Two previous storms did significant damage to our Chapman farm near Paxton. The first came from the southwest, around 2000, and ripped a roof off a lean-to shed on the west side of the corn crib, and laid that roof on the ground next to the then-new machine shed. That wind also toppled half of the concrete block south wall of the three-car garage. Brother David and I spent a week dismantling the rest of that lean-to, learning how our father had built it with heavy timbers and 7-inch nails, and making ourselves more tired than we could remember. We hired the repair of the garage.
The second storm, five years later, brought a straight-line wind from the north, that blew a window out of the master bedroom, irreparably damaged the vinyl siding on the north side of the house, blew down the large hackberry tree between the house and the old shed, which our father had built out of full-dimension lumber from the original 1860 farmhouse. That shed stood undamaged, but the power lines supplying it came down with the tree. The wind also toppled half of the north wall of the three-car garage. I cut up the tree, except for the massive four-foot diameter trunk. For the rest of the work I hired the Sutton brothers.
Since last October Jan and I have worked regularly to clean, fix, rehabilitate, and refurnish the 1915 foursquare house. It’s been a lot of work, and much remains to be done before we call it finished. This July we looked across the broad river valley west of the house and saw a dark wall cloud coming ten miles away that the weather radio warned us about—a tornado was coming, located between Elliot and Melvin, headed our way. We saw it at a distance as it formed a perfect funnel and began to raise a debris cloud from the ground. The next twenty minutes passed like lava, as the storm clouds seemed to stand still. Jan and I headed for the basement, taking our warning radio and cell phones with us. While Jan took a seat in a camp chair in the inside corner of one basement room, I watched the storm approach through a ground-level window in another basement room. I watched the tornado coming and a second funnel forming alongside the first.
Of course I prayed, thanking God for the relative safety of a full basement with thick brick walls that had withstood storms on this “hilltop” for a hundred and two years. If the rest of the house would be removed, and Jan and I could survive, then I would be even more thankful! In the face of that tornado, we could willingly say goodbye to the house even with the precious memories it contained. There was nothing between us and the two funnels, as they appeared to be missing our neighbor’s farmstead by a few hundred yards, still heading straight toward us.
Wall clouds and funnels are extremely interesting to watch, as well as terrifying. My heart was pounding and my excitement level jumping as I watched the bases of the two funnels dance, away from each other and toward each other, in a powerful tango. When they were about a quarter mile away, still coming slowly, and I was ready to abandon my post by the window for the safety of the other room with Jan, I saw the two tornado funnels move into each other and lift off the ground. As if one funnel canceled the other, within seconds they lifted from the ground and disappeared into the black cloud above. The house was peppered with dime-sized hail, small branches, dirt, and light field debris.
A few minutes later, as the rain continued but the winds began to subside, we moved upstairs and watched the darkest clouds move farther to the east. The tornado warning continued over the radio, but, to my knowledge, no significant damage was done. We looked around the house and the yard, and there was still work to be done, but it was not the work of picking up the pieces.
“Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.” So spoke Martin Luther in 1521 at his fateful trial in Worms (pronounce that ‘Voorms’). His words during that formative period of the German Evangelical (Lutheran) Church signaled an emphasis on individual conscience that has remained a part of our identity to this day.
We visited Worms in 1987. My family indulged my appetite for places and events that heretofore had meant little to them. We found a clean little pension house (cheap family rooms) underneath the great tower of the Dom of Worms (the cathedral). All night long the deep reverberating tones of the huge bells awakened us marking each hour. Allied bombs had demolished the immense cathedral during World War II. The painstaking reconstruction was displayed in many photographs along the walls of the nave, like stations of the cross.
The same thing happened to Luther Memorial Church two blocks away. It also was rebuilt in detail from the ruins. Significant words from Luther are inscribed on the walls of that church, and in the small chapel a crucifix depicts Jesus reaching down from the cross to embrace both a German civilian and a German soldier prostrate on the ground. The bulletin boards of both churches stressed Catholic-Protestant cooperative activities ongoing in their current lives.
