“There is nothing like a good old recipe. If it has lasted, then it is good.” Yotam Ottolenghi, Israeli chef

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Photo: Collin Yung

I collect vintage metal recipe boxes. I have eighteen in my collection. Some were purchased from ebay.com, but most were found here and there while scouting antique shops and junk stores. Most of the boxes in my collection are empty, but three contain recipes inside. Those with the recipes are ephemeral time capsules that echo with the writings of one woman’s time spent in her kitchen.

The one above was found at a little place called Shop Girl in Jefferson City, Missouri over lunch hour one day when I was visiting the city for an education conference. On my first sweep through the store, I completely missed it. As I was leaving, the shop owners asked me what I was looking for and then directed me to a display where this one was tucked. It’s perfect. Retro graphics and typography, made in USA, hinges on the lid, a few rough and rusty spots from frequent use, and… drumroll, please… recipes inside! Many of the recipes are even handwritten and all are very fragile.

There are recipes for peanut butter cookies, molasses snaps, angel cookies, prune cookies, toffee nut bars, pecan bars, chess bars, mincemeat cookies, peanut brittle, brownie drops, pecan strips. Clearly, this baker had a sweet tooth. Or perhaps this box held only her cookie recipes.

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Many of the recipes are clips from newspapers and magazines, but a good number are handwritten in cursive on note paper. A recipe for pecan sticks is written on a sheet from a notepad printed for the “New N&W Railroad… First Rate for Fast Freight.” A recipe for pecan bars appears on a sheet for “Union Pacific Railroad, The Automated Railway that Serves all the West.” One recipe is on the back of a daily expense report for “country salesmen” for Iten Biscuit Company and its Snow White Bakeries.

It’s nice to have something specific to search for when I venture into a nostalgia shop. It’s even nicer when I spot a vintage metal recipe box to bring home.

 

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Thanks, Kohl’s, for selling this shirt.

It’s nice to see clothing like this instead of that snarky shirt I wrote about recently.

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Now that’s more like it… a shirt about kindness.

 

In August, Kohl’s mailed a back-to-school catalog with a shirt on the cover displaying the words, “Shhhh! Nobody Cares!” I wrote about it in “Ten Questions for Kohl’s About This Shirt.”  I believe that snarky messages like this only send negativity into the world… and can be especially hurtful in a school setting.  I’m a middle school teacher and I know several kids who don’t need to read that their lives are unimportant.

Kohl’s tweeted to me a week or two after I published that blog post. Here’s their tweet: “Thanks for this feedback, Marilyn. We’ll be sure to pass it along to our buyers here at Kohl’s for review and future considerations.”

So when I found this “Throw kindness like confetti” shirt on a pre-Halloween mailer about a week ago, I was gratified. Yes, I know this mailer wasn’t in response to my blog post. I’m sure this flyer and the merchandise within it were all “put to bed” weeks or months ago. However, it’s nice to know that Kohl’s is aware that positive messages make the world a better place.

You Gotta Pay the Cost to be the Boss: Louis Phillips, Entrepreneur

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This is a photo of Louis Phillips standing in front of his 4th St. Grocery in or near San Diego, Calif.

I say “in or near” San Diego because, while some of the photos given to me by my mother are labeled San Diego, others are labeled El Cajon or Santee, two nearby suburbs.

I’m guessing this photo was taken during the 1920s, and someday as I have more time to research I will be able to put a more accurate date on it.

For background, Louis was the grandfather of Warren and Nelson Kerns, my grandmother’s brothers who were airplane passengers killed in a barnstorming accident in 1930. I’ve written quite a bit about them starting with this post.   At the time of the accident, their mother, Caroline Phillips Kerns, was visiting her parents, Louis (the man in the photo) and Minnie Phillips.

According to my grandmother, the Phillips had ventured to California from Missouri to find construction jobs associated with a large-scale exposition. I believe these jobs were positions created to update and expand the grounds of the Panama-California Exposition of 1915 in preparation for the California Pacific International Exposition of 1935-1936.

