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Thursday, April 30, 2009

No New Book

I was invited yesterday to meet with a group of about eighteen second cousins. We are all great-grandchildren of Joseph and Emaline (Powl) Burkholder. Ruth, who hosted the meeting at her home, had purchased a stack of the April issue of Pennsylvania Mennonite Heritage magazine which contains my article on our Powl/Powell ancestors. She invited the ladies to come get their issue of the magazine and learn about this little-known branch of our family tree. All of the ladies who came are descendants of my great-aunt Ida and their names are included in the genealogy section of the article. I knew a few of them but others had only been names on a list to me. I enjoyed meeting them and putting faces to the names.
Since not everything I know about the Powells was included in the article, they asked me to tell them more Powell stories, which I did. (I'll just say here that they were a "colorful" family.) Then they told me a couple stories I had never heard before that were passed down in their family. One of these stories was how "the Powl children" (which must have been our great-grandmother and her siblings) took their pony upstairs one day when their parents were not home. The pony went up the stairs without much trouble but they had a problem getting him to do down the stairs before their parents came home.
Before I left, Ruth said she heard I am writing the story of a particular person's life and asked if that is true. She was relieved to know it was not true because it could have some negative effects. This is not the first time I have been reported to be writing a story I know nothing about. Since my last book was published in 2006, I have had about 20 requests to write stories about people's lives. I cannot write every story I am asked to do. Before I will even consider writing a story it must meet certain criteria. It must:
1. Interest me
2. Be something I am familiar with
3. Have a purpose or point
If the story does not meet all three of these requirements, I will not be able to it. Writing books is not something that happens magically. It is work. And it is hard work if I try to write about a person or place I know nothing about.
So don't believe everything you hear. I may not know anything about the book you hear I am writing. And just to clarify, at this point I have not written one word of a new book. I have ideas, yes, but I have not actually started writing anything. The only things I have written in the past year are some historical articles and short stories for children which are (or will be) published in periodicals. No new book is underway.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Die Drei Kleine Piggen

