or strolling in the park with a friend.

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Taking a short rest on the edge of a table while answering students’ questions.

They had recently completed a unit of study on John Steinbeck’s novel, The Grapes of Wrath, which depicts a poor Oklahoma family who migrates to a far less pleasant time and place in California than the students could scarcely imagine; and I, their guest speaker, was there to tell them what it was like for those who didn’t leave the Oklahoma Dust Bowl——an experience unfortunately equally unpleasant. And I did share some of my experiences.

After my presentation, students asked some thought-provoking questions. Here are some of them: Did you have hope? What kind of food did you eat? Did a poisonous spider or insect ever bite you? It was very dry, so where did you get your water? Did you ever want to go ride the rails? What was your clothing like? Did you ever want to move to California? What did you do for fun? What was the saddest thing you experienced?

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Walking the aisles to give students a close up view of my hometown location on an Oklahoma map, which I found on the internet. My hometown was within the area that the mapmaker had color highlighted as having suffered the worst dust storm damage during the 1930s.

There were more, but I think these “from their perspective” questions exemplify the range of thoughts these students had about my experiences. I hope you enjoyed this peek into the minds of this very nice group of teens, who made that day for me, one of the most beautiful days in the twilight years of my life.

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Recalling the Death of a Heroic Mother More Than Eighty Years Ago

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Seated in the center of this picture is Mildred Klanderman Wubbels, a teacher, with her students in a one-room school called Carr Creek.

 

Author’s Note: Many of you living in western Wisconsin are third and fourth generation of the Dutch immigrant families whose names were Klanderman or Wubbels. Some of you in Wisconsin, Michigan, and other areas might have seen this picture long ago and may recall that one of the students in this picture was pointed out to you as being one of your ancestors. If you recognize a relative in this photograph, I would love to hear from you.

A Tribute: Mildred Klanderman married Harry Wubbels in the early 1900s. She was the mother of now-deceased Harley Wubbels, Maurice Wubbels and my future husband, Robert Wubbels. She also was grandmother and great-grandmother to numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren that she never got to know. Now with that basic data on Mildred, and as the mother of two of her grandchildren, I would like to pay a tribute to her.

Mildred was a bright, young woman, as most Klandermans were (and still are) and she wanted a teaching career prior to marriage. She attended River Falls Normal School, at that time one of the finest teacher colleges in the state. She taught until she married and then resigned, as women teachers were often expected to do in those days. Barely in her early twenties and her beloved teaching career was over!

She and Harry lived happily on a farm a few miles northeast of Baldwin, WI, which to them in those days seemed a great distance when traveling to town by horse-pulled wagon, or by horse-drawn sleigh.

Harry worked hard, was well-liked and respected in the community. Mildred worked hard, too, managing her home and mothering her three young boys. She was every bit as quietly warm and friendly as she appears in the picture surrounded by her students.

One chilly late September morning when Mildred rose from sleep, she discovered Husband Harry was already out in the barn doing the milking. The house seemed especially cold and she thought she should not wait until Harry finished his milking to build a fire in the wood-burning stove. She wanted to take the chill off the living room for the two older boys when they awoke and dressed for school near the stove. Little three-year-old Bobby wouldn’t wake up until his brothers were off to school and the warmth of the stove had spread throughout the house.

Fortunately Harry always kept a good supply of kindling wood and a few split logs all cut to the right size in a box just inside the back entry. Unaccustomed as she was to building a fire, she put the kindling into the stove first, then lifted the nearly empty can of kerosene and doused in a little fuel. But before she could strike a match to set the kindling ablaze…. Well, she never had a chance to even strike the match.

Unbeknownst to her, there was a small live cinder underneath the ashes from the day before, and when the fuel….

I shall not write the details. I’ll just say she managed to slam the stove door shut against the sudden burst of angry flames and toss the flaming kerosene can outside. Then she rolled herself inside a large rug to extinguish the flames on her clothing.

She had kept the fire from spreading and she had saved her sleeping children’s lives, but they lost her several hours later.

Little Bobby, who became my husband about twenty years after that sad day, once told me he remembered standing at the foot of her bed with his father and two brothers. The doctor stood beside his mother’s bed sadly shaking his head, saying, “If she makes it until morning, she might survive.” But she didn’t. And those words stuck with my husband all his life.

