Archives for posts with tag: history

A friend once told me to watch for the “Magic Moments” when I traveled, meaning the treasures you stumble onto while you’re winding along your planned route. Here’s a little one I had near Broken Bow, OK.

Having worked in a big museum for over seven years, until I retired last fall, I’m well aware of what goes on behind the scenes of exhibitions and collections. I also have a great appreciation for the little museums that are sometimes passed by without a second thought, the ones that you never think you “have to see” while you’re in the area. Outside of Broken Bow, in southeastern Oklahoma near the Mountain Fork River, is the Gardner Mansion Museum. I saw the signs, read about it in the tourist websites, but almost missed it and that would have been a shame. What drew me in was the sign about the 2,000 year old Cypress tree on the grounds. I’ve seen lots of old houses and mansions, so I might have skipped it but for the tree.

I called first and got no answer, but saw the gate open while passing by. You can’t see the house from the highway so you go through the farm gates and up the road. When you reach the house, you see a sign to honk for help. I’m sure we had been seen because there was a truck headed our way as we parked the car.


An elderly man and a younger man, probably his grandson, got out of the truck and we paid our admission fee. This was definitely a smaller staff than the museum where I had worked.


We walked to the house…


and he unlocked the door, walking to a chair where he sat down on the glassed in porch. There was a display of dinosaur bones and beautiful huge hunks of quartz. The information by each one said it was found in the area. When we started asking questions, our guide opened up and told us his history as well as shared his knowledge of the treasures we were seeing.

The Gardner Mansion was the home of Jefferson Gardner, a much beloved chief of the Choctaw Nation. He had built his home on this site in 1881, completing it in 1884, on this site that was part of the Trail of Tears for his nation. In 1922, the Stiles family had purchased the property and have maintained and preserved it for three generations. We were visiting with Mr. Stiles himself, the current curator of this museum. He told us stories of the Choctaw and of the dinosaur bones he had found as a child on the property. One had been found just recently. He explained to me how you get the quartz out of the ground, showing off a piece about a foot or more across that a long time friend had found and given him right before he died.

After a bit, I guess we passed muster, so we were taken into the main house. I’m not sure if you get past the porch if he doesn’t trust you. He unlocked the door and we entered the main areas where there were more artifacts to see. In the kitchen, I found lots of old utensils and dishes of the era. In the living room, he showed us a model of the house and photos of Chief Gardner and others, telling stories of the indians as we looked around. Here’s Mr. Stiles showing us some items, including the hand-carved staircase and other Choctaw craftsmanship used in the home…


Once again, I guess we asked the right questions, because we were taken upstairs. There was a treasure trove of indian artifacts including ancient tools, arrowheads, and natural items from the land. I stupidly didn’t see the signs in front of me saying no pictures, so I took a few. Later, I apologized to him, but he said it was ok. He didn’t want too many getting out because the items are quite valuable. Not like he has a security force there, so I understood and won’t pass those along. Here’s some of the hornet nests he’s collected during his life (he’s been on the property since he was 5)…


He showed us some ancient tools he’d recently found. The cows kick up the ground and these kinds of antiquities rise to the surface. Really a remarkable collection.

After we left the house, we drove to see the 2,000 year old Cypress. He showed us a picture of it with a man dwarfed by the trunk, much like the Sequoias in California. Unfortunately, the tree had fallen last year. Trees die, as Mr. Stiles said. We went to see it anyway, although it turned out there wasn’t much left. Nature was reclaiming its own.


The area had other large Cypress and you could picture the Choctaw trudging through the land, searching for the place where they could stop and live their lives in peace. Very ethereal back in the woods, along the water.


On the way back to the house, we stopped to snap a picture of the cemetery. Mr. Stiles and his grandson had chores to do, so we didn’t want to keep them. Wouldn’t you love to know the stories of those buried here?


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If you’re ever in this remote area, stop and visit the Stiles family. Or find another magic moment along the way, wherever you’re traveling. It makes your trip so much richer…

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Monday, on the drive to Bentonville, Arkansas, my friend and I drove the scenic part of Highway 412 and then veered off onto country roads to take the back way into Bentonville, missing the interstate, traffic, consumer mess of a drive. It was a beautiful spring day to journey through pasturelands and little towns in Delaware County, named after the Delaware Indians who settled there, heading over to Arkansas. There were still some dogwoods and redbuds in bloom in the wooded areas along the way.



I’m fascinated by the rural areas, being a city girl. Every state has them, so don’t go getting snobby on me. It’s just a different lifestyle, some things better than the city, some not so much. I always try to imagine life out here or what the area has been through in its history. You can see the stories in the buildings that are standing in various stages of decay. Sometimes you see a barn falling down right next to a new one. Or a house that has been deserted by its owners. You see them quite a lot, actually.




