On the Courthouse Lawn

The annual Flint Hills Folk Life Festival was held last weekend on the shady lawn surrounding the historic Chase County Courthouse in Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. Each June, the organizers of this event plan it to coincide with the Flint Hills Symphony concert performed by the Kansas City Symphony.

“The Earth Has Music”

A freak storm on the eve of the symphony weekend ended up cancelling the big musical performance, but the Folk Life Festival continued. Wandering music lovers discovered music on the lawn, just a few miles up the road. There was even a bit of dancing.

If you took a closer look at the exhibits, you’d find artists demonstrating skills from the nineteenth century. You might find a basket weaver. Or an artisan busy making handmade soap. You’d find a field station for a frontier army, and Union soldiers patrolling the grounds. A mountain man displayed crafts and toys made from feathers and skins. A row of tents under the elms held many textile crafts with artists hard at work. And you might even be invited to try your hand at various activities. I helped with a quilting bee, learned about Tunisian crochet and rug twining, as well as conversion hints to turn my grandmother’s old red-eye Singer 66 treadle sewing machine into a hand-cranked version.

You could find a potter, busily throwing new kitchen pots on an old-fashioned kick-wheel or a woodworker making spoons from chunks of firewood. If you get thirsty, how about some homemade lemonade, or even root beer? And to remedy the nibbles, some kettle corn, hot and fresh. You might even find a book or two written by a prairie author, featuring life in those Flint Hills surrounding the historic courthouse.

If you took some time to sit in the shade a spell, and exchanged pleasantries with some of the other visitors, you would encounter people from several nearby communities–Council Grove, Americus, Emporia–as well as Wichita and Kansas City. You  might even find folks from as far away as Minnesota and Texas, who had chosen this weekend to explore the Kansas Flint Hills.

Disappointed symphony fans who took the time to look around returned home with an unforgettable memory from picturesque Cottonwood Falls. With nature weirding into increasingly unpredictable and extreme weather events, the skills on display at the courthouse might even come in handy in the not-so-distant future. Take cues from the youngsters dashing around the courthouse, inventing games, twisting ropes, and flying feather kites. Life without all those electronic gadgets might have its upsides too.

 

 

A Who Dunnit—Why Dunnit Approach to Writing History

Kansas Authors Club District 5 is pleased to host a seminar at the October convention by Dr. David A. Nichols,  A “Who Dunnit – Why Dunnit” Approach to Writing History.

A William & Mary Ph.D., Dr. Nichols is a Kansas native and the author of Ike and McCarthy: Dwight Eisenhower’s Secret Campaign against Joseph McCarthy; A Matter of Justice; Eisenhower and the Beginning of the Civil Rights Revolution; and Eisenhower 1956: The President’s Year of Crisis – Suez and the Brink of War.  All Eisenhower books were published by Simon & Schuster. Nichols is also the author of Lincoln and the Indians: Civil War Policy and Politics (Minnesota Historical Society, 2012).

Revealed for the first time, Ike and McCarthy is the full story of how President Eisenhower masterminded the downfall of the anti-Communist demagogue Senator Joseph McCarthy. Behind the scenes, Eisenhower loathed McCarthy, the powerful Republican senator notorious for his anti-Communist witch hunt. In spite of the public’s perception that Ike was unwilling to challenge the senator, the president decided that dealing with the challenges behind the scenes, operating with a “hidden hand” to bring an end to the witch hunt, was a better approach. In Ike and McCarthy, a 2018 Kansas Notable book, Nichols uses documents previously unavailable or overlooked to authenticate the extraordinary story of Eisenhower’s anti-McCarthy campaign in an eye-opening and fascinating read.

In A Matter of Justice Nichols presents a dramatic reappraisal of the thirty-fourth president’s record throughout the early years of the civil rights revolution, revealing his lesser-known role in advancing civil rights. The account traces pivotal contributions of Ike’s administration to such events as the Brown decision and the desegregation of Little Rock schools.

