Thursday, March 4, 2010


It has been several years since Flat Lala visited. The original Lala is now a grown lady of 10. Her Flat Lala report was the highlight of that assignment. Not many students had the Flat People returned, but Flat Lala had enough adventures for the entire class. We had fun with the assignment. I'm sorry other grandparents, aunts, and uncles missed the treat.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Flat Lala returns to Texas

Dear Lala, I've a box of things ready to mail to you. Please tell your teacher that I will be posting more Flat Lala stories to your blog at There is a CD of pictures and the letters I have written so far inside your box. I'll add a copy of this letter, too. I have so many more things to tell you but am a week past due returning Flat Lala to your school. I hope the assignment isn't over. The box is full of travel folders that Grandpa and I picked up as we returned from Indiana. Grandpa was particularly interested in the Lewis and Clark information. Grandpa comes from Eugene, Oregon. That's where Lewis and Clark ended their trip. I always thought they started it in western Missouri, but that was wrong. They started in St. Louis. The major overland trails of the West -- the Santa Fe Trail and The Oregon Trail came later and started from Kansas City. Grandpa and I found information about the Lewis and Clark Expedition all across our trip. He'd like you to look at the things we are sending you and think about men using boats, horses and their own feet to go west from Kansas clear to the Pacific Ocean. It was a hard trip, but helped people learn how big the North American continent is and how beautiful it is too. It was after Lewis and Clark found a way west that others followed them and eventually started building homes here. Those other two trails I mentioned -- the Santa Fe Trail and the Oregon Trail -- were the only roads people had to travel west. They would gather their wagons in Kansas City and Independence, Missouri, find a man who knew the trails (he was called the Wagon Master) and start the slow walk West. They had to start early in the spring, about this time of year, and hope to be through the Rocky Mountains before winter came. If they were caught in the mountains when it snowed, it could mean they all died. The wagons were pulled by horses or mules,or oxen. The men, women and children walked beside them. It was slow progress. Sometimes they would go to bed at night, after walking all day, and still be in sight of the place they camped the night before. They didn't have any Interstate highways like I-35 to get from one place to another. The Santa Fe Trail was the first trail. It went from Kansas City to Santa Fe, New Mexico, angling across what would become Kansas and Colorado into New Mexico. Later a shortcut, called the Cimmaron Cut-off would be made through the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles. The men who traveled this trail were called muleskinners. They drove large wagons pulled by mules. The wagons carried things they were going to sell in Santa Fe. In Santa Fe, they filled them up with things to sell in Kansas City. The Santa Fe Trail passed near Waverly. Local stories say Lebo, Kansas, the next town west of Waverly was founded by an Frenchman named Joe LeBo. He was one of the Santa Fe muleskinners, but he got tired of making the trip. He found a pretty place to build his house and said "I'm stopping here!" He started a business and the town of Lebo grew up around him. Lebo is about the same size as Waverly (700 people). It is a farming town today. People going to Oregon weren't going there to sell things. They were going to find new homes. They followed the Santa Fe Trail until they were well clear of Kansas City then split off to go northwest. The town of Gardner, Kansas is called "Where the Trails Divide". When I taught school there in the 1970s, the students told me there was a barn you could go to and look out the hay loft to see where the trail went. Not far from Gardner, outside Baldwin City, there are still ruts in the ground that were made by the hundreds of wagon wheels that went over the Oregon Trail. I had wanted to take Flat Lala there and get a picture of her looking at the wagon ruts but we didn't get a chance to go. Well, Flat Lala is returning to your school. I've really enjoyed having her visit. Let me know how the class project goes. Love, Grandma

Lala Means Tulip

Dear Lala,

Your name means Tulip in Slavic. I know you know that. Flat Lala decided to join some of her "sisters" in the flower bed, but she found the stone face a bit disturbing.

Love, Grandma

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

New Clothes for Flat Lala

Dear Lala,

Flat Lala, Grandpa and I are back from our trip to Indiana to see the family there. We left on Saturday (St. Patrick's Day) and got home on Monday. It is nearly as far from Waverly to Batesville, Indiana where PJ and Renee live as it is from Waverly to Grand Prairie where you live. Ashley, Kayleigh, Emily, Matt and Mark live part way in between in the city of Terre Haute, Indiana. Uncle Pat, who drives a semi to Laredo, Texas every week, says to tell you it is 978 miles from Batesville to Grand Prairie.

