Archives for the month of: August, 2014

My fascination with deserted houses is never-ending, a continual source of questions.  As a city girl, I’m intrigued by the fact that houses are left to devolve back into nature in rural areas.  There’s nobody to impress, nobody to come on your property and tell you what to do with the house unless you get lucky and some creative designer or artist wants to buy the weathered wood for a project.

Every state has rural areas, so don’t get all “it’s because you’re an Okie” on me.  I see them everywhere, especially when I’m off the highways.  I want to know the stories, imagine who lived there and when.

Here are four Okie houses…

The first one is in the Oklahoma panhandle.  I wonder if it was deserted during the Dust Bowl?  Did the people who made it a home put cloths in the windows to keep out the dust and finally just have to leave when the crops were dead and they couldn’t make it anymore?  There are so many stories out here…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis one is from northeastern Oklahoma.  Tiny home for who?  Or storage?  Or storm shelter?DSC_0012I spotted this one on a dirt road in southwestern Oklahoma.  There’s still a window reflecting the countryside.  Was there a family here?  Or was it for storage? Were the people happy?  What happened?IMG_3487And then, there’s this one in central Oklahoma.  A lot of work to drag all those rocks to build it.  There’s also another structure and rusting oil storage tanks further up the land.  This was oil country.  Did the oil run off the farmers?  Who lived here?  Who planted the Crepe Myrtle?DSC_0002I can’t stop wondering, knowing these houses tell us so much of our history.  Aren’t you curious when you drive by?

Fifty-one years ago, I set foot on the campus of Oklahoma State University as a 17 year old Freshman, a very fresh Freshman.  At least I had friends who came with me, but it was a shock to say the least.  I hadn’t really been away from home that much and I had come from a big class in a big school in a big city, but this was a really big school in a college town.  My new roommate was from a very small town in Oklahoma with a graduating class of 12.  I had a lot to learn.

Last week, I was once again on campus the first week of classes.  I’d been up the week before, amused and remembering what it was all like as I watched two students carry a couch down the street.  I walked across campus to pick up my staff parking permit right between classes, so I felt like I belonged in the throng.  It was hot so the dress was shorts and t-shirts, a far cry from the skirts I had to wear.  While I walked, I read the messages on the t-shirts, mostly OSU themes or shirts promoting rock bands or bars.  They carried their books in backpacks while we just carried ours on our hips in the olden days.

I remember how much we walked back then.  I wouldn’t try a bike on campus since you have to weave between so many students.  The parking is tight, so you walk.  It’s amazing that students ever put on weight with all the walking.  I remember the wind that whips across the campus, that wind that sweeps across the plains in the song, “Oklahoma.”  I walked in sun, rain, and snow when I was a student.  I guess I’ll be doing that again.

In front of the beautiful library, I looked up to the tower.  I haven’t had the desire to go inside, afraid it will dim my memories of so many hours with the card catalogues and hunting through the stacks or shelves for a certain source material for a research paper.  Do they even have books and periodicals now?  Is it just rows of computers?  I’ll get in there eventually.  IMG_5057

The sidewalk had chalk messages reminding students of an upcoming event.  The new patio area in front of the Student Union, the top Student Union in the country, had tents and tables for various groups to recruit members, or have a blood drive, or sell posters, and there was a row of tables with vegetables, baked goods, jewelry, and odd items.  Everybody is figuring out where they belong or who they belong with.  IMG_5058

There are twice as many buildings – or maybe more than that – than when I was there.  The old familiar standbys are matched with new structures that parallel the older ones in style, giving the campus such a uniform look, one of the nicest things about that campus.  That’s the way it should be, with the historic buildings still standing and still used mixed with the new.  Signs of traditions and history mixed with progress and growth.