A gripping tale of international intrigue and betrayal, Eisenhower 1956 is the white-knuckle story of how President Dwight D. Eisenhower guided the US through the Suez Canal crisis of 1956. The crisis climaxed in a tumultuous nine-day period fraught with peril just prior to the 1956 presidential election, with Great Britain, France, and Israel invading Egypt while the Soviet Union ruthlessly crushed rebellion in Hungary. Dr. Nichols draws on hundreds of documents previously unavailable to researchers, enabling the reader to look over Ike’s shoulder and follow him day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour, as he grappled with the greatest international crisis of his presidency. Nichols uses formerly top secret minutes of National Security Council and Oval Office meetings to illuminate a crisis that threatened to escalate into global conflict.

Lincoln and the Indians remains the only thorough treatment of a much-neglected aspect of Lincoln’s presidency. Placing Indian affairs in the broad context of Civil War politics and the settling of the West, Dr. Nichols covers the Sioux War of 1862 in Minnesota, the forced removal of the Navahos from their homeland to the deadly concentration camp at Bosque Redondo, and the massacre of Cheyennes by volunteer troops at Sand Creek. He also examines Lincoln’s inept handling of  the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory and the corrupt “Indian System” of government aid that mainly benefited ambitious whites.

Thanks in part to Nichols’ impact on the reassessment of Dwight Eisenhower as president; a poll of 193 historians in 2017 rated Eisenhower fifth among American presidents, following only Lincoln, Washington, and the two Roosevelts. David A. Nichols began his serious research and writing in his mid-60s after retiring from Southwestern College in Winfield, where he served for 25 years, including eleven as Vice President for Academic Affairs.

At the Wichita convention, Dr. Nichols will share about his most recent book (Ike and McCarthy) and related research, exploring research design, dealing with all kinds of sources, and finding a publisher. “Who Dunnit? And Why Dunnit?” You won’t want to miss his inside information and tips on meaningful research.

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Convention registration information at http://www.kansasauthors.org

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Book ‘Em!

David A. Nichols

Books to Wake-up and Shake-up

http://www.amazon.com/Tyranny-Twenty-Lessons-Twentieth-Century-ebook/dp/B01N4M1BQY

On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder

Early in 2017, I sat in an examine room waiting for a dermatologist to examine a suspicious spot on my nose. To pass the inevitable wait time I had brought along the book I was currently reading. When the doctor finally breezed into the room, I was writing a memorable point from the book in my travel journal. He noticed and he asked about the book. Then he recommended one he’d found of utmost importance, On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century by Timothy Snyder.

I was intrigued, as much by the recommendation of a physician to his first-time patient as anything else. On my return home, I looked it up and ordered a copy. Before the week passed, I had devoured Snyder’s treatise. “Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the 20th century,” Snyder wrote in the introduction. “Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so.”

Using examples from historical incidents within the personal recollection of my elders, Snyder listed steps we should take to stave off a descent into chaos. Among these:

Defend institutions. These include the courts, news outlets, and labor unions. Public schools, libraries and book stores could also make the list.

Beware the one-party state. Become informed. Vote. Run for office yourself.

Be courageous. Stand out. Give courage to others. Set a good example of what America should mean for the sake of coming generations. Hang onto the dream of liberty and justice for all.

On friends: Stay in touch with your neighbors. Make new friends and march with them. Make friends abroad. And keep your passport current.

Defend our language. Refuse to talk like everybody else. Separate yourself from the internet. Read books.

Believe in truth. And search for it. Investigate. Figure things out for yourself. To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.

As the events of 2017 accrued, it became clear that we are being led by a tyrant. I recommend Snyder’s book. Read it while it’s still allowed.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Will-Change-Men-Masculinity-Love-ebook/dp/B000FC0Y6S

The Will to Change by bell hooks

Friends recommended other books in my 2017 journey that carried an impact. The Will to Change: Men, Masculinity and Love by bell hooks, a black feminist writer, delved deeply into the ills of our society as a paternalistic creation. Traditional roles for women and men thrust upon children at very young ages may have contributed significantly to the simmering rage that fuels white supremism, racism, sexism, and ultimately the climate that leads to mass shootings. Until we can embrace the individual talents of every person, there will be violence in our future. Hooks’ study helped frame much of the tragic headliners of 2017 into a new perspective with increased understanding about how frustrated paternalistic roles have impacted events. We collectively need the will to change our ancient traditions of male dominance into an affirmation of every person’s unique gifts.

