Grandma’s House and A One-of-a-Kind Photo Collection

Calendar Plate--The Citizens State Bank, Dorrance, Kansas from 1911--I probably admired this plate so many times that my grandma finally gave it to me. It's one of my treasures.

Calendar Plate--The Citizens State Bank, Dorrance, Kansas from 1911--I probably admired this plate so many times that my grandma finally gave it to me. It's one of my treasures.

For a kid, my grandma’s house wasn’t the most fun place to visit, especially if you went there almost every day. It was pleasant enough on summertime evenings, when the grown-ups sat on the front porch and we kids sat on the “stoop” or ran down into the ravine (which wasn’t really a ravine, but a low place where the water ran when it rained) to catch lightning bugs.

But other times, when you had to be inside, there wasn’t much to do. Grandma was quiet and serious, and kids were expected to behave. There were no toys to play with at Grandma’s. Thinking back on it, I wonder why the folks never left a few of our toys there for us to have something to do when we went there, but they didn’t.

I say there were no toys to play with at Grandma’s, but there was –“the wheel”. The wheel was a miniature tire, about 6 inches in diameter, and had probably been a promotional give-away from one of the local filling stations, most likely originally with a glass ashtray in the middle. So when a very small child came to Grandma’s, she dug out “the wheel” for them to play with. And even when you got older, the wheel still had some fascination when it was gotten out for a younger relative.

But when you got older, there were other things at Grandma’s house to get your interest, if you had sense enough to keep your adolescent mind focused.

Grandma’s house had a parlor, and the parlor, indeed, was treated as that, a special room. In fact, it was on the other side of the house from the front room (living room) with a bedroom in between. It was not often that Grandma would “open up” the parlor. Opening up the parlor meant pulling back heavy, velvet, dark burgundy drapes that closed off the bedroom from the parlor. In the spring and summer, in order to help the air circulate, it also meant opening the parlor door, which was a second entrance to the house.

There were some odd pieces of furniture in the parlor: a library table with photos of grandkids on it, and a leather and wooden sofa, which was the hardest thing I’ve ever sat on. The biggest attraction in the parlor was the secretary, one of those old-timey pieces with a tall cabinet with a glass door on one side and a pull-down writing desk on the other side. Inside the cabinet, there were various knick-knacks and pieces of glassware, but the real gold mine was the two velvet-covered picture albums that held family photos, some so old they were tin-types.

I remember sitting with my mom looking at them. Grandma never had the desire to sit and look through a whole book, but she’d help to identify unknown faces. After Grandma’s death, some of the relatives got the albums and I have never seen them again. Fortunately, I do have a lot of old family photos given to me by my mom or other relatives.

Maybe I’ve got “the cart before the horse” in my memory lane narrative, but a discovery I made last night has got me thinking about those old photos.

I’ve mentioned my hometown–Dorrance, Kansas before. You can take the kid out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the kid. Well, that’s me, not a kid, except at heart, by any long shot these days, and I’ve lived in one of the biggest cities in the U.S. now for almost half my life. But Dorrance will always be a part of me, even as I get older and Dorrance’s population dwindles even smaller and smaller.

Dorrance is very lucky, though, and, unlike many small towns, has a way of keeping its history, thanks in part to a young budding photographer, who lived there a hundred years ago. His name was Leslie Halbe, and for a period of about four years–1908 to 1912, he took pictures of the people in and around Dorrance, both in portraits and in daily activities. This was done with one of those old cameras that used glass negatives. Although Leslie moved away from Dorrance in 1912, by luck and maybe some foresight, most of these negatives finally ended up in the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka. There have been different exhibitions of Halbe’s work through the years.

The Citizens State Bank, Dorrance, Kansas, May 26, 1909, by Leslie Halbe.  This building is still standing on Main Street in Dorrance.  It was the office of the Dorrance Telephone Company when I was a little kid and more recently was a barber shop.  Notice how the negatives of the old photos had two images.

The Citizens State Bank, Dorrance, Kansas, May 26, 1909, by Leslie Halbe. This building is still standing on Main Street in Dorrance. It was the office of the Dorrance Telephone Company when I was a little kid and more recently was a barber shop. Notice how the negatives of the old photos had two images. This is the bank my plate came from.