The campus bookstore doesn’t really have many books.  About 75% of it is clothing or decorative items.  There’s an Apple store with all the latest in computers, phones, tablets, printers and accessories.  There are school supplies back in the back with the few books.  They even had 3-D printers for sale.  Wow!  A whole new world out there from my Freshman year when the only phone was on the wall in the hall or the pay phone booths downstairs.  I had a manual typewriter (not electric), a lamp, a record player, a popcorn popper and a hair dryer.  That was it for my special equipment.   No refrigerators or microwaves.  All snacks were from the machines in the basement and meals were in the cafeteria, except on Sundays when we went out or ordered sandwiches or pizza.  We had discovered pizza by then.

Walking back, I saw a familiar box with the student newspaper.  Back then, it was the O’Collegian, but we called it the O’Colly and now that is the official name.  I pulled one out, amazed that with a digital version they still print the paper one.  It was nice to have one in my hand, just for old times sake. IMG_5060It was a good start back to school.  Even though I’m there to advise students, I know I’m going to learn more from them.  It’s comforting to see how much stays the same, even with all the changes.  It’s nice to come back to a place that holds so many memories.  Should be a good year!

One of my favorite things about Facebook is seeing all the pictures taken on the first day of school.  I know it’s a parent and grandparent thing that makes kids roll their eyes and escape to the newest social media before their parents can find it, but it’s a very special day for everyone.  Decked in new clothes from head to toe, carrying new pencils and crayons and notebooks in their backpacks, children, students march off to a new classroom, new teachers, maybe even a new school.  The first day of school marks another milestone, more challenges, and many sighs.

For the students, it’s exciting and scary all at the same time.  Will they know anybody in their classes, will they look right (even if they wear uniforms, there’s a “look” they need to have), what if they can’t find something, what if, what if?  There’s so much to take in as they learn about their new teachers, take on new subjects, take notes on new assignments.

For the parents, there are tears of pride, fears for letting their children out of their watch, knowing all that lies out there, and cheers that they have successfully helped their child grow into yet another level.  For working parents, there are sighs of relief for the regular schedule and anxiety about making all the teacher meetings and extracurricular activities.  And the anxiety for all of hoping you can keep up with the homework that seems so much more complicated than when you were in school or manage all the carpools and PTA meetings and, and, and the list goes on and on.

For grandparents, it’s sighs at the recognition of time passing all too quickly, pride in watching another generation grow up, and gratitude for being able to be a part of it all.

This year, my oldest grandson is a senior in high school and it brings tears to my eyes to realize how quickly the time has flown by.  Next year, he’ll take a major step and I know that will be the most emotional of all.  I now have five grandchildren in high school and two in middle school.

My youngest grandchild started Pre-Kindergarten.  I got to take her to her new room and meet her new teacher and watch her excitement at being in a “big kid” school, even though the chairs are small and the lockers scaled down.  It’s a new world for her.

Today, I watched the complete spectrum as I saw photos of my grandkids leaving for their first day at school, photos of my children’s friends’ children and my friends’ grandchildren.  The parents are the children I once sent off with all the same emotions they have today.  I have a grandson beginning his last year with his parents’ supervision and a granddaughter leaping with joy into the next fourteen years of school, her mother helping her figure it all out.  It’s one of those circles of life that bring it all home.

I remember my days as a parent and then I go back and remember my own days.  It brings back all the things I felt on my own first day.  I’m grateful that it just never changes.  I’m grateful for the wonderful teachers I had through the years, for the wonderful educational opportunities we have in our country, for getting all of my own children through school, and for being here to see this next generation.  The first day of school is VERY important.  Thanks for all the photos that link us together for this special occasion.Karen - 1st day of school


