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OWLs Articles

Selections from the Oelwein Writes League

Birth of an OWL.
                             by Jake Blitsch

You've no doubt heard of river rats and gym rats but did you know there are also library rats?  Oh no, don't be alarmed.  It's a good thing.  Library rats are most often found lurking in the narrow aisles of the library perusing the stacked shelves of printed pulp as if they were on a treasure hunt. To them the smell of ink on pulverized wood, encased in a plastic sheaving is a feast to their mental digestive system.  But how many of these literary scavengers had actually contemplated penning a composition they could call their own?
Andy Cubit of Oelwein knew how to write so he put out an appeal to others in the library arena asking if like-minded scribes would like to convene for the purpose of “writer’s camaraderie".   In mid October Cubit, now the Pied Piper of library rats, led a shy, inquisitive but enthusiastic group to the library's meeting room to explain his vision of a guild for wanna-be authors.
The first order of business was to have a name for this assemblage. 
  Many were dazed with the first assignment. Pencils tapped on the table.  Some slouched in their chairs with heads tilted back while their eyeballs dried, staring at the florescent lights. Many scanned the room playing "I spy" with themselves, looking for that one clue that would start the creative juices flowing.
I did what came natural to me. It seemed like days of yore. I imagined myself back in high school where, when wisdom failed me, I doodled.   Name. Think of a name I thought. F.W.A. I scribbled. Frustrated Writers Anonymous. No that won't do. I don't want to start each meeting standing up and announcing to the group "Hi my names Jake and I'm a frustrated writer".  "Hiiiiii Jake", they would all drone in unison.
Oooo.  Oooo.  I got it! W.A.U.  "Writers Are Us" I beamed in self- adulation.
No that won't work.  We'd never be able to afford the royalties or be able to stave off a lawsuit from that cheesy toy company that stole my idea.
Doodle, doodle, doodle. League of Oelwein Writers, L.O.W., Oh get real. W.L.O. Writers League of Oelwein.  Doodle doodle. O.W.L. Oelwein Writers League. OWLs.  OWLs!!!!!  That's it!  Wait. Is it really it?
 Time stood still as my psyche began a prolonged and bitter debate.  "Oh what the heck I concluded." I raised my hand in timid expectation, and uttered the words....
 "Ahhh Mr. Cubit sir.  I think I have an idea for a name


By Bill Pierce

 Having only recently moved to Oelwein and not knowing many people here I recall one of the stories my granddad, Ward Augustus Pierce, told me as a child. Grandpa was a brakeman on the Burlington Railroad and later was promoted to a job where he worked nights in the yards and made sure
the locomotives kept up the steam pressure ovenight in the boilers. He had a partner named Burt Junker who was prone to fall asleep easily and Grandpa needed to try and keep him awake besides adding a few scoops of  coal to the locomotives fire boxes to keep the steam pressure at a safe level. One cold night he found Burt sound asleep sitting in the engineer’s chair in one of the locomotives and the steam pressure was at a very low level. Grandpa quietly shoveled a few scoops of coal into the firebox and watched as the pressure got back to normal while Burt slept on.

 That particular locomotive engine had a steam pressure gauge that the needle could be moved to any steam pressure desired and should have been replaced. Grandpa remembered the pressure it read and then moved the needle into the red high-pressure zone and shook Burt awake.
 “Burt! Look at your steam pressure!”
 Burt’s eyes popped open and he saw the steam pressure in the red zone and hollered “OH MY GOD!” He quickly held the whistle rope down to relieve the pressure. The steam engine whistle screamed long and loud and probably awoke every one in hearing distance of the yards. Grandpa held his sides in laughter and finally explained to Burt that he had moved the needle to the red zone and the steam pressure was actually all right and then as Burt let go of the whistle rope and Grandpa moved the needle back to the right position.

“Dad burn it, Ward, that was a dirty trick!” Burt mumbled. “You just got to learn to stay awake, Burt.” Grandpa was still laughing. The next day the yardmaster asked Burt why he was blowing one of the
locomotive whistles at 2:25 AM? Burt explained that the pressure got too high in the boiler and he blew the whistle to relieve it.
“How did you let the pressure get too high?” Was the yardmaster’s next question? “Maybe I just dreamed it.” Burt said without thinking. “Ah ha sleeping at the throttle, Burt?” And then he laughed, as grandpa
had tipped the yardmaster off to the trick he’d pulled on Burt.

