87 years ago today, Nelson wrote to his mother

 

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Nelson Kerns attended Brush College School. Taken at the end of the school year in 1929.

Below, I’ve transcribed a letter from my grandmother’s brother, Nelson Kerns, 15, who was killed in an airplane accident with his brother Warren, 17, on July 24, 1930. You can read about the accident here. He wrote this letter to his mother, Caroline (called Callie) who was visiting her parents in California at the time. Some of the handwriting is indecipherable. I just transcribed the letters as best I could, leaving out editing marks to avoid distraction. For example, I’m sure that “hoes” isn’t the correct word in the second line, but I can’t figure out what word it should be.I never knew these two uncles, obviously, since they died so young. My grandmother never talked about them either probably because their tragic lives would have been too painful to recall. She would have been newly married and no longer living at home, which would explain why Nelson doesn’t mention her in the letter. Her husband, Charlie, is mentioned, however. Nelson’s letter to his mother (and others I have) included details about farming,  school and church activities, local scandals, and a dog that really sucked.

June 24, 1930

Dear Mama,

I have been so busy that I haven’t had time to write. I have had all of the corn plowing to do while Papa works around home and hoes the truck. How are you getting along out there? How is Grandma? Warren hasn’t worked home a day since school was out. Our corn sure is fine, almost ready to lay by. We are laying by the corn by the potato patch. Our truck and garden is fine, more vegetables than we can eat. It has been awfully hot and still hot. We had a rain yesterday evening. It is noon now and Papa is up at Mr. Wallace’s getting a team to plow with and pay him back by plowing. The chickens sure are fine. Some almost ready to sell. I didn’t play the harp at the commencement exercise. We had it with Metz. I was second. Charlie has botten Warren a new suit. Papa has bought a complete new outfit of Sunday clothes. Old Spot got so bad sucking eggs that we carried him off. We took him up to Trout’s old house, up by Maler’s. We took him three weeks ago Saturday nite, and he came back Saturday morning. It took him three weeks to come home. He sucked six eggs one day. And found a nest of 12 and sucked all of them. Maybe you heard about the Leuty boys, Frank, Jim and Edgar. All three got in jail over stealing. Serving two years. Edgar and Jim broke in Horton’s store and got a shotgun and a lot of ammunition. And Frank helped steal meat from John Corribon.

Well, I must close:

Nelson

I have more Warren and Nelson Kerns ephemera (report cards, Sunday School records, drawings, etc.) that I will be posting soon. Here is Nelson’s handwritten letter:

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I want to write something we can learn from.

The valentines in this picture will probably lead you the wrong way. They make this picture look colorful, nostalgic, and cheerful. If you study the other documents in the picture,  you will see a tragedy emerge. And it’s one that is very difficult for me to think or write about.

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Here it is: when my grandmother (who passed in 1998) was 21, her two younger brothers, ages 17 and 15, took an airplane ride at a 50-year celebration of the founding of Hume, Missouri. Apparently, the pilot underestimated the length of the field when it came time to land and to avoid a fence, he ascended, planning to give it another go. On the ascend, the plane stalled, nosedived, and crashed. All three on board eventually died. One boy died on the way to the hospital 25 miles away, the other died later that night, and the pilot died three days later. The crash occurred on July 24, 1930.

My grandmother never spoke of this. I only learned about it and of her brothers, Warren and Nelson Kerns, when I happened to discover a photo.

The boys’ mother, at the time of the accident, was visiting her parents in Santee, California. She returned by train, alone, to her husband and daughter (my grandmother) to bury her sons.

The tragedy shocked and devastated the tiny community of Hume. One newspaper reported that approximately 1,000 people attended the funeral service.

My mother assembled a large envelope of documents for me about the boys and their untimely deaths: newspaper clippings, photos, school grade cards, handwritten letters, valentines. One brittle envelope contains locks of hair I presume were gathered from the boys before burial.

Warren and Nelson were fascinated with aviation, which may have seemed like a fantastical vocation to two boys who worked hard, long hours on the family farm.  I also found in that envelope some airplane diagrams drawn in pencil. They obviously possessed a propensity for mechanical thinking and creativity.

I have thought about my grandmother’s brothers many times over the past several years. I feel compelled to somehow honor, or at least recognize, their lives and deaths and the unspeakable pain that my grandmother, great-grandparents, and other family members endured. I don’t know what I will write or create.