Most of us learn about life in a small river town through the stories of Mark Twain, but I’ve also learned through my own family history.  Focusing on my family’s stories from Uniontown, Kentucky, I’ve absorbed so much information that brings it all home to my heart.  Founded in 1840 by an act that merged two existing communities into one, Uniontown flourished along the Ohio River due to the surrounding rich agricultural lands and the mining industry.  Here’s a picture taken by one of my relatives of one side of Main Street back when there were still horses and buggies with new fangled cars being introduced to the dirt streets.imageThanks to Mike Guillerman, author of “Face Boss:  The Memoir of a Western Kentucky Coal Miner,” who was nice enough to send me a copy of the June 12, 1903 special edition of The Telegram, Uniontown’s newspaper, I’ve learned that this little town at one time or another had three hotels, a bank, a distillery, granaries, confectionery, millinery, dry goods, and furniture stores, along with a saloon and a wagon works.  There was a livery stable, a saddle store, and a tobacco and cigar store, along with a grocery story, a meat market and a fish market.  This little town of 2,000 had a fire department and a fairgrounds with a paddock (Kentucky does have horses, you know), an amphitheater and floral halls.  There was a Cooper Shop, which I surmise was a brewery for local beer.

My great-great-grandfather arrived in Uniontown as a doctor.  There were doctors, a dentist, and lawyers.  My great-grandfather, who bought and sold grain with an office on the river, also sold insurance for Aetna.  What didn’t they have?

Uniontown had lovely wide streets lined with lovely homes with tall trees and schools for both white and “colored” children (The Telegram reported a scholastic population of 820 with 520 whites and 250 blacks in 1903).  There were at least 6 churches, including Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist and Christian.  Ferries crossed the river for those on the Indiana side and riverboats arrived to pick up grain and coal and bring visitors to town. Riverboats also brought entertainment with special shows that everyone would await with excitement.  There was a town band, whose members met twice a week to practice and learn the latest tunes.

And there were the Kentucky “burgoos,”  which I learned about from my great aunt in her book, “My Sun Shines Bright.”  My Uniontown friend, Treva Robards told me more about burgoos, which are a Kentucky tradition, a get together where everyone brings something to contribute to the burgoo, a kind of stew.  There were all kinds of vegetables and meats, everything from Kentucky hams to wild game, all thrown together into a wonderful meal for all.  Each time had to be different since you never knew what people would bring.  Treva shared this older photo of a burgoo.  She said it is always good!Scan 268This was as good as it gets anywhere, I would imagine.  I’ve read the stories of my grandfather being sent on errands when he was only three, watched over by the whole town along the way.  I’ve read of my grandfather and his siblings playing with the black children who lived across the street, riding their horses together, at a time when the town was growing away from the days of slaves and slaveowners in the post-Civil War years.  Children played along and in the river, went hunting in the lush forests nearby, and feasted on Kentucky hams, fried chicken, biscuits and peach pies.

On the other side of town, my grandmother’s family were farmers, working hard in their tobacco fields, the children picking the worms off the tobacco plants. The town had its other side as all towns do, all part of the Uniontown story.   And the town has changed through the years, victim of nature and the times.

My family wrote of the floods, when the Ohio spread across the town and people moved their furniture to upper stories and stayed in the homes of family and friends on higher ground.  Here’s my family’s home with high water.imageIt was fun for the kids to walk on stilts to school or ride in a boat to the store.  I’ve cleaned up after flood waters and it must not have been as much fun for the adults.  Here’s a stereoscope photo I found of one of the floods.ajaxhelper

But, the river was a part of the town, a huge part.  Treva shared some photos with me of a day’s catch…

Scan 267…and the river when it was frozen.  Her father and brother walked across the ice.  Scan 269There were huge floods in 1884, when the entire Ohio River flooded, devastating towns all along its banks.  Clara Barton and the American Red Cross used their new network of helping others to bring relief to the flooded areas.  I found a later newspaper clipping of my great-grandmother attending a Red Cross meeting in nearby Morgansfield.  The 1937 flood did much damage to my family’s home and my great-grandmother’s insistence on staying in the dampness led to the pneumonia that caused her death.

I wondered why they didn’t build levees and finally realized how much work and money it costs to build such a structure for a town.  Uniontown continued on with a flood about every year, finally building a levee in the 1960s, I believe.  Here’s a later flood photo.Dorothy Deboe - town streetwalker in Uniontown after floodBy then, the riverboats were gone, leaving only barges to transport goods, and life was changing.  The town continued to be a great place to live into the 70s.  Now the town is down to a population of just over 1,250.DSC_0292The prosperous Main Street is virtually non-existent, with only this former movie theatre…DSC_0295…and this building left from the past glory days.

