Wednesday, November 26, 2014

American Gothic Ad Nauseum

About thirty years ago I noticed that parodies of Grant Wood's 1930 painting American Gothic are everywhere! I started to collect newspaper clippings and magazine photos mostly but with the dawn of the internet more and more spoofs appeared. Most people in this country recognize Wood's painting and that must be the reason it is used so often to make a point about today's society.
I must have fifty or sixty different takeoffs of this painting and they are delightful. I even had a potholder with an American Gothic image. I chose a few of my favorites to include in this blog.

This Spuds MacKenzie picture was printed with Spuds was in his heydey as an Anheuser Busch mascot, before he was banished for influencing children to like beer.

Time Magazine has featured this parody at least once...this issue came out in August of 1994.

In December of 2008 a 25 foot tall sculpture of Wood's American Gothic was displayed in Chicago's Pioneer Court on Michigan Avenue and was very popular with camera-wielding tourists but by 2010 was dismantled and sent packing.

 Oh, there are plenty of political uses for this image. In my collection I have Jimmy and Rosalie Carter from the cover of a Punch magazine, and the entire line up of candidates from the 1988 election. I chose this one of Bill and Hillary Clinton clipped from a Colorado newspaper "back when."

I love this one of the 80's couple.

And since it is Thanksgiving I will post one of many images I've found where Thanksgiving is featured in an American Gothic parody.

I even have a photograph of my dear brother-in-law, Ken Russell, and his wife, Charlotte, wearing coveralls and posing in front of one of his dad's farm buildings with the necessary pitchfork in his hand. But my favorite of all is this little drawing by a local first grade school boy..just love it.

Next time you see one of these drawings or photographs you'll realize just how common they are.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Harbingers of Fall

On the far southeast corner of our property are two old Cottonwood trees that are the first to show fall colors each year. As I return home from shopping in Wellington on Colorado State Highway 1, I see these trees from a long way off and sometimes as early as late August will notice a yellowing of the leaves, a sure sign that the season is morphing from summer to autumn. These two cottonwoods probably sprang up from the ground beside the irrigation ditch many years ago, much to the annoyance of the ditch riders and those water users downstream. When we bought our place back in 1972 the ditch was lined with stately cottonwoods all along its banks, continuing north as far as I could see, but our neighbor to the south, Dallas Horton, came by one day to tell me that he was going to have all but one of them removed as they impeded the operation of his walking sprinkler system. He apologized but said it was necessary. So these two old cottonwoods, and one north of our place, but not on our property, are the only survivors. I'm thankful for them for they provide refuge for crows, squirrels, and owls. I've never named these trees but think of them as the harbingers of fall.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Jack Pierson Tree

About forty years ago we bought several ponderosa pine seedlings from a local Boy Scout troop, specifically from our friend Jack Pierson who was a Boy Scout leader at that time. We planted them along our south property line and then ignored them for years. You see, planting and caring for trees was way down on our list of priorities for we had a house to build, a huge project that occupied our every moment when we weren't working for Union Manufacturing. To be honest, building our house occupied more than a few moments while we were working for Union Manufacturing! But we bought and planted the trees to support the Scouts and because we had just purchased three acres of land that cried out for trees.
Over the years we planted more trees and even remembered to water them from time to time for you can't depend on our piddly 12 inches of annual rainfall to keep trees alive. Of those pine seedlings only one survived; it not only survived but grew to be the tallest tree on our place. The roots must have tapped into the irrigation ditch a few feet from the fence even though the ditch is lined with concrete near the tree. A few years ago our electric utility company pointed out that branches of the tree were scraping against the power line and needed trimming so we watched as the men in the bucket cut the offending branches. They didn't cut the top out of the tree, thank goodness, and it has continued to grow. I call it our Jack Pierson Tree not only because we bought it from Jack but because it's tall and stately, just like Jack. We water it regularly now, finally recognizing the treasure that it is. This fall many of the needles turned brown and gave us a scare as to its health for we've read about the pine bark beetle and the destruction it is causing to the pines in the mountains to the west of us and to many of the trees in our immediate area. I photographed the Jack Pierson Tree today knowing that those brown needles are an indication it is struggling but hoping the tree is strong enough to shrug off the threat and continue to thrive for decades to come.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Childhood Revisited