Flat Lala had a great time playing with the cousins. She knitted with Kayleigh, watched TV with Ashley, and played with Emily. Matt was reading when Flat Lala visited him, so he showed her his favorite stories. She watched Mark and the neighbor playing light sabres outside. He later came in and played with her, too. When we got to Batesville, Renee made Flat Lala a new skirt. Later everyone played Uno with their Grandma Janelle. Ashley made sure Flat Lala got to play, too.

PJ (Pat III) noticed that Flat Lala's neck was getting weak. He volunteered to eat a popcycle so she could have the stick to strengthen her neck. It's taped to the back of Flat Lala's head and she says that feels much better now. PJ understands about splints because he broke his toe and has to have it taped to the two toes next to it as a splint. He'll be walking in a surgical boot for six weeks while that toe heals.

We had too many adventures to tell them all in one letter. I'll write you more tomorrow. I did want to tell you about this picture. Flat Lala has lots of clothes now! You can see she is laying on her new red and white knitted blanket. She has a yellow flowered skirt from Renee with bright orange flower buttons at the waist. Flat Lala decided the skirt I made her was really a poncho. She needed it this weekend because it snowed on us as we drove through Missouri to get to Indiana. She also wore her new purple hat to keep the snow off. Fortunately, the snow ended before we crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois.

We went from Kansas across two states to get to Indiana this weekend. We covered Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Terra Haute is near the Illinois border of Indiana and Batesville is on the other side, nearly to Ohio, so we covered a lot of ground.

I'll tell you more tomorrow!

Waverly, Kansas

Hello, LalaBug,

Part of your assignment with Flat Lala was to learn about the area where you sent her. You know Waverly. It's a small town. It's only seven blocks square with a population of less than 700 people. But did you ever think about how it got here? Why it is where it is? Who were the people who settled here?

Waverly is a farming community in eastern Kansas, about 80 miles southwest of Kansas City on I-35 (yes, the same I-35 that goes through Dallas.). Farming is big business in Kansas. There are signs along the road that say "One Kansas farmer feeds 183 people -- AND YOU!" That's a lot of people! Kansas grows a lot of food -- corn, wheat, beans, cattle, sheep, chickens... all kinds of food. When Grandpa and I were planting our garden, we were following in a fine tradition.

Kansas became a state in 1861. Shortly after that the War Between the States began. Northern states fought Southern states for four years. After the war, people who had lost their homes or jobs moved west to start a new life. Railroads were built into the new state of Kansas. The railroads needed customers. They knew those people moving west needed homes, so they got the idea to offer places to live along the railroad. If the people would build a town and develop farms, they could bring their crops to the town and ship them to market on the train. Waverly was one of those towns that was started by the railroad. In 1886 people from Ohio moved to this area and built a town. They named it after their home in Ohio -- they named it Waverly.

Waverly was a prosperous town in the late 1880s. It had the railroad, restaurants, a bank, two hotels, and other businesses. One of the first barbed wire factories in Kansas was in Waverly. Less than 15 miles away a man started a silk ranch where men and women from France raised silkworms on mulberry trees. The cocoons were carefully unwound and the thread woven into beautiful silk cloth. No one raises silkworms in our area anymore, but the Silkville Ranch still exists. Great-Great-Grandpa John Hull's farm was a neighbor of the Silkville Ranch.

Notice the picture to the left? One field looks greener that the other. The one in front is browner. It has more dead grass in it, doesn't it? The one on top is brighter green because it is planted with winter wheat. Russian immigrants brought winter wheat seed to Kansas. They could plant it in the fall and let the seed lay unsprouted throughout the winter. The seed would benefit from the moisture and nutrients in the rain and snow all winter long, then pop up and start growing as soon as the soil was warm enough in the spring. This gave Kansas farmers a head start on growing wheat and allowed them to grow two crops of wheat a year. That is one way a Kansas farmer can feed so many people.

The townspeople of Waverly liked the good Kansas dirt that grew big crops. Lots of food was shipped out on the railroad. Still they didn't forget they used to live in Ohio. They would have a big celebration every summer to honor the people who settled the town. They called it Ohio Days.