The story will be difficult to tell properly because I know I have a tendency to dwell on sentiment and sentiment can be boring, predictable, manipulative. I want, instead, to write something that will honor the coping, the perseverance, and pragmatism of these people from whom I have descended. I want to write something we can learn from.

This was written in a letter that the boys’ mother received from her own mother two months after the deaths: “I have been so worried over it all I have not been fit to think right or do anything. One must try hard to turn our thoughts on other things. There is plenty to do and we must surely go forward and do our part. The dear boys are safe and happy and free from all the trials of this world and soon we too may be over there with them. Life is short — at the longest — and there is much to do and we can be happy in doing if we will.”

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Why am I learning how to erase my iPhone from NBC Nightly News?

iphone-6-1523232_1280-2According to NBC’s Rossen Reports, if someone sells their iPhone or any smartphone, for that matter, without erasing their data, the next owner (or hacker) is able to access text messages, apps, shopping activity, banking information, you name it.

Jeff Rossen, NBC investigative reporter, even found some previous owners who had sold their phones online to let them know that their information is still “out there” on their old phones. They were all surprised. Why? Because Apple doesn’t quickly/easily/freely tell you anything.

If I need to know how to fully use my iPhone, why must I instead search for the online owner’s manual, or find an online forum or go to the FAQs? Wouldn’t a nifty printed manual be easier? It would. Of course, it would.

Maybe my idea is old-fashioned (yes, it definitely is), but I would really appreciate a printed manual with my $600 iPhone. True, Apple might have to reconfigure the packaging to modify the clean, edgy minimalist look we all know and love, but Apple should do it anyway. I shouldn’t have to scour the Internet — or rely on Jeff Rossen — when I need to learn how to protect, of all things, my privacy.

Merry Christmas. 

I am a Christian.  I believe that Jesus Christ was sent to Earth to save humanity from its sinful nature. He did save us. It is finished. There is nothing you can do to earn the grace of God provided by Jesus Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection. It is freely provided to you when you repent of your sins and accept Christ. 

Yes, it sounds too good to be true. That’s why so many of us reject its simplicity. But salvation, eternal life and joy for this life on Earth can be yours.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

Merry Christmas. 

My Kit-Cat Clock Swings Again: Let Christmas Begin!

cat-2My daughter gave me a Kit-Cat clock two years ago. Y’know, the black cat clocks with the moving tail and eyes? It’s one of my favorite things and looks great in the kitchen. About two months ago, I noticed it had stopped moving. It still kept time, but the tail and eyes were stationary. A Kit-Cat clock that doesn’t move looks sad and stifled. Stagnant.

I figured that there was probably a trouble shooter’s guide online, so I googled and found videos and said guide. I viewed all the videos, read the instructions, replaced the two “C” batteries exactly as shown in the diagram, balanced the clock on the table, gave the tail a nudge, and it still didn’t work. Kept time, but no moving tail and eyes. Bummer.  I couldn’t get the magnetic forces and batteries coordinated, apparently, to power the animation.

So I went after the eyes. They must be the problem, I thought. The website said that any dust or grease on the eyeballs might cause friction in the magnetism, so I cleaned them off.  Prowling (sorry) around inside the clock, I thought how this bit of 1930s-era Americana kitchen decor is an engineering marvel. There are  J-clips, a platform, a lever, eyeball pins, eye stems and loops that rotate and hold the stems. There’s a magnet, two batteries, that tail and the back panel. So I put it all back together, and still no cat show.

I hung it back up, deciding to tackle the problem another day… which brings me to today.  I pulled the clock back down and  removed the back panel of the clock. Actually, sliding-snapping-scootching (in that order) the back panel off is probably the hardest part of the whole ordeal.

I’ll put brand new batteries in it again, I thought, clinging to the hope that it could be that simple. I pulled out the left battery and caught a glimpse of the battery placement diagram embossed in the shiny black plastic.  Positive up. Whoa. Positive was down. How did I screw that up, I wondered? I thought I had replaced them earlier exactly as shown. All this toil, head-scratching, opening, closing, and scootching and an upside down battery is to blame?  I flipped the battery around, nudged the tail, and my Kit-Cat clock was back in business. Problem solved. Order restored. You may now resume your Christmas festivities.

