Category Archives: Iowa

Growing Up in the Midwest


 

The Birth of the Taradiddle

My father started the story-telling tradition for our clan. He actually gave birth to what I would call a taradiddle, even though he never used the term. Most of his narratives came straight out of the humorous realities from his life. He replayed them time and again whenever he had a willing audience. And like most stories, over time, Dad’s stories grew. From childhood, Dad amazed us with his recollection of playing against the Harlem Globetrotters in the 1930’s in Yarmouth, Iowa. I never thought to question Dad’s thrill of a lifetime; after all if he said it, it must be the truth. People began to question the veracity of his story and that ticked me off. So, I set out to document his claim. I am still looking, but I have found enough circumstantial evidence to keep his recollection leaning strongly to truth rather than fiction.

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The Globetrotter’s began their march to fame in Chicago in 1926 when Abe Saperstein formed a team of black basketball stars named the “Savoy Big Five.” My dad was nine years old at the time. The first team included people like Bill “Ham” Watson and Walter “Toots” Wright. The team name was changed to the Harlem New York Globetrotters and began touring to seek worthy opponents. They arrived in a Model “T” Ford in Hinckley, Illinois, for their debut game in 1927 in front of 300 fans. The total game payout was $75. From there they toured Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa into the 1930’s and gained more and more credibility and fame. They played their 1,000th game in 1934, meaning they played approximately 120 games a year in a variety of cities and small towns in the mid-west. It is a strong possibility that one of those small towns was Yarmouth, and if so, Dad would have been at the front of the line to play. He would have been seventeen and in the prime of his high school basketball career. In May of 2012 I asked Uncle Major, my dad’s brother, (age 95) if he had any recollection of the Globetrotters in Yarmouth. And, without blinking he said, “Yeah, I remember them smoking cigarettes and eating candy bars in our school lunchroom as they waited for the game.” Why all those weird details unless it really registered in his vivid memory.

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My dad stuck with that story until one year before his death when he kicked it up a notch and began to say, “You know the Globetrotters tried to get me to go on the road with them.” He lost me there…but the first edition still intrigues me and causes me to wonder. Dad wasn’t interested at that point in telling his history, he focused on the “story.” How do you separate the truth from the fiction as a biographical writer? You cannot do that completely! You can only demythologize your memories to the limit of your desire to keep your story honest. Dad was a great storyteller, but he was a greater man.

Growing Up in the Midwest


 

My Dad Was One of the Best

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My father had a real sharp eye for the unusual. He could be cultivating on a tractor and spot a small arrowhead between the cornrows that some Native American had lost while hunting years and years ago. He would walk across the lawn and suddenly stop to reach down and pick a four-leaf clover that he always saved for my mom. He could see a morel mushroom while others saw only grass and dead leaves. I asked him how he did those things and he said something profound, “Look for something that isn’t like everything else. Look for what shouldn’t be there.” I would learn later that with a little adaptation that insight would help my fictional writing. The key to writing is the ability and willingness to see what isn’t or shouldn’t be there.

Dad was a hardcore romantic. He loved to sing to my mother. One song always caught my attention–“Can I Canoe You Down the River?” Here are full lyrics.

“Can I canoe you up the river

Can I canoe you up the stream

Can I canoe you up the river

Like I did in last night’s dream

 

We’ll drift a moment in the moonlight

I’ll fish for little things to say

And with the help of Mr. Moonlight

Maybe you’ll see things my way

 

I tried to tell you how I care

But never made the grade

Now things might change if I could have

A setting for my serenade

 

So, can I canoe you up the river

I’ll be as nice as I can be

And hope that while we’re up the river

You’ll go overboard for me”

Relieved


A Boy Does What a Boy Has to Do!

You are nine years old. You are playing a little league baseball game in the visitor’s area of the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant near Middletown, Iowa. You stand in pain in right field waiting for the end of the fourth inning. A crisis looms just below your belt. No bathrooms exist within site. Your mind races for a solution. No large trees or storage building can be seen. You cannot hold this growing problem for another hour or more. What should the fellow do?

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Finally a viable creative idea yells, “Let it rip.” I decided I would just go ahead and alleviate my pain, await the last out of the inning, run at lightening speed to the bench, pick up the water bucket, and “accidentally” pour it over my entire body effectively erasing any tell tale signs of wetting my pants. Relief, sweet relief! Oh, the kids laughed at my clumsiness but they never knew the rest of the story.

 

via Daily Prompt: Relieved

Growing Up in the Midwest


Remembering My Parents

“Parents are the ultimate role models for children. Every word, movement and action has an effect. No other person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than the parent.” Bob Keeshan

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I keep getting images of my parents, Robert and Marilee Beryle Fleenor Watkins, as I survey their farm. Children should revere their father and mother. It is the fifth of the Ten Commandments. “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” That was always easy for me. Mom and Dad made me proud and thankful for their wisdom, perseverance, faith, and constancy. We had a few conflicts along the way, but their paths willingly became my paths. Seldom did I have any reason to question their parental judgment.

I received ample space to make small decisions as a child. Success brought positive reinforcement and failure was answered with interpretation and instruction. This living through the ups and downs of experience brought mounds of wisdom. Consequences became a master teacher. Every year my parents expanded the parameters for more difficult decisions.

Growing Up in the Midwest


Shaping of My Work Ethic

I have returned to the 160-acre farm that provided a wonderful childhood for my sister and me during the fifteen years my mother and father sharecropped the property for Mr. C. J. Artz (affectionately called Artzie Fartzie). I remember him driving his Studebaker out to the fields to watch us work.