The summer I was eight years old Dad moved us way out west from Tuscola, Illinois, to the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, where he had a job mining uranium at the now infamous Midnite Mine, today the site of a Superfund ecological cleanup. We were a family of six, mom and dad, me at eight, my brother six, a sister four, and a baby sister six months old. About eight miles from the little village of Wellpinit was an old Civilian Conservation Corp campground beside the pristine waters of Blue Creek and very close to the mine site. That is where Dad parked the little eight foot trailer house that would be our home for the next six months. There were three or four other families camped at that site, with seven kids our ages, and a couple of bachelor geologists too. At first we had no electricity or running water but soon a makeshift generator supplied enough power to run lights to the trailers. We never did have indoor water. Mom carried water from the creek for drinking and to wash our clothes in a kettle over a campfire. With only a dozen cloth diapers this was a daily ritual. An outhouse down by the creek served the needs of all those in our camp.
Looking back to those years I try to see them through the eyes of my parents and believe it was a time of high adventure for my father. He came from a coal mining background in central Illinois, joined the CCC when he was fourteen or fifteen and travelled out west building roads and planting trees. In 1941 he enlisted in the Navy, was a Boatswain's Mate on The USS Saratoga in the Pacific during WWII, spent shore time in Seattle, Washington, and came to love the West. In 1954 he ventured out to Colorado to do some uranium exploration, leaving his much-pregnant wife and three young children in Tuscola for the winter. His mine boss, Pete Loncar, beckoned him to Wellpinit the following spring and that's how we found ourselves in this primitive little camp of miners in the summer of '55.
For my mother these months were probably not so romantic. Our cramped quarters, lack of amenities, limited social life, no relatives within 2,000 miles (Mom missed her Smith family so much), and young baby kept her from finding much to like about life on the reservation. Not far from our camp were some lakes with recreational areas and at least once we went swimming at Deer Lake or Jump Off Joe's Lake, maybe both (my memory and my brother's differ on this subject). We also made a trip to Seattle and Bremerton in our '53 Kaiser, rode the ferry, ate restaurant food and fresh fruit along the way. Those outings provided a much needed respite from life in Wellpinit for all of us, especially Mom.
From my point of view, an eight year old girl with a good imagination, life on an Indian Reservation surrounded by pine-covered mountains and a nearby creek to play in was heaven on earth. We were free to spend as much time outdoors as we wanted. In fact, we were strongly encouraged to get out of that little trailer early each morning so my mother had room to cook and care for the baby. We climbed the mountains and found wild strawberries beneath the pines, elderberries hanging low on bushes, and tasty trout at the nearby beaver dam. Wildlife surrounded us including a porcupine that swatted one of the dogs in camp, a bobcat that someone shot and brought down for us to see, and beavers in the dam. That summer provided me with a lifetime of idyllic childhood memories on which to draw as life became more complex and inhibited. As summer waned and the temperatures dropped my dad decided to move us out of central Washington and accepted a job as a cobalt miner in a little company town high up in the rugged mountains above Salmon, Idaho, appropriately named Cobalt. That move brought two and a half more years of adventure in the wild west to my life but closed the chapter on Wellpinit, least I thought so.
Twenty-one years later my husband and I with our eight-year-old son travelled from our home in Colorado back to that camp on the Spokane Reservation in the hope of finding our old camp. From the time we left Cobalt, Idaho, in 1958 I lived in Illinois but the pull of the West was strong and Fort Collins, Colorado has been my home since 1970. The summer of 1976 we crossed the Little Falls bridge and pulled in to Wellpinit where we stopped at a grocery store, the same one where my parents shopped so many years ago. I told them of my quest and was directed to an older native woman stocking shelves. She gave us exact directions out of town, past Turtle Lake, into the old camp site which was now a picnic grounds. The three of us tromped around, took photographs, found the road that led to the now missing beaver dam, and checked out the creek. Little had changed in the area and I believe the Midnite Mine was still in operation in 1976 but we didn't try to find the mine. My memories didn't include the mine site.
Just last week, September of 2014, my sister made her first trip back to Wellpinit to rediscover the place her four-year-old self vaguely remembers, and she found it despite faulty instructions received from a Reservation cop. There was a fallen log blocking the narrow dirt road leading to the camp so she parked her car and walked down into the bowl-shaped camp ground, her dog at her side. Using her iPhone she photographed the creek, the open-sided picnic cover, and the warning signs at the mine entrance then sent them to me so I could share her excitement. After 49 years the place has changed very little aside from the big "elephant in the room", the contaminated Midnite Mine, which leaks uranium tailings and radioactive waste into the ground and creeks, including our beloved Blue Creek. I do believe our camp ground was above the mine so the flow of waste water into Blue Creek and then into Roosevelt Lake is away from the Blue Creek Camp. However, I wouldn't advise eating the berries, the fish, or even breathing the air for any length of time.
Maybe this will close the chapter on Wellpinit for us, my sister, brother, and I, and our memories will fade and be lost to history. But like so many of my aging friends I like to revisit in my mind those wonderful childhood memories when I was free to roam, pretend to be a "wild Indian", float notes in bottles down the creek, be an innocent, naive eight-year-old girl in the 1950s.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Jim Nance Tree