Both San Diego expositions were held in that city’s famous Balboa Park. I remember my grandmother specifically mentioning this park when she would recall her ancestors. To this day, Balboa Park remains the nation’s largest urban cultural park, according to “San Diego’s 1935-36 Exposition: A Pictorial Essay” by David Marshall and Iris Engstrand in The Journal of San Diego History. 

As for the 4th St. Grocery, I’m not sure how or when it came about. I do know that the store looks fantastic with all the produce arranged in perfect pyramids and the tidy Swift’s Pride Soap sign. No doubt, there was a fair dose of satisfaction and fulfillment found in his storefront and his family’s activities in the Golden State.


I have several more pictures from this part of my family. As I continue to write these family history posts, I’ll include additional pictures and explain a little about them.  Click “like” if you found this post interesting. Feel free to leave a comment and follow my blog to catch future posts. Thanks for reading!

 

Popcorn with sugar was a little bit different and unexpectedly good.

I have fewer memories of my father’s parents than I do of my mother’s; however, those I do recall are vivid and important.

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In their younger years: my paternal grandparents, Granny and Grandpa Douglas, who had quite the gorgeous head of hair, didn’t he?

My father’s parents, William Homer Douglas, Sr. and Ruby Edith (Cook) Douglas, lived near Rich Hill, in southwestern Missouri. Even though we didn’t stay over at their house often, one summer weekend evening my sister and I did stay to watch the Miss America Pageant broadcast live from Atlantic City. I think this happened when Grandpa Douglas was still living, but I’m not sure. He may have already gone off to bed. He would pass away later when I was in the fourth grade.

Granny, my sister, and I watched the pageant huddled on the couch in the living room.  I remember the room being dark, except for the light from the TV glowing with the parades of young women wearing evening gowns, modest one-piece bathing suits, talent competition outfits, and then evening gowns once again for their interview questions from the Master of Ceremonies, Bert Parks.

At a commercial break, it was time for a snack. Granny poured RC Cola for my sister and me into glasses. Then she popped corn in a skillet with hot oil on the stove. After pouring the popcorn into a bowl, she showed us her trick of sprinkling it with sugar instead of the usual salt. Popcorn with sugar was a little bit different and unexpectedly good.

After the pageant concluded, it was time for bed. My sister and I decided who would get the first jump onto the featherbed in the guestroom.The first jump into the deep pile of feathers was always the best.  Once your body made contact with the white cotton bedspread, you would continue to sink slowly, compressing the feathers, submerging even deeper into the down. Eventually, Granny entered the bedroom to make sure we were making progress toward sleep.  (We weren’t.)

In the morning, our parents picked us up.  As we pulled out of the driveway into the gravel road, Granny waved at us from her porch with her standard wave: two hands in the air, fingers on both hands folding down in unison. Looking at her from the back window of our big red Bonneville, we headed back to Fort Scott, which was about thirty miles away.

Thanks for reading! Click “like” so others can more easily find this post, and don’t be shy about leaving a comment. Better yet: follow my blog to read more posts on a diverse range of topics and experiences. 

To family members: Leave me a note if you think some of the details in this post are wrong and I’ll edit, or if you have a recollection to add, do that, too!

It Bothers Me that Sept. 11 is Becoming “Historical” and in the Distant Past

This is a drawing my daughter made on Sept. 11, 2001, when she was six.

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My daughter understood the devastation and the loss of that day. As for myself, I have noticed a diminishing sadness when I contemplate September 11. It seems the shock has softened some for me, to be honest. I don’t notice the empty New York City skyline like I used to. When I watch an old movie with the Twin Towers in the skyline, I notice their absence, but it doesn’t catch my breath like it used to, and it bothers me that the event is becoming “historical”… in the distant past.

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From a Statue of Liberty ferry | August 1997

Of course, for those who lost loved ones on that day, it’s a different story. 2001 may still be as near to them as the last intersection they drove through. I understand that for many, September 11 lingers near.

It’s still frustrating and difficult to explain what we experienced that day to people who are either too young to remember or weren’t even born yet. I’ve been trying to explain it for the past sixteen years, but still can’t convey the sorrow and shock of that day.I suppose it’s similar for those who were alive when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was born two years before that awful event, and I’m sure many had a difficult time trying to explain that to those of my age. For me, it was just relegated to being “historical”… in the distant past.

