Mice, fire, syrup and the past

The holidays are always a time to get together and tell stories about the past.


My oldest drove in from VT (bringing syrup for everyone) and that spurred stories about my mother making syrup from our trees – in our yard – in Illinois.  She would collect the sap from a few of the trees and then let it sit in a big cast iron pot on the cast iron stove in the kitchen for days.  I’m not positive if my brother tried it, but I never worked up the courage myself to give it a try.

Growing up my mother frequently was coming up with ideas to try to maker our own.  I’ll never forget the chicks being raised in the kitchen in a big pen with a heat lamp.  She’s done that one a few times, a few different ways.  Then there was deer jerky that she would cut the strips and let them sit on the wood burning stove in the closed top portion.  The strips also would lay across the bars for days.  That same deer meat used for the jerky was what we used to eat for most meals, and my parents would go out and hunt it each season then hang the deer in the shed.  My dad would go out and cut pieces off, bringing them in a little at a time, and the kitchen would become a production facility with my mother wrapping everything in freezer paper and wrapping what it was on the outside.  All the scrap pieces would be thrown to the dogs and be scattered throughout the yard for the next couple months.

At one point my mother decided to even try tanning the hide of one of the deer pelts.  She scraped as much as she could off the back of the hide and then set the hide in the basement covered in salt.  I’m fairly certain it was right after we visited a festival and my brother and I each got sheepskin pelts (died in funny colors).  They were so soft and warm, she wanted to try herself.


My aunt needed shells to use to help her control her snake problem, which led to the story of my grandfather and a mouse…  Growing up we also had a lot of mice.  It was so bad I got to recognize the smell of decaying mouse lost somewhere near my room and would try to burn a candle at night to mask the smell.  We had stories about my mother cleaning and throwing toys into a toy box in the dark, feeling something odd only to find it was a dead mouse the next day.  Picking up dresses to hang, shaking them and having the feel of little paws going up inside her pants leg – she came out of those pants really fast.

We also had stories about the time my brother put a mouse in an empty hamster cage in my room and just waited for me to find it.  He also came into my room and nailed one to the wall with a dart from a dart gun at one point.  Hitting a moving mouse was a tradition though!  The story of my grandfather sitting with a 22 waiting at the dining room table for a mouse that he knew usually cut through the room is well known.  He waited it out until the mouse came around the corner and he shot it.  We just had the discussion about whether the hole is probably still in the floor or not.

While up at my mother’s I still like to sleep with television on, not for the television itself, but to drawn out any noise of gnawing.  I really dislike seeing the evidence of where the mice have been all over.


While telling stories, the subject of the power going out for more than 2 weeks at a time had to come up.  I remember best the year that Headless Horsemen was to be The Wonderful World of Disney – a special every weekend.  My brother and I were so excited to see it, and there weren’t recorders, the internet, even DVDs back then (in the 70s).  The power went out, and stayed out.  In the country we had no water when we had no power.  At that point our house didn’t have a wood burning stove yet either, so just a fireplace.   After a few days, my dad worked out how to run a tractor and use it to power a couple things like the well.  – Not in time to see the show though.  I do remember us having a little orange record player that ran on batteries, so that was our amusement.  We also always had lots of kerosene lamps, still do.  So the kerosene lamps served as light..

The stories of the fireplace and all the times we used it, led to the story of smoldering the boards around the fireplace.  My father had always used green wood, but this one year he had dried dead wood.  It burned a LOT hotter.  My mother had a huge fire going, and we ended up with the steel plate in front of the fireplace red hot.  The steel plate charred the wood around the front of the fireplace and caused smoke to come out the cold air ducts. Not having a clue where the fire was, my dad was pouring water everywhere.  They did figure out the cause of the smoke and get everything cooled off and put out before the fire department showed up, but the firemen had to all come in and traipse through to see it themselves.  There had been a storm going on, so getting out to us, had also meant that fire trucks had all run off the road into the ditches, slid everywhere and the firemen were drenched.   The fireplace wood is probably still charred under the front of the fireplace.  My brother has now converted the fireplace itself to gas, so it isn’t likely to happen again.

The Past

Telling the stories is great, and getting together the whole family at the holidays allows up to tell a story that leads to another.  I love the idea of getting family together and recording the stories.  Besides having stories recorded I also like scanning all the pictures and trying to get my whole family to name everyone in the pictures.  The hard part is finding a way to record the names to go with each picture so that you can identify who each person is.

