Tag Archives: Family Stories

The World Needs More Nellies

In the first volume of the Round Barn saga I talked about Nellie Needham, my grandfather’s second cousin, who loaned money for the building of the barn after Grampa’s brother-in-law, the esteemed president of a Methodist seminary, spent the money he’d promised Grampa —spent it and lost it on a pecan grove, hah! In Volume Three, my editor had a blank page at the end, and put in the “Nellie” poem I wrote for Illinois Times, where I have a weekly spot. We didn’t have a photo then —but I have since found one, among the heaps of material I brought from the farm. Here she is, in her 90s, turning over the first spadeful of dirt for a new Methodist church in Watertown, Wisconsin —she donated her land for the edifice! I met her at about that time —perhaps 1943. I was a kid, she was old, wrinkled, spry.

nellie poem #1

nellie needham a spinster schoolteacher
my grampa’s second cousin loaned him
money in 1911 to build the round barn it
was paid back very slowly over the years
during the depression she lowered the
interest to match the federal land bank
wouldn’t take no for an answer my dad
inherited the debt told nellie he’d pay
interest and some principle every due
date but only if she first wrote to him
she did but never mentioned money a
lively correspondence ensued over many
years I met her once in watertown I was
fifteen she was over ninety tiny wrinkled
spry bright eyed she said the chariot had
missed her door if it didn’t swing low
soon she and her friends were going to
charter a bus she also said every day
she raised her kitchen shade if it stayed
down her neighbors would know she was
in trouble when my father paid the last
installment she returned it wrote that of
all the family she’d lent money to he and
his father were the only ones who ever
paid it back I have the file of mutual
letters it is sweet reading she says old
age has been kind to her with health
home friends what more can she need?
nothing, but the world needs more nellies

An Educated Man

When I was ten, I visited and got know my Kirk second cousins in Mason City, Iowa. Dorothy is the youngest, in ninth grade. I went to school with her, and pored over her Latin book. I was able to figure out the first several lessons. I decided I’d take Latin when I reached ninth grade.

Back at the Kirk house, I said, “Latin really makes you think!”

Dorothy said, “When I was in Wisconsin, Uncle Wesson said something to me about thinking. I wrote it down in my diary.”

“What?” I asked. “Can I read it?”

“I remember it,” Dorothy said. “We were talking about my future and where I wanted to go to college, and what I thought about life, things like that. And he asked me if I knew what an educated man was. I said ‘No, I don’t.’ He said, “An educated man is one who has taught his mind to think. And his hand to act. And his heart to feel.'”

I, too, thought that was worth writing down. It’s a description of Grampa himself.

Found picture: “the sidewalk”

This picture (circa 1930) of “the sidewalk” was intended to be in Volume 3, but didn’t surface until after the book went to press

“…Jackie, perhaps six, experiences a kind of spiritual moment on that sidewalk. She’s coming back from Grama’s in the dark, there’s a moon overhead. Shadows are sharp. All the fields are so clear, so bright, so quiet, that something inside her demands response. She creates a ritual, turning first east, then north, then west, then south. She counts slowly to ten and lifts her face so that it is bathed in moonlight. With eyes closed she stands quite still till she is soaked through with radiance. She then gives a little skip and continues on to the lighted Little House.”

…from The Round Barn, Vol 3

“–fixed that for ya, Grandma!”

In 1933, if you weren’t happy with the expression on your daughter’s face in the annual Christmas card shoot, your only option was to try a manual solution. Grandma wanted to use a certain photo in the annual card to be sent to friends, family, employees and customers of the farm, but she just couldn’t accept Jackie’s mouth. So, she got out a fountain pen and tried to fix it, with, as you can see, predictable results:

Yikes! She gave it up and used this shot instead:

Nowadays, it’s easy to switch out features from a similar photos. So, Gramdma, here ya go! “I fixed that for ya.”
My fix:

Now, after 82 years, she can finally share her great joke: that framed photo on the table? –that’s Doc Thayer, the doctor who delivered all four choristers!


See the *new card* on etsy!

The secrets held in newspapers…

I’ve been helping Jackie with getting her blog posts up. Here’s a new one from her about newspaper research:
I’ve been working on getting the volumes of my Round Barn saga ready for printing, and since these are all based on truth, some take research. The research is often fun— one of my best stories came this way.I found, in the farm papers, a pageant on the history of dairying in Rock County —was it or wasn’t it written by my grandfather? It seemed to have been performed at a 4-H fair some time in the thirties. I went to the Beloit library —nothing digital yet— and went through the films of back newspapers till I found news of the fair, in 1937, and yes, grampa had written the pageant.There was a lot in the paper about the fair, including that someone I knew was the Queen of Turtle Township. I’ve known her over the years, so I called her up. She was probably in her late seventies.
“Jean,” I said, I’ve been reading about you in the paper.”
“What have I done?” she exclaimed.
“Well, back in 1937 at the 4-H fair you were queen—“
She laughed, and then I told her the paper also told who was the Healthiest Girl in Rock County: it wasn’t her.
“I can tell you why THAT happened,” she said…

I’ve written up what kept her from that honor in Volume 3. I won’t give give away the joke here!