Sometime back, I discovered that part of Halbe’s photos were available on Kansas Memory (click in the sidebar or below). Then last night, I found that they now have all of the 1500+ photos online. I still haven’t looked at them all. But I will.

I know that some of Leslie Halbe’s photos had to have been in those album’s kept in Grandma’s secretary. I remember also that one of the “Halbe boys” had been one of my mother’s elementary school teachers. One of the articles said Leslie Halbe’s parents ran a candy shop. If what I remember is correct, it was the drug store, which in the early days might have been called a confectionary. The drug store closed in Dorrance when I was in grade school, but not only did they sell over the counter drugs and bits of what a Walgreen’s might have today, they had a soda fountain, where you could buy ice cream, soft drinks, and sandwiches.

Halbe’s photos leave a record of the people and life of not only my hometown, but really of small town America on the Great Plains during the early 1900s.

  • If you’re interested in learning more about Leslie W. (Winfield) Halbe and his photos, read here and here.
  • If you want to access the Halbe Collection photos and Kansas Memory, go here.

These are some of my favorite photos from the collection, so far:

Dorrance, looking at Main Street and southwest, circa 1910

Dorrance, looking at Main Street and southwest, circa 1910

Dorrance Telephone Operators and Office, Nov. 6, 1909.  This photo is probably one of the most popular from the Halbe Collection.

Dorrance Telephone Operators and Office, Nov. 6, 1909. This photo is probably one of the most popular from the Halbe Collection.

Belle Bickell and Miss Browne, June 3, 1911

Belle Bickell and Miss Browne, June 3, 1911

Harvest Crew, July 7, 1912

Harvest Crew, July 7, 1912

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Typical Small-Minded Thinking and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Get Kansas National Guard Member Kicked Out of the Military

Amy Brian During Active Duty       (Photo-CJOnline)

Amy Brian During Active Duty (Photo-CJOnline)

This morning when I read about the Kansas National Guard discharging one of its members for being gay based on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, I was once again launched into the “push-pull” relationship that I have had for a long tim2  with my home state, Kansas, and some of its people. (Though I have lived in Texas for many years and probably will continue to do so, I never have considered myself a Texan, nor do I care to.)

Kansas always tugs at me because it holds so many things that are dear to me: my family, for sure; old schoolmates, with whom close friendships are easily rekindled after many years without contact; a rich history, which started prior to but was molded by the Civil War; and, not least of all, the land itself, where in late spring, section after section of waving green wheat can be seen from a passenger seat of an airliner coming in for a landing, a sight that cannot be fully appreciated down on the ground.

Kansas is the kind of place where a neighbor roto-tills your garden plot out of sheer goodness because he knows that, otherwise, you’d be doing all that digging by hand with a garden fork. Kansas is the kind of place where the cashier at the magazine counter in the Wichita Airport chats with you and asks you if you’re looking for anything else, not to push sales, but just because she’s truly interested. It’s small and generally has a slower pace of life, so people have time to be kind and helpful.

Some of the actions and beliefs push me away, though, because this slower pace of life leads to a great deal of “small-thinking”. People with too much time on their hands and no respect for personal boundaries break into your house, not to steal anything, but just out of curiosity of knowing what kind of stuff you have and what kinds of magazines you might be reading, or drive by the capital city’s only gay bar to try to figure out whose cars are parked outside and what they might do with that information.

Therefore, it’s no surprise to hear that someone “had it in for” Amy Brian, a member of the Kansas National Guard, who had served honorably in Iraq. A co-worker at her civilian job reported her to the Kansas Adjutant General for kissing a woman at Wal-Mart. Subsequently, she lost her regular job, was kicked out of the guard because of the DODT policy, and lost all of her benefits from having served her country in the military. Read the Topeka Capitol-Journal’s article by Jan Biles; it’s well worth it. If you read the comments attached to the article, you’ll get an idea about this “smallness” (both the positive and the negative) to which I have been referring. You can also read Amy’s own comment on the thread under “ProudTBMe” at 6:45 AM, Feb. 9th.

Along with all the advantages that Kansas has of being a place where life is slower and people are kind, there’s another side, a side that includes Amy’s co-worker and other small-minded people, who not only want to “get in your business”, but want to control “your business”.