How much of this can you read? There's enough English in this familiar story that you should be able to get the drift. Try it!
Eins upon a zeit der waren drei kleine piggen. Each decided to go sein own way und build sein own house. Dentz pig waren so much like many Bruder nicht so keen on living together. Der erste piggen build sein house von stroh because er ware ein lazy pigge und nicht zu hep on der work. Er belong zu ein labor union und worked nicht mehr than one needs to, viel times unemployment.
Der zweite kleine pigge built his house von sticken because er worked near ein forest. Er bringt each abend sein station wagon full mit holz und sticken. Sein house war besser than das house sein Bruder, und er hat also running wasser.
Der dritte kleine pigge war ein guter worker. Er worked long und hart mit sein house, don es was constructed as by ein contractor, only der dritte kleine pigge did all die labor himself. Er worked den ganzen tag und sper into das abend at least zu midnight. Sein house was constructed von brick und hat running wasser, luft conditioning, TV, und die latest modern conveniences und equipment. Wenn er hat sein house builden, seins Bruder lachen und lachen, wondered why er nimmt so viel time und work sein haus zu builden. Sie waren lang finished und spielen golf und gehen on dates with their girlfriends. Aber der dritte kleine pigge warned them, "It is nicht funny when der grosse, bose wolf komm, er wollt dein house down blowen."
Es war nicht zu viel zeit later wenn der grosse, bose wolf came zu das house der erste kleine pigge. Der wolf pulled up mit seinem kleiner Volkswagen because Deutsche wolfs always come mit Duetsche cars. He knocked on die tur des house den kleine pigge von stroh gebuildet war und er sagt, "Ich bin der grosse, bose wolf. Open die tur or I will deinen house down blowen."
Der kleine pigge war sehr scared and weiss nicht what er should do. Aber er decided to bluff und sagt, "Nicht by das haar me chinny-chin-chin, das geshaved with mein Sunbeam electric razor."
Wenn der pigge opened nicht die tur, der grosse, base wolf huffed und puffed (Aber auf Deutsche) und er down blowed das stroh house that to dem lazy pigge belongt. Aber der lazy pigge hat fast tracks gemacht and went schnell to das house sein zweite Bruder. They each have their Hello gesagt (Auf Deutsche) when the zweite Bruder asked why er so schnell gekommt because er nimmer before so schnell germacht. Die erste pigge explained dat the grosse, bose wolf sein house had down geblowed with one deutsches huff und puff.
Not so long spater kommt ein Volkswagon zu das house von sticks und holz gebuildt war. "Es ist the grosse, bose wolf." Sie waren so scared their haar gray geturned, and their schwanzen, or tails were nicht mehr curled, aber straight wie ein broom handle.
Und der wolf gesagt, "Ich bin der grosse, bose wolf, der grosse, bose wolf. Open die tur or I will deinen house down blowen."
Die piggen thought sie waren alright und der sweite klein pigge sagt, "Nicht by das haar me chinny-chin-chin, das geshaved with mein chromiun blade Shick injector razor."
Der grosse, bose wolf schnorted, "I will huff and puff (auf Deutsche) and down blow your house." He blew and he blew, und die sticken flew loose from der siding. Die kleine piggen felt the heiss wind von der grosse, bose wolf against der cheek, und they speeded wie crazy zu das house that bleongs zu dem dritten Bruder.
Before haben sie loud gelacht because der Bruder immer worked und sie spielen und girls daten. Aber now gehen sie so fast wie die legs gerunner zu house ihren Bruder.
Der dritte pigge was in sein brick house schlafen and schnaren like only ein pigge can. Er was upgewaked from der pounding on die tur. He opened die tur und lasset die gescared Bruder in. Und chust in time. Here kommt der Volkswagon dem grosse, bose wolf with tires screeching.
Er kommt to die tur und bellet, "Open die tur, open die tur or ich will your house down blowen." But die dritte pigge, with confidence sagt, "Go ahead. Just try." The zwei kleine piggen whose houses down geblowned were so scared, their ears stood straight up. Sie kennon boldly kept squealing. Die grosse, bose wolf knocked louder and sagt, "I will huff and puff (auf Deutsche) and you will open die tur."
Die dritte pigge answered, "Nicht by das haar me chinny-chin-chin, das geshaved with mein super speed Gillette razor." Der grosse, bose wolf huffed und puffed (Aber auf Deutsche) until sein face was red. But das brick house was too strong gebuildt. Der wolf, war nicht ein quitter. Er was hungry for piggen. Er decided down the chimney zu kommen. Die drei piggen war ready. They have ein grossen kettle mit boiling wasser unter die chimney, chust in case der grosse, bose wolf got Santa Claus ideas. When down the chimney gekommt, into das wasser gesplashed, und die piggen waren no more gebothered by der grosse, bose wolf.
Die moral this story gesagt: Shave das haar dei chinny-chin-chin nicht mit ein Sunbeam, nicht mit ein Schick, but mit ein super speed Gillette razor.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Maria Landis

Wie gehts. Ich ben die Maria Landis.
That was my opening line yesterday as I stood in front of this portion of the museum room at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society. After that line I switched to English with an apology for forgetting to speak in English and went on to say, "I am Maria Landis. My father is Jacob Landis. He came to Pennsylvania in 1717 and built this log house in 1745." (This is actually a portion of Jacob Landis' log house which was moved into the museum from its original location a short distance west of the historical society.)
The tour group we were taking through the museum were high school students from Puerto Rico. One young man was listening very intently. Before we moved from this spot he asked, "Who did you say your father is?"
"Jacob Landis."
"And when did he build this house?"
"Are you really that old?"
I had been told to do this presentation in the first person. I had not anticipated such a question and I'm still not sure how to take it. Look at the picture in the previous post. That's how he saw me. Do I look like I could be 250 years old?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Who's the Piker?