Traveling with my iPad, I look up the history of towns as we go. You learn a lot reading about why people settled here and what happened to make it rise or fall. Most of the towns aren’t growing. It’s a tough way of life out here in the country. The little community, hard to call it a town, of Colcord, with a population of 819 used to call itself “Little Tulsa.” I’m not sure, even in its thriving days, where they got that unless none of them had ever been to Tulsa. I guess the town leaders hoped…

I think it was in Decatur where we saw the Iva Jane Peek Library. I take photos zipping by areas so pardon the mistakes sometimes. I’m constantly trying to capture something that catches my eye as we whiz by. I love the name of the place and wonder about Iva Jane and her influence. I haven’t found out who she was…yet!


Chickens were and are a big industry in the area on into Arkansas, where we began to see Confederate flags every once in a while. If you look at a google map from above you see rows of thin silver roofs, chicken houses, all along the way. We saw a lot of deserted ones, but lots still active.



Bentonville was known as Osage after the Osage Indians who came from Missouri to hunt the area for months at a time. Eventually, the white settlers took over and named the town after Thomas Hart Benton, a Missouri senator who fought for Arkansas to become a state. At the turn of the century, being the 1900s, apples were the main resource, followed by chickens until WalMart was added to the mix to make that area a pretty bustling area for a town of 35,000. I’ve been to Bentonville from the interstate and from the backroads, which gives you a picture of the growth surrounding it. I like entering the back way best.

There’s something about traveling the backroads, seeing the honesty of it where you live your home is what you make it. You don’t have to worry about what the neighbors think about your well manicured lawn if you don’t want to. You can have it any way you want to. If you want to leave the remnants of the house or barn and build right next to it, you can. I kept thinking that some design person would drive through and make a nice offer for the reclaimed wood that they could sell to an upscale business or homeowner for an authentic look. I’m all for that and there’s a treasure trove out there for the clever and creative.


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The rural roads fuel my imagination, writing stories in my mind of the families who came before, the individuals who lived in tiny houses in the side of a hill. There are so many questions you have driving by.


And then you just enjoy the wide open views of the sky,


the rolling roads,


and watching the variations of spring greens in the hills which will turn darker as the season goes on.


When I see the skyline of the city in front of me, I know I’m heading home to bustling streets and landscaping and order of a sort. I’m comfortable with that life, but I love the spirit of the countryside I’ve traveled. Everyone should get off the main highways now and then. We’re in such a hurry and look at what we miss…

Here’s the kind of conversations I get into with my friends…one friend was looking for spiced peaches to serves and she couldn’t find them at the store.  We started talking about how special those were when we were kids and how our mothers served them to guests.  She thought it was a southern dish.  A real treat to us as children.  Then I was with some other friends and mentioned the spiced peaches.  None of us had thought of them in years, so we started talking about how good they tasted.  And about canned pears with cottage cheese, which ladies served at luncheons.  And we moved on to the absolute childish joy of fruit cocktail.  And how there were too few cherries in it, so you had to try to get one in your serving.

We all know about trends in foods as well as other things.  Today, all those fruits, along with the canned vegetables (canned corn, green beans) we loved before there were frozen vegetables, that were staples of our diets way back when, have been found to have too much sugar or salt.   Today, we can get fresh food easier than we used to be able to in the cities back then or cans with less sodium, less sugar, and so on.  Companies like Del Monte have been around since the 1880s, so they have always been around in our lifetimes.  They were timesavers from the days of growing and canning your own, a help to the modern housewife of the 50s and 60s.

I’m all for the health trend, but we all know what happens when you remember the taste or smell of something from your childhood.  My friend and I had looked online to see if they still make spiced peaches, which they do.  I was supposed to look for them at the store, but I kept forgetting.  Today, I was just about to check out and decided to walk back to the fruit section.  There were spiced peaches, right there in front of me.  I opened the jar as soon as I got the groceries unpacked to see if they taste the way I remember them.


Yum!  Yes, they do.  Not only do they taste the way I remember them, but now they are flavored with the memories of childhood with every bite.  I may never eat them again, but today I had a sweet taste of my childhood.