Great-Great Grandpa John told me his parents used to fill their buckboard with hay and put all seven of the kids in the back, then drive all morning to go the 10 miles to Waverly for Ohio Days. They would take the harness off the horses when they got to the city park, tie the horses to the back of the wagon and let them munch on the hay while the family went to the picnic. There were talent shows where kids would recite poetry and some of the ladies would sing. There would be foot races, and sack races and all sorts of things for young kids to do and candy and other rare treats to be bought if you had a penny. The ladies would make "box lunches" (sort of like a picnic basket) that would be raffled off for a worthy cause. The men that bought the lunches got to eat lunch with the women who made them, so the young men were eager to bid on the lunches made by the prettiest young women. The last event would always be the balloon ascension. A traveling entertainer with a hot air balloon would give a speech, then release the sandbags and his big, colorful balloon would rise up into the air. That was the signal to gather the brothers and their only sister, crawl back into the buckboard -- without the hay now, because the horses had eaten it all -- and ride back to the farm. If you remember the time you lived in Waverly, you know that we still celebrate Ohio Days. That's when the traveling carnival came to town and you got to ride the merry-go-round and eat cotton candy.

Your great-great-great grandparents moved to the Waverly area about the time the town was settled. They didn't live in Waverly. One set of grandparents -- the Hulls and Herrons lived in a town north of Waverly that is called Quenemo. Another set of grandparents -- Morris and Bethell -- lived in the town east of Waverly, called Williamsburg. The Hulls, Herrons and Bethells were all farmers. Their farms grew wheat, corn, beans, cattle and chickens. The crops and the cattle were men's work. What they raised fed the family first. Any extra was sold for other things they needed. The chickens and the eggs were women's work. Any extra "egg money" that the wives might get was theirs to use for the small extras they might want around the house -- a piece of cloth for a new dress or a new bonnet. The men worked their farms with horses. By the time Great-Great Grandpa John was a young man, around 1910, steam tractors were used to plant and harvest the grain. Grandpa John and his father and brothers had one of the only steam threshing machines in the area. They would take their machinery south and west where the crops were becoming ready to harvest and work to harvest the grain, They would follow the ripening harvest north and east until they got back home.

That kind of harvesting is still done today, only on a bigger scale. When Uncle Joe Evans was living with Great-Grandpa Joe Bill Hull in 2002 he drove a semi for the harvesters. They had huge combines that would cut the grain and shoot it into the back of the truck. The harvesters would have three, four, five or more of those big combines working across the field cutting the stalks of wheat and jumbling them through the machine so the seeds of wheat were separated from the stems and leaves. There would be an open-bed semi following each of the combines.

Uncle Joe drove one of those trucks. When his combine had enough grain in it to dump, Uncle Joe would pull his truck forward and the long chute would drop down and the grain would run into the bed of his truck like water into a bathtub. Once his truck was full, Uncle Joe would drive into town to the grain elevator and unload. Eventually that wheat would be ground into flour and turned into bread, cake, pies, pizza dough -- all the good things we like to eat. Remember that sign that says Kansas farmers feed 183 people and YOU? You can see how they do it.

Great-Great-Great Grandpa Billy Morris was different. He wasn't a farmer; he was a coal miner. He was born in Cardiff, Wales. By the time he was your age -- 8 years old! -- he was already working in coal mines. It's hard to think about coal being in our quiet part of Kansas, but it is there. Thousands of years ago, the area that became Kansas was a ancient inland sea full of salt water. There were forests that grew along the shores of that sea. When the sea dried up, it left salt deposits in central Kansas. One of the largest salt mines in the world is in Hutchinson, Kansas, about 150 miles west of Waverly. In our part of Kansas, the ancient trees died and were compressed under layers of rock until they were turned into coal and oil. Most of the coal is in southeast Kansas around the town of Pittsburg. The Waverly/Williamsburg area is the northern edge of that big coal deposit. Great-Great-Grandpa Billy mined coal in Williamsburg.

