Friday, December 5, 2014


A Christmas Symbol You Can’t Buy

A Christmas story from Monk In The Cellar, the novel about eleven destitute monks in a decrepit old monastery in New York State.  Through a strange set of circumstances, Brother Jesse finds his way to the Internet and writes a tell-all blog. 

It’s after compline now and I sneaked down here to the cellar as I like to do late at night.  Just to be with my thoughts.  I spent the afternoon working with Brother Winifred, who we call Kickstart.  We all have nicknames for each other, and his comes from his motorcycle days.  I feel badly for Kick.  He is writhing in the agony of indecision.  I'm not sure he has a true desire for this life, only an attraction for its different-ness.   I can't tell him whether he is called to it.  He either is or he isn't.    If I could give Kickstart the answers he seeks, I would surely do so.  But it turns out we can never give people what they truly need.  We can only help them to listen
 When I listened, I found strength to live by and coincidentally the meaning of Christmas.  It is Emmanuel.  He is with us.   There is someone who walks the path with us throughout our lives, and who shows up at the oddest times through a variety of people.    It’s like I told Kickstart this morning about that sign you see all the time with the single word saying "Believe" … that says it all.  Because miracles are  happening all around us. There are symbols of them everywhere.
       On my first Christmas away from home after joining the Ardent Brothers as a young man, I was assigned to  a Retreat House in New Jersey and was serving on a  4 day Retreat for retired nuns … 40 of them!  I woke up in my cell-like room in the dark when my little travel alarm went off at 5:00 in the morning.  I knew it was Christmas morning and I thought back to all the times as a boy I had come awake on this day,  sure that a surprise gift or two waited for me under a glorious tree festooned with colored lights.  That there would be no tree or gift this morning made me feel doubly lonely and rather sad, even at age 24.  When I turned on the light a small box wrapped in Christmas paper was on the bedside table. Opening it, I discovered a pine cone,  round and open with square woody sprigs sprouting out.   The touches of pine sap had dried to a white frosting, making it very Christmas-like.  It was beautiful.  It was wonderful.  I kept it for years.

     A half hour later I stood next to an old priest on the altar as he said Mass and I functioned as the altar server.  I looked out at the forty women in their religious habits and saw one who might have been the oldest smiling at me.  She was beaming and her hand gave me a little wave.
     Later at breakfast, I said to her, “Thank you so much for the present. Why did you do that for me?”

“You’re the youngest here,” she said.  “You would miss Christmas presents the most.”
I was embarrassed.  “I guess I’ll get over it someday,”  I said.
 “Don’t try to get over it,” she said.  “Let that longing, that desire,  remind you on Christmas morning that you are waiting on His grace and what you need will be provided. He is with us and He won’t disappoint.”
 You know, I can't give Kickstart his faith.  But I can give him a symbol.  I can give him my pine cone.
 Believe and things  will happen all around you.
 Emmanuel.   Merry Christmas!

David Griffin                            copyright 2012

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Your Cat is Dead and Your Car Burned Up