Grandpa left the railroad when he married grandma Grace and went to work at the Iowa State Normal School in Cedar Falls, as an engineer in the power plant there. That school is now called University of Northern Iowa. Grandpa passed away in 1947 at the age of 69 when I was 15 and that was
the only railroad story he ever told me.

By Elsa Mueller

No other event in our lives had a greater impact than World War II. The reason was that we were of a youthful age and that generation is, as in all ages, the one called upon to fight the wars. Everett was attending Iowa State Teacher’s College in Cedar Falls and I was still in high school. In a way the declaration of war was rather remote to me as we had no men in the family that would soon be affected by the draft. As the clouds of war approached all men were required to register for the draft and my Dad was within the age limits, that is 18- 45 years of age. My Dad was near the age of 40 and  injured in an accident.
A few men sought deferment for working on the farm. Farmers asked for deferment of at least one son to stay on the farm to help with the farm work. Other deferments considered were based on religious beliefs and physical disabilities. Walt, a neighbor and friend stayed at home to farm the land and already had 4 brothers n the service. Another neighbor contacted the draft board with a complaint that Walt went to dances at the Coliseum in Oelwein. However no action on this matter was considered. Yes, the draft was a serious interruption in many young lives. Many signed in Special Forces as the navy, air corps or the marines.
A program was set up in each township that mandated the purchase of war bonds. The township trustees came to our farm and my family purchased a few of these bonds. The starting denomination was $18.75 which on maturity yielded $25. My parents disliked the procedure in the assessments as they suspected individuall bank accounts were examined for the suggested purchase. Imagine the uproar this would cause now with our Individual privacy laws.
Clouds of war prevailed and finally on December 7 Japan attacked our fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We first learned of the attack when a neighbor drove into our yard and informed us of the attack. We then turned on the radio to hear more of the details. The radio was seldom used as turning it on would run the batteries down. The REA was not available then for our farm. The attack was on a Sunday morning and on the following day, Monday, our school superintendent turned on the one radio in the high school so that we could hear President Roosevelt say that this day will go down in infamy and war was declared against Japan. Meanwhile Everett was in his rooming house in Cedar Falls listening to the radio and then he knew that his life would abruptly change.
Shortages were beginning to appear at this time, rationing of certain items began. Six months before the declaration of war my Dad had purchased new tires for the 1939 Buick; these tires were to last for the duration. These tires were all made of rubber, no synthetics were yet used. Sugar needed ration stamps to purchase. My Grandfather August had a number of beehives and we always had comb honey on the table to be used as a sweetener.
Another rationed item was meat. As farmers we had always butchered our meat supply and our family preserved this by canning the hams, wurst and many other cuts. We did not always use all of the required stamps. Our family liked cheese and that also required stamps from the meat book. Later when I was in college we all turned in our ration books to the college. As it was many of the meals were all vegetable meals, beets, string beans, tomatoes and other vegetables. Many meats were served with Spanish rice and to this day I will not eat Spanish rice. Similarly as now Everett was in the navy and canned meat such as Spam was served.
Gasoline and oil were rationed. The farmers received additional stamps to use for their tractors and engines. When on leave from the navy Everett received some gas stamps from an understanding neighbor and used them to visit his old friends and relatives. Machinery was rationed and the farmers were required to apply to the ration board for needed new machinery. My Dad wanted to totally switch to tractor power and signed for a corn picker but thankfully the war ended before he had the chance to buy one.
To conserve on fuel and tires it was mandated that 35 miles per hour was the speed limit, if someone passed a law abiding driver the driver usually honked signaling the infraction. I had a driver’s license, but no one drove much because of the shortages. But--I did drive the ’39 Buick to the junior-senior banquet in Stanley and then on to Oelwein for a movie. Contrast this in 2009 to the elaborate proms.
In college we were asked to volunteer to fold bandages on a weekly basis. Then close to my graduation the GIs were returning and a few of them had cars. Yes, we walked, rode trains or busses for transportation. During the height of the war we saw many troop trains, the troops waving out the windows. When stopped as in Oelwein the troops asked the bystanders to “Please write to me”.
It is now 50 plus years since the Great War. I still remember the meatless meals in the college cafeteria, the uneasiness of an invasion on our coasts, of rationing of all kinds and the difficulty of some of my generation in planning for their futures. Too, I remember seeing a small sign along a Colorado highway and a corner marker reading “Former site of a detention camp for the displaced Japanese”. That camp near Greeley, Colorado had been completely torn down w~ the mid 50s. What a horrible reminder of some of the war hysteria.