A few blocks away on the Judenstrasse (Jewish Street) is the ancient synagogue of Worms, home of one of the first Hebrew congregations in Northern Europe, where Rashi, one of the greatest interpreters of the Hebrew scriptures of all time, studied as a child. Nazi thugs burned the synagogue on Kristallnacht, November 9, 1938. Members salvaged what they could and sent sacred articles as far away as California to preserve them against the Holocaust that was coming. Now the synagogue building is fully restored, although it serves mostly as a memorial to the hundreds of its members killed in the Holocaust.
Still a few more blocks away is the church of Martin of Tours, on the site where, according to local belief, the fourth century saint was imprisoned for a time after his conversion to Christianity and his leaving his youthful occupation as a Roman soldier.
We visited and meditated on these landmarks of human conscience. We sat in the town square by the fountain with its fanciful sculpture in honor of another local product—the smooth German wine called Liebfraumilch, “Mother’s Milk.” Indeed as we rested, a woman strolled past, nursing her baby.
The best and the worst of human behavior is represented there. Intolerance and steadfast conscience exist side by side. Can we tolerate the differences of opinion and attitude that make life difficult? Like mother’s milk, may the wine of tolerance, kindness, mutual acceptance, assent, and dissent flow.
We were driving through rain, rain that had filled two hours of the afternoon, on I-74 toward Galesburg, when we began to see the bright band of open sky on the western horizon. The contrast with the blue and gray bands of the sky above was stark. We welcomed the prospect of turning west toward Burlington. As sunset was approaching and the sun would soon be edging into that bright space, the open sky brightened into solid yellow, then startling gold. Soon the sun spread its blinding light under the blue clouds, sending golden rays shimmering across the whole landscape, highlighting the deeply scalloped row of clouds above the horizon, and fanning the bands of light in angles against the varying blue and gray tones of the clouds above.
I thought, “God’s grandeur…while all other arguments for God fail or come up short, the beauty of the earth still makes the case.”
The intensity of the gold light against the blue bands of sky increased, far surpassing any goldsmith’s skill, on a scale of magnitude infinitely greater in the whole gold bowl of the firmament. Then it grew even brighter. Our eyes had been fully occupied with the drama in the west. We were turning east into the cloverleaf onto US 34 when we saw the full rainbow spread across the eastern sky against a dark blue background. Before a moment’s thought I heard myself ask, “Who needs a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow when we have a sky full of it?”
It had been years since I had remembered that favorite poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness….”
We faced the western sunset, as the top edge of the sun slipped below the horizon, and the fan of colors shining across the clouds out of that white blue band of open sky on the horizon began to soften gradually from blinding gold into yellow, pink, mauve, red, and burgundy against the cloud ridges of blues, purples and grays. A bright reflection of the sun’s orb appeared on the western sky above the point where the sun itself had disappeared, and remained for several minutes mirrored on the distant clouds. While the ceiling of clouds darkened overhead, the silhouettes of trees and land stood black against the western brightness.
As the colors in that band of light shaded into intensely deep yellow and red, the sky appeared to flame behind the sharp silhouettes, as if the fires on the Californian coast had finally reached and filled our midwestern skies, yet they did not alarm. They impressed with overpowering awe.
Gradually, as we approached Gladstone and Burlington, the lights above dimmed into the blackness of clouds. The clouds were still overhead, no stars could shine through, and the bright band of light blue still appeared distant, although it stretched across the whole length of the western horizon as we took in the steepled lights of Burlington’s downtown.
“And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast with ah! bright wings”
Curt Williams was one of the peculiar elder saints of the United Church of Tilton. In 1973, a few months after I arrived there, he gave me a wooden coin with the letters “TUIT” on one side, when I admitted, “I didn’t get around to doing that.” “You’ll never have to say that again,” he responded with a smile.
Over the years the need for that round TUIT has returned many times, especially when a stack of unread material and unfinished projects has piled up. The only advantage of procrastination has been that some items are so outdated they can be filed quickly in File 13.
One such set of files was marked “Selective Service 1964 to 1972.” That file used to seem so significant. I was a volunteer draft counselor with the American Friends Service Committee, talking to dozens of peers who were looking at their options. I was the potential holder of four deferments—student, medical, conscientious objector, and theological student. There had been many letters, reclassifications, and everyone on my draft board knew me. Even when I stopped responding to their letters, they ignored my non-cooperation. The whole extended episode was a time to be forgotten, and I succeeded in forgetting most of it. Twenty years later I discarded the file.