By Darlene Jennings 

It was 1994 and Traci had headed off to Colorado with her boyfriend for the winter. Because the boyfriend didn’t like animals she had to leave one of her prized possessions – her cat Zachery.  Now this was one ugly cat with a tooth that permanently stuck out like a dagger.  And it was mean too.  Once I had gone down to Charleston when she was in college to cook a nice Sunday lunch for her.  I was standing at the stove carefully turning the country style steak when that damn cat jumped up on the counter and slapped the fork right out of my hand.  I cut off the stove and left Traci a note that I could and would not compete with that cat and went back to Myrtle Beach.  This stupid cat “ran away” on a weekly basis that sent Traci out to post a million Lost Cat posters from the College of Charleston all the way down Rutledge and the surrounding neighborhood.  People all over Charleston actually knew this cat (and Traci) by name from the posters. It could be gone for days or weeks but would always show up again when you least expected it.
             But I digress.  So the cat was dropped off in Athens, Georgia with her sister Tami.  I don’t know what instructions Traci gave her but I bet they were quickly forgotten before Traci had crossed into Alabama. In addition to the cat problem with the Colorado trip she had to leave her other prized possession – her Mazda RX7.  The Mazda ended up at my house with explicit instructions about cranking it every week to be sure the battery was charged as well as moving it around so the tires would not sit in one position all winter. 
         It wasn’t too long before everything started to fall apart.  Tami called to say that Zachery had climbed into a neighbor’s car and hence suffered death by a fan belt.  She had taken him to the Georgia University vet place but they could not save poor old Zachery and he was placed in a deep freeze until final arrangements could be made.  Naturally she wanted me to call and advise Traci.  I pondered this for a couple of days but was having trouble finding the courage.  Just when I thought I could make the call another disaster took place.  Following Traci’s instructions I had tried to start the Mazda for that battery-charging thing.  I tried and tried to no avail.  Imagine my surprise when a neighbor knocked on my door to tell me “that little white car is on fire.”  OMG…..I guess there was a spark that ignited the leaves and by the time I got outside there was no saving it.  It was a charred mess.  No insurance of course as it had long been paid for and Traci was only carrying liability.
             I had still not informed her about Zachery and I was now confronted with having to tell her about the loss of the Mazda. What to do?  What to do?  Within a few days I did not have to worry about this anymore.  Traci called sobbing so hard I couldn’t even understand her.  Naturally I assumed that she had heard about the incidents.  Not so much.  I finally got her to calm down enough to tell me what was wrong.  Screaming like a crazy person she yelled “All of my jewelry has been stolen.”  (That was her third passion – her jewelry.)
             So there was only one thing left to do and I said as calmly as possible “Well, since you are already crying and upset you may as well know that Your Cat is Dead and Your Car Burned Up!”
             Postscript:   Traci had the University of Georgia perform an autopsy and cremation on the stupid cat.  (She still has his ashes and little bones.)  As for the car I gave her $2,500 to use as a down payment on a new one.  The new one ended up being a shiny red mustang that she drove for 18 years. Zachary was replaced with a terrier named Diesel who is now 12 years old and spoiled rotten.  Oh, and she found her jewelry. The moral of this story is that if you have bad news to give someone…..wait something worse will come along.

Copyright 2004, Darlene Jennings

Darlene Jennings is a native of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and dates herself by remembering when "we turned off the two downtown traffic lights in the winter." She grew up with sand between her toes and sand-spurs to boot.  Proud mother of two and grandmother of two, Darlene has been self employed for over thirty years in Community Management.  (A job that sucks the soul right out of you, she says.)  Her relief is community service and writing spur-of-the-moment short stories. Many stories have been shared with family and friends who suggested she write a book.  But that just sounds like another job to Darlene!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Beginnings of The Sunrise 4-H Club

by Delores Miller

So after the Second World War and life returned to normal, 4-H clubs sprang up in Waupaca County.  All students over the age of ten years were invited to an organizational meeting at the school house on November 17, 1948.  E. L. Niedermeier was the Home Agent, with Richard Halback the Club Agent.  Sunrise's charter with 24 members was signed January 1, 1949.  This was one of about 50 clubs in the county, today in 2013 there are 18.  90% were students with farming backgrounds.

Volunteer leaders were Laura Niemuth, Louella Genskow and Milton and Lucinda Hintz.  Projects were chosen, Foods and Nutrition, Sewing, Gardening and of course dairy.  I had little talent in any of these projects, but blundered my way through as shown by my record books from 64 years ago.

Monthly meetings at the school house, dues were a nickel, lunch was served by members on a rotating basis, favorite was ground baloney sandwiches with dill pickles, chocolate cake and of course chocolate milk.  Entertainment followed by trashing and making a mess in the school house.  Summer picnic at Little Falls.

The summer club tour to members homes to view the projects.  Dress review, judging food and sewing.  Monthly demonstrations.  I showed how to make a grated carrot and peanut butter sandwich, it was terrible. 

4-H float in the Marion Homecoming parade.  The first year's theme was 'Cook, Sew and Catch a Beau'.  On a flat rack hay wagon, a wooden cookstove, a hand treadle sewing machine with Adelaide Fischer in a bridesmaid dress.  Milton Hintz pulled the wagon in the parade with his new Ferguson 30 tractor.