Wake-up and Shake-up To be continued. . .

Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols

http://www.amazon.com/Ike-McCarthy-Eisenhowers-Campaign-against-ebook/dp/B01HMXV2KO

Another true historical narrative on my reading list in 2017 was a new release by Simon & Schuster in the early spring. Given the rash of protests regarding the new administration’s reckless policies, there could not have been a more appropriate time for the release of David Nichols’ new study of Eisenhower, Ike and McCarthy.

Having spent time with Nichols talking about writing and sharing family stories, I was humbled to the extreme to read his well-written treatise on the McCarthy years. This infamous time in our history was over shortly before I was born, but the pages of Nichols’ book included names that would become significant players in world politics as I grew up.

What smacked at me most was the uncanny resemblance between McCarthy’s agenda and his tactics, and those of our current president. Most chilling was the realization that Ike, as a rational and intelligent leader, took clandestine steps to prevent a bid to the presidency by unstable extremist Joe McCarthy. In today’s world, the unstable extremist IS our president, and it is yet to be determined how—or even if—his influence will be checked.

We are tumbling into a deep, deep chasm with no end in sight.

Read Ike and McCarthy by David Nichols to gain insight into this repetition of our history.

Up next: Books to Wake-up and Shake-up, Part I.

 

Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

History provides real stories that are filled with suspense and drama, such as that found in Apollo 13. Unlike the previously mentioned books, this one was not written by a personal acquaintance, nor is it a recent book. I’m not even sure how the copy, autographed by Jim Lovell himself, made its way to my bookshelf, but it’s one I’m glad I read. The suspenseful tale of the doomed flight of Apollo 13 held my interest throughout. The real miracle is that its three astronauts actually returned to Earth and lived to tell the tale of their crippled spaceship.

The release of the acclaimed movie Hidden Figures in early 2017 made my reading even more pertinent. The movie highlighted the continued and absurd discrimination against black Americans (specifically black American women) even though their efforts proved to be highly valued—even irreplaceable—by the US space program. The team of black mathematicians was instrumental in aiding the successful return of the stranded astronauts.

Though the authors of Apollo 13 had never claimed Kansas to be home, I was delighted to discover the story concluded in Kansas when the spacecraft itself was delivered to its final resting place in Hutchinson at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center. It has found a home since 1995 in the space museum there.

Coming next: Ike and McCarthy by David A. Nichols

 

Sharon Cranford and Dwight Roth discover a distant kinship

Kinship Concealed by Sharon Cranford and Dwight E. Roth

http://www.amazon.com/Kinship-Concealed-Mennonite-American-Connections/dp/1937952428

The distinguished speaker rose after her introduction, an engaging and unique smile spreading across her African American countenance. With the ease of an experienced public speaker, Sharon Hill Cranford captivated the room’s listeners. She gave a brief history of her writing adventure, which started when she was confronted by a fellow faculty member at Hesston College in central Kansas, Dwight Roth, a white man with an Amish Mennonite lineage. He challenged her claim to the family name of Mast, a Mennonite name. Thus began their journey to discover a family connection through divergent lines of Amish immigrants to the US in the mid 1700’s. These two respected faculty members discovered they are indeed distant cousins.

The result of the research is a book jointly written by Cranford and Roth, Kinship Concealed. On the surface, it is a family story, a study in geneology that involved close examination of documents from Pennsylvania to North Carolina to Texas. Deeper down, it is a modern examination of the American drama resembling Alex Haley’s Roots.

I was captivated by the family drama unfolding on its pages. How devout Christians could rationalize the purchase of slaves was horrifying and baffling. I cried with Cranford’s great-great-great grandmother as she was ripped from her infant, a boy fathered by the master’s son. Nika was sold away south and lost in history, but never forgotten.