The letters from friends serving in Vietnam was another matter, still on file. I proposed to my wife just before Thanksgiving of 1967, confessing to her that I didn’t know what the war would do to us. We married during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, so I did not join my fellow members of the Students for a Democratic Society in Grant Park. Our daughter was born immediately after the Kent State killings when University of Chicago students had dug trenches into the empty lot a block from our apartment building. Our son was born in 1973, just after the Paris Accords were signed and America’s soldiers were being withdrawn. When I got around to it, I told myself, I should write something about those times. In 2007 I did, although it took shape around the experiences of my son-in-law and his brother and became the book The River Flows Both Ways.
President George H.W. Bush said in 1988, “No great nation can long be sundered by a memory.” More than fifty years after those days, “The Vietnam War,” the documentary film from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, finally puts a comprehensive review of that war before the world.
Some psychologists say that we forget things for reasons that are unconsciously hostile. We also postpone forgetting things, remembering certain things with hostility. Is there not a time peacefully to remember, releasing hostility in the creative act of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks? Sometimes it takes a while to get around to it. We wait until the lessons we should have learned earlier are repeated before our eyes.
There was a retreat for campus leaders just before the beginning of my sophomore year, which resulted in the development of a goal—a campus coffeehouse. As the newly elected president of the Methodist Student Movement, I took part, and I was excited about the idea of a place where people could come to talk informally and explore serious issues of the day—religious, social and political issues. Other campus venues seemed to be purely social or academic, not existentially grounded, and not open to student leadership. When leaders in the Student Senate developed the idea, however, it leaned more toward an intimate center for student performance as actors and musicians, than an organizing center for serious conversation. I publicly criticized the development as a betrayal of the original purpose.
There was a lot of support for the developing performance center coffeehouse idea, and I failed to provide a coherent and attractive vision of a place where we dealt with heady issues. It was embarrassing. Clearly the different visions for using the coffeehouse were not mutually exclusive, and I apologized for my critique. We would get to use the coffeehouse for many different issue conversations and presentations, but my criticism had proven counter-productive for the “Student Movement.” I had alienated some of the people I wanted as allies and dialogue partners.
Other matters added to my emotional turmoil. A trip to Chicago to take part in the SCLC-sponsored open housing marches had opened my eyes to the violence of the opposition to racial integration on Chicago’s southwestern suburbs. The war was expanding in Southeast Asia where the “Ugly American” had colored the conflict. My health was deteriorating. A friend whom I had joined for morning prayer frequently in my freshman year had become obsessed with Hindu yoga meditation, and I was not willing to pursue that for more than the satisfaction of curiosity. I was not finding a way through the spiritual solipsism that had confounded me.
In the middle of the fall semester a new hymnal was published for the Methodist Church, and Choir Professor David Nott invited everyone to the Presser Auditorium one evening to explore the hymnal. I was not involved in the choirs, but music was always helpful when I was distressed, and the prospect of hearing familiar and new hymns attracted me. Dr. Nott led enthusiastically. Then he introduced a hymn and arrangement that was new to him, though an anonymous person had written the words a century before: “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew, God moved my soul to seek ‘him,’ seeking me. It was not I that found, O Savior true; no, I was found by You.”
I was singing the song and praying the words, and suddenly I realized that the experience was real, and I was filled with a joy that had no measure. “You did reach forth Your hand and mine enfold; I walked and sank not on the stormy sea; not so much that I on You took hold, as You, dear Lord, on me.” Every word added to my joy through the last verse. “I find, I walk, I love, but oh, the whole of love is but my answer, Lord, to You! For You were long beforehand with my soul, Always You loved me.”
I had not yet read C. S. Lewis Surprised by Joy, although John Wesley’s sense of “having his heart warmed” was always entertained in my thoughts. This experience went far beyond either, as I felt so light that I nearly floated out into the night when the program ended. This was the experience of God’s Real Presence.