By Judy Dreyer

    Why do I write? I have no ambition to write a book. I have no expertise in any area of
interest to others. At the moment, I have no point to prove or information to share or defense to
make for my actions.

    So why do I write? First, I write to remember things. A quote by an unknown author I
found recently explains it this way; “memory is a way of holding onto things you love, the things
you are, the things you never want to lose.” A daily journal writing for many years has become
such a habit, I can’t imagine not writing to begin or end my day, or sometimes in between.

    There are other reasons, too. When my two sons and daughter were growing up, a written
letter was often the way they learned of my side of an issue, of consequences for mis-behavior,
or pride in their accomplishments. Even today, when I have something I believe is important to
say, I state it in writing and do my best to have as much impact as possible.

    When I was growing up, I believe that, like every other family I knew, ours suffered from
a certain degree of what today would be called “dysfunction”. After I matured and left home, I
could look back and see a lot clearer some of the reasons for that and 1 was reminded once again
that one should not judge until you’ve walked in another’s shoes. I have no doubt that someday
I will find tucked away in my mother’s things a letter or two expressing frustration or
appreciation or offering an apology.

    When I feel pain, writing sometimes helps to heal. When my heart is full of joy, I write
what may be called poetry, although I don’t exactly understand what qualifies as poetry. When I
am angry, my journal pages quietly accept all the abuse I can dish out, and no one is hurt. If I
want to tear those pages out and throw them away, I can.

    Writing gives me an excuse to grab a journal and a favorite pen and head for a quiet spot
outdoors, perhaps City Park or the Fontana Nature Trail (although the tornado has rendered the
Nature Trail inaccessible this summer) where the clutter of sound from a ringing phone, the TV
or noisy traffic and other unwanted sounds are filtered out and replaced by the wind blowing
gently through the treetops, a chattering squirrel or a birdsong. There I can sit and write or just
listen for ideas of what to write.

    Although I’m generally not among those who write for the general public to read, I
believe the written word has power to influence, to encourage, to inform, to entertain and in the
final analysis to change lives, but those of you here already know that.

    Last September 8th at an OWL meeting at the Oelwein Library, I discovered another
reason to write. I discovered that I’m in very good company.

What if you could look into the future and learn what your life would be like during your final years? The following essays created by the library OWLs were influenced by a radio series on National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" in 2000 called "One Hundred Years of Stories".


Old age has its pluses and minuses, that’s for surel I guess most of us want
to squeeze as much out of the toothpaste tube, metaphorically speaking, as
we can possibly get. But there are times, I must admit, when I wonder why I
struggle so mightUy to get that last little drip out of the tube. Looking in
the mirror, realizing that the wrinkly face staring back at me was once a
halfway decent image, it can be plenty discouraging. Why go through the
embarrassment, not to mention the pain, of seeing my whole body slowly
disintegrate? Should there be some way to just ‘~turn out the light” when my
health gets dicey? And who wants to lose our independence and rely on
others to perform our daily tasks? Will new medical miracles keep pace with
my deteriorating body so that I can still enjoy life? Well, I for one em
definitely counting on it!

Here are my personal top ten reasons I want to live to be 100:

10.Challenge my body, as well as my mind, to actually last 100 years.
9.Make it my goal to practice the Golden Rule every day, even at age 100
8.Watch as my grandchildren mature, make their contributions to
society, and possibly produce my great grandchildren, who one day will
do the same.
7.Get busy and finally accomplish all of the items on my “to do” lists.
6.To marvel in the progress of Oelwein becoming the best little city in
the USA!
5.Observe the many technological changes that will occur in the next 28
4.Witness the solution to feeding the exploding world population.
3.Be on hand when our society conquers the issues of climate change.
2.Participate in the demise of worldwide racial and social prejudices.

And the number one reason I want to live to be 100:
1.To see if that proverbial, albeit wishful, Christmas slogan, “PEACE ON
EARTH” can finally become a reality!