Charley Mast, Nika’s infant son, lived to be emancipated. He passed along his stamina and the desire to excel to his children. Highly educated, Cranford’s family members have earned distinction in today’s world as leaders in their chosen fields. Cranford’s speaking engagement detailed her own experience growing up in Texas during the Civil Rights awakening, the outright prejudice and obstacles thrown in her path by white people in positions of power. Yet she endured and has become an icon to her family.

That these two distant cousins could find it in their hearts to undertake such a personal examination of the sins of our fathers and reunite as kin, signifies a hope that the rest of our society might one day reconcile. The events of 2017 painfully confirm we have a long way to go. But, as Cranford writes in her prologue, “If this story encourages any portion of our society to reexamine its heart, it can play a pivotal role in breaking down the barriers of distrust and prejudice that years of pain and hypocrisy have bred,. . .”

We are, after all, one big human family, built on the same foundation. If we listen to Cranford and Roth, perhaps there is hope yet for our shared future.

Coming next: Apollo 13 by Jim Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger

 

Book Journeys of 2017

A few days ago, my writing cousin and friend Paul Bishop linked to an article about the growing trend of young writers who don’t like to read. Say what?

It has always seemed obvious to me that reading comes first. For me it certainly did. I fell in love with books as a child. When I was quite young I realized that I wanted to not just read books, but write them as well. I was also convinced that the best way to learn the craft of writing was to read widely and voraciously. I learned what worked to hold my interest, to make my heart beat faster, and what gave me a sated feeling of contentment.

The time required to lose myself in a book is at a premium these days. Many things vie for my attention and steal my time. There is a yearning in my heart for that good-old solitude, the luxury of time to lose myself in other worlds presented in books.

A disconnect exists between my longing and the fast-paced technological existence of today. We’re on a course into uncharted lands, where stories are told in tweets and symbols. Youth seem to loathe time they spend alone with themselves, or in genuine face-to-face conversation.

I don’t understand the young ones any more than they understand me, and that is a sad fact. But it doesn’t mean my experiences and values are meaningless. I cling to my cherished books, realizing that those I have spent time reading have shaped the course of my life this past year, as they have every year.

I’d like to share a few notable reading experiences as the first days of 2018 unfold, books that were my companions through the tumultuous times of 2017. It is particularly satisfying to note that I actually know and respect many of the authors of those books. Other books were recommended by friends. I did read a few that I will not recommend, some written by very young writers that were ripe with spelling and grammatical errors. If only those young writers would just read a few really good books. . .

The first reviews will be shared tomorrow. Up next: Jim Potter’s Taking Back the Bullet.

Grandmother’s Stories

I remember being fascinated by the stories my grandmother told of her early days. Horses and wagons. Moving to Kansas in a covered wagon. The tornado which destroyed their farmhouse a few months before my dad was born. The floods they endured after record cloudbursts up-river.

What kind of stories will I be able to tell my grandchildren? Or my children theirs? What could happen if we don’t take immediate steps to change the direction we’re headed? These might become the good old days of fairy tales and adventure stories.

Just imagine. . .

The silver-haired woman smoothed locks of the squirming girl child in front of her. “Hold still, Cam, dear. Two minutes. I’ll get your braids done.”

“Aw, Gran,” the child protested. “I hate when you fix my hair. It hurts.”

“The longer we wait, the more it will hurt. Shush now and sit still.” She combed the locks with knobby fingers, veins of age rising on the backs of her hands. “If only I had a comb.” The woman sighed.

“What’s a comb, Gran?”

“It’s a tool to help work out the knots in a little girl’s hair.”

“You used to have a comb, didn’t you? Years ago, when you were little?”

“I had many things, Cam.”

“Tell me.”

“We had plenty of combs and brushes for our hair. And our teeth.”

“Teeth! You combed knots out of your teeth?”

Gran laughed. “Not exactly. We brushed our teeth to keep them healthy.”

“So they wouldn’t fall out of your mouth, right?”