Real challenges would bring me back down to earth, and the awareness that my ideas of God would always fall far short of the reality of God’s Spirit would keep me from lifting my thoughts too high. There would be more to come than insight, more than comfort, more than strength, more than an answer to my feeble prayers.
John Bell was such a popular name in the 1800’s that hundreds of references to that name show up in southern and Midwestern records. Many can be eliminated as related to one another because of birthdates, locations of death, and other indicators that they are not related to the John Bells that are part of our own family, but many remain single references that are unconnected to any other data.
We began with confidence in our own closest ancestors with that name, the great-uncles and great-great-father who are buried in the family cemetery near New Salem, Illinois. From where did that Great-great grandfather come? There were other Bells and even John Bells in the immediate vicinity and surrounding counties who could be easily disregarded because there were no plausible family connections.
You can imagine my excitement when I found a ‘John Francis Bell’ born in the Cherokee Nation with the same birthdate as the Grandfather John F. Bell, reported by his grandson (our Grandpa Hillmann) to be raised among the Cherokees with twenty-one siblings. Then I found a maternal uncle, James Starr, traditionally responsible for his nephews’ upbringing, with twenty-one children of his own. The name ‘John Bell’ also appeared as one of the youthful protectors (or was it a gang?) of the Cherokee Nation’s eastern border, along with Starr’s own sons and several other relatives and neighbors. These instances provided a connection to a full line of John Bells well-documented in Cherokee records. John Francis Bell also disappeared from Cherokee Nation records in 1848 just after the murder of his father, and just before our John Francis Bell appeared in the New Philadelphia-New Salem area.
It was not the case that the records were entirely in agreement with each other. Sometimes two John Bells in the same Bell family appeared in each generation. John Francis Bell had a younger brother named John Martin Bell. They had an uncle named John Adair Bell who had first cousins named John Bell. Often the middle names were not used in separate records.
John Adair Bell was the most famous among them since he and his brother Samuel Bell signed the New Echota Treaty with the Federal Government in 1835. John Adair Bell led one of the large detachments of Cherokee people in the 1837-38 Removal, usually called the Trail of Tears. Members of the Bell detachment were mostly residents of the ancient city of Coosawattee in Georgia, and John Adair’s father, and his brothers, including David Henry Bell, and David’s son, John Francis Bell, were probably among its numbers. I must add ‘probably’ because no full listing of the detachment members has been recovered, and other circumstantial information has been assembled that points to their presence.
The John Bell who was the grandfather of the grandfather of our grandfather, in other words the father of John Adair Bell, has often been mistakenly identified as the signer of the New Echota Treaty and the leader of the detachment, instead of his son. To add to the confusion, his middle name may or may not be the John ‘Christopher’ Bell, born in Greenville, South Carolina, in May 1, 1782, although that date seems to be firm as the grandfather’s birthdate, so I will use that name for the sake of identification. John C. Bell married Charlotte Adair, the mixed Scot and Cherokee daughter of John Adair (the founder of Adairsville, Georgia), and their children included John Adair, David, Samuel, and Devereaux Jarrett, as well as several other well-documented men and women.
John C. Bell’s 1842 Registered Claim clears some additional confusion about his life. He gives reasons for his 1833 move from Coosawattee to Alabama, where his brother Francis Bell was residing in that part of the Cherokee Nation, and the claim clearly indicates that John C. Bell was ‘white,’ although his family is Indian. John C. Bell is a member of the Cherokee Nation because of his marriage to Charlotte, not because he was born into it. The Georgia legislature’s claim on John C. Bell, later declared unconstitutional by the Federal Court, was a claim on him as a white man and citizen of Georgia. This is interesting because many Cherokee records, dating from around 1900, claim that John C. Bell was half-Scot and half-Cherokee, like his wife. They often say that John C. was the half-blood son of John Bell, the Scotsman, who married a Cherokee woman of the Deer Clan. This would make John C. commit incest, according to Cherokee tradition, when he married Charlotte Adair, who was also a member of the Deer Clan. I account for this lapse in Our Land! Our People! with the documented incidents later when families in the next generation disregarded clan membership when marrying, as the clan system was breaking down, and people were adopting the English familial system and different definitions of incest, but there was no corroboration of this with regard to John C. Bell and Charlotte Adair, and it is more likely that people later just got confused about which John Bell was which. John C. Bell, a Scot, married a woman of the Deer Clan, Charlotte Adair, and their children, observed the clan traditions and married spouses of the Wolf Clan, or other clans that were not Deer. John C. Bell’s father may have been named John Bell, or he may have been another David Bell; this is where the lines become unclear again, but neither married a Cherokee woman.
