Thursday, July 29, 2010

The View From the 12th Floor

The View From the 12th. Floor

The view from the 12th floor office window of my recent new best friend, the bone and joint doctor by the name of Ligenfelter, in the Pavilion Section of the sprawling North Kansas City Hospital, stretched below and away to the south and east and west like an artful diorama of industry.

The scene before me, the distant Kansas City skyline, a broad and winding river, acres of flat-topped warehouses edged in by miles of busy streets and more acres of railroad tracks and their slowly moving cargos lent a lazy somnolence to the scene that tended to lull the senses.

But as I looked out across that river-bottom land, seeking out things and buildings and places familiar in my memories, it came to me that I was looking at the history of my family. What we were and what we had become had its inception in this small strip of flat land bounded by great rivers and their bridges, tall Loess bluffs and fields of fertile loam and yellow clay. It lay before me as an opened book lies upon a nightstand, waiting to be read.

To the east, just left of Harrah’s, the new (relatively speaking) gambling boat, the swift current of the Missouri pushed and rippled in orderly rows of roiling motion on to the east and a little bit north at this point, only to turn east and south again to continue it’s rolling, pushing advance to the even mightier Mississippi at the northern edge of St Louis, clear over on the Eastern edge of the state.

But in 1844 it was here and upon this river, up from the Mississippi, in its turn up from the Port of New Orleans, and on to St. Joseph, that Margaret Mary and Joseph Whiskerchen, our Great-Great Grandparents, and their children, newly from Rheinborg, Germany, brought everything they owned to find and farm a new home. Our Great Grandmother Mary Margaret Whiskerchen, the first of this family to be born in this country, married John Lewis and raised 14 children, one of whom was our grandmother, Eliza Lewis Stock.

And to the west the traffic of Burlington Street, that is actually Oak Street to the north and Oak Street to the south and becomes 71 Highway even further south, can be seen in patches between tall buildings and a few tall trees. This is a very old thoroughfare and although unpaved in 1908, it did go clear to the river where the ferry shuttled back and forth.

In that year it was a ferry that brought my mother’s mother, a pregnant-but-unwed, college educated, Missouri farm girl to the South bank of the Missouri where she was provided a carriage to take her up the hill to The Willows, a sanctuary for girls like her, and a well known baby mill, at 20th and Main. By raising my eyes just a little and there to the center of the Kansas City skyline and a little beyond I knew that that was where my mother was born.

Adopted by a North Missouri farm family, she told me of riding her pony on the loess bluff on this north side of the river overlooking what is now 210 hwy and of sitting her pony and looking out across at the limestone bluffs of Cliff Drive on the opposite side and down upon the hayfields that stretched from the foot of the bluff upon which she sat into what became Armour Road.

In 1912 the Armour-Swift-Burlington (ASB) Bridge at the end of Burlington Street was finally finished. By 1927 the bridge had suffered a fire at one section and needed other repairs and Dad was one of the fortunate who was employed, on that project.

Almost directly down and in front of my high window stands the tall square towers of what is left of the old mills where for over a hundred years cereal grains were ground, stored and shipped. Perhaps they still are. Dad worked at Corn Products, just east of the mills, and always came home wrapped in the North Town scent of warm ground grain.

And I know that the street that I look down upon goes to the west to the corner of Swift and Armour and the old Crown Drug Store where after school my sister served malts and grilled hamburgers and cold Coca Cola’s. And there on Armour was the hardware store where my brother worked after school and Saturdays and the huge, stark National Belles Hess building, the garment factory where my other sister, after her marriage, worked until she was too far pregnant to climb the stairs or stand the heat. And on that street my cousin’s filling station was the only chance to fill up until you got “over the river” or back north several miles.

And the Armour Theater, where my very first date and I, (we were 12 years old and he had walked five miles to escort me to the bus stop into Northtown,) shivered and screamed through the bleakness of The Hunchback of Notre Dame in black and white.

And 12 floors below me, in the single-floor three-wing infancy of this very hospital, my youngest daughter was born.

That small, sterile room so empty of all but myself just a few minutes ago had somehow become full to bursting, thanks to the view from the 12th floor office window of my recent new best friend, the bone and joint doctor.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 – Plog Photo Blog

Captured: America in Color from 1939-1943 – Plog Photo Blog

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Memoirs Chapter 2:

A Different Kind of Mother

Our mother was not like other mothers. She was hard to love and harder to like. Independent and unbending, she had few friends and regarded most of the world, including her children, who mostly reciprocated her lack of natural affection, as unworthy of her interest.

She was meticulous about her person and of a late evening, winter and summer, in those days before indoor plumbing, we were all ordered to bed and she began her bath.

The night I, having slipped quietly downstairs on some forgotten errand, saw Mother at her bath changed her forever for me.