After Hurricane Ike: Getting Back To a Routine, But Thinking About Blizzards and “Bierochs” (Recipe Included)

This week really felt good–getting back to a normal schedule, after being at loose ends without electricity and not working. I feel so fortunate to have pretty much everything back to normal, when there are so many who don’t, from those still without electricity here around town, to those down on the coast and other places inland, who lost so much–homes, jobs, and, in some cases, even loved ones.

A Clean Fridge

A Clean Fridge

It’s actually nice to start with a clean, fresh refrigerator. I threw everything out the next day after Hurricane Ike came through, knowing that even though the fridge was still cool, the electricity probably wasn’t going to come back on soon enough to save anything, and, in fact, it didn’t.

Somehow restocking the fridge and just going through being without utilities for a few days got me to thinking about the blizzards that we used to have on the farm when I was a kid. If there was an ice storm, or the winds were strong enough and snapped a pole, then there’d be no electricity. And the electric crews couldn’t get out to repair the lines until the snow plows opened up the drifted roads.

The worst storm I remember was when I was in maybe second or third grade. The drifts in front of the house were lots taller than Dad, and some of the drifts on the roads covered them completely, so it was hard to know where the roads and ditches were or where the stone post and barbed wire fences were alongside them. That year, the National Guard flew out in helicopters or airplanes and tried to throw hay bales down for the herds of cattle that were stranded out in the snow. Apparently, they missed their target somewhere between our place and town, because they ended up tossing some of the bales down onto some power lines, and made getting the electricity back on much more of a problem. It took two weeks to get electricity back and for the snow plow to come make a way for us to get out.

During the time the lights were out, the biggest problem on our farm was getting water because there was an electric pump on the well. There was a tank in the well, but even if there was electricity, sometimes the pipe from the well to the house would freeze up. If it didn’t freeze, we’d try to make the water from the tank stretch, just using it for drinking. For washing, we’d go out and get snow to melt or go to the creek, break the ice on top, and bring it back, then strain it with the milk strainer to get it clean enough to use.

A lot different than these “modern” days, when a hurricane comes through during the hot months, keeping food and cooking it was never really a big problem when the electricity went off during a blizzard. Things from the fridge that needed to stay cold could go out in the wash house, where they would stay really cold or even frozen. Also Mom always kept cupboards stocked with the basics like flour and lard, and there was milk and cream from the couple of milk cows that we usually had, which needed to be milked blizzard or no blizzard. We also used propane for the cook stove and heating, so we always kept warm and ate well. Out back, we had “the cave”, which held the jars of canned vegetables and fruits and a bin filled with potatoes. (The cave is another story altogether.)

Mom cooked a lot on cold days because it warmed up the kitchen, which helped keep the entire house warmer. It seems like we always had a lot of soups on those cold winter days. Because we had chickens, we had homemade noodle soup and from our own meat, vegetable beef soup, and, well, chili too. Mom made the best angel food cakes, and I usually got a chocolate angel food cake for my birthday. (You’re thinking I’m changing the subject, but I’m not.) The angel food cake Mom made took a dozen egg whites, so then the yolks were left over–Just what is needed to make homemade noodles. Mom would roll them out on the linoleum-topped kitchen table into big round circles, and then hang them over the backs of the chairs to dry a bit. Then she’d lay all of them one on top of the other, roll them up, and slice them into thin, curly strips, spreading them out on the table to dry some more. That’s when we’d try to sneak a few of the fresh, uncooked noodles without her seeing us. Well, I did that; being the youngest, I know I did. And I got away with it most of the time.

We had our own meat from the cows we raised. Dad would get somebody to take one of the younger ones that had been born the spring before into Klema’s in Wilson, where it would be butchered. Klema’s also had a locker plant, which rented lockers where you could keep the meat that had been butchered frozen. I’d go back in there with Dad when we went to get groceries; it was so cold that they had extra coats hanging on some hooks that you could wear while you were inside the locker part. Dad had his own key for our locker, which he opened and got the meat that we wanted for that week. There was no cellophane or styrofoam on those packages of meat; everything was wrapped in white butcher paper, taped closed, and stamped with whatever cut of meat was in the package: Pike’s Peak roast, round steak, hamburger, and the like.