DSC_0296This building still stands by the levee…DSC_0199There’s still a granary…DSC_0303…and the miners keep mining coal to transport to the river…DSC_0291


DSC_0306Men still hunt and gather at the Uniontown Coon ClubDSC_0293to eat, drink and tell their stories.DSC_0294Druggies inhabited Toon Town on the outskirts of Uniontown during a past time but now it’s a family camp and young people are trying to bring the town back.  There’s a new market, a restaurant, and people who love this river community.  The landing is busy with fishermen loading boats onto the river.DSC_0236And there are people like my friend, Treva, who treasure the memories of what life on the river used to be.  Here we are by the levee.DSC_0305I feel connected to the town and the river through my family who lived there when it was the best of all places to be for the times.  At least that’s how it feels.  I dipped my feet in the Ohio, linking me to the river and my people who settled in Kentucky so many years ago.  DSC_0307I came from people who settled in many places through the years as this country grew.  There are quite a few who link me to Kentucky, especially Uniontown.  As long as I can, I’ll help preserve the stories because they help me understand them, this country and who I am.

Last year, I traveled to Uniontown, Kentucky, where my father and grandfather were born, curious to see the place I had read about in a book, “The Sun Shines Bright,” written by my great-aunt Sue Hamilton Jewell about her life growing up there.  I also had photos from an album I collected when my grandparents died that showed the family when my grandfather was a child, a young man, and a father.  I wrote a blog about the trip, “My River Kinfolk,” that covered the visit.

That simple blog opened up new information I hadn’t expected.  I heard from several people who lived in the area, including someone who is distantly related, an author of a book about coal mining in the area, a young woman who lives in Uniontown, a man whose mother purchased the house my family lived in after they had all gone, and a woman who actually lived in the house at one time.  I hadn’t expected that kind of response at all.  All of that information centered around the lives of my grandfather’s family.

Over the next months, I opened a file box that was sitting on a shelf and found another recounting of life in Uniontown from my great-aunt on my grandmother’s side.  I was getting more and more of a picture of life on the river in that town.  I read about the great Ohio River floods, which devastated the towns along its banks, especially in 1884 and 1937.  I started getting more interested in the history of the area. Through another book of the history of the Hamilton family, I traced my grandfather’s family back to Scotland, which they left for Maryland due to religious persecution.  The box from my grandmother’s side showed that her family, the Spaldings, left England and landed in Maryland also.

Though they didn’t know each other, the Hamiltons and the Spaldings both migrated to eastern Kentucky in 1792, the year it became a state and opened up as the country expanded west.  My ties to Kentucky were deepening.  And branches of both families ended up in Uniontown, a growing community on the banks of the Ohio with commerce from the river traffic, coal mining, and agriculture.  There was even the ubiquitous Kentucky distillery.  From what I can tell, my great-great-grandfather on my grandfather’s side was a doctor who ended up in Uniontown.  My great-great-grandfather on my grandmother’s side was probably a farmer.  They were both part of the growth of the area.

My grandfather was born in 1885 and had an idyllic childhood, raised in a large, loving family.  His father was a grain dealer with an office at the river for shipping.  He was also an insurance salesman for Aetna, so respected that they made him an honorary member of the Aetna family rather than let him retire.  He owned a farm in the area, also, which is probably where he was born.  He and my great-grandmother were the first couple married in the Episcopal Church in Uniontown and he served as Senior Warden for many years.  He was also a charter member of the Masonic Lodge in nearby Morgansfield.  They were pillars of the community according to his obituary.Scan 44My grandmother’s childhood was not quite so charming.  One of eight children, her father was a blacksmith and he drank.  He was also a farmer, tobacco mostly, and my grandmother picked worms off the tobacco along with her brothers and sisters.  Their mother died young and the children took care of each other and all of them worked.  Most of them got out as soon as they could.  My grandmother’s older sister opened a millinery shop in town and married into another more prosperous family.

