Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Walking in a winter ...

...well, you know the rest. We are poised here on the fine edge of what is forecast to be the biggest and most widespread winter storm in a decade, winter storm warning today; blizzard warning overnight and Wednesday. So far, the storm seems to be tracking a little to the west of Lucas County so perhaps we'll be spared some of it. At least, I hope, the projected 8-to-10-foot drifts.

I've shoveled the driveway twice now, but that will all be for naught if the wind picks up as predicted and redistributes what has fallen. Still, it's not been an unpleasant way to spend a couple of hours. We awoke Monday to perhaps three inches of snow and about that amount fell overnight Monday-Tuesday and has fallen since.

I made it out to Ellis Greenhouse at Lucas Monday afternoon for a poinsettia (purveyors of southern Iowa's finest and most durable poinsettias), but didn't get out to Hunter Tree Farm (purveyors of ditto regarding Christmas trees, greenery and intesting Christmas accessories offered in the old, moved and restored May schoolhouse). That trip will come when the storm is over.


My 9 a.m. meeting was canceled at 8:45 a.m. this morning, when I was already on the way to the museum, but as several had missed the cancellation calls, including cousins Ilene and the alternate Frank, those of us who appeared had a good time just talking.

I also waded through the snow with a camera since I thought it would be fun to take photos of some of the buildings on the museum campus in the snow. The A.J. Stephens house, the first home of the Lucas County Historical Society, is up top.

Andrew Jackson Stephens was a turn-of-the-century contractor who presumably built this house both to show off and to showcase a new-fangled building material --- a form of sand-colored hollow cast tile that when paired with blonde brick looks quite a bit like stone (Chariton's First Presbyterian Church also is built of this tile). For better or worse, it didn't catch on so homes of this scale built of that material are relatively rare.

It's really quite a nice house inside with double parlors separated by columns, a big stair hall, pleasant paneled dining room and vast kitchen downstairs; three large bedrooms, two small bedrooms, a bathroom and a surprising numbers of closets and storage areas upstairs.

It must have seemed a good idea at the time to stick a classical portico on the asymmetrical front of a turn-of-the-century house, but it looks a bit odd today. A classical facade demands symmetrically arranged window and door openings and those here are of all sizes and shapes and manage to look as if they were thrown at the front of the house and allowed to stay where they stuck.

The late Elizabeth Tuttle in her characteristic Elizabethan way insisted that A.J. patterned his house after Andrew Jackson's Tennessee home, Hermitage. Beyond the fact both have columns (the Hermitage has far more), there is no similarity whatsoever.

My great-aunt Mary (Stephens) Myers was one of A.J.'s daughters, so there were family stories about his financial ruin, reportedly caused by a major miscalculation when bidding on the building that still serves as Lucas County's jail and law enforcement center. Badly outdated, many wish that old fort hadn't been built quite so well (it declines to fall down, an act that would demand a replacement).

Puckerbrush School was the first building moved to the museum grounds --- from the northwest part of the county. It also was the first school my Grandfather Miller taught after he was licensed to teach in the 1890s.

Otterbein Church, originally located a few miles south of Chariton, was moved into town in 1976 as a Bicentennial project. My Redlingshafer great-great-grandparents, John and Isabelle, were among Otterbein's founders in 1866.

The log cabin, disassembled at its original location along Whitebreast Creek in northwest Lucas County and moved log by log into Chariton, is the most recent vintage building on the grounds. The main John L. Lewis Building, the barn and a blacksmith shop/storage building now under construction also are located on the museum campus. So if you plan to visit, wear sensible shoes. Lots of walking around.


Frustrated with decorating my own Christmas tree --- the most overdecorated small tree in Lucas county --- on Saturday afternoon, I headed down to Corydon to view the results of Wayne County's Christmas tree and gingerbread house decorating contests, beautifully displayed in a commons area of the Pioneer Trails Museum.

That was fun and there were lots of beautiful trees (and interesting gingerbread houses) to look at (and vote for). The fact that my friend Bill was manning the welcome table had nothing to do with the fact that I voted for his tree, all decked out in Iowa State University cardinal red, in the "theme" category. Haven't heard who won, but no doubt will. I left in awe at the imagination and effort invested in many of those trees.

Pioneer Trails Museum, by the way, is I strongly suspect Iowa's finest county museum. It is just spectacular. I always get a kick out of "Amy's House," a cottage built inside the west wing where the Christmas trees and gingerbread houses were displayed.

Amy was Amy Robertson, of Promise City, both a great character and a great benefactor of all things Wayne County (and of Simpson College at Indianola). One of her final acts was to commemorate herself by commissioning this cottage inside the museum where the choice contens of her home were moved upon her death. I always enjoy this very Amyish display.

Originally, you entered the cottage and found youself in a sort of plexiglass box with views in various directions into all of the "rooms." I always wondered if this was an Amy design, intended to prevent the masses from breathing on her stuff. Now that Amy's been dead a good many years, the plexiglass has been removed and a vist is substantially less claustrophobic.

From the museum it was onward to First United Methodist church where I with uncharacteristic diplomacy did not mention the great battle involved in demolition during the 1960s of a wonderful old brick church and construction of this wonderful new (and far move convenient) structure.

The attraction here was the annual display of nativity sets (could there have been 100 or more of them?) that filled the parish hall. The nativities were fascinating in themselves, but the display was so wonderfully arranged and accessorized that just looking at that would have been worth the price of admission. Actually, come to think of it, admission was free, but you were invited to make a donation to the empty stocking fund, which the tree and gingerbread contests also benefitted. That donation was offset by the fact all comers were offered hot cider, cookies and a Christmas tree decoration --- in my case a small crocheted snowflake.

There was also a musical program at the Corydon theater Sunday afternoon, but I had another commitment, so couldn't make it down for that.

I wish I could figure out exactly why it is Wayne Countyans do so many things well, including holiday presentations like this. If I could, I'd bottle some of it and spike Lucas County's water supply. I'm just glad I grew up on the Lucas-Wayne County line, so can claim both.


The "another commitment" Sunday was a great noon potluck at Grace Church in Albia --- good company, good conversation and good food; a combination that's hard to beat. As usual there was too much food, so I came home with enough of Lynn's and Kim's baked ham for two meals --- a treat unto itself.

It's not that I do not enjoy cooking; I do. And while I brought home ham, I made a fair trade by sending some of my cinnamon-streusel bread home with Tim. But I hate washing dishes. Part of the problem can be traced through my mother, from whom I learned to cook, to Verna, the cousin and permanent fixture of her childhood household from whom she learned to cook. It has been said of all of us that in the process of producing one fairly simple albeit tasty meal we manage to dirty every dish in the house. There's an element of truth to that, and lots of dish washing.

The photo below is of the interior of St. Andrew's on Sunday while I was trying unsuccessfully to take a photo I liked of the altar, which kept reflecting the flash back at me, dratted marble that it is. I should have used a tripod and natural light, but was in a hurry.

Like many Episcopal churches, St. Andrew's usually is not "greened" until shortly before Christmas Eve, so the Advent candle wreath at right and the stable on the side altar to the left are so far our principal decorations. Note the eagle lectern, something I think especially cool. On Christmas Eve, the altar will be ablaze with poinsettias. Maybe I'll remember to take the camera along then and have better luck.

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