“You remember, child. Yes. We had a lot of things you’d never believe.”

“Like what?”

“Like cars, to drive us wherever we wanted to go.”

“On wheels?”

“With rubber tires. And we had a whole house for every family. And plenty to eat, with appliances to fix our food.”

“What’s a ‘plance’?”

Gran laughed. “Appliance,” she pronounced the word carefully. “Appliances were tools for a house. There were refrigerators for cooling our food to keep it from spoiling, and stoves to cook our meals. We had tools that would chop our food, or mix it up so we could bake cakes and pies in our ovens.”

The old woman’s fingers worked quickly, easing tangles from the child’s hair. She traced a part down the middle of her granddaughter’s head and tossed half the tresses to the front, across Cam’s chest.

“Tell me about the water,” Cam said.

“Oh yes. There was water, running from faucets in the kitchens and bathrooms—water to wash our food—and the dishes we ate on. We had water to wash ourselves. Even our hair!”

“You washed hair?”

“My yes. There’s nothing that feels so fine as a soft and silky head of clean hair.”

“And you could wash every day?”

“Every single day. Twice if we wanted to.”

“What about the flushes?”

“Our fancy toilets? Every family had one or two in their houses—special thrones for a privy. And you could flick the handle on the tank and flush your products down with swirling water.”

“Like magic.”

“It seems so now, little Cam. It didn’t seem magical to me then. When you have so much that is right at your fingertips, you get lazy. And you take it all for granted.”

“Like it will always be there?”

“Exactly. Like it was always there and always will be. Then something happens that shakes you awake and you realize how lucky you have been.”

Gran finished the second braid, knotted the grimy ends and tied a bit of twine around it.

“Tell me the story again, Gran. Tell me about how you lost my grandpa.”

Gran removed a polished stick from her own silver hair and shook her locks until they cascaded around her shoulders. “What—has Philip given you a day off?”

Cam grinned. “He’s off somewhere with the scouts. Tell me the story again.”

“About Grandpa Stefano?”

“Yes.”

“Ah. That story.” Gran combed her own hair, smoothed it into one long tress and twisted it to the top of her head. Holding it with one hand, she fished the polished stick from her worn skirt pocket and worked it through the twist until her hair was again secured neatly on top of her head. “I think you’ve heard this tale before. Where should I begin?”

“Where you always do.”

“Of course. It’s always best to begin at the beginning. Come with me, Cam. Let’s walk.”

Imagine the wasteland where Cam and her grandmother would walk. Then think of the huge wildfires we’ve seen each of the last two springs. Think of the erratic and unpredictable weather patterns. Think of the epidemic of earthquakes influenced by fracking procedures. We could be one, maybe two, generations from a life very different from what we now know. Our choices matter very  much.

Vote, while you still can. Vote for a candidate who respects the voices of the little guys. If we can’t change our leadership, our landscape and our future could look very bleak.

 

Diversity Lends Stability

One of the first lessons in Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century is “Beware the One-Party State.” Isn’t that what we have now in our country? If not yet, we are certainly approaching it. There’s something immoral, unethical, and deeply wrong with a system that inaugurates a candidate even though his opposition won the approval of voters by a significant majority. There’s also something immoral, unethical, and deeply wrong with a system that allows the majority party in Congress to re-draw voting district lines so their candidates have a clear advantage.

It doesn’t take much intelligence to realize a society is stronger and more stable if all views have a voice in our capitals. The great art of negotiation and compromise benefits us all. We have been created with a wondrous variety in interests, opinions, and talents. Rather than try to squelch those who hold differing views and talents, we’d all be better people if we tried to understand and learn from those who are different.

Diversity lends stability. Sound familiar?

Those of us fascinated by the study of science understand that ecosystems thrive when populated with a wide variety of species. In such vibrant systems, even if one species is decimated by a disease, others can adapt to fill the thinning ranks. If an area is home to only one kind of plant, and a pest or disease invades, the area is laid waste very quickly.