We had a dress rehearsal this evening for the part I am to play in the museum at the historical society tomorrow. I've been practicing my lines today and hope I have them memorized well enough to rattle the piece off without any "senior moments." I think it's going to be fun.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


Every year since 1969, our neighbor (who is my cousin) has come up with his big farm tractor and plowed our garden. As our family grew, the garden grew in size until it covered about a third of our 1.3 acre homestead. We needed a huge garden to feed five sons and one daughter (especially the sons!). As the years passed and the number of mouths around our table every day decreased, so did the size of the garden. Eventually it was reduced to less than a quarter of its maximum size.
In January this year, the neighbor who has always plowed the garden for us decided to downsize and sold his farm equipment. That meant he no longer has a tractor and plow, and we had to figure out another way to turn over the ground in the garden this year. The month has been cool and wet, so nothing could be done until today. This afternoon Leroy went out to the garden with our garden tractor and a rear-mounted cultivator. It didn't go as fast as plowing, but it worked. Using a downsized tractor to work the ground seems appropriate since we will downsize the garden again this year.

With the way I've been performing lately, I will not be able to do much in the garden this summer so it's no use planting more than we can handle. We'll plant a normal potato and onion crop and a few other things such as tomatoes, cabbage, etc. for fresh eating. But half of the current garden will probably be enough. With all the produce farmers in the area, I can still get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to can without the work of raising the produce.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Losing Streak

After Steve died in an accident in 1994, my weight seemed like such a trivial thing to be concerned about. I simply did not care what I ate or what it did to me. And so I packed on twenty pounds. Now here it is, fifteen years later, and I'm still alive and lugging around those twenty extra pounds.
Six months ago I decided the day of reckoning had come and those pounds have to go. Rather than go on some kind of exotic diet, I decided to lose weight by simply reducing the amount I ate. I told myself I'll take it slow and be happy if I lose twenty pounds in six months. Well, the six months is here and I have not quite reached that goal. As of this morning, I still have 3 1/2 pounds to go. It will probably take me seven months to lose the twenty pounds, but I'll settle for that. I can feel the difference and my clothes fit better.
The sad part is that I am still waiting for someone to say, "Hey! You lost weight." Last week I told Gerald (youngest son at home) I had lost sixteen pounds and he said, "You did?" He had not noticed, and neither has anyone else. I have come to the conclusion that either I need to lose more than twenty pounds or it has been chipped off so slowly the difference isn't noticeable on a daily basis. Maybe someday I'll run into someone who has not seen me for a long time and they'll say, "Hey! You lost weight." But if it doesn't, at least I have the satisfaction of knowing I stuck with it and there is less of me than there was six months ago.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Family Memories

Two weeks ago Leroy's family got together to record their memories of home. They filled about two hours of tape which were given to me to transfer from tape to print. I finally got started on the job yesterday. It can be a little challenging to try spell the sound effects and PA German phrases but I'm doing my best. Even though I have heard these stories over and over, I still sat here laughing with myself as I typed. The goal is to preserve these stories in writing so they do not fade from memory or change in the telling in years to come.
Here are a couple (unpolished) samples from the 1950s narrated by Ed. Berks County was still very German back in those days. The neighbors spoke PA German as well or better than the Mennonites and were not overly concerned about safety or etiquette.