While my grandmother’s family didn’t have the luxury of a camera or a photographer, I have a picture of some of the tobacco farmers, ready to meet the revenuers coming onto their land.  One of them could easily be my great-grandfather.Scan 265My grandparents married and had their first three children in Uniontown before leaving for other opportunities.  I have these photos of my grandmother with my father (with curls), his brother and sister as babies, sitting on the lawn of the Hamilton house.  I note here that my grandfather was Episcopal and my grandmother was Catholic, not such an easy marriage in those days.  They were married for 55 years.  The story my grandmother told my mother was that they took a trip when they first got married, leaving on a train.  My grandfather gave his new bride a fur muff.  She was so poor that she didn’t even have underwear and now she had a fur muff.  That’s how I heard it, probably close to the truth.Scan 93And this photo is of my great-grandparents with their grandchildren, my father on the right.  I’m lucky to have many more precious photos.Mom & Dad Hamilton with J. C., Ed & SaraThe town was changing as the river changed and the riverboats became more obsolete.  I love this old picture of one of the riverboats that stopped in Uniontown, delighting my grandfather in his childhood.ajaxhelperAnd I realized that this photo of my father and his brother was with a sailor on one of the riverboats.  Somebody drew in the head that was cut out of the picture, making it even cuter.  Daddy was born in 1912, so this must have been around 1915 or so.Scan 248And here’s one of the ferry at Uniontown, one my father probably rode to cross the Ohio.Scan 266As I found myself with even more information, I decided to return to Uniontown, especially since I now had some people to talk to while I was there.  My new friend, Treva Robards, spent a delightful afternoon driving around the area with me, filling my head with stories of her own childhood in Uniontown and pointing out the locations of long gone buildings along with local gossip.  I was beginning to get a bigger picture of this area and how it shaped my family.

Treva’s interest in my family grew from living in the old Hamilton house when she was younger.  The house that held our large family was flooded badly in 1937 and my great-grandmother died soon after from pneumonia contracted because she refused to leave.  It was purchased years later and became home to two or more families at a time.  Treva told me that the house was haunted and she could hear the cries of babies and the clanking of chains every night.  We think the cries could be from the three babies who died as infants or toddlers, my grandfather’s siblings.  She thinks the chains could be from slaves who were kept in the attic long before my family purchased the house.  Those are our theories anyway.  I have no doubt she heard them when she lived there.IMG_3731

She also told me that she was fascinated by a room that was kept locked upstairs.  She would look through the keyhole and see the antique dolls and dress forms with wonderful clothes and trunks piled around.  I know these are the things that my great-aunt wrote about in her book that delighted her as a child.  The roof fell in, the house was deserted, looters came.  Who knows why none of the family came to retrieve those items, some priceless treasures.  The family had scattered by then.  It gave me an answer to what came next in that wonderful home.

This trip I visited both cemeteries, the Uniontown cemetery where I went last year, and the Catholic cemetery, looking for my grandmother’s family.  The Catholic cemetery had lots of Spaldings, but none that matched the names I knew.   Many of the headstones were worn bare.  I also think my great-grandmother may have been buried in the potter’s field, so I paid my tributes there in the clear area by a pond at the back of the cemetery.DSC_0288The Hamilton sites were as I left them, although the cemetery was surrounded by corn last year and soybeans this year.DSC_0299There has been so much new information for me to think about this year, so much more to learn about life on the river and how my family was shaped through the centuries.  My greatest regret is that I didn’t ask my grandparents and parents to tell me stories of both sides of my family, because now I want to know and find myself searching for more clues.

We don’t tell our stories enough because we don’t realize the importance sometimes.  I think my childhood was pretty ordinary until I look back and place it in the times.  Maybe this is why so many authors tell their stories when they are older.  When we’re young, we’re busy looking to the future.  When there is less future time left, we turn back to put the past in perspective.

