Thursday, June 7, 2012

Growing Up In the Time of Stories

Note: My apology - but the Blogspot program is malfunctioning a bit - some of the font sizes and spacing are off - and its not possible to correct them...


Photos this week were chosen to give a flavor of the generation before me. ... the generation of story tellers.

Picture a warm Kansas July – its twilight and cricket sounds blend with the murmur of cottonwood leaves... Six or eight visiting relative sit together out in the evening coolness visiting and laughing together.  The conversation always involves the recounting of stories – Remembering times past, personal adventures... it is retelling of who we are as a family. 

Kansas family
I remember my Mother telling how, during the depression, she and her sister and brother went together to the south of Kansas to a place where tomatoes could be purchased for next to nothing – they loaded their Model T with a pressure cooker and jars.  When they arrived they rented a place and then picked and canned tomatoes  to take home for the extended family to use in the wintertime.  They carried home as many filled jars as the Model T could carry!

My father, Anton Zlatnik, delivering the mail with horse and buggy

My Uncle John sometimes told how he and his brother Frank ended up in Northern Idaho at the end of the wheat harvest season.  They encountered a mine owner that hired them to serve as watchmen for the winter.  They were snowed in for months and had to use a dog sled for travel. Being avid hunters, they had plenty of meat. The furs they trapped left them with a tidy profit on the side.  They were warm, well fed, and free to have good adventures! 
Grandfather Antonine and his prize hog
My father retold stories that he had heard from his mother in Bohemia.  Stories of sleigh rides in the wintertime with wolves howling around them, stories of the community of farm families gathering together to cut each persons grain with large hand scythes, then gathering in the shade of trees to share their noon meal together.  She told about leaving the Bohemian town of her birth and going with her new husband first to eastern Poland to take on a land-grant  farm that turned out to be less than they wanted– and then coming to America to the Czech community in Kansas...and the great challenges they had to overcome. He told of the confusion of starting school without knowing any English - and the help he received from his fellow Czech speaking students.
Uncle Fred in W.Nebraska

My aunt spoke of how the young Zlatnik and Fuller and Naille teenagers ( three neighboring farms ) gathered at one of the farms to spend winter evenings singing together around the piano.  How they would pop popcorn and bring apples up from the cellar.  Several of them eventually married....some years later...
Aunt Bertha told of going off into the meadow to practice whistling – She could whistle and blend two tones at once.  She listened to the birds and immitated their calls.  She became quite famous locally and provided special music in church services, and was even approached to whistle on the radio. But when she got dentures she could no longer whistle as before.

Uncle John in the Snake River Canyon Idaho
Uncle Frank told of going up into  the indian reservation to buy cattle for the cattle yard.  One day he was invited by a Potowatomee Indian family to stay for a meal. He happily  accepted.  This meal was particularly tasty – roast meat of some sort...( He was often fed wild game )... After enjoying seconds – He asked what kind of meat it was – and to his surprise found he had been eating roast skunk.

Travel in China
My mother told about her encounters in China as an educational missionary for the Methodist church.  How she would ride in a chair, slung between two carriers using long bamboo poles – out to distant villages where she worked with the lay teachers.  In that time there were no roads between towns – only walking paths between the fields.  She told of temples and markets so very different from anything I knew as a farm child in Kansas.  The told of bandits and revolutionaries having their heads cut off, and hung in the center of town as a warning to others.

Child care
Stories sometimes involved farm tractors sunk in mud up to their axles –and of skunks hidden in feed barrels.  I heard of wind storms and floods, of chicken hawks and marauding coyotes. I heard about surviving steam pressure explosions, nearly being trapped in a limestone cave, about hard work and hairbrain adventures.  I heard about crushing hardships and survival, about courage and kindness.  Everyone had stories to share – and telling stories well was a highly prized skill..

Building the grain elevator - for drying and processing corn and wheat - Delia Kansas

This was a time before  “reality TV“, situation comedies with canned laugh tracks, or non-stop talk shows... Before all that, I lived in a society of people that talked to each other for entertainment.  

I heard a message that told me that it is possible to experience challenging times and to thrive in the long  run.  Some stories told about accepting challenges and taking reasonable risks. I learned to laugh at myself and to try to help others.  

The stories were not particularly directed at me as a child; they were a form of sharing primarily between adults - but kids were listening and learning too. The stories that I heard let me know who I was as a part of my family and community. I'm sure those stories had a lot to do with the  mental attitude that I developed as an adult. 
I am fortunate to have grown up in the time of story tellers.
Joe Miller and my father Anton - The two rural mail carriers in the early years of Delia Kansas