Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Spit and Whittle Benches

"Spit and Whittle" benches were a time-honored forum for old-timers to pass the idle hours of the day and exchange gossip.  The topics ranged from the appropriate length of women's hemlines to heated discussions on the politics of the day. The "Spit and Whittle" bench in my hometown was situated in front of the only pool hall and beer joint in town.  Local farmers would come into town on Saturday night and play dominoes in the pool hall while their wives shopped and visited with other farm wives. But during the late afternoon hours the bench in front of the pool hall was frequented by old men with time on their hands and an abundance of opinions for anyone who had the time to listen.

Along with the "party line" phone,  the "Spit and Whittle" bench was the social media of the day. People did not hesitate to voice their opinions and engage in heated discussions with anyone within earshot. Nothing was ever settled here, but there was a satisfaction in being heard.  No judgement was passed down and your opinions and views were often forgotten as soon as your spot on the bench was vacated.

Your spot on the bench was often determined by age and prestige in the community.  Newcomers to the bench often stood or leaned against a post to engage in the conversation.  If they were lucky enough to get a spot on the bench, they were also the first to give it up if a more senior member of the group arrived.

To ignore the group on the bench was to invite their criticism.  It left you ripe for their gossip and labeled you as an outsider. These were the elders of the community and they demanded your respect! If you didn't stop to speak, you must at least nod in acknowledgement of their presence.

Unlike the anonymity provided through today's social media, everyone knew the source of the gossip and it was usually easy to separate the fact from the fiction. As small towns disappear and the old-timers pass away, the bench in front of the pool hall is often empty.  It remains as a sad reminder of the times when conversations were open and honest and no one really cared who eavesdropped.

Friday, October 18, 2013

New Release from Wanda DeHaven Pyle

Author Reveals the Hidden Power of Women in Support of the American Dream

Wanda DeHaven Pyle’s new novel chronicles three generations who must overcome unexpected obstacles in pursuit of the Dream.

Kansas’ tallgrass prairie provides a vivid setting for Windborne, a new novel by Wanda DeHaven Pyle. The author draws heavily on her childhood experiences growing up in the Flint Hills to chronicle a story of three generations of women who triumph over heartache, poverty, and abuse to pursue the dream of a better life. Skillfully creating compassionate characters with a range of emotions, Windborne is a novel unique in style and scope.  Set against a historical backdrop of major economic and cultural changes of the past century, it is an elegantly timeless tale about the nature of love, loss and awakening.

Pioneer women followed their men into the rolling Flint Hills of Kansas in search of the dream, but when Virginia Findlay gives up her career as a one-room school teacher in rural Kansas to marry her sweetheart, she is unaware of the chain of events she sets in motion for the three generations of women who follow in her footsteps. The Flint Hills promised bountiful wildlife and fertile valleys, but for Virginia, Helen and Leah it was an empty promise. Dreams often withered and died from starvation or the harshness and unpredictability of the climate.   Like the pioneer women who came before them, they are independent and courageous women who set aside their own dreams to nurture and support others. Eventually, each woman must recognize her hidden strength and power and find the courage to be true to herself. Through their example, these women guide each succeeding generation through life and provide a blueprint for making the important decisions that help them find happiness in life.

“Once I began this work, it took on a life of its own and I found myself completely captivated by relationships and the motivations of the characters. I believe there are lessons to be learned here that will be of great interest to other mothers and daughters!”- Wanda DeHaven Pyle

Wanda DeHaven Pyle grew up in the Flint Hills of Kansas and her recollections of life on the tallgrass prairie have influenced her writing. She retired from the field of education in 2012 with over thirty-seven years as both a teacher and administrator. Throughout her career she mentored and inspired women in educational leadership and she continues to motivate and encourage women to reach their full potential.

The book is currently available at Amazon.com and Kindle. You may also register for the free book give away on Goodreads.com.  Be sure to rate the book and post your reviews.  I would love to hear your thoughts!

Amazon  Goodreads

Monday, October 7, 2013

Roots and Wings

All across the country the landscape is dotted with abandoned farmsteads and buildings whose walls are filled with stories of heartache and happiness.  On a recent trip back through the Kansas Flint Hills to take photographs for the cover of my book, I was once again transported through time as we captured images of the past.  We photographed abandoned hotels and schools with their roofs open and gaping toward the sky and trees poking through the windows seeking the world outside. We peeked through the windows of abandoned schoolhouses to see blackboards still lining the front wall and a pot-bellied stove still standing guard in the center of the room. It seemed that at any moment the teacher would appear in the doorway to call the children in from recess.  One could almost hear the children’s laughter from the swing set that creaked sadly in the Kansas wind.  The cattle grazing on the hills and the tall prairie grass bent low against the wind lent a timeless quality to the surroundings.  There had been wind and cattle grazing here for centuries.

We were enveloped in a silence so vast that one dared not speak above a whisper. Only the sound of the wind through the prairie grass and the gentle lowing of the cattle prevailed. Clusters of trees followed the creeks and rivers as they meandered through the lowlands. They were protected from the wind here and the comforting sound of rustling leaves softened the harshness of the surroundings.  But on the open range a lone tree struggled to stay upright against the constant wind.

Stacked stone fences lined the roadways, laid by hand over a century ago to mark the boundaries of one’s land against encroachment. Ancient barbed wire fences strung between stone fence posts built when the railroad age ended the era of the open range, kept the herds separate.  It was as if the ghosts of the past were still there...watching and protecting what they had devoted their lives to creating.

Most of the early pioneers to the area used whatever materials were available to them to create their dwellings.  The most basic structure was the dugout.  It was usually dug into a dirt bank with a sod roof. Sod houses required little expenditure because they were built from native grasses and their roots held the dirt together to form building blocks for the house. Very few of these dwellings exist today, because they were subject to water damage and infestation by vermin and were only used as temporary housing.

When settlers to Kansas found that the area was destitute of timber, they turned to a layer of limestone rock close to the surface that they soon found could be used for fencing as well as building. Besides being durable and fire resistant, limestone had several other advantages.  It could be obtained easily with the proper tools and techniques and it was uniform in thickness.  When freshly quarried, it was soft enough to shape with simple tools and hardened after being exposed to air.

Since the lowlands were prone to flooding, many schools and homes were built on the crest of a hill where the endless horizon provided a clear view of approaching storms and marauders. Although this location provided little protection from the wind and weather, it provided an unobstructed view of the Kansas sunset.  As the sun sank below the horizon, it set the entire sky ablaze in shades of bright orange and red against the golden backdrop of the prairie grass.

Gazing out at the abandoned farmhouses, one feels a sense of melancholy co-mingled with joy.  If the building had a voice, it would say, “Don’t mourn for me.  I have had a good life.   While it’s true that I have seen sadness and withered hopes, I have also watched children grow to adulthood and seen dreams realized.  I am here now only as a reminder of the sacrifices made to create this life for you. Embrace me and move on, but don’t forget me. I am the roots; you are the wings."

Stone Schoolhouse: Flint Hills National Preserve

District 22 Schoolhouse, c.1890

Stone Farmhouse: Flint Hills National Preserve
Snokomo Schoolhouse c. 1882
Bushong School, c. 1918

Volland Hotel