One of my mother’s great passions was collecting antiques.  Growing up poor in the Great Depression fueled her enjoyment and appreciation of the things the rich people had, which is not to say she was a snob.  She never forgot what her life was like and helped so many people over the years, but she learned to appreciate the beauty, craftsmanship and history of beautiful pieces.  She taught me a lot when I was first married…mainly the fun of getting a bargain.  Or something that “gladdens your heart,” as she said.  Especially if that thing was a bargain to boot.  She loved estate sales, auctions, and antique stores and became friends with many of the owners.  For one thing, she loved the stories about the items, the history of the pieces.  She became quite a sophisticated buyer, bargainer and bidder through the years, ending up with some pretty gorgeous pieces.  I tended more towards English pieces and she liked the more formal French, but we were both pretty eclectic.  For her, getting the piece was part of the game.  Years later, when I had a retail store, she had a keen eye for what would sell and what was a keeper from the new items on the market.

I got my dining table, 6 chairs, and a matching buffet at an auction with her when I was about 22 years old.  I paid a whopping $150, which I had to borrow from her and pay back.  I was newly-wed and still in college and she had to store it at her house, using it for awhile, until I had a house for it.  Over the years, she often commented on how the set got prettier to her every year.  It was that bargain, I’m sure.  I’m not sure I would have even picked these items out, but they have served our family well over the past 40+ years as they served the families before us.  That was another thing she taught me – that antiques appreciate rather than depreciate.  Usually, that is.  It’s also recycling, although she didn’t mention that.



For the past two days, I worked at an estate sale. I spend more than I make, so it’s not a real job, but, it’s fun to see the things in the sale and all the people who come through.  Many observations came to mind.  First is that the majority of the people who come are about my age or older.  I’m guessing that it’s a combination of all the things that made my mother go to them.  It’s getting out of the house, running into friends, looking for bargains, seeing what you already have is worth, adding to a collection and finding a treasure you can’t live without.  There’s such a variety in an estate sale – everything in a house and based on the owner’s taste and what the family hasn’t taken out.  Dealers rush in first to scout for the really unique and see what they can come back to get at bargain prices on the last day…one dealer called himself the Buzzard because he swoops in at the end for the real bargains.

Such a shopping spree…where else are you going to find silver services and fine crystal,


replacement parts for your kitchen items, along with cookbooks that are out of print that you want to give someone,


pressed glass for your friend who collects it,


a miniature scuttle, which we decided was used for cigars, although we didn’t really know and loved it anyway,


lovely oil paintings at bargain prices,


unusual wicker pieces,


an old stamp collection, along with books,


old family photographs (this horrifies me),


and, my favorite, an antique iron.


The iron was a source of constant conversation as we saw how it heated up with flame and then had to be picked up with a cloth or potholder wrapped around the hot, hot handle.  On top of that, I could barely lift it.  Imagine trying to plop that down on a piece of clothing and move it over the area without scorching.  Wow!  We all had a greater appreciation of our light electric steam and spray irons and for the women who had to wrestle these monsters!

The comments I heard over and over were “omigod, my house looks like this.  I need to clean things out,” followed by “I have to have that,” and “my kids don’t want any of my things.”  Having cleaned out my mother’s home, after she had cleaned out a lot of it herself, I learned what she had already taught me when she cleaned out homes for relatives and friends.  You can’t imagine how much is in there until you have to touch every item in every drawer, shelf and closet.  On the other hand, cleaning out her things taught me a lot about her and brought back many memories.  It can be a healing thing.

On the comments about our kids not wanting our things, I have a few suggestions.  My mother left us with a list of the things in her house and where and  she got them, who the artist was, and what she paid for them – the provenance, so to speak.  It was invaluable.  It didn’t mean we had to love it like she did, but it kept us from selling it as a piece of junk in a garage sale.  I was working on a list like that for my kids, but it’s tedious.  My grandson is going to help me videotape everything, with me telling the story of the item so my family will know why it meant anything to me or if it’s valuable or not.  After that, I assume they will also treasure it or send it along to a proper new home, recycling it once again.

I don’t know what the newest generations will like or want, but I love the history of my old and new things.  I’m hoping that I live long enough to pass some down to my grandkids as they launch into their adult lives, as my mother did for my children.  The history of some of these items has passed through other families and is now part of my family’s history.  Except for those many things that will end up in my estate/garage sale one of these days.  Hope someone enjoys plowing through my treasures looking for a treasure of their own.  One of these days.  I’m not ready to part with my stuff yet…

I watched the movie, “Lincoln,” for the second time last night.  I’m not much of a movie reviewer, but I’ll recommend this one as a must see for thinking people or fans who appreciate good film making.

I grew up with actors like Raymond Massey and Henry Fonda playing Lincoln…they didn’t even come close to Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance.  It’s a fact of Hollywood that they love English actors and it’s too bad that there isn’t an American actor who can play an American, but that’s a pet peeve since I learned that it used to be or may still be that  American actors can’t play a character in England if there is an English actor available and it seems like every character I see in America turns out to be English, Canadian, Australian or not American, although they play us well.  Anyway, it doesn’t matter in this case, because Day-Lewis is one of the great actors of our time and nobody else could have or would have gone to the depths of learning and becoming Lincoln as he has.  I looked up Lincoln’s walk and voice and read descriptions by the people who met and knew him.  Day-Lewis just morphs into a living Lincoln.