Okay-Tasting Ugly Stuff: A Freakie Love Affair

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I learned to like ugly stuff in the 1970s. Didn’t everyone? Did we have a choice? For example, Freakies Cereal came out in the early 1970s and it was ugly. However, it was also yellow and crunchy and okay-tasting. Cap’n Crunch without the peanut butter flavor, if I remember correctly.

The Freakies were a gang of seven monsters that remind me now of the blobby ghosts in 1984’s Ghostbusters movie. The gang included BossMoss, Snorkeldorf, Cowmumble, Hamhose, Grumble, Goody-Goody and Gargle.

The Freakies plied their namesake cereal in TV commercials whose length would rival today’s never-ending pharmaceutical ads.The Freakies were always searching for the Freakies tree, which is where the cereal grew. Naturally.

For a while, Freakie fans could collect colored flexible Freakies magnets.I remember arranging the magnets on our white refrigerator. I would usually put one in the middle, as if it were onstage, and the others would encircle it. Or sometimes I would arrange them in rows.

I remember having a disproportionate number of Boss Moss magnets.  He was green and bumpy, and held up one index finger as if to say, Please don’t forget us after we’re gone! I didn’t. Even though they were all friendly creatures, they were also a little bit odd and other-worldly, sorta like E.T.

The Freakies were always on a quest to find the Freakies tree so they could eat Freakies cereal. The best one, for a nine-year-old girl anyway, was the pink female Freakie named Goody-Goody. I only pulled one of those from the box. Ever.

…and I still wonder

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Edith Douglas as a young girl

I should have asked my grandparents more questions when I was younger. Now it’s too late to ask them, and there are some things I will never know. And I’m not only referring to “big issues” like politics, careers, or religious beliefs. I’m also referring to the smallest of details. Small details that may, in the end, not matter one whit, but still leave me wondering, reminding me that I should have asked my grandparents more questions.

My father’s mother, Edith Douglas, was known in our family as Granny. It always seemed a less appealing name for a grandmother, but we called her that anyway because she wanted us to. My father’s mother was elegantly tall and thin-shouldered. She wore snug gray curls and had a tan complexion from time spent out of doors. She always wore cotton housedresses as most women did then. Her silver-rimmed eyeglasses with ornamental corners and temple pieces framed her light blue eyes. When she was lost in thought or just working in the kitchen, she could look stern, but she wasn’t. Her broad, friendly smile flashed often and revealed an easy-going yet industrious personality. I had known her to butcher chickens and feed kittens buttermilk from the carton all within the passing of ten minutes’ time.

I never asked her about the one thing I noticed every time I was near her: the nail on one of her index fingers had a crease, a break, down the center. I always wondered what caused the crease.  I’m sure she would have told me had I asked. It appeared to have been caused by a painful experience. But then again, perhaps not. Maybe it had always been there. Maybe it had just grown that way. I remember that nail simply because I never asked about it, and I still wonder.

A Magical, Mysterious Place

 

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Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

I spent many weekend afternoons as a kid finding something to do while the adults visited (usually my parents and grandparents on either my mom’s or dad’s sides). Their conversations would interest me for about four minutes, and then I would leave to find something else to do: walk around outside, play with the dog, look through photo albums, pet the cats. Watching TV was out of the question since both sets of grandparents had only one set, and turning it on would have interrupted their conversations. As a result, I became quite adept at keeping busy until it was time to go.

 

So, one afternoon at my father’s parents’ house west of Rich Hill, Missouri, I improvised by playing school in a small passageway just off the main living area. This room contained a door to the backyard, a deep freezer on one wall and a large, faded National Geographic Map of the World tacked to the opposite wall.  I would stand in the narrow walkway and pretend to be an esteemed teacher of world geography.

I would lecture my imaginary students about China, Argentina, Australia, pointing out those locations with a ball point pen I had retrieved from my mother’s purse before the bell. I would show my attentive students how Kansas really was in the middle of the United States. I would show them that Hawaii is way, way over there.

Eventually, I became distracted from my playing and my mind would wander off into the map and wonder about the big world beyond. Staring at that map, I would study the locations of countries and oceans. I would marvel at how the Soviet Union covered twelve time zones. I remember looking at Greenland and thinking it must be a beautiful place, with expansive, verdant pastures and backyards dotted with kids bundled up in coats and hats and gloves, chasing each other with icicles. I  was certain it was a magical, mysterious place.

