Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A slippery slope seen from atop a pile of stuff

My aunt, Marie, is downsizing radically this summer, preparing to sell the Miller family homestead (a century-plus farm in English Township) and move east to live near a daughter in the Detroit suburb where she (Marie) grew up. Her handmaiden in this herculean effort is my cousin, Marie's most worthy daughter --- Karen, who ordinarily lives with her family not far from Lake Ontario's southern shore in northwest New York. Karen will have put many stars in her crown before all is said and done.

If all goes according to plan, there will be an auction with lunch on the grounds during late July. Soon thereafter, Marie and her moving van will depart. At some point, the farm will sell. Down at Columbia Cemetery, my Grandfather Miller is rotating in his grave --- not because the farm is being sold, but at the price it's expected to sell for. The escalating value of Iowa farmland has been breathtaking. Grandpa, rarely speechless, would be now were he not 133 years old and long dead.

The house is big --- my mother's childhood home reshaped into my aunt's and uncle's dream home (in large part by themselves) in the years after they acquired it, about 1970. There are two of the biggest barns still standing in Lucas County, both full. And two garages, full again. The sorghum shed was full, too, but it caved in a while back and no one's worrying about what's back there below the pond.

My aunt and uncle were of the generation who remembered the great depression clearly and threw nothing away. Now, much has been consigned to dumpsters and more will be. A majority of what remains will be sold. The distilled essence will go east.

So I've been considering my own pile of stuff and how burdensome it seems some days. I used to value it more --- and gladly add to the pile. Now I'm more hesitant.

So far, very little has made its way from the farm into Chariton --- and I'm glad of that. The exception was this old copy of "Radio Hymnal" with cover intact but detached. I got it because of the inscription inside, "From Flora Myers to Mrs. Elmer Gibbany." Flora was my paternal aunt and Mae (Miller) Gibbany, my maternal aunt. They were friends. I'm not quite sure how the hymnal got back to Iowa, since Aunt Mae's pile of stuff was in Wyoming, but I'm kind of glad it did.

Open the cover and you see that it was first published in 1927 by the Henry Field Seed Co. Those who think about such things will know about the radio battle between seed and nursery giants Henry Field (Station KFNF) and Earl May (station KMA) and how for a golden radio era beginning in the 1920s all ears in a substantial chunk of the Midwest were turned toward signals broadcast from little Shenandoah.

I don't recall listening much to Shenandoah in the 1950s (our station was the 50,000-Watt Voice of the Middle West WHO Des Moines, founded by chiropractic kingpin J.B. Palmer of Davenport to promote bonecrunching, just as KFNF and KMA were founded to promote seed).

But I do remember regular pilgrimages to Shenandoah in the summer to view the nursery test gardens of both Henry Field and Earl May (plus others) --- and at least one visit to Mayfair Auditorium, the showpiece of the Earl May/KMA empire.

And of course well into the the 1970s, there was Kitchen Klatter, a talk show for farm and small-town women (as well as a monthly newsletter/magazine) launched in 1926 at Henry Field's behest by his sister, Leanna Driftmier, and carried on by her daughters, Lucille, Marjorie and Dorothy (who lived near Chariton with husband Frank Johnson and daughter, Kristin, but traveled regularly to Shenandoah to pitch in with the broadcast).

Midmorning daily Monday through Friday my mother, and thousands of other Midwest women, turned the radio on to listen to that widely-syndicated broadcast with pen and paper nearby (to copy down the recipe that was a daily feature).

I expect I have all the Kitchen Klatter cookbooks and quite a few Kitchen Klatter kitchen favors (copper salt and pepper shakers, measuring spoons, spice rack, etc.) offered in return for a little cash and a few Kitchen Klatter cleaning product boxtops or Kitchen Klatter flavoring bottle seals. Ah, the memories.

After coming in from the farm one day last week, I took a long hard look at the north wall of the garage and decided stuff had to go. So far, a garbage bag full of junk, a set of steel shelving and two dead chairs have departed. I can now open the pickup door and exit without turning sideways and squeezing. There's another set of shelves, an unused tool chest, more junk and a modest pile of lumber still to go.

I wish I could say unreservedly that I'm mending my ways and lightening the load. But truth be told, it now looks as if I may inherit, from the farm, the old cord bed, once a fine piece of four-poster furniture, but an albatross hanging around the family neck since it was vandalized by my great-grandmother in the mid-1880s. For nearly 130 years, no one's had the nerve to throw it away (or try to sell it).

My cousin, Suzanne, was supposed to take the bed home to Atlanta with her --- and restore it. Now, she's hedging. We'll see. But just in case, I'm getting a new home ready and it will move if absolutely necessary (Sell it? Throw it away? Certainly not!) from the old homestead basement to the north wall of my garage. I'll keep you posted.

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