Yes, it made him sad to recall that tragic scene–and to remember overhearing talk of how his mother died; yet it meant a lot to him to recall the story he had heard of his mother’s quick-thinking heroism that saved the three young boys that long-ago chilly September morning.

Mildred, on behalf of your progeny, this brief story is to honor you as a good Christian, a dedicated educator, wife, mother and a truly heroic woman.

 Thank you, from your family of many generations and your community, too.

Sprucing Up a Brown Cotton Dress

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A normal teenager in the early 1940s.
A normal teenager in the early 1940s.

It was the beginning of the 1940s, and we were still in recovery from Oklahoma’s worst economic hard times, which was compounded by drought and dust storms. My forever-frugal mother, knowing brown wasn’t my best color, found the brown dress I’m wearing in the picture on the right on a clearance rack. But to her credit, she splurged a little and bought a piece of white lace to trim the collar and a strip of white taffeta ribbon for a matching hair bow. I had just learned how to coax my very soft hair into the then-trendy high pompadour style, which was not an easy feat in that pre-hairspray era.

A large bow anchored with bobby pins behind the pompadour and wearing a blob of red lipstick were the mark of teen fashion consciousness that linked us in those days to the big world. Just being a part of local teen look-a-likes also may have given us a healthy feeling of a cohesiveness that subsequently quelled a bit of the gloom of WWII.

The Queen and I: We’re Not So Very Different

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Here are two links to some wonderful photographs of the Queen that I think you will enjoy:

http://www.biography.com/people/queen-elizabeth-ii-9286165/photos

http://life.time.com/culture/elizabeth-ii-rare-and-classic-photos-of-the-queen-of-england/#1

Although she lived in a palace and I lived in a shabby farmhouse in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, Queen Elizabeth II and I really aren’t so very different. She was born less than a year after my birth. I took notice of the media photos and stories of her through the years, feeling almost like we were growing up together. She was quiet and reserved as a child and I appeared quiet and reserved because I was basically shy.

During WWII the future queen donned a uniform and served a stint in a British women’s auxiliary military as a non-combat trained mechanic and first-aid truck driver. During the same war I served my country working as an assembly-line riveter on US military planes for two years.

Finally, here is the clincher. Several years ago I was watching an old video on TV or possibly the computer of some sort of British jubilee parade with numerous horse-drawn, ornate golden carriages moving along on a street near Buckingham Palace. The queen was not standing on the palace balcony as usual. She, husband Philip and Prince Harry at about age three and a half (or possibly Prince William at that age) were standing in the front row of a crowd that lined the street.

Suddenly, no one but the queen noticed little Harry taking off toward a set of horses pulling a carriage; and in a nano-second the Queen sprinted the two or three steps after him and ushered him back to safety. She didn’t shout out to a guard or to anyone else, “Go, run after Harry!” She, like any normal, loving grandparent, instinctively ran after her young grandson in an automatic response to protect him.

No one seemed to notice or comment on what she did, but I saw it and I understood the moment. And that’s when I, also a grandmother, knew the Queen and I weren’t all that different. We are both devoted to our countries, and we love and protect our families.

An Evening to Remember

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I know, I know! I’m running over a month late in writing about my visit to the University of Wisconsin post-graduate writing class on April 29. But you don’t want to know the reason why. (Okay, I forgot my camera in River Falls and it took me awhile to go back to retrieve it—and I wanted to post only after I had some pictures.)

But back to my writing class visit. The class meets evenings once a week for two hours and forty-five minutes, and that is a long time to hold the attention of students, even of post-graduate students who are twenty-something in age. No worries, however.

I was very privileged to team with Dr. Geoffrey Scheurman, the University’s Chair of the Department of Teacher Education. His excellent presentation followed mine, and I was so absorbed in his teaching technique and Dust Bowl visuals that I forgot to take his picture. I deeply regret that missed opportunity. But I’m very grateful we could share that enjoyable, spectacular evening!

Listening to a student’s very interesting comments.
Listening to a student’s very interesting comments.
With Deb DeSteno, our gracious host for the evening.
With Deb DeSteno, our gracious host for the evening.

