Part 1: “I sought the Lord, and afterward…”?


, , , , ,

Pentecostal banner

In the first semester of my freshman year at Illinois Wesleyan University I wrote an essay and titled it “Is God a Teddy Bear?” I was exploring the psychological roles of anchoring for personal security in a god and the projection of good and bad attributes onto one’s idea of god. This was based naturally in the different characterizations of gods as judgmental, oppressive, vindictive at one end of the spectrum to loving, generous, and forgiving at the other end. These seem to be tied to personal experiences with parents, leaders, and others, to degrees of stress in environment, and the coping mechanisms we adopt for dealing with them and for understanding ourselves. The result for me was not only an “A” on the paper, but also a crisis in my own faith that lasted throughout the year.

If I was only praying to and worshipping an aspect of myself projected onto an idea of a personal being, there was not much power in my activity. If I was refusing or delaying the mature behavior of taking responsibility for myself and for my own potential, even when connected to other people, then such worship provided no service that could be characterized as healthy, “saving,” or mature. Worshipping oneself, even as a projected self, is a dead end. I began to think of the practices of devotion that I had exercised increasingly during my adolescence as an echo chamber that simply revealed to myself what I was thinking. Obviously I was on the wrong track in planning to be a minister, and I began to think of a career in psychology instead, or perhaps I should return to my earlier interest in anthropology.  The immediate dilemma was practical—my scholarship was tied to my status as a pre-theological student, and IWU had a psychology department which was devoted to behavioral psychology only, with its theoretical foundations in B. F. Skinner, whose work did not inspire me in the least.

I wanted to believe. The means to that end seemed to be retreating, and the awareness of my practical and psychological needs only accelerated the retreat. Even the fact that my own projections were positive, based in loving parents and family, and helpful, intelligent advisors and mentors, did not provide the answer if they were only projections. Relying on the faith of others does not provide a substitute for one’s own faith. My advisor for my work with the Illinois Conference Methodist Youth Fellowship noted that sometimes we “act our way” into belief. We continue to do as much as we know how to do until the ultimate goal becomes real for us. I knew “how to act” but the advice did not deliver me from the circle of my own subjectivity. The college chaplain suggested that the analogy of projection relied not only on a projector but also on a screen; something had to be there to receive the projected image, or something had to be “behind the screen” that was true. While I agreed with the analogical point, it did not construct anything more than an idea of god, not God-as-personally-known-in-the-universe.

I had no idea about what could deliver me from this conundrum, but I continued seeking an answer.


Which John Bell?


, , , , ,

OLOP Cover Photo 3

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.



John Bell’s 1842 Registered Claim



OLOP Cover Photo 3

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.

Filling In the Aporiae


, , , , , , , ,


OLOP Cover Photo 3 OOMH TRFBWcover

A Chapman is literally and historically a peddler, often of books as well as other trifles. That is how we began anyway, and I have been continuing the tradition. The first popular books for public consumption were chapbooks. Today we would call them pamphlets or paperbacks. One of my favorite Seventeenth Century chapbooks, held in the Lowenbach Collection in Chicago when I was the curator, was titled “Cures for the Plague,” and of course none of the cures would have worked.

One of the advantages of travelling around the country peddling my books is finding out where I have made mistakes in writing them. This has got to be as true when a person writes historical fiction as when writing legitimate history, if that person is concerned about getting as close to the truth as possible, both in telling a good story and in telling an accurate one.

I have known that the stories I have written in my retirement years have been about histories that will never be totally accurate, but are important nonetheless. I have tried to write my father’s early life stories so that they would be interesting and faithful to his spirit, my son-in-law’s and his brother’s emigration from Vietnam and Cambodia so that the stories would honor the ancestors who made their lives possible, and my wife’s Cherokee ancestry so that more contemporary people would appreciate the real sacrifices that have been made in building our country and the values that we should try to serve, even when they have not been served well in the past.

Talking to other people who know some of these backgrounds can be humbling. The soldier who served in Vietnam told me that he doesn’t want to listen to someone who wasn’t there, and he doesn’t want to hear the stories of his enemies, and I can understand his reasons. The family member doesn’t want to have the privacy of her dear deceased grandparents invaded, and I sympathize with that motivation as well, although our grandparents had nothing to be ashamed of and  much to make them proud. The active member of the Cherokee Nation doesn’t need another white man making money off of his people. I can only reassure him that I am not making any money.

I am learning and correcting as I go. I am finding out much that I could not have if I had not published. I am discovering that it is good to write on matters in which you have little prior knowledge or experience, because you begin to fill the holes in your own ignorance.


Where Was Chicken Trotter and When?


, , , , ,

OLOP Cover Photo 3

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.

The Hidden Springs of Hidden Springs Trail


, ,


With many record-setting warm days in a row, I’ve had an opportunity to try some of the many new trails in Northwest Arkansas. On cold days I hesitate to go where I might get lost or take a long time to return to where I can rejoin Jan. On warm days I can wander. There are more than forty miles of trails and 700 miles of roads in Bella Vista, not counting the golf course paths, and there are even more miles of trails in the contiguous cities to the south, so there are plenty of places to explore.