I do talk about the September 11 attacks with my eighth-grade English Language Arts classes, and discussing it every year does keep the event in the forefront of my mind in the fall.

Every year, we watch “The Center of the World,” the last disc in the eight-DVD series “New York: The Documentary.” It’s directed by Ric Burns of Steeplechase Films. The documentary eloquently conveys the horror of the day, the response of New York City and the nation, and a recognition that, although our collective soul was irrevocably altered in the span of a few hours, the United States of America will prevail. It’s my hope that this excellent film relates better than I can that September 11 is relevant and important, not merely “historical”… in the distant past.

 

 

 

 

Promposals, Gender Reveal Parties, and Other Things I Do Not Understand


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Photo: Pixabay

In which I see a connection between these things and mascara

Gender reveal parties. Promposals. Save-the-dates. Bachelorette weekends. Maybe I’m a Debbie Downer, but these are all things I just don’t see a need for. I don’t understand the need for a get-together where we pop a balloon to see whether it’s filled with pink or blue confetti. I don’t understand why a guy can’t just ask a girl to prom. And if save-the-date cards are just a “heads-up” to book flights and lodging ASAP for a wedding, then does that mean the actual invitations are for people you don’t expect to show up anyway?  And finally, who decided that bachelorette parties needed to occur three states away and therefore require asking Friday off, and maybe Thursday, too?

It seems that major life occasions of the twenty-something set are now bigger, better, and more celebrated than ever before. And I’ve noticed this trend not only in major life events, but also in (brace yourself)… mascara.

In fact, while shopping at Target recently, I realized that shopping for mascara isn’t what it used to be. For example, here’s what I used to do when I ran out: enter cosmetics department, find Maybelline Great Lash by looking for hot pink tube with green lid, get brownish black, toss into cart, roll eyes at $4.99 price for a teensy-weensy .34 ounces, and leave. Easy, right?

Here’s what I have to do now: enter cosmetics department, find Maybelline Great Lash by looking for hot pink tube with green lid, get brownish black, see royal blue color and wonder if I would like it (maybe, maybe not… not sure), wonder why I can’t find my classic spiral brush, find it mixed in on a peg containing something called a grabber brush, notice three other brush styles, read packages to figure out which one does what, give up, pick one, toss into cart, roll eyes at the price, leave, and wonder how mascara became so complicated.

Too many decisions. Too many choices. Too many everything. There are now mascara formulas and brushes designed for multiple purposes: lengthening, adding volume, separating, enhancing eye color.

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Cover Girl mascaras at Target

 

In fact, within Target’s cosmetics department, each brand’s makeup section is dominated by a yard-wide patch of real estate sporting glossy cardstock packages that sparkle with blister-packs of mascara shaped like torpedoes, cylinders, and even telescopes. Sometimes at Wal-Mart, the mascara even spins on a pedestal, and a little spotlight illuminates it when you walk by. And mascara gets this kind of attention at every retailer, whether it’s Target, Wal-Mart, Walgreen’s, or the cosmetics big box known as Ulta.

The Maybelline selection alone is impressive. Here one will find a mind-dizzying array of mascaras with names such as The Colossal Bigshot, Lash Sensational, several sub-categories of Great Lash, Pumped Up Colossal, The Falsies Push Up Angel, The Falsies Push Up Drama, Illegal Length Fiber Extensions Mascara, Define-a-Lash Washable, Full ‘N Soft, Lash Stiletto Ultimate Length Mascara, plus a range of Volum’ Express versions: The Falsies, The Rocket Volume, The Colossal Spider Effect, The Colossal Chaotic Lash, The Mega Plush, The Falsies Big Eyes, and The Colossal Cat Eyes. I’m not kidding… they’re all there. Just look next time you shop.

Likewise, Cover Girl also boasts a fair share of mascara overload. Here one will discover Full Lash Bloom, The Clump Crusher, The Super Sizer Fibers, Lash Blast Volume, Lash Blast Fusion, Bombshell Volume, So Lashy! BlastPro, and Plumpify BlastPro.