If I were to rewrite Our Land! Our People! I would consider John C. Bell as a full-blooded Scotsman, still with his Scot accent, who was one among several men who married Cherokee women and were adopted into the Nation. He was a well-known traveler, trader, farmer, and blacksmith who fell in love with a Cherokee woman, who was the daughter of another well-known Scot trader and traveler, John Adair. That was enough of a challenge for their lives at the time without the additional burden of an accusation of incest.
It would have been a lot easier if there were not so many ‘Johns Bells’ in and out of the family.
Here is the witnessed claim of John Bell, the grandfather of John Francis Bell, recorded in Flint District in the Cherokee Nation West (now largely Adair County in Oklahoma):
John Bell, states on oath, he erected and made all the improvements set out in the above claim in the old Nation Since the 23rd day of May 1836. that never was valued by the agents of the United States at the time that general evaluations made in the old Nation in the years 1836 & 7. The Loom he was compelled to have at his place of residence in 1838. When the general emigration took place as he had offered the said home for sale and could get no purchaser thereof it was lost to him. For the use and occupation of dwellings etc on the road he was from the force of circumstances literally compelled to leave said place, That the session of the legislature of the State of Georgia in the fall 1830 enacted a law compelling all white men, citizens of the Cherokee Nation to comply with certain restrictions or leave the portion of the Nation within the limits of the state. The Conditions of the said law was that he should swear to give them obedience and enforce all laws of the state, leave the state or its limits or be sentenced to the penitentiary for the time of four years at hard labor, the laws of the state being so oppressive to the Indians and he having an Indian family, would not nor could he doing justice to his own feelings comply with said law in taking the said oath, therefore was compelled to leave the state or suffer imprisonment in the penitentiary for the term of four years, thereby left his place in Coosawattee which was well situated with a good dwelling, outbuildings + Lots, suitable for the accommodation of all kinds of stock, that in fact he was prepaid for the accommodation of travelers of all descriptions, and his place as a public stand on the road, and one of the best roads in the Cherokee Nation East, proved to him very profitable for the last five or six years before he was compelled to leave, that he left in the early part of the year 1831. And his family still resided on said place till August following, marking the time he lost the use of said place from August 1831. Till the same month in the year 1836. At the time the general valuations took place, which said place with all the appurtenances and all advantages, attributed to the said place, as a public stand and a good farm he lost or would have made annually the _____ charge per year, The five head of cattle, the Eleven head of hogs, and the shop, he entirely lost in the removal, The loss of property, consisting of home, trade, and many other articles of use to a family that he was summarily compelled to leave, and for his expenses in the removal out of the limits of the State of Georgia, was worth at a reasonable price five hundred dollars, That he has never from the United States or from any other source received compensation for the same or any part thereof.
Sworn to before me 29th April 1842. W. S. Adair [Walter Scott Adair]. John Bell [his legible signature]
Copied from 1842 Cherokee Claims, Volume 2, Compiled by Marybelle W. Chase (Colcord, OK, Talbot Library and Museum, 2008), 54-57.
Recently I was presenting Our Land! Our People! at the Talbot Library and Museum in Colcord, Oklahoma. I did not expect to find much in the little town of Colcord, Oklahoma, but I was wrong. Talbot publishes some significant works on Cherokee history, and their facsimile editions of the 1843 Claims were illuminating on the John Bell family in several respects. For the first time I could actually see the English and Cherokee handwriting of four key family members—John Bell, the father, and three of his Bell sons—John Adair, David Henry, and Devereaux Jarrett (better known as Chicken Trotter).
The 1843 Claims record unreimbursed losses prior to the Cherokee Removal in 1838-39, usually due to thefts or confiscations of property by non-Cherokee white men. They were submitted to recover those losses, and they had to be witnessed by at least two other reputable citizens. The Bells served as reporters of their own claims, witnesses to others, and, in the case of Chicken Trotter, an official recorder of several dozen claims by others.