This is so much to take in and I share these stories for my children and grandchildren, my siblings, nephews, cousins, and all those to come.  More Uniontown stories to come…

On a rainy day, a drive seemed like the thing to do.  Everything is green with the mild summer and the rain made it all the more beautiful.  There was a barn with a stone base.  I’m sure there are others of this design out there…somewhere.  I’m fascinated with weathered barns.DSC_0001There were bridges…DSC_0003…across swollen rivers…DSC_0004…and little bridges over creeks.DSC_0005Country fences and gates to go through.DSC_0009And country roads to travel.DSC_0010The animals don’t seem to mind the rain.DSC_0013We came to Woolaroc the back way on a whim.DSC_0015And were enchanted by the animals in the refuge…DSC_0017with a water buffalo swimming in the rain.DSC_0021We were greeted by an Indian…
DSC_0026and a cowboy in Frank Phillips’ magical place that celebrates the West.DSC_0031The perfect museum for a rainy day.  We said goodbye to the deer…DSC_0039

And drove by other ranches with a P…probably not Phillips.DSC_0040And left Osage County to drive home on this lovely rainy summer day.DSC_0041I love to be inside listening to the rain, but this was a special day in the country.   Good to get out there.

My DVR was crashing, so I called the cable company.  The first thing they did was thank me for being a customer for 39 years!  That was so shocking that I had to stop for a minute.  We’ve had cable for 39 years?!  Wow!

When I got the new DVR box, I brought it home and got it hooked up all by myself, but ran into a problem programming the remote.  It took a phone call with a lovely customer service rep and a service call from a cute young technician, who fixed it in about 10 seconds.  In the meantime, HORRORS, I had to get up and go over the television and physically adjust the sound.  Talk about a flashback!

My family got our first television when I was in grade school, way back in the early 1950s.  We had rabbit ears and there were only about three channels and whoever was sitting closest to it had to reach over and change the channels, adjust the volume, adjust the picture (which was often full of lines with a fuzzy picture) or the antenna.  Programming started with the 6:00 news and ended with the 10:00 news, with a test pattern on the screen in between.  We often sat watching the test pattern, waiting for the shows to come on.1950s-Indian-head-TV-test-pattern-1024x790This technology was actually pretty slow compared to today’s standard of new technology every few months.   The only change in our house was a newer antenna and a larger screen, soon in a fancy console, and finally color television.  I was about to turn 30 years old, married with four children, before cable came – 39 years ago, like the cable rep said.  The biggest things about this were the fact that we didn’t have to have an antenna and we now had up to 36 channels with a cable box with a long cord.  My kids probably hit each other over the head with that box arguing over who had control of it.  I remember having a key to lock off HBO with its possibility of shocking programming.jDOac-1You still had to get up and change the volume and turn the television off and on by hand.  The next great step was a tv with its own remote to do those menial tasks for us.  Now we just had to fight over who got the remote.

Look at us now.  Hundreds of channels and still nothing to watch, fancy remotes that you need a manual to learn to use, and the ease of never leaving your chair to control your program.  Actually, I have three remotes – one for my television/cable, one for Apple TV, and one for my combo VCR-DVD player.  I have to get up and cross the room to change something so each of those will work.  Poor me.

I have no doubt that everything will be very different in a matter of minutes, so I’m going to make sure I can at least operate the remotes I have.  Just shoot me if this is the worst problem I ever have…image

When you knew someone had a crush on someone in grade school, the surest way to make them blush was to chant this at them…

Joe and Sally sittin’ in a tree, 

K. i. s. s. i. n. g.

First comes love,

Then comes marriage,

Then comes Sally with a baby carriage.

How quaint is that?  I remembered this while reading of yet another celebrity getting married after having a child or two with the love of his or her life.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being judgmental.  This was just a flashback to another time when there was such a thing as a scandal in town that would set the gossips aflutter.  I’m all about people finding happiness and someone to share their life with, no matter what order they do it in.

There are still gossips and there are still things that make us roll our eyes, but I can speak for most of my friends and say that we’re happy when our children are happy.  I don’t know any one of my friends who has rejected a grandchild because the parents weren’t married or a child is gay or quit speaking to a child for doing something outrageous.  Mostly, we love our children and grandchildren even when we wish they had done something  differently.  We still want to protect them from hurt.