You may be thinking that since Cover Girl and Maybelline are brands that target young women and teenage girls, the same group going gaga over promposals and gender reveals, it makes sense to cater to their “more is more” mentality. True, but I contend it’s infiltrating into other age brackets, including mine. Y’know, women who were married on a Saturday afternoon at a church (of all places!) and not at an exotic resort over a three-day weekend, hence the need for a save-the-date.

Don’t look now, but soon all women will be forced to sift through row upon row of mascara options. It’s already happening with Revlon. This brand may not sport the oomph of rockets and push-ups, but when one has had enough colossal chaos, there are still six choices. Oh, and they have five different mascara brushes, too, and they’re all trademarked.

So there you have it. Promposals. Gender reveals. Save-the-dates. Bachelorette weekends. Mascara. They’re all connected. Simplicity is out. Complexity is in.

And I get it: making memories and having fun is also in. But for a generation that incorporates  “simplify” and “live love laugh” wall art into their home decor, promposals, bachelorette weekends and their ilk seem to rub against that notion and complicate occasions already fraught with details.

Maybe I’m just getting old(er!), but if this generation really wants to simplify, it should scale things back. Wait to see if it’s a boy or girl. Ask a girl to prom between classes. Buy the basic mascara. Really keep it simple. Sound less than exciting? Well, Debbie Downer would be proud, so there’s that.


 

What do you think about promposals, gender reveal parties, etcetera? Click like and leave a comment so I’ll know whether or not I’m a Debbie Downer who just needs to chill out.  

I’m a writing teacher who writes. Click here to find my teaching blog.

Anyone Who Has Time to Clean is Not Reading Nearly Enough

Books, books, and more books that I have read

 

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Photo by Annelies Geneyn on Unsplash

 

Here’s a list of books I have read off and on over the past year or so… all of which were excellent distractions from the writing I should have been doing. I have a hard time reading and writing simultaneously. I’m either reading all the time, or writing all the time.

These books are listed in no particular order. You can see that my interests are far-reaching. I can read about a TV sitcom one week, and ISIS the next. As a result, I know a little bit about a lot of things. It’s just who I am and I’ve come to accept it.

What’s It Like to Live in Venice?

Read “The Politics of Washing” to Find Out

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While I was surprised to learn that 16.5 million people visit Venice, Italy each year, I was even more surprised to learn that the city claims a mere 55,000 permanent residents, according to this article in The Guardian. That’s 300 tourists for every resident.

With numbers like those, I can see why Polly Coles, British author of The Politics of Washing may share the despair of native Venetians when she calls for moderation and sustainable solutions to the problems that unbridled tourism creates in a city many believe to be among the most beautiful in the world. Those sentiments are dispersed throughout Coles’ 206-page tome, an account of her year-long move to Venice with her Italian husband and four children.

Coincidentally, the title of the book refers to the unspoken rules of laundry etiquette in a city where everyone hangs their clothes out to dry. For example, if you’re sharing a line, and it’s full of your neighbor’s dry clothes, do you ask them to empty the line? What clothing items should you dry indoors? What if the skirt you wish to hang blocks your neighbor’s view?

Coles uses the drying of laundry as a symbol for the many rituals of daily Venetian life that, as a foreign-born resident, she was required to discover haphazardly, adapt to, accept, and ultimately appreciate about this unusual city. For example, she recounts enrolling her children in school, meeting with teachers to discuss school work and behavior issues, finding a home, getting lost, learning the social customs and morés, learning Italian, buying groceries, getting lost again, and visiting the hospital.

My daughter purchased Coles’ book on a whim a few days before she left Venice in early May after serving a semester-long internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum located on the Grand Canal.

My husband, our son, and I visited Venice for one week in March over spring break. While it was an all too brief vacation, we actually spent more time there than the day-trippers who take a gondola ride, visit St. Mark’s Square, call it good and leave. I feel that we were able to actually get to know the city, at least a little. (Read my lists of ten ordinary things I found in Venice in March here and here.)