In the 1930s Kansas had a terrible drought. The crops died. Other things were going wrong in the nation. It was a time called the Great Depression. There were lots of people out of work. My Dad's father, Great-Great-Grandpa John, became a coal miner during those years to help feed his family. He said it was dirty, scary work because you went down inside the earth in a little tunnel just as wide as your shoulders. It was darker than a closet with the door shut. The only light he had was a small carbide lamp pinned to his hat. It sputtered and didn't give off a lot of light. In that small dark place he had to take a hammer and a pick and chip rocks of coal off the sides of the tunnel and send them back to the surface. Wow. That would be hard work for a grown man. Think about Grandpa Billy! He was doing that kind of work when he was 8 years old! No wonder his parents left Wales to find a better life in America.

Times change and some things change and some things stay the same. There aren't as many people farming today as there were when Waverly was settled. Most of the kids I went to school with have left this area to get jobs in the cites. It's been like that ever since my parents were kids. Some kids graduate from high school and move away to larger towns in Kansas. Wichita, to the west of Waverly, is famous for building airplanes. That's where my Dad, your Great-Grandpa Joe Bill, went when he couldn't make a living on the farm. He became a machinist and a tool and die maker and spent a lot of time working in the aircraft industry. Great-Grandpa Joe Bill didn't like living in the city though. He wanted his children to grow up in a small town and be able to enjoy country living. When I was ten he moved to Waverly and opened a farm repair shop that we always called "the blacksmith shop." In many ways Great-Grandpa Joe Bill was carrying on the tradition of the blacksmith. He even had a forge where he heated metal red hot before he worked it on a big anvil, just like old-time blacksmiths used to do. Later Great-Grandpa Joe Bill sold his blacksmith shop and became the town handyman and plumber. Today, Grandpa Pat is starting a business as a town handyman in Waverly. See what I mean by some things change and some things stay the same? By the way, the little white building in this picture was Grandpa Joe Bill's blacksmith shop in 1958.

Well, LalaBug, I hope I've given you a bit of an idea about how Waverly came to be, what it does and why it stays small. Waverly will never be big like Grand Prairie or Dallas because it doesn't have big factories or businesses to give people jobs, but it still serves the farmers of our area. The grain elevator is one of the busiest places in town during the summer. We've lost our hotels. The barbed wire factory has been gone so long few people remember it, but this is still a good place to call home. Your Grandpa Pat and I are happy to have returned here. We're going to enjoy our own little bit of farming as we plant our garden and watch it grow.

Love you!


Flat Lala Helps Grandpa Make a Closet

Dear Lala,

Yesterday Flat Lala stayed home with Grandpa. We didn't get any pictures, but she helped him install a closet at Angie's house. Grandpa had cut all the boards before time in our garage, but the biggest board was too big to go up the stairs. It was six feet wide and wouldn't go around the corner. (Sort of like getting Mama's mattress upstairs in Texas.) Grandpa and Flat Lala rubbed their chins and scratched their heads.

Grandpa sent Flat Lala to the top of the stairs to pull and he pushed from the bottom. Ugh. It didn't work. It got stuck.

They scratched their heads some more.

"Its a shame it isn't flat like me, " Flat Lala told Grandpa. "Then you could fold it in the middle and take it up the stairs."

"That's it, Lala!" Grandpa cried. "I can't fold it, but I can cut it!" Grandpa cut the six foot board into two 3 foot wide boards. It was so easy to carry up the stairs then that Flat Lala didn't have to pull at all. She got to ride on the end while Grandpa carried the boards up the stairs.

Miss Angie is really happy with her new closet. She says she's going to paint it pink. Flat Lala thought that was an excellent idea. Now if Miss Angie were just flat, she could get lots more clothes in her closet. :)



Flat Lala helps Garden

Dear Lala,

Flat Lala was busy tonight! She helped Grandpa and I plant garden. We were putting the potatoes in the dirt when she hollered, "Grandma! You're doing it wrong. The cut side goes down so the green parts can grow up to the sun." We had to go back and fix the potatoes we had planted.

She and Grandpa were much more careful when they planted the onions. Everything went in properly the first time.

Later this week we will be going to the nursery in LeRoy to buy tomato plants and other seeds. Some seeds like cool soil for growing; others want it warmer. We can't plant the tomatoes outside until the ground is warmer, so we'll keep them in the house by a window until the ground is ready. In the meantime, they will look like a small forest of tall stalks and green leaves on the table. Won't that be funny?

Love, Grandma