A new favorite is the Hidden Springs Trail that navigates a narrow steep-sided valley known as the Slaughter Pen, presumably because it was easy to drive herds of cattle from the broad plain at the top of the valley into an ever-narrowing channel until a herd would be compressed into a fenced neck before the valley broadened again. A fast, full current of water pours down the creek in the center of the valley, and the developed concrete and asphalt trail runs beside the stream for more than two miles. The stream looks and acts like one of the cold cave spring-fed streams along the Current River three hours east of here, where millions of gallons pour out of the ground every day, so it is an invitation to follow the stream until one comes to the “hidden springs” that give the trail its name.

The stream joins a couple of others below this valley where I have run for years, around Bella Vista Lake and along Little Sugar Creek. Amazingly in a couple of spots all of that water disappears below shelves of limestone, and then reappears a few hundred yards farther. Along the Hidden Springs Trail the water flows on the surface all the way and pours down some three and four feet tall falls in a few places, made even more lovely by the woods and shrubbery around them. Along the base of the rocky outcrops that line both sides of the valley, bare dirt bicycle paths run, and in several places the bicycle paths run half-way up the fifty to hundred foot cliffs or even along their top edges, providing a challenge to the experienced rider. It would be challenging enough for me to walk them, when I knew no bicycles were coming down those narrow paths, but I am content to keep walking the center until I find the source of all that water.

As I explored every day I ran a little farther up the developed trail, reaching the point where the busy stream was joined to a lazy, slower stream, and following the active one in my search for the hidden springs. Since the entry to the trail lies a half-mile beyond the parking lot, and the point where the streams converge is already a mile and a half upstream from that trail entrance, my three mile daily goal was easily surpassed in the quest. The early spring flowers, birds, and critters made it interesting, so I kept going. After two more days I could see that I was finally nearing the goal, three miles from where I started, where water poured into the creek bed.

A great blue heron stalked the small turbulent pool that fed the stream, and there was little bubbling or frothing of the water, so it must have been clear of most of the chemicals that saturate the groundwater these days, which was surprising. The source of the stream, instead of being the hidden springs I sought, was a series of large concrete vessels that served the Bentonville Sewage Treatment Plant.

A Church Embraces People with AIDS


, ,


spiral aurura

In the 1980’s and early 90’s, when AIDS was still a scandal to many people, a modern leprosy, popularly associated with promiscuous homosexual activity, although we knew it was acquired by other means as well, a church invited AIDS Burlington to use their facilities without charge for their regular and special meetings. AIDS Burlington consisted of people with AIDS, their friends, partners, and families, public health workers, and other interested and compassionate people who wanted to work together to learn how to respond personally, medically, educationally, and politically. They needed to meet regularly and have safe space to talk confidentially as well as space to present information to the public as it became available. They had no funds for these purposes, especially when medical bills were already overwhelming.


The church consistory discussed the possibilities. Outsiders might consider this church a sponsor of the activities associated with AIDS, instead of a giver of hospitality to people in need. We might receive threats from extremists. People might avoid our building, thinking it was contaminated. AIDS sufferers and their families might want to come to worship or take part in other activities, which could be a benefit to them, or it could drive other people away, who were afraid of contact with them. Not much helpful information was available for the first few years and misinformation was rampant. It was such a small thing to give space and to be present with the people who were trying to confront the medical and social problems that came with AIDS. Should we hide from those who needed our help?


The church offered space and the offer was accepted. For a few years, when several members of the community and their families were dealing with the AIDS crisis, before there was any systematic treatment or undisputed public information, AIDS Burlington were our guests, and they were both appreciative and respectful guests, who, as usual, gave at least as much to us as we gave to them. Some of those who able to survive and those who had to say farewell to their loved ones became a part of ‘us.’

We faced some of the unwelcome responses we feared, but never enough to make us regret the decision that we had made.


In and Out of the Delivery Room


, , ,

Chicago skyline 1970

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.

After the Failed Bi-Pap Experiment


, ,



From their own positive experiences, several people were helpful and encouraging to me about the use of C-Pap or Bi-Pap machines, and I am grateful for that. We learn along the way much about ourselves, minds and bodies, and sometimes we learn that one size does not fit all.

Shortly after my last blog report, I learned more about my failure. I had “complied” in every respect with the advice to use my Bi-Pap machine, averaging seven hours of use per night at the end. The result was paradoxical. I was suffocating, and my blood oxygen level was declining, resulting in the 70% levels referenced in my last report, and increasing unstable angina during the night. I began with a moderate obstructive apnea, aggravated by chronic sinus problems. I ended with a serious central apnea, in which the connection between brain and breathing diminished. That is not desirable. I asked that question when the process began, “Does the use of a C-Pap machine sometimes replace the body’s own natural automatic impulses to breathe?” and I was told “No; that does not happen.” As it turns out, in special cases, it does. I am special.