A Unique Book Club Experience!

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My visit to a Hudson book club last month turned out to be a very unique experience. It began with not-unique sleet and snow driving conditions that

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caused most of the members and me to be late. Subsequently, we were told that our reserved private dining room had been inadvertently double booked and the other group was already in the room. But this book club group had read my book and their pulsating perseverance spurred them to accept a narrow hallway-size room in the back of the restaurant.

So we sat in the windowless hallway facing each other along the two walls so close our knees almost touched. My reward was a wonderful meeting/discussion. What a gracious group of women, and wow, they were set for discussing THE DIRTY DAYS and to learn much more about life in those times! Meanwhile, the bad weather conditions had escalated outside. But my almost two-hour energetic discussion with these very bright women was worth my hazardous twenty-mile drive back to St Paul.

I would do it all again in a minute!

 

Mother’s Depression-Era Vinegar Pie

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Perhaps Mother’s vinegar pie would have been more aptly named if it had been called Sweet ‘n Sour Dumplings, or better yet, Emergency Dessert. For in my book, THE DIRTY DAYS, my brief account of Mother’s vinegar pie surely did give the impression of an emergency situation. As desserts go, Mother’s vinegar pie wasn’t exactly spot on when it came to flavor and texture. I dare say it would have missed the mark considerably for a blue ribbon in the county fair pie contest, had she been naive enough to enter it.
It truly was kind of an emergency when Mother tried to satisfy her family’s sweet tooth when supplies were scarce and the times were tough. Undaunted and without apology, she would boil a mixture of water, sugar, vinegar and vanilla for about two minutes, then set it aside while she made a dough with flour, baking powder, salt, lard, milk, and maybe a beaten egg. She rolled out the dough on a floured surface to piecrust thickness and then cut it into strips, each about one inch by two inches.
She would bring the liquid mixture to a boil again and the strips of dough were dropped into the boiling liquid–one at a time. Mother would swirl the liquid for about three seconds before dropping in each dough strip. After the final strip was dropped in and swirled, she would loosely cover the pan and simmer the “dumplings” for about ten minutes.
I have to admit the end result of the depression-era dessert wasn’t as bad as it might sound. Its flavor actually fell short of terrible. The liquids and sugar mixture were cooked to an appealing, somewhat thick and pale caramel color, which compensated for the dumplings that were fairly rubberized due to the skimpy amount of shortening used in making them.
But with a drizzle of whole milk on the warm dumplings and thick juice, Mother’s efforts were not wasted. Most important, both then and in retrospect, her efforts were and are viewed as an act of love worthy of the highest award.
Pictured below is my version of Mother’s Vinegar Pie, which my husband Bob nicknamed, Fruitless Pie. I must admit that I bastardized my mother’s vinegar pie recipe. I added a bit more sugar, a teaspoon of butter and vanilla and used a mixture of half plain flour and half Bisquick to make the dumplings. Then I topped the dessert with Cool Whip. Although she has been gone for ten years, I can almost see Mother’s nod of approval and hear her soft chuckle.
 I always took it for granted that Mother created her recipe for Vinegar Pie, which she sometimes referred to as Vinegar Cobbler. Much to my surprise I recently found recipes on line for vinegar pie and cobbler, both calling for a top crust over the dumplings, then baked in the oven. My frugal mother simply cooked the liquids and dumplings on the stovetop and never applied a piecrust.

I always took it for granted that Mother created her recipe for Vinegar Pie, which she sometimes referred to as Vinegar Cobbler. Much to my surprise I recently found recipes on line for vinegar pie and cobbler, both calling for a top crust over the dumplings, then baked in the oven. My frugal mother simply cooked the liquids and dumplings on the stovetop and never applied a piecrust.
 
Having sampled my rendition of Mother’s Vinegar Pie (Cobbler), my husband and I recommend that anyone interested in making Mother’s depression-era dessert should select one of the on-line recipes.
Having sampled my rendition of Mother’s Vinegar Pie (Cobbler), my husband and I recommend that anyone interested in making Mother’s depression-era dessert should select one of the on-line recipes.
Here’s a link to a Martha Stewart recipe for Pioneer Vinegar Pie–a significant contrast to the “recipe” used by my mother.