Pale and naked in the moonlight from the window above the sink and its small pan of hot water, her body gleamed like the inside of a sea shell, cool and incandescent. The flesh of her breasts, flattened by the needs of seven infants, was only a shadow against her upper body and the smooth roundness of her abdomen shone starkly white in the silverness of the window’s moonlight.

The scent of her bath soap and the vinegar she used to rinse her once-red hair filled the room.

Her very luminescence, in the dark kitchen of our home that night, seemed out of place and time,..a visitor from some powerful other world that valued more a stricter code..a cooler hand and heart..that did not belong here with us and certainly not to us. The hot winds and dry suns of the Midwest were anathema to such a one.

Before me was a person meant for harsh and vicious winters and the pale meagerly glint of a Celtic summer. Such a one required friends more fast and foes more ferocious than the weak genetic pool she was stuck with.

Of course I could not come anywhere near verbalizing these thoughts at the time, even to myself, but the experience was a powerful one and it stayed with me to be pondered upon and sorted out as facts came later, drifting into my life as our lives unfolded.

Blog Archive

The Art of Pig Watching

Perhaps you spurn the art of pig-watching and consider it a waste of time. Perhaps you have never had the opportunity to watch too many pigs and are ignorant on the subject. And perhaps you have just never been so lucky.

But those of us lucky enough to have had the opportunity and taken the time to spend an hour or two on a good day pig-watching are permanently blessed with a deep knowledge of what life appreciation is all about. If you have never watched a 300 pound sow in a 6-inch deep mud puddle you have no yardstick to determine what real contentment looks like.

It doesn’t take much to maintain a pig’s ordinary, run of the mill daily happiness factor. Typically jolly fellows and girls, they live and let live and require little emotional support. I have never seen a depressed pig.

But it takes a good puddle to send a pig into the kind of ecstasy that stays with you.

My first pig venture with Gretchen and Gertrude and the inimitable Festus (described in an earlier Blog) were eventually followed by a couple I referred to as Ma and Pa Kettle.

Beautiful black Hamps with a white band completely around their middles, their naming was somewhat of a misnomer in that unlike the original Hollywood Kettles whose cleanliness and personal habits supposedly left a lot to be desired, MY Kettles were very tidy people.

Their bathroom habits were discreet and their bedding area was moved, at intervals chosen by them, to different pasture spots almost every night resulting in a clean bed.

However, due to the odiferousness of the pig reputation in general I chose a spot for the pig lot down in the northeast corner of the main pasture. (closer to my neighbor’s place than mine.) This made pig-watching a little inconvenient but we’re kind of short on entertainment here in North Missouri so I didn’t mind making the trip down the gravel to the pig pasture.

Whenever company came the entertainment agenda always included a jaunt “down to see the pigs” and we would lean on the fence posts and discuss stuff and watch the Kettles in their pursuit of the maximum pleasure derivable from three acres of grass and the mud from a small spring that ran along the side of their yard.

Sometimes in the summer when the spring dried up, being a true spring and only wet when it was actually spring, I would try to fill the trough with water at least once a day just for the show. It took the Kettles about 45 seconds to upend the trough , scoot it out of the way and plop into their very own self-made mud hole. Little eyes blinking in rapture, snouts whiff-whiffing and smurfing in the muddy ripples, squirming contendedly on one side, only getting up to drop with a splat onto the other side like a Brooklynite in Miami taking the sun…their pleasure was downright contagious and kind of inspiring.

In no time, because of the shallowness of the mud, they would begin to look like Oreos in reverse..soft gooey on the two outsides with a strip of dry and bristly in between. Often they would drift off to sleep on the wet bed of their cool and pleasant spa and not wake until the sun had dried the mud on their sides and turned them into what would then look like Navajo bake ovens.

But generally I did my pig watching at days end, when after work I would stop at the barn, fill the bucket with feed and head on down to the pig lot and spend a relaxing half hour watching the Kettles enjoy life.

Pigs are not all that dumb, (although not as smart as some people would have you believe) and the Kettles soon came to recognize the sound of my truck turning the corner a quarter of a mile up the gravel as I turned off the blacktop. Heck, maybe they heard the truck before that. Who knows how far pigs can hear when they are thinking about food?

I might never have known about there ability to anticipate my arrival at all but one night they, being just too clever by half, had managed to get under the fence and decided to come to meet me. The sight of the Kettles trotting up the road, in happy silhouette just there where the gravel of the road to the east met sky, was a sight to see. They were so pleased with themselves it was impossible not to be happy with them.

Sorry to say, this was the end of pig farming for me. That one taste of freedom was too much for the Kettles and their desire to see the world was beyond my pig fencing skills. But I do miss the pig watching at the end of the day.