Maybe it has something to do with the odd electrical wiring of my heart, which has two blocked fascicles, the electrophysiologist tells me. That has probably been the case almost all of my life, and it is not easy or safe to change. The nerve blockage at least complicates the issue of brain to heart and pulmonary system operation. I am all for easier solutions.

Finally, I was told to stop using the Bi-Pap device entirely. After a few nights I returned to the earlier pattern—no central apnea, and moderate obstructive apnea. Meanwhile I had gone to a dentist who was trained in fitting “oral appliances.”   (She was very kind and sympathetic.) The process is similar to fitting a set of dentures or braces—molds are taken of the existing teeth. A device is prepared that covers both upper and lower teeth, and the covers are connected so that the lower jaw can be gradually moved forward, using the upper and lower teeth as the anchors. Moving the lower jaw and tongue forward opens the airway in the throat. Combined with simple inserts for expanding the nostrils, this old “mouth breather” suddenly became a nose breather with expanded access to my windpipe. Adapting to the device was relatively simple, compared to the Bi-Pap machine. The oral appliance fits securely, so there is no problem with ever-shifting masks. The oral appliance is also very quiet. Gradually over the past four months the airway space has enlarged from my natural relaxed position to 7 mm larger in diameter. The resulting beneficial impact on apnea has been substantial.

I returned the BiPap machine. No hard feelings. Someone else will benefit from it—maybe even you. But if you feel like it is trying to suffocate you, even when the technicians increase the settings for the machine to work harder, it probably is.

Considering Social Security


, ,


farm windmill

In the 1960’s our visits with our large extended family became rare. We lived at least fifty miles away from most of them, my parents were both working full-time, my brothers were away starting their careers, and I was busy with my school and extra-curricular activities. The three of us, my parents and I, did regularly go to see Grandma and Grandpa Warfel. That is when I learned how politically interested my grandparents were, Grandpa vocally, Grandma less so. I listened. They talked. Prohibition was Grandma’s prime concern in several conversations; Social Security was Grandpa’s. They teased about cancelling each other’s votes when they went to the polls. It was a common tease; they usually agreed about their votes.


Grandma had been a long-time member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. She began to become senile in those years, before she was 70, much to everyone’s surprise, because she was a loving, intelligent woman who kept track of everyone and everything. Soon thereafter Grandpa’s bottle of wine began to appear on the kitchen counter.


Grandpa had to begin making Social Security payments in 1954, when the law was extended to farmers. He resented paying into a fund that he didn’t expect to collect, ever! His method of preparing for old age, since he didn’t believe in banks, was to stash money in hiding places. When he died of a stroke in 1971, at the age of 81, his family found tens of thousands of dollars hidden in various places in his house.


During our visits he railed against Roosevelt and Social Security. It would surely run out of money before most people got to collect anything, since the fund started from zero, people collecting from the first more than they ever paid into it, and it would run out before those who had paid their whole lives ever got to collect a penny. He was especially concerned for his children and grandchildren, since they were the ones who would be left out. That’s why he wouldn’t collect anything, on principle, since he had paid into it so few years, even though he didn’t want to be forced to pay anyway. The government should just stay out of people’s private business. My father encouraged him to go ahead and collect it, after he reached the age of 72, which was 1962, since everyone else of his age was doing so, and his refusal to collect wouldn’t do any good for his children and grandchildren anyway. Eventually Grandpa did collect, receiving from it as many years as he paid into it, and quite a bit more than he paid into it, as it turned out. When he died, and Grandma had to enter the nursing home for day and night care, due to her dementia, the Survivor’s Social Security check went far in helping to pay for her care for the remaining three years.


There were many other issues that bothered him. He did not believe in street demonstrations, but the mistreatment of Negro citizens was criminal in his opinion, and the laws were late in coming to their aid.  He hated the KKK, and proudly spoke of Grandma’s defense of their young family, with a shotgun even (!), when the KKK in Jasper County threatened her while he was away working for his brother in Champaign County. They were recruiting and threatening neighbors who didn’t volunteer to join. He and Grandma soon moved to Champaign County. As Grandma descended into senility, she again imagined people sneaking around her house and trying to break in.

He was a “Lincoln Republican,” he often said, and he understood that Republicans believed in civil rights in contrast to Democrats. Republicans had passed the key amendments to the constitution that guaranteed equality, that his father, John Dougherty Warfel, had fought to win in the Civil War. Grandpa brought out the gun that J.D. had used, to show me, and the photos of J.D. and his brothers Uriah and Philip Warfel in uniform. He was glad Eisenhower had backed the effort to desegregate the schools in the South. It was a suspicious alliance between Northern and Southern Democrats that prevailed in the 1960’s; he didn’t trust it to last or accomplish anything good for the people.