Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Reminiscing and the value of pie

Well, we certainly enjoyed having Neil and Darlene Harl with us last night for the Lucas County Historical Society's annual meeting in the Lodge at Pin Oak Marsh. The house was full, and that's an accomplishment. Everyone, including the speaker, had fun and no one hurried away when it was over, sticking around for conversation with the Harls and each other, homemade pie and coffee.

Harl is an acclaimed expert on ag economics and law, an author and a veteran professor, now retired, at Iowa State University --- but Monday night was all about growing up in southern Iowa and about the Great Depression, which shaped not only his life (born in 1933 I believe) but also the lives of many in attendance.

Those of us who didn't experience the 1930s personally, certainly did so indirectly through the lives of our parents and grandparents, so everything resonated --- from stories of attempting to halt the advance of chinch bugs into a hayfield with creosote-dosed furrows, the Harl family's survival from fall through spring planting on $100 and loss of farmland to foreclosure to fathers and grandfathers who resisted mechanization until they could resist no longer --- always preferring horses to tractors.

Neil is a native of the Livingston neighborhood in southwest Appanoose County, a ghost town of sorts that has been showing signs of resurrection lately, due in part to the Harls. Darlene is a native of rural Seymour (across the county line in Wayne), where the high school both attended is located. They met there and have been married for going on 60 years.

Their ties to southern Iowa remain intact and they're actively involved in a farming operation that now includes more than a thousand acres, including the land Harl grew up on as the son of tenant farmers.

In fact, the Harls were on their way home to Ames Monday evening from a board meeting in Seymour of the Historic Livingston Foundation, which has restored the old Baptist church at Livingston and now is planning a township museum at the site. My blog posts about Franklin Baptist Church and the Livingston Cemetery, where a young man named Albert Crouch is buried, are linked if you're interested in more about that. Four generations of the Harl family also rest at Livingston.

LCHS board member Frank Mitchell was largely responsible for bringing the Harls to our meeting. He and Neil have been friends since they met as freshmen at Iowa State University in the early 1950s. In fact, Harl credits Frank with giving him one of his early steps up the economic ladder. Frank, who was working his way through ISU with a job at the first Hy-Vee in Ames, helped Neil land a job there, too, which paid the then generous wage of $1 an hour for a 30-hour week. So Hy-Vee in this instance helped launch two academic careers, Harl's in Iowa and Mitchell's in California.

Anyhow, we all had a really good time Monday night and I have recovered my composure regarding pies, about which Marilyn and I have had a substantial difference of opinion. It has been customary for LCHS officers and board members to feed the annual meeting crowd by each producing two pies. I was cursing those pies Monday afternoon while trying to finish two reports and bake two pies (with a major assist from Sarah Lee) at the same time. But now I'm having a change of heart since everyone seemed to enjoy the pies so much, including the Harls --- Neil cornered a piece of gooseberry, but by the time I got there at the end of the line both the gooseberry and rhubarb were gone, darn it.


Computer issues apparently have been resolved thanks to power unit transplant performed at the PC emergency room up on the square. That may have had something to do with the storms here late Saturday. Whatever the case, I'm glad it wasn't more serious.

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