From our own ground beef, one of the best cold weather dishes that Mom made was bierochs (pronounced beer-rocks). (Actually, now that I’m writing this I’m thinking that I’m going to make some when the first really cool weekend arrives here in Houston. But who knows when that will be?) Not many people are familiar with beirochs unless they’ve got some German-Russian in their heritage. And I don’t mean German or Russian, I mean German-Russian. In the area of Kansas where I grew up there were lots of people whose heritage is German-Russian. I don’t know the history of it all because our family was not of that descent, but apparently, for reasons of not wanting to be in one military or another military, at some point, large numbers of these people immigrated from Germany to somewhere near the Volga River in Russia, and then in the late 1800s and very early 1900s, many of them or perhaps their descendants immigrated to the US, especially to parts of central and western Kansas.

And one of the best things they brought with them was bierocks. It was one of those dishes that many people in my little town of Dorrance made (and still make), and my mom was one of them. I guess she may have learned how from an aunt. We didn’t have bierochs too often at home because they’re one of those delicious dishes that take time to make. Basically, they are a meat and cabbage filled bun. The filling is the easy part, and it doesn’t take exact measurements. How much of the few ingredients you use depends on how many bierochs you want to make.

In a big skillet, you need to brown up some ground beef (a pound or two) and some onion, just like you might do if you were making spaghetti sauce. Then drain off any grease that cooks out. Then add at least a half of head of shredded cabbage. Again, you might want more cabbage if you’ve used more ground meat. (My mom used to complain that some other women were cheap and didn’t use enough, or maybe any meat.) Salt and pepper well because the cabbage, especially, will absorb the seasonings. (I’ve lived in Texas so many years that sometimes I also add about a quarter teaspoon of cayenne pepper.) Put a lid on the meat and cabbage mixture and let the cabbage cook down some. The cabbage can stay a tad on the not-so-cooked side because this filling will cook a bit more when baking the bierochs themselves. When cooked, let the mixture cool down some before filling the dough. I’ve seen some recipes that add ketchup and mustard and a few other ingredients, but ground beef, cabbage, a little onion, and salt and pepper is “the Dorrance way”.

To make bierochs quickly, some people like to roll out dinner rolls from the dairy case to use for the outside. I’ve tried that, but the results are just “OK”. You really need a good recipe for homemade rolls, or “buns” as we’ve always called them, for the bread covering of the bierochs, if you’re going to make “real” bierochs. As I said before, the filling is the easy part, so if you’re going to make homemade dough, you have start it first. And if you’re going to have bierochs for supper, you might want to get the dough started in the morning, depending on how fast your dough rises. Making bierochs really is not difficult, but because there are several steps, it does take time.

Here is my mom’s “bun” recipe, but I’ve also used one that included a mashed boiled potato and the potato water. Both are good.

1/4 cup warm water, 1 package yeast, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, 3 tablespoons shortening, 2 beaten eggs, 2 cups boiling water, and 7 cups flour

Dissolve yeast in the 1/4 cup of water. (Add a teaspoon of sugar to make the yeast rise.) Put sugar, salt, and shortening in a large glass or crock bowl. Add 2 cups of boiling water, and let cool. Add beaten eggs, yeast, and four cups of the flour. Beat well (with an electric mixer). Then add the rest of the flour and stir in gradually. Let rise until doubled.

For bierochs, take a portion of the dough and roll it out on a flour-covered surface until it is about 1/4 (or less) inch thick. Cut the dough into pieces about six inches square. You’ll probably need to roll each piece again as it tends to pull back together once you cut it. Using a spoon, heap about 1/4 cup of the filling into the center of the square of dough. Then fold the corners in so that all 4 corners meet; pinch all of the seams tightly closed. Then place the bierock in a greased baking pan, seam side down. Continue making the individual bierocks and arranging them in rows in the baking pan. The bierocks do not need to touch in the pan because they need to rise one more time before baking. Place a tea towel over the entire pan (or pans depending how many you have made) and let rise until they look like soft pillows. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the bierochs until they are golden brown on top. (If you have made more dough than filling, you can make the rest of the dough into “buns”. With your hands greased, roll the dough into balls a bit larger than a silver dollar, place them in a greases baking pan, let rise, and then bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes.)