Finale in early September was the Waupaca County Fair at Weyauwega.  Entries from all projects, and the hope of a Blue Ribbon.    Big excitement, with the carnival atmosphere.  It usually rained on our parade.

I pledge my Head to clearer thinking,

My Heart to greater loyalty,

My Hands to Larger service,

My Health to better living,

For my club, my community,

and my country.

Today in 2014 the Sunrise 4-H club is still going strong with the same values as in 1949.

 copyright 2014 by Russell and Delores Miller

 Delores Miller lives with husband Russell in Hortonville, Wisconsin.    In the summer of 2007 they  celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with a party hosted by their five children and ten grandchildren.  It’s been a long road.  Dairy farming until retirement in 1993, they continued to 'work' the land, making a subdivision of 39 new homes on their former hay fields.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Remembering Grandma

By Harold Ratzburg


When an old Geezer like me (at 85 years young) sits down to put his memories of his Grandma on paper, you know your are going to go back a ways into ancient family history.  But here goes----

                My Grandma’s history goes back almost 130 years ago when she was born in Germany (1885) and somewhat later immigrated to the USA.  My records on Grandma are somewhat sketchy but we do know that she married Grandpa (William Ratzburg the Second) in 1901 when she was only 16 years old.  Grandpa was 17 years older, so it seems that they did things differently for match making back in the good old days. 

                They lived on the Ratzburg farm, out on Highway G, south of Marion, WI, where Tim Nolan now has his horse farm.  At first, they lived in a log house, where old family stories tell that Grandma had to take a broom to make sure that there were no snakes crawling around on the dirt floor at bedtime.  A frame house, with six bedrooms, was built in 1906 and things got a little easier for Grandma and the family. 

                Grandma had a difficult married life.  Grandpa was of the old German belief in that HE was the head of the house and whatever HE said goes.  He kept Grandma pregnant a lot of the time.  They had 12 babies born to them, of which 3 died in early childhood.  That time amounted to 22 years of child bearing, of which Grandma was pregnant for 108 months, or, 9 years total.  Talk about study German stock.

Continued HERE.

 Harold Ratzburg was born at the start of the Great Depression and raised on a Dairy Farm in Wisconsin.  He served four years in the US Air Force in the 50's and was stationed in Germany, where he met his wife Anneliese, who helped get him through College to become a Civil Engineer.  After a time as a Highway Engineer and College Instructor, he wound up as a City Engineer of a small town in New Jersey.  Twenty four years later he retired to become an old geezer telling old stories on his new fangled computer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Madcap Adventures of Eliezer Gurevitch

 by Sandra Gurev

My father-in-law, Elias Gurev, was fifty-nine when I met him. He was tall, broad framed with a thick thatch of iron grey hair.  His legs seemed mismatched with his body as they were thin. They didn' seem like they could support his broad chest.  I never got to know him well due to a signicant permanent hearing loss from German measles  at age sixteen.  Our conversations were monologues and my attempts to ask questions went unanswered.  His loss of  hearing led to some degree of paranoia thinking people were talking about him.

When our sons were born in the late 60's, their grandfather would take Greg or Keith on his knee calling, "Come boychick, come and sit on grandpa's lap."  They enjoyed being bounced on his knee and gave him their complete attention when he regaled them with stories from long ago. His stories almost always touched on his heroism.  For instance, he told us about riding with Pancho Villa on his trusty mule, Rosita.  I listened in on his monologue with the boys and envisioned him wearing a colorful serape, sombrero askew riding hard through mountain canyons calling to Rosita, "Andele!"  The sunsets were brush stroked in lavender, mango, and magenta.

Other stories revolved around riding with the Cossacks through the Russian Steppes or as a sidekick to Genghis Khan.  Some of his leaders were ruthless barbarians but it didn't seem to matter.  Adventure abounded in his stories. Our boys sat with rapt attention , their eyes growing wider with disbelief with each ensuing tale.