In the Pond

Some of the first things we really noticed about my father as he developed dementia was his lapses in judgement. With a farm this resulted in more broken equipment… A wagon accidently pushed into a pond. The oil pan cover on a bulldozer being forgotten. We even found at one point that my father had thrown away the smoke alarms while my mother was out. We narrowed it down to while my mom was out and my dad had made himself something to eat. He had mentioned that the food was so burnt that the dogs wouldn’t even eat it. Apparently he had taken down the smoke alarms and carried them out to dispose of them. It wasn’t until my mother had a slight kitchen mishap weeks later that we noticed the alarms didn’t go off… upon a search, we noticed they were completely missing.

The toughest to correct was the wagon in the pond. Someone had to get into the pond and attach onto the wagon and then the wagon had to be drug out of the pond. It ended up taking a few years to get it out! The bulldozer though may still be needing repairs.

After the last farming season – the season of a lot of needed repairs…. my dad began to have strokes. Something I feel that I need to keep an eye out for in my future. I already know that on blood tests/lab work that odd test that shows the size of the red blood cells gives a result showing mine are a little large… I’m not really sure what that means, but I’m guessing that means I’m at a higher risk of stroke. My dad always had issues with clotting – he clotted easy and honestly with very little foreshadowing I already see my future coming… Add to that the fact that I know I have small veins (They say drink lots of water before lab work, hello, that just means I’m going to be in the bathroom a million times between now and bedtime and probably even have to stop to go on the way home – and the way into the lab)

Looking up items to reduce my risk of stroke, I’ve found:

  1. Start drinking
  2. Control Blood Pressure (mines already fine)
  3. Watch your weight (um that’s not feasible….  I do everything I can and nothing helps)
  4. Cholesterol (mine’s already fine)
  5. Exercise (does going up and down stairs count?)
  6. smoking (never have…)
  7. eat chocolate (does white chocolate count?)
  8. sleep (must add this to my calendar)
  9. limit red meat (we already do, but we need some for iron – though we eat a lot of other things with iron)
  10. Fiber (that could be good to add)
  11. drink tea (I need to find one that doesn’t make me jittery)
  12. drink water (I try)

Looking through my list of ways to reduce my list, I think I’m doing pretty good.  We have also worked to reduce our fried foods, reduce our fats, and we mostly eat healthy.  That tends  to break down a little when my husband finds any snacks, when my mom visits, or when we are up in Illinois.

Robert Carl Richter

My father passed away September 23rd, 2017…  the guestbook is available at: Robinson’s Funeral Chapel 

The memorial service was at Muncie Baptist Church and included stories about my dad.  Getting a chance to hear some friends and family tell their stories about my dad’s life was a fitting way for his life to be remembered as far as what I think he would have liked.  He wanted to be cremated and spread around his farm, his farm being something he loved.  Being away from it the last few years I’m sure was as tough on him than the disease that was robbing his memory.

Stories included tales from his childhood of money making plans with his favorite sidekick and cousin, Don, where they collected all the Pigeon’s from the barns in the area – thinking they could sell them as squab – then the cleaning the barn and shooing pigeons for weeks after when their parents found out.

My father’s time in the army amusing everyone but the officer’s tasked with training them.  My father answering questions with darned if I know and earning everyone push ups for laughing…  Throwing in comments, like save some for me, from the back of the chow line during the company picnics.

My cousin Larry told about my dad taking him hunting for his first time, a friend telling about meeting my dad and sending him down to Kentucky. I’m fairly certain I remember the trip he was talking about – my second grade year when we went down and got the dog Waldo from a friend’s dad in Kentucky.  He had a tobacco farm and gave us tobacco leaves to bring back for show and tell.  A friend of mine that made a special effort to come to talk about how much my dad had meant to her, and so much more!

I didn’t tell about my dad, fixing our brakes for our truck and having spare parts…..  He pointed out Ford always includes extra parts….  I mentioned my dad getting the boys animals, we always had lots of animals growing up.  My dad once noticed our deer had escaped (yep deer, we had buffalo too), and chased it through the field with a ramcharger. down to the end and back.  He got out and was trying to wrestle it, when it pinned him with it’s antlers to the propane tank.  Antlers on each side of him!

There are so many more stories, many that I don’t even know, but having a chance to meet up with family and share stories was the best way I could imagine to say goodbye to dad.   I would have loved to speak to everyone and hear all their stories if time would have just been able to slow down for a little while.


Robert Richter

June 29, 1940 – September 23, 2017

Oakwood – Robert Carl Richter, 77, of Oakwood, passed into peaceful rest at 7:15 p.m. Saturday, September 23, 2017 at Illini Heritage Rehab & Health in Champaign.

He was born on June 29, 1940 in Vance Twp. the son of Wesley Thomas & Mildred G. Eldridge Richter. He married his wife of 50 years Karen McArdle on February 4, 1967 in Westville, IL. She survives. Other survivors include 1 daughter, Karla (Dr. Keith) Andrew, 1 son, Robert Richter, and 3 grandsons, Kevin, Kristopher, and Konnor. Additionally he is survived by 2 sisters, Ethel Eichorst and Linda Richter; 1 brother, Tom Richter, as well as many nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by 4 sisters, Dorothy Mitchell, Margaret Brothers Hersh, Cleta Fern Richter, and Norma McVey, and 2 brothers, Frank Richter and Howard Richter.

Bob was loved by everyone he met and never met a stranger, even talking himself out of a speeding ticket on his honeymoon and inviting the officer home to go fishing to boot. He lived, hunted deer and mushrooms, and farmed within miles of the family land which like his family, was always important to him.

My wedding

My Wedding

Humanity and Hulu

I found a new show recently – “Mary Kills People” on Hulu.  It’s about a nurse running around helping patients commit suicide when they decide they can’t take it any more and don’t want to suffer through the future ahead.  In the show they talk about the fact that Switzerland allows doctors to help with physician assisted suicide.

The question frequently comes up about why we make family members suffer, unable to communicate, not able to recognize us, unable to move their own bodies – when we treat an animal with a life ending disease in a way that seems more humane.  I’ve thought about it as I watch my dad waste away.  No longer able to recognize us.  I remember the times he asked nurses to help him end it.  I’m fairly certain he wasn’t joking.  The thing is in my dad’s case it’s easy to see he’s being tortured, he vocalized what he wanted several times… BUT if it was really a thing like in the show how do you decide?  How do you separate the family who have just decided they don’t want to pay for more care, or that their family member is taking too much of their future inheritance.  That’s really why it can’t happen….

A friend told us about families that just drop parents and spouses at their hospital with no name and leave them. They can’t take the cost, the worry, and all the things that go with being responsible for someone in care anymore.  It’s like being responsible for a 200 pound baby.  What really makes it sad though is that when you look at this 200 pound baby what you really see is all the memories of the person that was, and though with all your heart you want the person to be who they were before whatever awful disease has eaten away at their body and mind…. it can’t happen.  Personally I think it has to be easier for people whose family still have their mind, but I haven’t been in that position…

To help my father feel more comfortable we’ve decided to go with Hospice.  He no longer recognizes people, no longer talks, can’t eat, can only drink thickened liquids, he can’t even hardly move on his own….  Hospice will help with pain management and anything else they can do to make him more comfortable.  Hospice also works with families to help them deal everything.  As much as it seems like it should be easier to make decisions in a situation like this… and like at this point it’s been accepted that loss is inevitable – >  There is no magic solution that can make a person with dementia or Alzheimer’s better…..  It’s still stressful.  You do want the person back and you still have the memory of what you assume is locked somewhere in their mind that they can’t get out anymore.

I’ve had ‘friends’ message me with the, if you just give your father the right diet, he can be ‘fixed’.  Then there are the posts from people that think that any post about the difficulties dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s are a betrayal to the family member and you should just be glad that you can spend time with them….  and finally there are the friends that have recently lost their parent.  The friends whose parent died a quick unexpected death or died from something like cancer where they got sick, fought it, the friend stood by their side though treatment and they passed away.  I do feel for them, but it’s hard to find the words to respond when you are thinking about the fact that you know your own parent would have preferred to go quickly and unexpectedly.   Really though you are thinking you are stuck in the limbo, you are in the group of people that still have their parent… but what you really have is half your parent.

Additionally friends are interested at first, they want to know how your parent is doing… but too much and it drags them down to, so the stress is all your own.  It’s the same as a chronic illness.  The more you talk about it the less friends and support you have.

We are just beginning our hospice journey though our dementia journey has been going on for a while.  It may or may not be a long one, but I think it will be helpful, for all my family….


Family Culture

My son is currently doing a project on family culture….  I think the class is cultural anthropology.  The real question is what is our families cultural history.  I also was struck recently seeing online a quiz a teacher gave for extra credit on race.  The real question comes from if your family immigrated to the US (aka great American Melting Pot) at the start of the country, what is your cultural background?

My grandmother Wakeland’s family immigrated to the US in the early 1900s after 3 of her sisters (my aunts) were already born.  I can link superstitions and our Catholic upbringing to them… but beyond that it becomes more of a question.  My husband’s family came to the US in the 1920’s, but didn’t really bring a lot of cultural heritage that we know of.  The family was also Catholic, but didn’t seem to have all the superstitions that my Italian family did.

For my family the McArdle on my mom’s side and all of my father’s side, were more the been here for ever, what would you consider culture.. but maybe that is a culture?

Culture is:

Family tradition, also called Family culture, is defined as aggregate of attitudes, ideas and ideals, and environment, which a person inherits from his/her parents and ancestors.

Both sides of the family have lots of family history to fall back on.  There were strong attitudes too, most were incorporated into the family for generations…  My ancestor Rev. John Corbley’s museum still has a family reunion every year at the church near his former farm.  Rev Corbley was originally part of the House of Delegates for the state of Virginia, but was voted out due to separation of Church and State in 1777.  Corbley was not an ordained minister but was thought to be enough of a minister to be ousted from the government.

Corbley later was part of the resistance during the Whiskey Rebellion when the settlers objected to the first tax imposed by the new country.  The government made a new federal tax on whiskey distilled in the area of Pennsylvania.  President Washington later released everyone and sent them back home.  Stories from Corbley’s life tell of him being allowed to go out during the day and return to the jailers at night until finally being told he could return home to his family.

Other stories from the family include tales of family that were some of the first Postmasters (McArdle), platted towns (Edward Corbley), Farmers (Richters), and even some of the first school board members of their area (Abraham Lincoln Richter)….  These ancestors all helped shape the country that we currently live in.  Many faced adversity and though some have faded into obscurity, they helped make the nation that exists today.

The question really is though how does this fit with our current family’s culture…  When I think of it, I see my mother who is now active in the Daughters of the American Revolution…  many of my cousins and aunts that have been active in politics.  I also see my cousins and my children doing what they can to help others and standing up for those in need.  We’ve tried to instill in our children to help people when they see injustice or need.  Though we sometimes slip, we try to focus on the positive.

Every one I know is a mix of something.  It may be race or religion….  or it could even be brain wiring.    Not everyone’s difference’s are visible, but they all matter.  To me it seems whatever your own difference, that’s the one that is the widest divide……

Before Amazon? Sears Shopping……

I do a lot of shopping on Amazon – A LOT… before Amazon I went to the store, I’d get in my car and head to Walmart or the grocery.  The boys needed clothes, shoes, a book bag, or book no problem!  I’d head to the store… and I could usually find it.  Now though I shop at Amazon.  I can find most things I need and as long as I have a couple days leeway I cam good.  I’ve even been known to head to the store, see something and order from Amazon while in the store.  Sometimes because the store was out of it, sometimes because the price was so much cheaper online.  When I head to the store I do intend to buy at the store, but for big purchases or specific items I have frequently end up searching.  Our book store is limited now, we only have a small fabric store with high prices, and my son is really specific on colors, characters on clothes, and even what type of fit and design his clothes have.  So amazon it is…. even to find his size, I’m stuck going online.  He really needs an 8 Slim now and will only wear an elastic waist.  His preference is no drawstring, but I can cut that out.  Try finding that around town.

While my dad was in school and his mother was still alive, the common place to get things was a catalog.  My grandmother Richter would order things and if they fit, yeah!  If not you wore them anyway.  Items were then handed down through the kids.  I remember sometime after I was in 2nd grade, my dad having a toe removed.  From the story I remember it had to do with the wrong size shoes my father wore all the time while growing up.  My son loves wearing his shoes too big and I can’t bring myself to make him wear shoes that might be in anyway small because of this memory.

My aunts also told a story recently about my grandmother taking them to a store in the nearby ‘big’ city.  It would have a sale each year and they would drive over to stock up.  My grandmother was finally learning to drive and they had a huge car.  My aunts pointed out a spot where 49 turns north and mentioned that it’s where my grandmother was hit while taking them to the store and learning to drive.  She never drove again.  It was also just a little before she became sick.  – So I’m guessing it was sometime around 1950….

While my aunts and uncles were growing up, Sears was the ‘Amazon’ of the time, just with a catalog.  You could get almost anything!  I remember seeing houses that were known as Sears Craftsmans – usually built by the tracks because the parts were delivered by train. The houses were ordered from the catalog.

Sears now has lost market share and is closing stores.  It’s hard to believe they have gone from the giant that was the go to for moms that needed something that couldn’t be found at their local mercantile, to a closing business.  It makes me wonder what the future of Amazon will hold.  I did recently see an add for a ‘new’ service’, order online and pick it up immediately on site!  Yep they have just reinvented the store again.  Are there still new ideas to be developed?