Some people like to make much bigger bierochs, maybe because they think they can make them faster, but I like them about the size of a hamburger bun (only square). Plan for two or three per person. These are great with a nice salad or vegetables alongside. Some people (including me) like to dip bierochs in a little ketchup; however, some people are purists and like them plain. They are great right out of the oven, but they can also be kept in the refrigerator and heated up in the microwave. They also freeze well if they are kept in a very tight plastic bag or container.

Still today, after eating foods from all over the world, if someone asks me what my favorite is, I’ll still say the same thing that I would have said when I was about 10 years old: bierochs.

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If you liked this article, you might like Hamburger Gravy, Puddin’ Meat, Coffee Milk and Hopalong Cassidy, and Sex in a Pan.

Coffee Milk and Hopalong Cassidy

Hopalong coffee mugI’m not a big coffee drinker. I’ve never been one of those people who just have to have their cup of coffee in the morning to get started. (Maybe that’s why I’m a slow starter.) But about once a week or once every two weeks, I’ll get a grande at Starbuck’s at work and add a good helping of half-and-half.

At home, I’ve got my little coffee maker and grinder. I guess I like good coffee. So on a Saturday or Sunday, I’ll grind up a quarter cup of the beans and make coffee, but If I don’t have half-and-half or at least some milk, I’m not going to make coffee. I’m just not going to have coffee without some good “real” dairy product.

I’m pretty sure this all goes back to when I was a kid growing up on the farm. My folks always perked a pot of coffee in the morning. Either Mom or Dad made coffee. I never saw Dad doing any other cooking, but in the morning both of them would be around the kitchen; usually Mom would do most of it, but Dad would be there turning bacon and taking out toast and sometimes making coffee. They always made extra coffee in the morning, set the coffee pot on the back burner of the stove, and reheated what was left for lunch, especially during the cool times of the year. (During the summer, we always had iced tea for lunch and supper.)

Anyway, when I was a little kid, starting around like 4 or 5, I got coffee milk with lunch. Mom would put about a third of a cup of coffee in my cup, fill the rest with milk, add some sugar, and I’d have my coffee milk. I don’t remember it making me feel “grown up” or anything like that, as one might think. I just liked my coffee milk, but I think the main reason was I got to use one of the two white pyrex-type cowboy mugs that we had. I think one was supposed to be mine and one was supposed to be my brother’s, but there was never any controvery (that I remember) about who got which cup. He was older, so I suppose I got whichever cup I wanted, and also, he’d probably stopped drinking out of the “kids” cups. Where we got them, I’m not sure, but they might have been something that came as a prize in a box of oatmeal or maybe my Aunt Lois gave them to us.

hopalong cassidyBut to a kid, these cups were really special. One had a Hopalong Cassidy design on it, and the other, I think, was Red Ryder. Hopalong Cassidy was an early TV cowboy, but Red Ryder was a comic book character. We didn’t have a TV yet in those days, but I remember Hopalong Cassidy because he came to Dorrance on the train. Before television, politicians and actors traveled by train, making stops in almost every town on the line, as a way of getting publicity, and even though Hopalong Cassidy had a TV show, he still did this.

It was a big day in town. All of us kids walked over from the school to the depot, and Hoppy’s train came into town and stopped, and he came out. I don’t have any memory about what he did; he might have sung some songs, because I think he was a singer too. I was just a very little kid, probably in the first grade. I know that we went up there with Mrs. Mullen, my first and second grade teacher. We finally got a TV out on our farm when I was in fifth grade. (I remember the first thing that came on the screen of that TV after we got it hooked up–a Duncan Hines cherry cake mix commercial!) Hopalong Cassidy was still on TV at that time, along with Roy Rogers and other TV cowboys.

I don’t know whatever became of those cups. But sometimes when I make coffee on a morning like this, I think about having my coffee milk in those cups, and the coffee is all the better for having the memories to go with it.

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If you liked this one, you might also like “Hamburger Gravy” and “Puddin’ Meat–Good Food for a Cold Morning”.