Earl Troutman’s car was about a 1941 Chevy. The throttle stuck on his car. He had rheumatism. He’d come in our driveway and couldn’t turn around because other things were sitting in the way. So he’d back out on the road and then pull away. He always rode the clutch when he pulled away, even if everything was working fine. So he’d back out on the road and put it in forward. It would go Errrrrrr, erk, erk, erk, and up the road he’d go. This time the throttle stuck because he stepped down on it so hard to take off. So he reached down to try unstick it. While he was trying to unstick the throttle, the car was rolling backwards down the road. He went off the side of the road, sat up, turned the steering wheel straight, went down to get the throttle again, and the car ran off the road again. That’s how he kept doing until he got to the creek at the bottom of the hill. There he finally unstuck the throttle. Sal and I were laying in the yard rolling laughing at him while this thing was running wide open. He finally got it unstuck at the bottom of the hill, and then up the hill he went.
He used to chew tobacco like everything and spit out the window. Whenever Leroy and I would go with Pop and Earl to some kind of a farm meeting, Leroy and I had to sit in the back seat. Of course, in the summertime the window was always down. Leroy would always make me sit behind Earl. There was a good reason for it. Earl would be going down the road talking to Pop and chewing away. If he turned his head toward the window, you had better get behind the seat RIGHT NOW or else you got a shower. In the winter time he needed to turn down the window to spit. He’d be there talking to Pop getting all wound up about what he’s saying and then he’d crank the window down and spit out the window. One time he went to spit out the window and forgot to turn it down and just went Plewww all over the window. The whole side of his car was always all splattered up with the stuff.
We often worked for Earl Troutman. Pop and Earl bought a New Holland baler and elevator on shares. "Speedy" (Earl Troutman) paid for the equipment and we had to earn our share off by working for Speedy. Well, you know who the “we” was. I was one of the “we” that worked for Speedy. We worked over there to put hay away, do the combining, and that type of thing. Many a day we’d milk the cows, go over to Speedy and work all day, and go home and milk the cows again. One day when it was especially hot and an especially long day, Speedy said, “I’ll give you a little schpritze wexel (spending money) for the carnival.” We weren’t allowed to go to carnivals but I was going to take some schpritze wexel anyway. He got his pocketbook out, which was in the pocket on his chest in his bib overalls. The poor old guy could hardly see, but he opened the change purse, reached in, and pulled out a coin. He held it up, looked at it, and saw it was a quarter. He said, “Sell iss a wennich viel fer an yunga wie dich (That’s a little much for a youngster like you).” He put it back in his change purse and got out a nickel and a dime, and gave me fifteen cents for a day's work. That was my schpritze wexel for the carnival, which I wasn’t allowed to go to anyway.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Greetings

As you hear the Easter story
With its promise ever new,
May its meaning and its glory
Bring peace and joy to you;
And may our Risen Savior
In the fullness of His love
Fill your heart with happiness
And blessings from above.
Death, be not proud
though some have called thee
mighty and dreadful,
for thou art not so.
For those whom thou thinkest
thou dost overthrow
die not, poor death,
nor yet canst thou kill me . . .
One short sleep past
we wake eternally
and death shall be no more.
Death, thou shalt die.
(John Donne)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Great-uncle Levi

I have heard that gardening and genealogy are the two top hobbies in our country today. One of the reasons genealogy has become so popular is because the Internet has made research so much easier. The Internet has expanded the exchange of information and shrunk the world.
In the research of my Powl-Burkholder great-grandmother's family, I included her son Levi Burkholder. He was sort of the black sheep of the family. He left home when he was young, lived in at least 5 states, was married and divorced three times, and had children to all three wives. As far as I know, he never went home to visit his family and the Burkholders knew very little of the details his life. He died in California in 1949.
A few years ago, a pack of letters he wrote to his sister in the 1930s and 1940s was passed on to me. By reading the letters he wrote in his own hand, I was able to piece together an outline of his life. In one letter he listed the names of his wives as well as when and where he married them. I was also able to sort out his children and which ones belonged to which wife. He had a daughter and son with the first wife, another son and daughter with the second wife, and one daughter with the third wife.
Using these clues and resources on the Internet, I was able to find more information on these people and eventually tracked down a granddaughter by his first wife., Belle. I wrote her a letter and got an enthusiastic response. She had been born with the Burkholder name but never knew anything about the Burkholders. She gave me the name and address of her cousin, who was a daughter of Levi's oldest daughter. I wrote another letter to this lady asking if she would be willing to give me information on her family.
Today's mail brought another enthusiastic response from her. Her mother, Lula, was thirteen when her parents (Levi and Belle) separated. She told me the story as Lula had told it to her and sent me some pictures of Levi and his first family. I had never seen this picture of Levi before. It was taken in Sterling, Illinois, where he married Belle in 1902.