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Landowners seldom lent a hand in the physical labor. Mr. Artz was a sweet man and gave me the freedom to raise my baby beef and sheep without any rent for the use of his land or its products. Actually, He certainly realized the manual labor that the children of his sharecroppers provided. I don’t believe it entered my mind to complain about the hard work I did. “This isn’t fair” or “I am going to take this week off,” was never uttered. As I think about the laziness of so many children, I have to blame it on the parents for giving their children such an option. I never heard my parents complain about our employer. I am thankful for this because it enabled me to work and serve without resentments. I remember one angry response from my father when I complained about helping him work on a piece of broken equipment on a humid day. The sweat poured off both of us. The salt leaked into my eyes and in pain I said, “I hate this.”

Dad quickly responded, “Nope. I think you should go to the house, I will do this!”

When I retreated with the desire to stay, he said, “Go, go now.”

I rebutted, “But I can help.”

“No, I don’t need your complaining. Go play.”

I was wounded. I was wounded and healed forever. This was a transitional moment in my life. I would never leave my father under those conditions again. I am so thankful that my parents cared enough to block any ideas I might have had to be a lazy complaining bum of a child. Their desire to form a productive child has made it easier to make a difference in this world and to bring happiness and meaning to others. Our folks were not our pals; they were our parents.

These were laborious years—most of the work was not done voluntarily; instead we were obligated by our station in life, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I can still feel the endless fatigue and perspiration from a long day with a hoe cutting weeds out of the soybean rows. We protected ourselves from the blisters and calluses by using leather gloves. There were also the scratches on my neck and chest and aching muscles from lifting several hundred bales of hay into the barn loft that readily rest in the recesses of my mind. Those were happy years despite the illnesses and hospitalizations that my parents faced and conquered. My father’s heart attack, numerous back surgeries, farm accidents that required multiple stiches, and annual bouts with poison ivy are better relived as a memory than during the times that the incidents rocked our family. My parents bent in the wind, but they never broke.

Growing Up in the Midwest


The Beginning

Humble beginnings are not necessarily a limitation. Martin Luther was born a peasant in rural German. He became a theological giant. Abe Lincoln started life in a one-room rural cabin in Kentucky and became one of the most influential men in the United States.

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Replica of the Lincoln Home

Millions of other farm boys got their first view of life feeding pigs, riding horses, hiding in a fort of hay bales in a barn. Not every person born humbly ends famous, but most mature with the satisfaction that they made a difference for their family and community. Obviously, the same can be said of people born in affluent circumstances. What were the differences between children in a rural setting and those in cities? This is the story of one rural family.

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My Childhood Home (1946-1963)

My life began in humble but not poor circumstances. I am thankful for that launching platform. I knew little about discretionary spending and never enjoyed using money foolishly. We never hungered, but seldom ate in a restaurant. We had a quaint house, but no extra bedrooms. We argued over bathroom time once we graduated from the galvanized tub. Hospitals were available. We always had a car and a pickup, even though we could often expect a breakdown. Our clothes were clean though simple. Mom accepted hand me downs with grace and thanks. I got glasses when I needed them and then again when I broke them. We were blessed with excellent teachers and public schools. We could afford the hot lunches. I went to the dentist annually but encouraged to not request Novocain because of the expense. We took family vacations but only to locations within a day’s drive. We lived a very simple life.

I didn’t resent having very little money, but I knew before puberty that I wanted something other than farming or living on a lonely lane in Iowa. I had no idea which path I would take away from the farm; nor did I know where the chosen path would lead. I would never have dreamed that I would live in Costa Rica before age 30 and spend most of my life serving the international community in Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and the United States.

 

Growing Up in the Midwest


The Memories of My Childhood Home

“One of the best ways to make yourself happy in the present is to recall happy times from the past. Photos are a great memory-prompt, and because we tend to take photos of happy occasions, they weight our memories to the good.” Gretchen Rubin

Memories become more important with each passing day of life–some sweet and romantic, some painful and dramatic. Every soul on earth thrills to recall the best of the past. Remembrances summarize who we are and how we got there. They remind us of the uniqueness of every life. Some are so real that what we experienced in the past reappear in full color and haunting sound when we close our eyes and push the replay button. Mysteriously our brain induces a frown when we remember odors like the musty shower stall in a damp basement. We can recall the tone and intensity of our mother’s words, “That is strike one, don’t ever do it again!” We feel the panic remembering our wet tongue sticking to a flagpole after a dare. Our memory allows us to fly through the air with the greatest of ease only to crash land when gravity overcomes our Superman cape. Every year the memories pile higher and higher.

Our brain begins to develop as early as four weeks after conception. This super-computer has a nearly unlimited hard drive recording and storing what we have seen, heard, and felt. Some argue we repress the most negative aspects of the past and retain the best. Actually, we have a mixture of the good and the bad. Have you wondered where memories are stored? Current research contends that new memories are encoded in the hippocampus of the brain and then eventually transferred to the frontal lobes for long-term storage.

We have no idea what our brain could absorb and retain if we had been exposed to more languages, books, travel, and memory requirements. The more experiences we pack into our life the “bigger” we become. More languages and a larger vocabulary allow us to express ourselves more clearly and extensively with a larger circle of friends. Books are our transport to where we have never been. Travel, near and far, enlarges our worldview and mutual respect for all people.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Mark Twain

Most rural Iowans didn’t travel extensively in the 50s and 60s. A Sunday afternoon drive defined travel for many farmers. Families worked six days a week without more than a week’s vacation every year. Even families that had the financial resources to travel a few hundred miles to another state could not leave their farm unattended for more than a few days. The one family in our county that traveled outside the USA became overnight travel experts. Car and train travel far exceeded air travel for rural Iowans.