Contrary to some popular beliefs, science and scientists don’t really have an agenda to thrust on the rest of us. Scientists are curious thinkers. They notice something in their world and they want to know why it is the way it is. They watch,  measure, take things apart, get into the very smallest building blocks with increasingly technological equipment. And they keep asking questions. Ecologists noted over and over that “Diversity of species lends stability to an ecosystem.”

Even if you’re not a fan of modern science, maybe you are concerned with finances and the economy. My advisors recommend a retirement plan that utilizes multiple funds, guarding against the dire possibility that one failure would wipe out your life savings. (“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.”) Many people have watched their pensions disappear after economic disasters in recent years. Let’s not watch our entire country go the same way, with a government run by one party that answers to a few wealthy individuals.

Diversity lends stability.

If, for no other reason, this one reason makes it important for people to vote. Those of us with the opportunity to cast votes in an upcoming election must take the opportunity seriously. My congressional district is one of those. Advance voting is already open and I voted today. I voted for the candidate of the “other” party—the one not in power in Washington. To my friends and neighbors in this 4th district, I urge you to vote as well. Cast a vote to support a diverse Congress. Vote for James Thompson because diversity lends stability.

Lessons from Hiroshima

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Throughout our visit to Japan, I was impressed by the welcoming attitude of the people. Japan has become a nation dedicated to friendship and peace. The event on the morning of August 6, 1945 served to reverse their course in history. One plaque in the museum commemorated the Japanese Empire’s former war-mongering stance and noted that now, since the bomb, they are no longer that way. War is not the answer. They have changed. One event, one terrible violent, destructive, bloody event, shook them up so that they changed.

Maybe though, it wasn’t the people themselves that changed. Maybe it was just their leaders. The rotating wall showing faces of victims lost in the bomb were overwhelmingly women and children. The leaders who made the decision to go to war were not those who made the ultimate sacrifice. It was the innocents who suffered and paid with their lives.

My life as a woman has been marked by “taking care” of people and things. From the children in my own home, to pets they left behind when they moved out, to aging parents, to grandchildren. I would be hard-pressed to fill my days without someone to feed and take care of. Other women have different amounts of the nurturing instincts I feel. Indeed there is an complete spectrum of nurturing care among us. Women in general are more loving, giving, caring, and compassionate than men. Where would we be now if women, instead of men, had historically led the way in many countries around the world?

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What will it take to shake our leaders awake enough to lead for the people’s benefit, and not for their own narrow interests? Will the Orwellian dictates emanating from Washington be enough? Or will it take something that will be far more violent, destructive and terrible?

Will we, as a country, return to our role as leader of humanitarian advances in the world? Or will we succumb to ever-increasing limits on our own personal freedoms and education?

What will it take?

Whatever might be the turning point in our tide of division and anger, I hope the world will remember that Americans and the US government are not the same thing. There are plenty of decent, compassionate Americans still here. The leader who was not elected by the people speaks NOT for us.

I imagine many of the Japanese civilians who suffered from the bomb were decent, compassionate people. The innocents were not to blame. Their emperor spoke not for them, nor for the anguish in their hearts.

I recall the visiting Russian delegation that made a stop at my home last summer to view our alternative energy installations became my friends. They were good, people, decent and compassionate. Perhaps their government speaks not for them either.

And the Arabian family we invited to Thanksgiving dinner a couple years ago. A Muslim father, his beautiful and gracious wife, and two sweet children joined us to experience the traditional American feast. They were decent, compassionate people. I could see it in their smiles and feel it in the openness of their conversation.

Each of us, in every moment, can conduct ourselves as kind ambassadors to those we meet. If our government lacks consideration for the rest of the world, we must fill in the gap. We are our own ambassdors, in every way possible. It matters how we treat our neighbors on planet Earth.

If we learn anything from the Hiroshima story, let it be that people are people— kind, loving, compassionate neighbors on this planet. A nation, regardless of the continent it occupies, is not the land, nor its leaders. A nation is its people. No people, no country on earth, deserves the kind of destruction an A-bomb represents.

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We can’t afford to forget that.

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