With the help of these two women, who live in Colorado, I am able to trace all the descendants of Levi and his first wife. And they are delighted to finally learn something about their mystery Burkholders. This would never have happened without the Internet.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Weekend Report

I had a great time in Virginia on Friday and Saturday. My sister and I went down on Thursday evening so we would be there first thing in the morning without having to start at 4 a.m. On Friday morning I dropped her off at the Writer's Conference and went to the courthouse in Harrisonburg. I was proud of myself that I managed to get in and out of the center of town without getting lost---although I did collect a parking ticket for parking in the public library lot more than two hours.
I found most of the things I was looking for in the courthouse, in spite of their messed up system. They could use a few lessons in organization! For example, I knew some of the deeds I was looking for were in Book 36. My heart sank when I saw the shelf below Book 35 was empty. But then I found Book 36 about four shelves above 35. The number printed on the spine was 1, but it had been crossed out and 36 was penciled beside it.
I never did find the tax records for 1790-1804. That evening our host told me those records are in three volumes marked simply Book 1, 2, and 3. How was I supposed to know they contained tax records? Fortunately, he haunts the courthouse regularly and offered to do a search for me. It pays to have friends in other states!
I left the courthouse in the middle of the afternoon and got to the Writer's Conference in time to take in one afternoon and the evening session. The supper break between sessions was the most interesting to me this year. It is good to be able to connect with other writers whom I usually see only at Writer's Conference and "talk shop."
About 40 people were in my workshop on Saturday morning. The hour and a half allotted to me melted quickly as I tried to give examples of various sources of research---deeds, wills, obituaries, census, marriage licenses, etc. I could easily have used another 20 minutes.
As soon as I could get away, I went up the block to EMU (Eastern Mennonite University) where there was a meeting of Librarians and Archivists. I missed their workshop, but joined them for lunch. My sister gave me a recap of the workshop on the way home so I felt like I had not totally missed out on it.
I got home about 5:30 Saturday evening. After two good nights of sleep and a day to set my house in order, I feel like I am about caught up again. And I'm happy to give an eyewitness report that spring is on the way. The grass in Harrisonburg is thick and green, cherry trees and forsythia are in full bloom. In another week or ten days, we'll have the same here.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Writer's Conference

I'm heading for Harrisonburg, Va. this afternoon to attend the annual Writer's Conference. I think the first year I went was 1975. I haven't gone every year but I've been there many times in the past 30+ years. Leroy went with me one year, but otherwise he stayed home to be chief cook and bottle washer while I was gone. These days, with only one adult son at home anymore, his work load is lightened considerably. I do appreciate his support for my writing through the years, being willing to let me pursue my interests, and even finance my projects. Without his support, I could not have been a writer.
The first year I went to Writer's Conference, I soaked up the classes like a thirsty sponge. I had so much to learn about writing--and am still learning. Although the workshops are generally geared to beginning writers, the conference is still an inspiration to keep writing. It is one of the places I can meet writer friends I've made over the years and "talk shop." Some of my friends know little and care less about writing. That doesn't mean they are any less my friends, but it is on a different level.
As the years passed, I was asked to conduct workshops several times. One year I had four workshops on story writing. That was a lot of work! This year I am having one workshop on Saturday morning which is titled "Researching and Writing History." I am going to talk more about how to do research than about the mechanics of writing. Some of the things I will be discussing are how to find information in primary sources such as wills, deeds, census, court records, cemeteries, newspapers, etc. I will also be talking about secondary sources such as published books, the Internet, etc. which need to be used with caution.
The longer I research, the more errors I find in secondary sources. As a result, I am more of a skeptic than I was a few years ago. People tend to believe what they see published in a book. It is easier to copy someone else's work than to do your own research from primary sources, and that is exactly why errors are repeated and circulated until they are believed to be true. Correcting errors which have been on the books for years is very difficult. The point I want to drive home is to be sure historical and genealogical material can be documented from primary sources before you publish it.
I am skipping the Friday sessions of Writer's Conference to practice what I preach. I plan to spend Friday in the courthouse in Harrisonburg looking for information to try correct what appears to be an error in the family of Jacob Good who moved from Pa. to Rockingham County about 1795. All the books say he had a daughter Mary who married Jacob Beery and moved to Ohio about 1806. When we uncovered the estate settlement of Jacob Good in Va. last fall, we found he had left no will so his estate was settled by law and divided between thirteen heirs--his widow and twelve children. There is no mention of Mary and if she had been Jacob's daughter there would have been fourteen heirs. Whose daughter was she? Will I be able to find any answers or do we have to go to Ohio for that? That's the kind of "jigsaw puzzle" I love to do.