Yes, there are those who judge harshly and publicly and there are those who wag their tongues, but the friends I hold dearest are those who share the good and the bad about our loved ones, laughing at the fact that even now, when we think we’ve seen it all, there are new dramas to face.  We lean on each other…a lot.

The truth is that life is never easy and we don’t know what the next day will bring and we learn to deal with it, no matter how hard it is. There are people in the world who never know a minute of happiness and then there are those who are given a lifetime of happiness, mixed with sorrow and trials and tribulations.  The happiest of marriages have a dip in the road here and there, illnesses strike from nowhere, death interrupts.  There are people who are lonely forever, those who wouldn’t know happiness if they were in the middle of it, and those who seem trapped under a black cloud their entire lives.  There are lives of poverty, lives of illness, lives of fear.

If you find happiness, grab it.  Who knows about tomorrow…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA




Traveling has always been more than just a drive to get somewhere in my life.  Looking for the details was something my parents taught us, making sure we saw all the sides of the places we visited.  When I went to Europe for the first time in high school, I was surrounded by buildings that have endured for centuries, changing uses dozens of times.

Coming from one of our newest states, where progress meant constantly moving forward and not looking back, it took the Historic Preservation efforts of the 1980s to make community leaders stop and see the value there was in the Main Streets and the historic homes.  There was money to be had in the tourist trade and civic pride to be boosted in the salvation of buildings of various architectural trends through the years.  These structures and neighborhoods became works of art to be treasured for future generations.

About 1985 or so, I attended a preservation conference that forever changed the way I looked at towns and cities I visited, especially the city I live in and the surrounding towns.  Neighborhoods that had been decaying suddenly became trendy and adventuresome investors began restoring and updating old oil mansions around town.  The payoff was immediate as property values rose and visitors responded well.  Once, just a few years ago, I was driving an international guest through town, watching him gape at the number of beautiful homes in the older neighborhoods.  We came to a neighborhood shopping area with restaurants and shops in the old storefronts and he beamed…until he saw the section where someone had decided to “modernize,”  making it just another city in his eyes.   I understood because I feel the same way when I visit another city.

But, preservation isn’t always easy.  How do you save a town that let it all go for too long?  A couple of weeks ago, we detoured off the road to visit Cairo, Illinois.  This town sits where the great Ohio and Mississippi Rivers meet, an important location in our country’s history.  This should be bustling with tourists and historians learning about the commerce that flourished in that important time when the riverboats ruled the waterways.  Way back, money was diverted from other river communities to build levees in Cairo due to its importance so it wouldn’t be flooded and lost.

Instead, history and man dealt Cairo severe blows with racial tensions and changes in the use of the rivers and the building of the highways that went around the town.  It has become not even a shadow of its former glory.  And, yet, there are those who would like to restore it, an uphill struggle of epic proportions.

We came in under the bridge…DSC_0314…and headed along the main street.  Under a lovely sign declaring the Cairo Historic District, there was only this to be seen.DSC_0316 DSC_0317There was a beautiful old custom house, library and courthouse we’d driven by.DSC_0325A fading sign on a building gave a glimpse of advertising back then.DSC_0318Driving around the residential areas was dismal to one who loves to imagine the old homes bustling with life.DSC_0322I’m not sure I’ve seen such a stretch of sadness.DSC_0319A town that is being reclaimed by nature.DSC_0320Where would you begin?DSC_0321But, another sign had proclaimed an historic neighborhood district and we found a lovely park and a couple of restored mansions that could be toured.DSC_0338And admired…DSC_0328These are on a lovely brick, divided boulevard with a few other homes in various states of livability.  Grass grows through the bricks in different lengths.DSC_0334I salute those who are doing their best to preserve what’s left and I mourn for what the town might and should have been.  Our history is fragile and preservation is important.  We learn from where we were, where we are, and where we’re going.  At the conference I attended so long ago, a statement that stuck with me was the difference in a shopping mall that springs into existence and a downtown that has evolved through its history, showing all the difference eras through its architecture.