Spring is the best time, the showiest time, for the Jim Nance Tree, a flowering crab growing east and a little bit south of the house. I've numbered it #6 on the map of our three-acre place. Planted in 1994 this twenty-year old tree has bloomed every year and produces an abundance of bright red crab apples.
Bob first met Jim in the mid 70s when they were both students at Colorado Aerotech in Broomfield, CO, studying airframe and powerplant mechanics. A Texas boy, Jim was in the Air Force in the 60s, a B-52 bomber pilot in the Vietnam War while Bob, a Colorado native, was in the Navy with Underwater Demolition Team 11 in Vietnam. They became fast friends at Aerotech and graduated as the top two students in their class. One summer they made a driving trip together to the Experimental Aircraft Assoc. fly in at Oshkosh, Wisconsin then stopped in Iowa for an overnight stay with Jim's sister and her family...a great time for them both. Later Jim became the Larimer County Veterans Service Officer before trying his hand at politics. Jim's health was always an issue. He had a heart attack while in his 30s and had to step down from pilot to flight mechanic while still in the Air Force. Controlling his weight was a life-long struggle for he had a robust appetite and ate with gusto, like he did most things in his life, with gusto. At the time of his death Jim was about to embark on a big adventure, pulling his boat behind his pickup from Colorado to Texas where he and his new wife would launch the boat and sail the Caribbean. He checked into Poudre Valley Hospital to get checked out before the big trip and succumbed to a heart attack the morning he was to be released. Jim was a wonderful friend to the both of us so I bought a small flowering crab tree and planted it near the house so that each spring when it becomes the most beautiful tree on our place we think of Jim and remember him with love.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Spring Has Come to Colorado

After three blog posts and many hours of searching the web I'm finally over my obsession with researching my Lithuanian roots. Whew! Now I'm in the midst of a huge indoor project of moving our bedroom from the upper level of the house down to the main level, necessitated by my difficulty in navigating stairs. Before the bedroom could be moved we had to vacate the computer room which is the new site of the master bedroom, and before the computer room could be vacated we had to find space for several bookshelves overflowing with books, our two computers and all that goes with them .... and more, so much more. We are savers, collectors, archivists, probably hoarders, so moving rooms around is arduous and time consuming, not to mention mentally stressful because there are so many decisions to be made. Three weeks or more into the project the computers are now in the library on smaller desks and most of the books and file cabinets found a home in that room also. Now we are dealing with all the leftover items in the computer room, moving some to the barn, pitching others in the dumpster, integrating a few items into other spaces in the house. What to do with things like a camouflage popup tent for use in observing wildlife, a printer that still works but is redundant, a box of extra office supplies like print cartridges and staplers, a collection of astronomy calendars with wonderful photos, and on and on. After the computer room is totally emptied and the rugs rolled up we will touch up the wall paint then lay two new area rugs with pads and buy a brand new king-sized bed. What a treat that will be, our reward for all the hard work. The room upstairs that is currently our master bedroom will become a guest room and a place where our grandkids will stay when they come to visit. It too needs lots of work, wall paper removal, paint, wood floor rejuvenation...the work never ends. And what should happen this week to divert my focus from this huge indoor project? Spring is here! After a long, cold, snowy winter the sun is out, the grass is green, and my thoughts have turned to gardening. First order of business is adding a yard of soil to our raised beds in the garden. That is what I'd like to be doing today so I'm using that as the carrot on the end of the stick - once the computer room is empty and clean I will go buy a yard of soil in the pickup truck and start moving it into the garden, one wheelbarrow load at a time. Did I mention how all of this is heavy, tiring work? But at least I am not laying awake nights wondering whether Adam Jasaitis starting using his new last name, Sites, as soon as he emigrated or was it years later.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Jasaitis / Yasaitis / Sites - They Were a Big Family

I'm obsessed with this Jasaitis family, my Jasaitis family. I find myself hunched over my keyboard for hours at a time looking at every name on 1880 census records in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, trying to find Adam that crazy or what? Granted this is wintertime and I can't be outside in the yard and my grandkids are busy with school so they don't need me during the week but really, I could be cleaning closets, sorting boxes of "stuff" that need sorting, or dusting, for Heaven's sake, but no, I'm hunting for Adam Sites in 1880, convinced that on one of these elusive census records I'll find an important clue that links the Jasaitis family to a particular region or town in Lithuania.