 

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The approach to St. Mark’s Square and Basilica

 

We enjoyed winding through Venice’s maze of streets (actually walkways) and crossing its bridges to see cathedrals and numerous campi, those open squares that at one time served as city centers of the assorted islands that compose Venice. We visited the grocery store daily, shopped the pharmacy for an Ibuprofen equivalent, accompanied my daughter to get her hair cut and styled, ventured out at 5:45 a.m. for the train station, bought Clementine oranges at the Rialto Bridge markets, and shopped for Command strips that were never found.

If we had been able to stay a week longer, I would have sought out a library, found the local university, and asked someone what happens if one has a heart attack or other medical emergency. (Seriously, what’s the procedure in a city without cars, motorcycles, or even bicycles?)

So when I found The Politics of Washing on the kitchen table after my daughter had returned home, I grabbed it and read it in just a few sittings to learn about how native residents live in this “movie set” city.

Besides satisfying that curiosity, the book offers glimpses of Venice’s history as a wealthy trading link between East and West that reached its height in the late 1200s. It also recounts the city’s survival in the 1630s of the Black Death that’s still celebrated with an annual pilgrimage to the iconic and beautiful Santa Maria Della Salute.

 

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At end of the Grand Canal stands Santa Maria Della Salute. Photo: Katherine Yung

 

Coles balances this history by showing readers Venice’s contemporary citizenry and its “groups and committees promoting local events and activities. There are youth groups, community groups, dance companies, theatre companies, choirs, rowing clubs. There are associations working for residents to change policy on housing, transport, the environment. Events that come from outside are also, of course, part of the real life of the city. The rich influx of the arts is enthusiastically embraced by many of the people who live here; the Biennale exhibitions, visiting speakers, concerts, opera and theatre are all part of the lives of Venetians.”

Coles continues, “But the difference between Venice and any other city, the reason why there is so much sensitivity and debate about what is and is not Venetian, lies in the uniquely critical problem of numbers. The citizens of Venice are so vastly outnumbered by the visitors to Venice that there is no balanced relationship between the city and the world at large. There is no equal exchange in which the city offers up her history, and her beauty in return for the cultural riches brought in from the outside world. Not surprisingly, this leads to a deeply ambivalent, not to say confused, reaction to outsiders.” This is the delight and the quandary that Coles reveals in this captivating tale of her temporary life in Venice.

As rushed tourists ease away from the magical city on their mammoth cruise ships, I hope that they will have spent at least enough time there to cause them to wonder, What’s it like to actually live in Venice? When those tourists read The Politics of Washing, they’ll learn just that, as well as gain an appreciation of the benefits and costs of tourism to this ancient, sparkling city on the Adriatic Sea.

Ten questions for Kohl’s about this shirt

Yeah, it’s just a $10 t-shirt (when you buy two of these charmers), but clothing has power.

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This is the cover of a back-to-school Kohl’s catalog I received in yesterday’s mail.

 

  1. Is this shirt supposed to be funny, Kohl’s? Because it’s really just mean. 
  2. Did you know that back-to-school should be a time of building students up, not tearing them down? “Nobody cares” has no place in an environment structured for emotional growth and learning.
  3. Do you realize the clothing you sell affects the social climate? Sure, maybe we don’t read and reflect on messages like the one on this shirt, but I think our minds do absorb its spirit.
  4. Do you know this shirt also says “You don’t matter”? It extends the “Whatever!” attitude with an added dose of disdain and egotism.  
  5. Do you know how a message like this can harm someone who’s having a bad day? I’m a middle school teacher. Messages like this are the last thing a middle schooler needs to see.
  6. Could you sell this shirt without the wording? Because it appears to have a nice fit and I like the longer length.
  7. You paid a designer to design some new back-to-school fashions, and this is what they came up with? And then you put it on the cover of your catalog?
  8. Do you know that the world doesn’t need this shirt? We’ll all get along better if we don’t cover our bodies in snarky comments.
  9. Do you realize that people actually do care about other people? In fact, I contend there is a greater capacity for compassion among humans than there is for scorn.
  10. Do you really want to associate your brand with such disrespect? I didn’t think so. You’re better than that, Kohl’s.

