Tag Archives: vintage photos

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

cowcount poem #1100

cow poses for camera

mitch you’re totally wrong
when you say why do I need
1100 cows on my computer my
reply is if you need 11 cows it is
good to have 1100 to choose from
we have the singing cow the
suspicious cow the bellicose cow
the contemplative cow we have
cows in parades cows reluctant
to go in the barn cows coming
from pasture eager to be milked
cows that are beauties a cow
really ugly with crumpled horn
spavined hips whose name is
actually beauty we have cows
surrounded with schoolkids
cows being milked in the barn
daisy being milked in a milking
contest at a college field day
we have two farmhands sitting
on a cow fields of contented cows
and we haven’t even got to bulls
and calves yet no 1100 is not too
many mitch when you dive to photo
fish in a coral reef do you want just
11 fish no you want 1100

Every Day is Mother’s Day


“The cow is a mother. Treat her as such!”
–Governor Hoard, of Hoards Dairyman magazine

“Why don’t we have a ‘Children’s Day’?” we have all known kids to whine. Our inevitable reply is, “Every day is Children’s Day!”

On the Dougan farm, every day was Mother’s Day. In her actual motherhood, the cow was carefully tended during her pregnancy, and when she “dropped” her calf, someone was there to help if she needed help. If she had real trouble, the doctor —the vet —saw her through her birthing. Her natural process was to lick her newborn clean, help the calf totter to its feet, then nudge it to the udder where it knew by instinct how to suck. It stayed with its mother several days. When it was separated and went to live in the calf barn, the herdsman, for several weeks, still carried it a bucket of its own mother’s milk —this was for the natural protection offered by its own mother.

Sometimes, in the summer, a cow gave birth in a field. Then she stayed with her babe, fending off the other cows —always curious –until the herdsman came and brought them both to the barn and a special stall. Once a befuddled cow returned on her own, without her new baby. No one knew where the calf was. The call went out, and everyone searched the pastures till a tiny bleat was heard, and there was the babe close to the fence, hidden in the grass. Mother and child were happy to be reunited.

In 1926 my grandfather wrote, “I confess I have a tender feeling toward Motherhood. I am almost nutty on the subject. I cannot harm a mother mouse, I save the homes of mother birds, not because I want their young rascals to strip my corn and steal my berries, but because I respect the mother spirit. And, with the domestic animals, I take great delight in observing the mother pig, getting her confidence and helping her in caring for her litter. Especially does the baby heifer going though her first experience of motherhood appeal to me; and I try to heed Mr. Hoard’s injunction, ‘The cow is a mother, treat her as such.’ When it comes to the motherhood of humans, my thought and respect is only deepened and intensified. The pregnant mother is beautiful to me. This prudishness would not be, if men and women could revere motherhood.”

Happy Mothers Day!

Recreated Family Christmas Card: 16; and then again, 66 years later

1930 Dougan Christmas Card

The Dougan Children posed in the “little house” for this Christmas postcard in 1930. Jo, going on 6, offers Craig, not yet 1, a stocking. The card reads, “Brother Dougan, we unanimously attest to the efficacy of this practice” Patsy, right, is just 4, and Jackie is 2 & 1/2.
Jackie reports that the fire prompted her to hold her arms over head that way; and that she insisted that her parents to build her roaring fires out of newspapers for months afterwards.


The 1946 card modernized the 1930 photo by printing in black and white. Then, at 21, 19, 17, and 15, the family put on their robes and carefully took up the same poses by the fireplace of their new home, Chez Nous.


The final photo wasn’t taken until 1996, 50 years later, at Ron’s funeral. In this photo, Jo is 71; Pat, 69; Jack, 68, and Craig was 66. Really, they should have put on their pyjamas and built a fire (Jackie would’ve liked that), but this was on impulse, so I guess that floral arrangement is a pretty good stand-in for the fire. This photo was never meant for the Christmas card circuit, but now, here it is.

Merry Christmas!


p.s. Not sure whose sock that was…

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