I have made some progress recently thanks to the help of a couple of online researchers like myself. I now believe my gr-grandma Petronella Jasaitis Uknavage had at least seven siblings here in this country, scattered from Luzerne Co., Pennsylvania to Franklin County, Ohio, up to Kent County, Michigan, down to Vermilion County, Illinois, and even way down into Coal County, Oklahoma - all from Lithuania! The oldest sibling, Adam, was born about 1851 and was one of the earliest Lithuanian immigrants to come to coal country in Luzerne County, PA about 1872. In the 1900 census he is shown as a "grocer" and in the 1910 census a "gentleman"...hmmm.....

My grandma, Petronella Jasaitis, was born the next year in 1860 but she didn't come to the United States until 1889 when she arrived with her husband Joe Juknewicz and their three children. They lived in the Pittston, PA area for seven or eight years before moving to Vermilion County, Illinois. Joe was a miner and died around 1903 leaving Petronella (Petrona) with five children ages eleven through seventeen. She had family there, thank goodness, a brother Andrew, and possibly a cousin, John.

The next sibling, Joseph, was born in Lithuania in 1862 and came here about 1886, moving to Columbus, Ohio where he lived out his life as a tailor (no coal mining for this brother). He married a local girl who was Irish and they had three children together. A granddaughter, Carol Kasberg, still lives there and has been a wonderful source of family history for me - a cool cousin too!

John was the next child born in 1865. He married in Lithuania and immigrated in 1888.  They lived for a few years in the Pittston, PA area near Adam before striking out for Coal County, Oklahoma, around the turn of the century to join a sizeable community of Lithuanian men mining coal there. They had six children together before John's wife, Agnes (Agota, Agatha) died of the Spanish flu in 1918.

Andrew was born in December of 1866 and immigrated in 1885. Interestingly, he is the only one of the Jasaitis clan to keep his Lithuanian name. Sometimes he appears in  records as Andrew Jasaitis, sometimes Jasitis, and even Yasaitis. He must have had an independent streak to keep his name and not change it to the Americanized Sites. He married a Lithuanian girl in Vermilion County, Illinois, and they settled there, near my gr-grandma Petronella, his older sister. They had five children while he worked in the mines, dying at the young age of sixty-one.

Frank was born in 1870, immigrated about 1890, and lived in Columbus, Ohio, near his older brother Joseph. Frank also made his living as a tailor and married a local girl just as his brother Joseph did. Frank was only fifty-two when he died in 1922 leaving a wife and two children.

William was born in 1872 and immigrated in 1891 with his wife, Tillie. They moved to Vermilion County, Illinois for a short time and their first child was born there but soon they were back in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania where they raised their six children while William worked as a grocer, a driver, and a hotel employee, according to census records.

The youngest sibling, and my gr-grandma's only sister, Frances. C. Jasaitis, was born in Lithuania in 1880 and immigrated between 1883 and 1885, still a very young child. I have to wonder if she came to this country with her parents or an older sibling, maybe Andrew. Perhaps I'll stop obsessing about Adam and start on Frances. Her immigration records could hold an important clue about the family's home in Lithuania. In 1899 in Pittston, PA she married Charles Gillis, also from Lithuania, and they stayed in Pennsylvania a few years before moving on to Grand Rapids, Michigan where there were Gillis relatives already established. Frances and Charles had four children and two of their grandsons, Roger and Gary Gillis have been very helpful with my family history research.

It has been such fun finding out all this information about the Jasaitis family. Initially I searched for my Lithuania roots by tracing my gr-grandfather, Joe Uknavage (Juknewicz, Juchniewicz, Juknevicius) but got nowhere with that. He was born in Lithuania in March of 1860, immigrated in 1889 with his wife and three children accompanied by one other Jasaitis relative and possibly a Juknewicz relative (the name was spelled differently on the ship's manifest but close to the same spelling). He lived a few years in Pittston, PA, worked as a coal miner, went to the Catholic church where his two American-born children were baptized, moved to Westville, Vermilion County, Illinois, where he appeared in the 1900 census but by the 1910 census he had gone missing. I do believe he died there for his wife is listed in the census as widowed and much later in her 1938 obituary it mentions that her husband died thirty-eight years ago. We've never found a death certificate, burial place, or any other evidence of his death but there are explanations for that such as a fire at the Vermilion County Courthouse, poor recordkeeping by the mine owners, dismantling of the local Catholic Church, etc. When I wrote to the Urbas Funeral home who handled his wife's burial I was told that "if only you had written two years ago when the owner was still alive - he knew that family and all the Lithuanian families so well." Ahhh...if only.

So, the search continues, and that's the part I love, the search.