 

 

If this post made you think, regardless of how you feel about rude t-shirts, click the like button, leave a comment, and share on social media. Follow me to read more or check out my teaching blog, www.elabraveandtrue.com.  Thanks for reading!

Nelson Kerns, His Biplane Notes, and the Missouri State Fair

I like the idea of writing about and remembering Warren and Nelson Kerns, two unknown young men who lived real lives a long time ago.

 

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At right is a photo of two tags that would have been attached to projects entered in competition at the Missouri State Fair in Sedalia. These projects belonged to Nelson Kerns, my grandmother’s little brother, who was killed in an airplane accident when he was fifteen on July 24, 1930.  His brother, Warren, 16, also died in the crash. Read here to learn more.

I’ve written a few posts about the brothers. Those posts included letters written about a month before their deaths to their mother, Caroline (Phillips) Kerns, who was visiting her parents in California at the time of the accident. Here are those posts: click here, here, here, and finally, here.

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However, instead of dwelling solely on the boys’ deaths, it seems more productive to commemorate their short lives by posting about their activities beyond farm work.

And that’s why I’ve included the state fair entry tags. The top tag in the photo, I believe, accompanied a model or diorama of a working farm. The bottom tag accompanied some type of toy that Nelson built.

I don’t know whether these projects won any prizes. I’ve searched newspapers.com for a list of winning entries at the 1929 fair, but so far have been unable to find any information or even whether a list was published. It’s my guess that most records from that long ago have been lost or were never published in the first place. However, I did find listings for winning sewing items and livestock in an August 1930 issue, so I’ll have to make a call to the state fair office to find out for sure.

Below is another keepsake, some handwritten notes for the design of a biplane. Both brothers possessed a keen interest in flying. I have five more note sheets like this one, but this is the only one that’s signed. The brothers may have planned on building one of these airplanes since they were known to design projects together.

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I don’t know anything about flying other than how to book a ticket online and I’m not even very good at that, but flying was apparently a fascinating subject for the brothers, and they weren’t the only ones with this affinity.

Barnstorming was a popular form of entertainment at the time and was completely unregulated, according to  The History of Barnstorming on the All Things Aviation website.

The author writes, “A typical barnstormer (or a group of barnstormers) would travel across to a village, borrow a field from a farmer for the day and advertise their presence in the town by flying several low passes over it – roaring over the main street at full throttle. The appearance of the barnstormers was akin to a national holiday. Entire towns were shut down and people would flock to the fields purchasing tickets for the show and plane rides. Locals, most of them never having seen planes before, would be thrilled by the experience.”

 

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© 2003 by Roxy Triebel 

On that late summer day in 1930, it was likely a similar scene at the boys’ hometown of Hume, Mo., which was celebrating the anniversary of its founding fifty years earlier. The accident was an abrupt end to what had been a celebratory day.

News of the accident traveled fast and far. Many local and area newspapers covered the accident and the funeral services for the boys. Here are some of those: Jefferson City, Springfield, and Chillicothe in Missouri, and Iola, Kansas. Two of the headlines read “Accident Mars Celebration of State Town’s 50th Anniversary” and “Crash Mars Festivities – Two Home Town Boys Die on Hume, Mo. Fiftieth Anniversary.”

The news traveled much further, however, thanks to The Associated Press, which distributed the story and caused it to be picked up in Lincoln, Neb.; Miami, Okla.; Corsicana and Denton, Tex.; and Ogden, Utah. Even the Los Angeles Times ran a short paragraph about the crash on page one of the July 27, 1930 issue; however, it doesn’t mention the brothers’ names, but instead only the pilot’s. Here is the clip from the July 26, 1930 Ogden Standard-Examiner:

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Most of the other newspaper clips about the accident and funeral services are much more detailed, and the longest clips from the closest surrounding towns are very, very sad. I may post those, but I’m not sure. I prefer to focus instead on the lives of Warren and Nelson, to envision the boys as they lived.

I will, however, post the last three paragraphs from one longer newspaper story headlined “Many Attend Funeral of the Kerns Brothers.” This clip reveals how much the boys were admired locally. Here it is:

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