After contemplating the map for a short while, I would return to my imaginary class and quiz my students with questions.  As I called on someone in the back row to locate Namibia, I would overhear my parents and grandparents talking in the front room about chances of rain, when the corn would top out, the recently spread asphalt on the main road, and other such news.

Occasionally, one of the grownups on the other side of the door would laugh, set down a glass, or rise from a recliner by pulling on the noisy side lever. That sound would mean the adults were finally winding up their conversations. In my mind, I would announce to the little room, “Class is over, everyone.” Then I would quietly exit the passageway and rejoin the family for the drive home.

 

A Dune Buggy and the Rock Flowers: Frustratingly Fun

flowersSome things involve equal parts frustration and fun. Two examples: 1)  writing deeply perceptive blog posts, and 2) the hot pink, plastic dune buggy I had as a kid. Measuring about eight inches from bumper to bumper, my all-plastic dune buggy had black tires, black bucket seats, and shiny silver headlights. I think it originally had a spoiler, too, but over time it and one of those headlights snapped off. I used the dune buggy when I played  with my Barbie dolls, but it wasn’t an actual Mattel product. Because of that, Barbies couldn’t fit inside it.

The buggy better accommodated my handful of Rock Flowers Dolls, bendy “Swinging, Singing” hippy-chick dolls also made by Mattel that were packaged with real 45-rpm records that played each respective doll’s pop song.   In the center of each record was a stand, into which you could place one of the doll’s legs,  and then watch her spin dizzily. With some twisting and shoving of their extremities, I could contort these smaller dolls into the dune buggy because they were more pliable than Barbies.

The Rock Flowers were ultra-cool, even after the record broke or was lost. They wore stretchy polyester outfits in bright, psychedelic, floral patterns, and they roamed in a pack five or six thick. One doll, Lilac, sported long, sleek, light brown hair, a pink-orange-yellow pantsuit, and teeny lavender plastic sunglasses that were cruelly stitched into her scalp. Another doll was named Rosemary. She wore an afro hairstyle, iridescent orangey-pink sunglasses, and a neat-o dress with orange fringe and a tiered hem in a diamond shape.

Even though I could eventually maneuver the Rock Flowers into the dune buggy, they still weren’t a perfect fit. But I got over the frustration of that, and played with them anyway because it was fun. I remember pushing the dune buggy speeding across our olive green, sculpted carpet in our living room with a pair of rubbery Rock Flowers dolls bouncing along inside, ponytails jiggling.

Occasionally, one would spring out of the buggy, collide her skull into a table leg, and require an emergency trip to the hospital for outpatient brain surgery. Then she’d recover by taking a nap under a Kleenex blanket. Three seconds later, she’d reunite with her friends, and hit the dunes again.

 

 

Grandpa’s Ten-Speed Test Drive

 

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Charles Goodenough

Back in 1928, he and Grandma went to California for their honeymoon. A Ford Model T transported them on dirt roads all the way from tiny and rural Foster, Missouri to San Diego. During the years to come, he would drive combines, tractors, trucks, wagons, horses, and mules.

 

And then one summer afternoon in 1986, Grandpa decided to take a ride on my sister’s ten-speed bike. He had never ridden a ten-speed before, but wanted to ride it down the driveway and around the cul-de-sac in front of our house. In his pastel blue and white plaid shirt, he churned his legs and slowly headed down the driveway.

My sister, her boyfriend, my dad and I went back to washing my sister’s car. Two minutes passed and I could hear the crunch of the bike’s tires on the chat in the driveway become louder and louder. Grandpa swiftly rounded the corner, gliding gracefully toward my sister’s car with a confused look on his face. It was then we realized we had forgotten to show him the brakes were on the handlebars, instead of the foot pedals as he was accustomed to.

To avoid the collision, Grandpa suddenly somersaulted off one side of the bike and tumbled into the cool, green grass. His oiled gray hair frayed and flew about as he rolled to a stop, ending with his brown leather dress shoes high in the air and a big smile across his face. He laughed so hard he couldn’t make a sound.

Grandma and my mother came through the screened door from the kitchen, wondering what all the excitement was about. We told them Grandpa was merely adding to his list of vehicles he could operate. Two years later, when he was 82, he flew in an airplane for the first time, albeit as a passenger. I don’t think operating an airplane was on his list. He preferred to keep his feet on the ground. Or at least on the pedals.

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