Chicken Trotter’s reports are some of the clearest and most beautifully written in all of the volumes. Deciphering other writing was sometimes impossible, but “D. J. Bell” provided some of the best. That surprised me, because in other places he is recorded by the simple notation “his mark,” and I never found evidence that he had attended any of the Cherokee schools. It is no wonder that he didn’t sign his work “Devereaux Jarrett” but “D. J. Bell” works well, and there is no competitor for the use of those initials among the Bell family. David Henry Bell would be “D. H.” and he just signed as “David Bell.” As these claims were recorded in the first few months of the year, there was enough time for Chicken Trotter to get back to Texas in order to work with Governor Sam Houston to conclude the Treaty of Bird’s Fort on September 29, 1843, which ended the four years of conflict between the Texas government and several tribes. Conflict followed the second Texas governor, Mirabeau Lamar’s attempt to eradicate the native population. Sam Houston, the first governor, an official Cherokee himself, had tried to grant reservation status to the Cherokees among others. From one administration to the next, the policies reversed from welcoming people of different cultures to trying to destroy them, and back again.
Chicken Trotter, according to the records of the Texas Cherokee population, had come to Texas during the mid-1830’s, when Chief Duwali (or Bowle, as he was also known), led the tribe. They were and continue to be located in Rusk, Cherokee and Smith Counties, as the areas are known today. When in 1839 Governor Lamar and the Texas militia killed Duwali and at least half of the tribe in a genocidal attack, Chicken Trotter soon became one of the remaining leaders.
Because of the Texas Cherokee account I rewrote Our Land! Our People! removing Chicken Trotter from Alabama, where his father lived, and from the Bell Detachment on the Trail of Tears, and putting him in Texas through the late 1830’s. After publishing, I found evidence that Chicken Trotter served his brothers in the Bell Detachment as a treasurer paying bills along the route. If he accompanied the group the whole way, he was travelling to Indian Territory from September 1838 through early January 1839, before returning to Texas in time to be in danger during the massacre of Duwali and the Cherokees in July.
When a group of Cherokees, including John Adair Bell and David Bell travelled to Texas in September and October of 1845, accompanied by the diarist and newspaper reporter William Quesenbury, they visited the northeast Texas Cherokee settlement, and Chicken Trotter was there leading the group, having established a community farm, including watermelons and pumpkins as Quesenbury notes, because some of their horses got loose and tore up the patch.
In 1848, Chicken Trotter was again in Indian Territory, joining his brother Sam and other Cherokees planning a journey to California to prospect for gold. Sam died on the way but Chicken Trotter and his wife Juliette got there before returning to their people in Texas a year or so later. There is no record about his success or failure in finding gold.
Chicken Trotter was a busy man, travelling back and forth quickly in days when travel was difficult. Maybe that is how he acquired his name.
We were anticipating the birth of our first child and preparing for it by taking classes in the Lamaze method of natural childbirth, as were other families in the Chicago Theological Seminary student community. Our obstetrician, Dr. James Jones, was popular in our Chicago Southside neighborhood. His office was always packed, yet he had time for each of his patients. He was a tall, handsome, personable African-American gentleman. No wonder his patients adored him. He also made time to fly to Haiti regularly to donate his services to expectant mothers there.
With Lamaze comes the expectation that husbands will be assisting their wives throughout labor and delivery, and Chicago had a law on the books banning husbands from the delivery room. We made a loud protest to the City Council, and the law was suspended. Having assisted in large animal births and trained in emergency human delivery practices, I had a vivid sense of what I could expect in the delivery room, and the Lamaze classes refreshed my previous experience with movies of deliveries with the aid of the Lamaze method. Jan and I had agreed that we would use Lamaze as much as we could, but we would not be afraid of using anesthesia if that proved necessary. Dr. Jones was on board with those ideas.
The due date was April 20, or so. Early in the week the city reversed its position and again banned men from the delivery room. The case went to court.