Here’s to those who fight to preserve and to make others aware.  It’s worth the battle.

Road trips teach you so much about the country you travel, letting you enjoy the scenery and absorb the flavors of the communities you pass through.  I always think of the first people to explore these areas and what they saw, the thick woods, the flowing rivers, the mountains and plains, pure in their abundance, beautiful in their vistas, frightening in their scope.  What courage, or ignorance, they brought on their journeys.

My recent trip through Missouri was full of summer beauty from the Ozarks to the Mississippi.  Missouri borders my home state of Oklahoma and neighboring Arkansas, so the scenery is familiar to me, but recent rains and the July bounty made it a lush vista to view as we traveled through.

First stop was in Springfield, a wonderful city where I saw this sign that seemed so perfect for the area…DSC_0008…and ate a delicious steakburger and fries in this landmark stop.DSC_0012Leaving the interstates, which is the best way to explore and enjoy, it was mowing time and the hay bales, now round instead of the familiar rectangles, gave a somewhat festive design to fields we passed…DSC_0017…and even the medians.DSC_0033We stopped in Fulton to visit the campus of Westminster College, where two of my children graduated.  The Winston Churchill Memorial, where Winston Churchill gave his famous Iron Curtain speech now is the home of a piece of the Berlin Wall, repurposed into a sculpture by Churchill’s granddaughter and a Christopher Wren designed chapel.  The church bells chimed and I smiled at how that wakes the students across the campus early in the morning.DSC_0020DSC_0022I walked up the hill to the columns which my daughter and son both walked through twice, as they entered as Freshmen and as they graduated, a Westminster tradition.  I’m not sure what it is about columns on Missouri campuses, as there is a similar set on the campus of the University of Missouri, 25 miles away.DSC_0030Heading north to Hannibal, we left the southern Missouri Ozark regions and headed into the agricultural fields nurtured by the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers.  It’s almost harvest time and the corn was high, rippling off into the horizons to the rolling hills beyond.  Soybeans were the other crop we saw bursting in the fields.DSC_0036
DSC_0038In Hannibal, we traveled the Mississippi by riverboat, feeling the pull of the river’s strength and its ability to lull you along on a summer day.  Eagles rested in trees… DSC_0105…and barges were pushed along by trusty boats like the Sir Randall with its two-man crew.DSC_0114Signs of times gone by when the frozen river was cut up and the ice stored in straw until summer when it could be used for ice cream.DSC_0095We left Hannibal for St. Louis, choosing to travel the road along the river.DSC_0172This route took us along the river for beautiful scenic outlooks, starting with Lovers Leap which showed the layers of the bluffs along the river…DSC_0139…and gave us lovely views of the river’s twists and turns.DSC_0162Far below us in our view of the swollen river, we spotted a bit of a town and a cemetery that seems to have survived the rages of the river.DSC_0159The reality of living along the river was apparent when we explored the town of Clarksville…DSC_0182which boasts that you can touch the Mississippi there.  I did put my feet in, but the river was high as evidenced by the sandbagging that lined the streets closest to the water.DSC_0184The richness of the soil was shown as the road took us once again into the rich farmlands with corn stretching as far as we could see.DSC_0166 DSC_0164We came around a bend and spotted this house, deserted and surrounded by corn.DSC_0178A road took us into the cornfield for a closer look at the other side with an overgrown yard of flowers.DSC_0173Across the road was this once beautiful home.DSC_0175I wonder what stories these two places, surrounded by the corn, could tell.DSC_0177We reached St. Louis, where stories of history awaited.DSC_0343On our way home, we stopped by a roadside stand, back in the Ozarks of Missouri and bought some of the summer fare to take home and enjoy a Missouri meal.  We grow all these things in Oklahoma, too, but it was a nice finish to our short trip through Missouri, where we were treated like the neighbors we are.IMG_4985Happy summer travels!DSC_0054