One day my father-in-law became serious and his story took on a decidedly solemn tone.  He described a memory of a time when he was about  twelve. He lived in an expansive richly decorated home with his parents and sister in some unknown country.  He spoke lovingly of running his fingers over the ivory keys of the family's grand piano.  Then he said,  "We had to leave and I knew that I would never see it again."  Again his hearing loss prevented me from asking for more details, questions that I yearned to ask.

It wasn't until 2012 that I began to get answers to my questions.  I came across a yellowed creased petition requesting citizenship to the British protectorate of Palestine.  The year was 1930.  I learned that my father-in-law was born into a  Jewish family in Theodosia, Crimea.  His father had a well paying government position working for the Czar.  His family had enjoyed a comfortable upper middle class lifestyle.  Their  lives changed abruptly when an empathetic Cossack calvaryman paid an unannounced visit.  He had learned that the Czar's army was planning to launch a pogrom against the Jews of Theodosia.  The man urged them to leave immediately.  They needed to get on the first ferry to neighboring Turkey.  The family hastily piled documents, photos, perhaps a pair of silver candlesticks for the sabbath onto sheets and escaped through the cover of night.  His father managed to go to a bank before leaving only withdrawing enough money as he could without arousing suspicion.  They fled their home leaving the door wide open and safely escaped by ferry.  Most of  the remaining Jewish residents were terrorized and killed by the army.

Continued, Click HERE.

Sandy Gurev is a wife of fifty-one years and mother of two sons and four grandchildren.  Sandy was an elementary school counselor prior to retiring to Williamsburg, VA nine year's ago from Rochester, NY. Her volunteer work includes providing lunch to cancer patients and fitting women with wigs after they have lost their hair.  Playing competitive duplicate bridge and belonging to two book clubs rounds out her time.  Within the past two years she has written a memoir for her grandchildren and a couple of articles for the American Amateur Press Association. Sandy found that writing helped to reduce her perception of pain while she was awaiting back surgery.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Hello, House ...

By June T. Basemir

I was thinking about you today and how you sheltered our family for 44 happy years. Nine years ago I moved on and built a new house far away and you moved on too caring for a smaller family, albeit with some major surgery to your inside walls.

I wonder if the squeak in the attic over the master bedroom that occurred in high wind storms is ever heard? We sent our oldest son up there one time, in the height of a fearsome storm, to see if he could locate what beams were rubbing to cause the squeak – all to no avail. I was sure there was a flaw in the construction and after some stormy night the beds would be covered in the morning with broken wood and Sheetrock, but thankfully it never happened. 

Whatever caused that squeak couldn't have been too serious. Maybe you were just exercising your voice against the elements. I suppose it should have been mentioned at the closing but frankly we didn't think of it. Besides those high wind storms didn't happen very often. After all this is only Long Island....not Oklahoma!

And remember whenever it rained how the water in the gutters on your north side over the kitchen window would fill up and water would pour down into the window well below until there was no way to stop the cascading overflow as it ran down the inside of the basement wall - flooding it? It wasn't your fault. We tried a number of ideas including a plastic shield to protect the window well from filling up but the ground became so saturated with the brick path on the other side trapping the water, it naturally had no place to go but down the inside basement wall. Of course, we could have had a man dig out the window well and remove the clay dirt that he said kept the water from draining away but at the time the cost of $600. was more than we could pay. It just wasn't there. So with each heavy rain I continued to mop the basement. The number of times the basement flooded was never recorded. Each time it happened was thought to be the last. The N Y Sunday Times did double duty in soaking up what our old towels didn't. I shutter to think of it now. We eventually bought an indoor/outdoor vacuum which shortened the process considerably.

And speaking of the kitchen window(s) what about the “pollen” that I saw floating down from above one summer day? It turned out that it wasn't “pollen” at all but the shavings of the carpenter bees drilling their 1/2” holes in the fascia board behind the gutter. I thought to stop their activity with hammering in wooden plugs the same diameter in each and every hole to trap them. Little did I know the habits of Carpenter Bees...that they drill the holes and lay their eggs deep inside; then come out the same hole again. No exterminator that we called (and we called three) would touch the removal of the bees due to their fear of being stung. My youngest son and I removed the board; heard the buzzing bees; and quickly walked away. A new fascia board replaced the old one shortly thereafter. [The old one had 17 holes in it.