During the week of April 30th, the sleeplessness of end-of-term pregnancy was accompanied by the University of Chicago campus demonstrations following the killing of students at Kent State. An all-day and all-night vigil continued for the next week in the open lawns just half a block away from us.
Our first baby was typically late in coming, so we still had hope that a ruling in our favor would come out in time. One week overdue and Dr. Jones was gone to Haiti for a week. Two weeks overdue, with Dr. Jones due back the next day, we were just hoping that the baby would come out, sooner rather than later.
It was Mother’s Day, May 10, 1970, a beautiful sunny day. Our next-door neighbors in the apartment house, Sid and Arnie, were planning to make dandelion wine. We decided to help by picking blossoms on the Midway Plaisance lawns where the dandelions flourished. One way or another we were going to induce the coming of this baby. Sid was a nurse at Chicago Lying-In Hospital nearby where we were planning to go. Sure enough, while we were picking dandelions, Jan experienced her first labor pains. Dr. Jones was due t in the next few hours, and the court was due to make its ruling.
Jan’s labor turned into a twenty-four hour ordeal. We went through all the breathing patterns. Jan was spent; so was I for that matter, with less justification of course. Dr. Jones was in the hospital, delivering a baby for Mrs. And Mr. Dick Gregory (the comedian), whose room was across the hall from ours, and filled with baskets of flowers. No court ruling came until a few days later, after Alicia was finally delivered, when the court ruled in favor of husbands in the delivery room. Too late for me. I was too tired to care anyway. Jan had been whisked away. There was nothing for me to do except worry and pray about for my overly tired wife.
Jan remembers seeing Dr. Jones enter the room wearing a neck brace. (It was heavy duty bringing all of those babies into the world.) A few minutes later out came our baby. Later they all emerged from the delivery room, with my exhausted Jan holding a red-faced bald-headed, one-eyebrowed baby, who was not yet, but soon would be, the most beautiful little girl in the world.
I still wonder why the men of the city council thought it was their duty to keep other men out of the delivery room, but for us more important matters needed to be addressed—diapers, feedings, schedules, and finding our way as new parents.
My father was inhabiting his house by himself, after Mother’s death, and it was time to simplify things, like fancy window dressings and shelves of collectibles gathering dust. A few years passed before we arrived at a stage when my one visit a month could provide just enough time to sweep and dust and finish laundry, so that he would have an easier time doing what he needed to do by himself. Part of that process was replacing the sheer curtains and drapes with mini-blinds. My brother generously supplied the mini-blinds for sixteen large double-hung windows. They looked neat and they were versatile for providing light when needed and privacy when it was needed.
After ten years there by himself, and the loss of his driver’s license, the day finally came when he could no longer live there. It was a sad day, and we had to stop at the end of the lane for him to take a long last look, before we moved on to Burlington, where he would live at my house.
The question remained—what would we do with the property? Larry Schwing had worked with my father for years, and he had gradually assumed more of the responsibility for the farm until he was the full-time tenant farmer. The income from the farm would accumulate and provide what was needed for my father’s eventual move to assisted living and then nursing care. The house could contribute in the same way. We cleared the house of furnishings, held a sale of the items that would no longer be needed, and prepared for renters. The Larry Magelitz family arrived just when the house was ready. It would provide a comfortable home for the couple and their two little boys. Their life there went well for their first several months, until routine blood tests showed warning levels for lead in the little boys. It was a small indication, but there is no safe level for lead in children, and we were all upset that we had exposed them to danger in the old house.
We arranged for lead testing throughout the house. There were many painted surfaces, plenty of places where peeling paint and other materials could have been the source, but none of them showed a positive test for lead. Finally, the relatively new mini-blinds were tested, and the surprise came. They were saturated with lead, and the dust from their painted surfaces showed the positive results we had been searching for. The new mini-blinds from China were the source. There was no inspection or restriction of lead on anything that was being imported in the country. We quickly stripped the house of every set of blinds and sent them to the landfill. After a thorough cleaning, the Magelitz family was able to live there until a new job took them away. Another young family soon took their place, and, happily, they could enjoy the house for eleven years without fear of lead contamination. My parents always enjoyed the young families that lived nearby as their neighbors. We knew that they blessed the use of their home for these families and would want them to live there in safety.