When I watch a movie at home, I have my iPad in my lap looking up questions I have about production, plot, actors, directors, or historical facts.  I can excuse some distortion or interpretation of facts for art’s sake, but not all.  It’s good when a film makes you want to know more.  That’s also what’s nice about having DVDs and DVRs so that you can stop and answer your question right when it hits you, if you want to.  I think this one is pretty close to accurate, at least on the questions I had.  Tad really did run rampant in the White House and Thaddeus Stevens really did have a relationship with his housekeeper, although there are different stories on that.

A funny side note was that I read a review of the movie where the reviewer said he was surprised at Lincoln’s humor.  I guess I thought everyone knew what a renowned storyteller Abe Lincoln was.  I grew up with a book that belonged to my great-grandmother, “Abe Lincoln’s Yarns and Stories,” published in 1901.  The copy we have is missing all the even numbered pages so she must have gotten a deal on a printer mess-up.  You still get some of the stories, the funny drawings and photos of all of the people who were around Lincoln.  And I learned at a young age what a beloved and complex person he was.


Anyway, this is just a great film.  The performances are terrific, especially Sally Field, David Strathairn, Tommy Lee Jones, Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Hal Holbrook…and the list goes on.  I should look up every name to give them all credit.  And the direction by Steven Spielberg, the cinematography, lighting, costumes…just the best.

You really feel like you are in that time and place, you feel like you are watching history unfold.  It’s entertaining, but, mostly, it’s enlightening.  Not fast paced action…just a disclaimer if that’s what you want to see.  Besides, you already know the ending…or should.

As movie reviews go, this was just my thoughts after being wowed by this film for the second time.  I can’t use stars or thumbs up since I’m not really a reviewer, so I’ll just give it a standing ovation!  Bravo!

The Beatles are forever linked in my memory with my freshman year in college.  I was 17 when I left for Oklahoma State University with very little preconception of what the experience would be.  I picked that school on my own, probably because of friends going there, and was adjusting to all the freedoms and adventures that go with it.  I had never lived anywhere like the dorm with a stranger for a roommate, community bathroom, little privacy, and a whole lot of new and old friends.  In that time, there was a phone in the hall and pay phones on the first floor.  We did have a sink in our room, but no big technology or major appliances other than a lamp, hairdryer, popcorn popper, clock-radio and record player.  Yes, record player.

In November, just as we were settling in, President Kennedy was assassinated.  I can’t tell you what a shock that was to kids away from home who had never felt unsafe before.  I heard about it in badminton class and we sat in shock.  Don’t laugh at the badminton class.  We had to have four gym credits for our well rounded education.  I did quite well in badminton.  Anyway, the assassination made us call home to check in with our parents, stay up late discussing it with our very new friends, and watch it over and over on the television set in the basement of the dorm. Our world had changed forever.  Looking back, everything changed that day in ways that became more pronounced every year since.  From a life of innocence and tranquility (at least to us), every year brought more violence, more disruption.  Nothing was ever the same.

After the holidays, we heard about a new musical group that was going to be on Ed Sullivan.  I think I read in the paper about The Beatles and the uproar they were causing in England.  The only thing close in our lifetime was Elvis, but we had been younger when he was starting out.  The boys we knew had crew cuts, the Twist had been popular the year before, and we had embraced folk music, listening to the Kingston Trio, Peter Paul & Mary, Joan Baez.  We went from coffee shop to rock and roll.  The Beatles came at a good time.  We needed a pick me up after the darkness of fall.

On the Sunday of that Ed Sullivan show in February, someone brought a portable TV from home.  The closest station was out of Oklahoma City, so we balanced the set on the window sill of a fourth floor dormer window and wrapped the antenna with foil for better reception on that tiny screen.  All the girls who could cram in that dorm room, girls from towns of a few hundred to girls from the cities, were waiting to see.  Our first view brought exclamations.  Their hair was long!  I remember commenting it looked cute.  We all thought they were cute…wonder what the guys who were watching thought that night?  And there was the music and the girls in the audience screaming and the boys singing to that seemingly simple beat.  We loved it.  We somehow knew that this was another historic night, another milestone we would talk about in terms of where we were when we first heard them.

Could two events be so different and so important in such different ways?  That was the year I went from being 17 to 18.  That was a year to remember and learn from.  My freshman year in college was an education of a different kind it turned out.  I remember it well.