For years we woke up each morning with a rat-ta-tat noise coming from under the bedroom windows. Finally it was discovered that a beautiful but territorial male cardinal bird was attacking his reflection in the basement window. How he could see himself in that dusty cobwebbed “mirror” was beyond me. After several seasons, we finally felt sorry for him and hung some newspaper against the inside of the glass. Eventually he stopped but the next year he (or his son) was back attacking the side view mirrors on both cars parked in the driveway. I pictured his beak becoming shorter and shorter as there was evidence of residue on the mirrors. 

First I hung a fake owl on the bushes nearby but he was not fooled. Then I was given a Japanese garden “cat” with black glass eyes that Japanese farmers use in their gardens with success. It was placed on the same bushes but that didn't scare him either. The bird knew no honest cat would be sitting on those high bushes. So I finally hung a sock on the mirrors which did the trick...but what a nuisance when it rained and they had to be removed in order to drive either car.... where to put a wet sock when all I wanted to do was hurriedly go out grocery shopping.

Now I have to ask...Does the Cardinal bird or any of his male offspring visit? Have the Carpenter bees come back? Does your basement flood in heavy rain storms and what about the squeak heard in the master bedroom during high winds? 

I hope I haven't caused you stress by recalling these stories but I was just wondering................................................. and thinking of you today. Do you miss us?

copyright 2014, June T. Bassemir

 June Tuthill Bassemir is the widowed mother of four and grandmother of 10.  An artist and writer, she  volunteers as a docent in a 1765 farm house.   June loves old cars and antiques, and has also enjoyed furniture stripping and rug hooking.  "I used to say I was a stripper and hooker.but with so many trips around the sun, no one raises an eyebrow anymore. They only laugh."  June has given up furniture stripping, but is still an avid rug hooker.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Heaven On a Hilltop

Appalachian life today

 By Richard “Clipper” Naegele

I dedicate this short story to "Boots and Foster" with love and admiration.

A mist hangs over the mountain top, and the air is crisp. Sammy saddles the old mule and heads down the holler toward the local store. Sammy is legally blind, and barely sees, but the mule is sure-footed and carries him safely down the hill past the other farms and out to the main road. It is quiet and peaceful as the mule clip clops along slowly. 
The birds are just starting to awaken, and stretch their wings. The doves can be heard rustling in the pine trees where they have roosted for the night. As he passes his neighbor Gerry's house, there are no signs of life yet, except for the riding horse grazing in his pasture, and the dogs that come to welcome Sammy and the mule, and to accompany them to the next bend in the road.

Sammy has to dismount to open the cattle gate, as he enters his neighbors land, and as he leads the mule through, he can smell bacon cooking at the Collier's farm. As he passes by, his neighbor waves from the back porch, and hollers a cheery good morning, while grabbing an armload of wood for the cookstove. The chickens scatter, clucking angrily, as Sammy passes through the Collier's dooryard.

As they round the next bend, a doe and her fawn are grazing on the lush green grass along the roadside, and scurry for cover when they see Sammy and the mule. As the road drops into the creekbed, the mule stops and sips from the spring fed, bubbling stream, where it meanders through a glade lined with hemlocks. A male cardinal, in all of his bright red plumage, perches on a fence post, and chirps them a good morning greeting. The mule picks his way carefully along on the gravel bottomed stream for about 100 yards to a point where the road once again climbs out of the creek bed and crosses one more pasture before reaching the hard paved road and civilization.


Continued CLICK


Dick Naegele, "Clipper," now hails from Tennesee, but most days find his heart in the Mohawk Valley of central New York State, where he plans to one day return. Living the life of the "Last American Cowboy,"  Dick was a trucker and logged over  3 million miles on the nation's highways.  He has owned his own business, been a government manager and also a professional firefighter.  A writer of many talents and experiences, his  writing sees the hearts of people that most of us often miss.  More of "Clipper's"  writing is located  on his blog,   "Along the Banks of Beaver Creek," at: