The Secret of San Pedro la laguna


For the last twelve years, I have been researching Guatemala for my latest novel, “The Secret of San Pedro La Laguna.” My research on Native American Historical Trauma here in America convinces me that the folks of the second and third generation of Northern Guatemala Maya people are most certainly faced with the consequences of domination and depredation by outside cultures.

Before my first trip to Guatemala in 2007, I began researching safety and health issues for travellers and discovered the CIA claimed it was a dark and dangerous place for tourists. In further research I discovered the slaughter of the Mayan Ixtl people that happened in the 1970’s while I was in college, when America’s attention was focused on getting out of Viet Nam. When I arrived in Guatemala City and toured up to Lake Atitlan, those fears were confirmed, indeed it seemed this country was not a safe place. But once we arrived at Lake Atitlan, I began to feel compelled to understand more about these people and the land they live in.

Before each subsequent trip I continued to read everything I could find and no longer wondered why Guatemalans are willingly offering themselves up for sacrifice in the long and arduous exodus to the United States of America. I read about the long history of conflicts between warring nations with exotic names, prior to the Spanish intrusion. Tragic social devastation and subsequent enslavery of the native population of Central America followed that conquest. For hundreds of years, the indigenous people of Guatemala were suppressed by various governments of their country and companies like the United Fruit Company or private finca owners who wrested land and resources away from the campesinos (farmers).

There are so many sources to finish, and many I have yet to find. I have read “I, Rigoberto Menchu.” This is a Nobel Peace prize winner’s story of her experience as a Mayan woman during the Civil War in Guatemala. Dr. David Stott wrote a anthropology book rejecting her story. On the other hand I read Erna Ferguson’s 1937 book, “Guatemala.” This woman was an ardent traveler and friend of American governors and presidents who loved Guatemala. I read dozens of other books, papers and reviews of the history, archaeology and anthropology of Central America. Along with my bookshelves filled with historical references, I have scrounged You Tube and dug into internet sites. With the help of my friends Carmen, Tiffany and Linda, I spent a delightful and rewarding afternoon in the Museum of Ethnology and Archaeology in Guatemala City.

I have wandered the dirt paths and ancient stone streets of small villages in the highlands and travelled into the hinterland with my dear friends Tiffany and Cecy. I worked shoulder to shoulder with Tz’utujil and K’iche kids like Ruth Gomez Simaj, hard-working Domingo Navichoc Puac and ‘tourista guide’ Olinda Cabrera. I visited with Mynor Mazariegos, about his desire to work in America and how he got his VISA to work in the USA. I sat in the dirt and learned words from children, while hearing about their dreams for the future. I chatted to the elders and visited the Ketchikel folks of Chuyquel, a small puebla north of Panajachel. I listened to their music and visited their markets, I have munched hand-made corn tortillas, eaten the Van Gogh colored, exotic fruits, and slurped the flavor-filled soups of this wonderful country. I will return to hear their stories and I hope to synthesize these experiences into my third Jewell Johnson mystery to preserve what I have discovered is the Secret of San Pedro la laguna.

A painting from Galleria del Arte, San Juan la laguna.

Who was Franz W. Voigt?


Many years ago, my father pointed out one pretty picture in his collection of oil and water paintings at our farm and told me to take care of it. I hauled it from there to my new home a couple years ago and left it packed behind my desk.

Last week I thought I’d bring it out and put a new frame on it. The old one was ugly and I disposed of it fifteen years ago. The local framers did a nice job and I posted the results on my Facebook page. Two of my friends saw the name and looked it up. The 1883 artist has a number of relatively famous paintings.

I like it. I will hang it up in memory of my dad’s time spent in Germany following WWII.

I went on the internet and promptly saw a picture very similar to mine with the same signature. How odd, I thought

My picture is a rural scene in Germany. FW Voigt

When I Got Married, Mom Gave Me an Erma Bombeck Library


From Aunt Erma’s Cope Book

My mom, Mary, loved Erma Bombeck. She bought her paperbacks and read her newspaper articles, often clipping them out and sending them to me…a young wife and mother. Bombeck’s timeless humor was an encouragement in those days of stress and struggle. I saw myself in some of her predicaments like wrangling a car seat onto the counter, clinging to a crying kid on my hip and trying to wrangle a third thumbsucker while pushing a shopping cart with my hip through checkouts, avoiding eye contact with the rack of candy bars beside us.

Too often I looked for answers in women’s groups, psychology, in pop gurus and those folks that were great attention grabbers. I wanted to be organized, to be relevant, to be slim and loved (our society often equates these two things.) In this chapter, “Tidying Up Your Life”, Bombeck’s mother finally suggests a class on getting organized. Erma struggles through the class and leaves with a classmate.

“I walked with Ruth, who offered to drive me to where my car was parked. (She had also arrived late and had parked her car in a towaway zone.) We discussed our frailties.

“The trouble with me,” said Ruth, “is I’m a perfectionist. Do you have a coat-hanger?”

“What for?”

“I locked my keys in the car. I’m one of those people who can’t settle for mediocrity,” she explained, taking off her necklace and making a loop in it to pull the button up. “Easy now…I got it!” she smiled. “Do you know I even used to iron diapers? The only reason I’m taking this class is so I can learn who to compromise. If I don’t, I’m going to drive myself crazy. What’s your problem?”

“It’s my mother,” I said. “She thinks I need organization. She plans her next headache.”

Ruth nodded. “I know the type.”

“Her spices are alphabetized. She cleans spatters from her stove every time she uses it. Every year she changes her closet over from winter to summer.”

“You’re kidding!”

“No. I have never seen my mother carry a suede handbag in the summer. She’s what I call a box-saver.”

“What’s that mean?”

“It’s the difference between youth and old age, I think. When you’re young you believe that somewhere around the next bend is always a box when you need it. Old age never wants to take that chance.”

“You know, I think you’re right,” nodded Ruth.

“She’s got boxes inside boxes. I’ve received scarves in a stationery box, a blouse in a shoebox, and once on my birthday I got a small pendant in a box marked ‘Rectal Thermometer.’ Every Christmas, I get something from Mother in a Nieman-Marcus box. It’s the same box. My Mother has never been in Nieman-Marcus in her entire life.” (Bombeck 1979) Fawcett Crest, NY

When I read this, I saw how my friends from over the years became their moms. I didn’t inherit the buoyant and joyful flippancy I thought I saw at the core of my mother. Yes, she was very smart and very experienced, but I thought too youthful in her cheerful attitudes. I was stubbornly determined to plan, organize and tidy every issue I came in contact with, feeling the condemning stare of some in my aegis who like Death in “Christmas Carol,” pointed a stern bony finger at failures to dissuade me from moving forward.

It took years of counseling, and prayer to let joy seep back into my outlook on life. I began to open new doors and while stepping into the unknown, I discovered I had forgotten to love and to honor myself. I over-valued the opinions of those who judged me and found me inadequate, something my mother would never do. I discovered that there is a God who loves me exactly the way He created me. Obviously, He has a great sense of humor. I think appreciating good humor in my Erma Bombeck collection is a great place to find my way back home.

Crystal Clear Moments


Someday when I see perfectly clearly
a feeling preserved forever
in some connection within my flesh and blood,

it’s a “crystal clear moment.”

Oh, bring these moments in a parade
to me when I am old and my newnesses slow to nothing.
Give me these happinesses to grin
absently at and speak to again across time.

When you see me some day my child
and you think I am sad and lonely
staring silently out the window
in my room, oblivious to today
I hope that I will be seeing so clearly
these crystal moments we share right now,
saving in some quiet recess to relive.
But let us make some memories right now,
so happy, gentle and so soft,
of sweet-smelling wildflowers, golden days and azure skies,
of moonlight, whippoorwills and fireflies.
And they will seep through the tough times,
when sad and troubling thoughts override.
I can store them up to remind me later,

Will you dear?

Done Running, Chapter Four *Sigurd’s letter to Meryl Wynatt


Letter #1 

On the first envelope, the cancellation date was 1937, with a number of smudged cancellation postmarks. I’d need a magnifying glass to read them. There were three different-colored stamps. The return address was simply “Sig Johnson, Retalhuleu, Guat.” I wondered what that even meant.

Opening the flap on the pale blue envelope I saw Dad’s perfect penmanship on thin blue vellum paper labelled ‘correo aereo’ in red and indigo. I closed my eyes remembering how he sat, hunched over his desk, writing in his journals and punching the keys on that old black Monarch typewriter. I never questioned what he was writing and I wondered where his papers were now.

Cool night/ hot days   March 19, 1937

Dear Meryl,

How are you my good friend? As you can see from my postmark I am not in Chicago or Boston. My ship anchored a few days ago, off Champerico, Guatemala and I took a boat to the docks. Today I thought I’d write to you. In case you had not heard, I am embarking on a rough journey eastward across Guatemala to try to find a friend, Edward Weeks, who disappeared somewhere in central Guatemala. He came here on his own to do research but now the Institute wants me to find him. He was looking for an archaeological site but it has been nearly a year since he set off to hunt for those Mayan ruins. The government officers here said they know nothing and so I might be wasting my time but the Institute supplied me with steamer tickets, some rather poor maps and a new Indian motorcycle! I have a generous amount of “pesos” in my pocket too.

Today I unloaded my motorcycle and I am looking for a guide who can take me through the mountains. I have to find my contact in Chichicastenango which lies to the north and east hundred miles ahead of me in the mountains. I can see smoke coming from volcanoes here, Meryl! I hope I will find gasoline when I need it. I have a tank for extra fuel but it makes the trip rather hazardous. My Spanish will be tested sorely as I try to find my way. My map I have is not the greatest so I have to rely on directions from my contacts and the natives.

Before I left, I wrote to my parents so they’d know where I am headed. Please keep an eye on them for me until I return. Sometimes I am jealous of your quiet life back home and regret leaving you all behind, but Ed was a good friend and he has a family back home who wonders what happened to him. It might get a little hairy here. Please be sure to hang on to those papers I gave you. I will see you as soon as I can get back.

The port here is very hot and at night the mosquitos are terrible. My little room is no more than a cot and a small desk. There are no screens so you have to put up with the bugs or suffer the heat! I spent all day yesterday walking around this ‘pueblo’. It is primitive compared to Madison or Chicago, but the fruit and vegetables in their market are wonderfully flavorful. I especially like the aguacate. It’s a green fruit with a big seed inside. The greenish meat has the smooth texture of soft cheese. They have a delightfully different flavor. The pineapples here are as sweet as candy. They fry a banana-like fruit called ‘plantanos fritos’. I have also developed a particular liking for their little yellow corn tortillas made everywhere over open fires. They are served with every meal and are very good rolled up with thick black-bean paste. Everything here is very cheap except for meat. They eat fish cooked on the beach, right out of the Pacific. I bought several white shirts of the native style and some pantaloons that I can stuff into knee-high leather boots because I have heard there’s venomous snakes here. I’ve been warned about scorpions and spiders too.

They say that it is cold in the mountains so I picked up two ‘serapes’, hand woven wool vests with deep pockets. I bought a leather jacket and hat for riding on the Indian. They can double for blankets. My American suit jackets I gave to a young guy who was returning north. I will have to travel light.

A strange thing happened on board coming down from San Francisco. Apparently, the crew discovered a stowaway, a Chinaboy. He was a skinny little demon, quite a scrapper. After a scuffle with several of the crewmen, he went overboard into the ocean near the port. I don’t know if he jumped or they threw him overboard. I kept an eye out for him and one time I thought I spotted him in the waves, but the crew didn’t show concern or even put out a boat.

Meryl, you can imagine that I felt so bad for the poor kid. The captain said it happens all the time; young boys trying to run away to look for adventure. Usually they put them to work on board and return them to the port they came from… apparently hard work is not what they plan for and they are glad to leave when they get back to port. I suppose the boy could have made it to shore but I think it was over a mile away! I prayed for him and then checked with the local constabulary when I got to shore to find out if a body washed up, but there were no reports. Sadly, I’d suppose the sharks got him.

I guess I had better get this letter over to the postal agent. I don’t trust the postal service here but they said it would go out today by airmail believe it or not!

Don’t forget to pray for your old friend, Sig. I hope to return within six months. I will write again if I find a post office in up north.

Yours sincerely, Sigurd Johnson

林 (línmeaning “forest” or 琳 (línmeaning “fine jade, gem”

We Don’t Get Old In A Vacuum


NURSING HOME SERMONS

Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life; and he was gathered to his people.                   Genesis 25:8

Speaking of living a long time, did you notice the days are getting longer? Yes, the Spring Dandelions are poking their sunny yellow heads out of every lawn, around the base of trees and along the roads. As a matter of fact, an elderly friend of mine doesn’t like them in her lawn so she went out and began pulling them up. In the process, she managed to give herself a case of tendonitis and pulled her hamstring. OUCH

While I certainly understand that getting outside and moving around more freely is absolutely the best part of spring and summer, it gets easier to overdo it as we age. Fresh air, exercise, and sunshine are so elemental in feeling “good” about life and I love to work on my lawn, prune the trees and plant flowers. But I have also discovered that being sixty-four is much closer to sixty-five than I’d like to admit.

This week I bought a new trimmer and a mower and headed out to the yard to get caught up on the tall grass. I sat down after a half-hour. It wasn’t just because I ran out of gas or grass. I was just plain tired. My hands hurt and my muscles were sore and weak. It could be that I didn’t get enough exercise last winter but this is a new thing, this tiredness.

I went in the house to my desk and sat at my computer, wondering about how I could overcome this weariness. In my Bible I found several verses that were encouraging.

Gospel according to Matthew 11:28-29 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

The Prophet Jeremiah 31:25I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”

The author of Hebrews 12:12-13 Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.”

That doesn’t talk about my ‘process of aging’ though. At that moment, I wanted encouragement about the process of getting older, I’m sure you understand about the effort of just getting up in the morning sometimes being overwhelming. I’m beginning to learn a lot about life as I pass sixty, but I also forget stuff.

As a matter of fact, George Burns said “By the time you’re eighty years old you’ve learned everything. You only have to remember it.”  I understand it now. I love to laugh with George Burns but I often forget his jokes. By the way, he was almost as old as Methuselah when he passed away!

Charles R Swindoll’s book “Job” was published in 2004. Chuck explained about the Job’s struggles, and how he overcame them. In this book, Swindoll also remarked on a not to surprising thing: old-agers need encouragement too.

Sometimes it feels like folks over sixty are left out of life and forgotten. It seems like they are left out of the mainstream, they aren’t involved in the lives of their kids and grandkids. I have some advice for all of us who are have older friends and family around us, those who are already elders and also for those who care for them.

It is a two-way stream. My advice is to constantly remember each other. Take care of each other. Love each other. If your friend or relative is away, write to them. Call them. Text them. Keep up a running dialogue. Continue to nurture your relationship and begin new conversations instead of always talking about the good old days. There are many reasons – and they are two-way reasons. We learn from the aged and they thrive through us!

Age is not kind to the human body or to the cultivation of relationships. I admit no one else can make an individual be fulfilled and feel satisfied, but we can certainly help along the way. We need to consciously bring kids and elders into contact with each other.

Children bring that sense of constant newness to our hearts and memories. They are fresh, impulsive and bright like little flowers blooming. Research shows that the laughter of a child refreshes our thoughts. When we lighten up, we feel a little more positive and optimistic, more hopeful and engaged. We become friendlier, more resourceful, more attractive, more alive.

And now—a little advice to you who are feeling overlooked and forgotten. There’s a Jewish proverb that says, “For the ignorant, old age is as winter; for the learned, it is a harvest.” As age stacks up, we will find that because we have kept yourself alert and alive, we’ll continue to see life through new eyes.

Swindoll says we need to “Step up! Laugh! Stay engaged in life! Don’t succumb to feeling bad for your situation!”

As soon as you feel too old to do something, try to find a way to do it or find something new to do. Play a new game, find a new friend and explore your relationship together. When you feel critical, say something kind – in a kindly way. You feed your heart when you are nice to someone else. As soon as you feel neglected or lonely – reach out to another person. Send a cheery note to a friend. Stay in communication with those you love and be honest about your feelings.

“Have a GREAT day!”

A LOGGING TOWN PORTRAIT


Hayward Photographer George McElroy

by Eldon M. Marple

George McElroy’s subject were universal; each class in school aligned itself next to the concrete block foundation of the schoolhouse to be limned in history, the prom queen daintily wiped her yes from the sting of the acrid power exploded in his flash holder, and no confirmation could pass without his attention. He traveled to the camps and the mills to record the work and the men he found there. Every high school graduate dressed in the best of the day came to his dark studio with the skylight to the north to pose stiffly while he peered through his aged glass-plate camera with a black cloth over his head, then, after a warning not to move, to wait immobile with bated breath for an interminable moment while the mechanism clicked and growled.

The negatives of the photographs taken by Mr. McElroy were on glass plates and he kept them to use for the sale of duplicates. After his death in 1938 the studio passed to other hands and uses, and the thousands of stored plates of incalculable value to a historian were hauled to the dump and buried. When Tony Wise moved the building to Historyland a few years ago, we recovered a few plates from digging in the debris. Were these negatives available today, a continuous and inexhaustible source of information would be available for the study of the region in the early days.

Hayward and the Big Mill


Hayward and the Big Mill…The Landmark!

by Eldon M. Marple

Anthony Judson Hayward must have come to the site of the town named in his honor well before November 11, 1880, the date the North Wisconsin Lumber Company was organized. Later on, commentary stated that he realized the immense potentialities for a water-powered mill on the Namekagon if control could be gained of the vast stands of white pine surrounding this ideal site. It also pointed out that he was aware of the great savings that could be made by shipping manufactured lumber out from the mill by rail instead of driving the logs downriver to be sawed, an unnecessary cost, often greatly increased by the vagaries of the spring flood. Obviously, he also knew that a railroad was shortly to be extended up the Namekagon Valley, so he laid his plans well.

The ideal place to build a dam for a mill depending on water power was situated below the present bridge across the Namekagon, where the banks were high and close together and where there was a good fall in the river bottom. Upriver from this natural narrows was a broad swampy area perfect for a pond to store water for the wheel and logs for the saws. However, this site where these desirable features were located, was in Section 27 and owned by the Omaha Railroad, as was most of the timber he needed to make his plan feasible.

Mr. Hayward, a practical man who had built and operated several mills before this, found that he could not acquire the site he wanted so he did the next best thing. He moved to gain control of as much of it as he could to forestall development by anyone else, and then bided his time. He bought the eighty-acre tract with its northeast corner in the street north of the Co-op store (now Second St.), giving him control of the damsite on Bradley Brook and where the brick company office was later built. He also bought the eighty which now includes the county shop and most of the downtown area. He included a forty at the outlet of Lake Mindamoga (Smith Lake) which has an ideal damsite, in his purchases. Clearly, his idea was to control the flow of Bradley Brook so that it could be used to turn the saw of a small mill installed below a dam at Florida Avenue.

About this time, Mr. Hayward met Robert Laird McCormick in Minnesota. He told McCormick of his dream of controlling the harvest of the pine tributary to the site on the Namekagon and that he did not have the necessary capital to do so. Mr. McCormick became enthused about the opportunity here and took Hayward to his employers, the Laird Norton lumber interests. They struck a deal, and the North Wisconsin Lumber Company formed with Hayward as president and McCormick as secretary and general manager. Their acumen and patience was rewarded when on November 14, 1881, the Omaha Railroad sold them the land in Section 27 necessary for the development of the site for the Big Mill.

Hayward’s new town was the location of a lumber camp as far back as 1864 when Albert C. Stuntz, the government surveyor, had reported in his diary that T. Mackey housed a small crew here. When the Omaha Railroad pushed up the Namekagon Valley in 1880, this old log bunkhouse was the only structure know to be in the vicinity. It was on the flat west of the Historical Marker and was later torn down to make way for the lumber yard. The railroad honored Hayward’s site by establishing a stop there in his name – a platform of stacked cross-ties served as a station. They also erected a water tank and pump house on the north side of the tracks between Bradley Brook and Florida Avenue – the circular brick foundation is still in place. A small cabin was built for the attendant at Florida Avenue which may have been the first new home in Hayward although Al Blaisdell, who supervised the construction of five dams for the company during this period, is reported to have had the first house in town. Since he did not purchase any land here, its location or the date of its erection cannot be recovered from the records.

The new company set up their headquarters in the old lumber camp to which had been added a frame building. The frame portion was used by the Congregational church to hold the first formal church services in the new town. When the old camp was torn down, it was moved up to the railroad tracks at Florida Avenue. It served as the office for the company until the new brick edifice was erected across the tracks in 1889 when it was moved to a site beside this building. In 1891, the old office was moved again, this time to its final location on the northeast corner of First and Dakota, to be used as a workshop and home by Jack P. Mann who added a second story as family living quarters. A picture of that period, dated September 15, 1893, shows it essentially as it is today where it now serves as the front part of the structure used as a bar.

Another building constructed near the old lumber camp was used as a schoolhouse, church and printshop. It was later torn down and rebuilt for a billiard saloon, then moved to the townsite and occupied as a home by Thomas Jordan. The company built a store across the track from the water tank in the fall of 1882 and stocked it fully with lumbermen’s supplies. It was torn down in 1893 and called “the oldest building in town” in a news item.

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