What I Love About My Library
By Caroline Bruehahn

Our City Library has helped to create a new image for Oelwein. (Even my relatives from Minneapolis were duly impressed when I took them on a tour.) l am so proud of it that I want always to promote it.
    I have often heard people say, that they have never been inside the Library. There are also those who declare that “Someday, I’ll have to stop back there again.” Well why not make “someday” “today”? If you want a destination for your daily walk, why not head for the Library? You will find all kinds of interesting things to enjoy. I know I have.
    There is a most pleasant room with comfortable chairs, a fireplace, and a big window on the outside world. On the shelves are many of the area’s important Daily newspapers. That is also the room where you will find the latest popular magazines to read. And you can have coffee in that room if you like a cup of coffee with your read.  You can also help the library staff put a puzzle together or play a game of chess or checkers.
    On the East, there is a big table, handy for doing your homework, or office work. There are also magazines people have donated to be sold.  You can buy them for twenty five cents. This is a bargain when you consider that most of the latest magazines sell for up to five dollars. The money collected goes to the Library fund. In that room, there are easy chairs where you can sit and read the staff’s favorite books they have selected for you to choose from. The new fiction and non-fiction is located in this room as well.
    Every season, the Library staff and Friends decorate for holidays such as Christmas, Valentines Day, Easter, July 4th, or Thanksgiving. What delightful ideas they have! I like to just walk around and view what they have come up with.  There are also showings of all kinds of designs in Pottery, Art, Glass, and inventive imaginations. Most of them are from local artists.
    There is a special area for little children. If you are a parent or grandparent, it would be great fun to bring your child to hear the stories being read on Wednesdays. (Maybe if you are real good and don’t talk, they will read one to you.) There are oodles of books to pick from. I can’t think of anything a child could want to do which couldn’t be enhanced by a trip to the Library!  There are child sized chairs and sofas for them to use. They can sit on the floor rugs also. They will be comfortable there.
    The Computer stations are always in use and greatly appreciated. There seems to-be enough room for everyone to have private time there. I have taken one of the occasional Computer classes the Library offers.
    There is a paperback book exchange where you can donate books or take out books.  You need to register the books you take out with the Librarian. Additionally there are book CDs, audiotapes, DVDs and movies to check out.
    I like best the large meeting room that is available for club and group meetings. The groups I belong to the Oelwein Writers League (OWL) group, which is sponsored by the Library. They meet on the first and third Monday of the month. The other one is the Genealogy group which meets on the third Tuesday. This group also has an area near the meeting room where we are allowed to keep books related to Genealogy
    Other library sponsored activities include Trivia Club, Garden Club, Bridge Lessons, EXPO, Teen Club, Adult Book Club and several other classes taught by local artisans.  We also have a group called the Friends of the Library which you can join for Ten Dollars per year. This group meets the first Monday of each month at 1:00 p.m. Come join us! More later on Library presentations and activities.

The Optimistic Gardner
Judy Dreyer

Ah, yes. Spring is finally here. In the spring, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.....those of us who are a little past young fancy gardening. How anxious we are to get out there! One nice day and we’re buying seed, getting the rake and hoe out and the tiller tuned up. Never mind that the soil is still cold and tomorrow it may snow........
Every year for 30+ years, my husband would say, I’d like to help you in the garden some day. "Someday" happened a year ago in April when we officially retired. I have to admit, I was ready to welcome the help. I love gardening, but I was beginning to feel it was time to make it a little smaller. It’s so easy to get overly enthused with so many wonderful things to grow. However, it didn’t happen quite like I thought it would. Mr. decided he wanted his own we have two...and mine isn’t any smaller! What just happened here? He also planted most of the vegetables in his garden, so I’m not quite sure what mine is supposed to grow, except I insist on several kinds of flowers.....always have, and that’s the motivation for him wanting his own garden. Frankly, his garden is kind of boring....(don’t tell him I said that.)....He has perfectly straight rows, nary a weed in sight and you know exactly what’s planted where. It looks beautiful, and is very productive, but there’s absolutely no mystery or serendipity there.
My garden is a little more creative, with not so straight rows and paths winding around the patches of perennials and wild flowers here and there. Sometimes I forget to mark the rows. I never know where some holly hocks are going to pop up and I have a hard time digging out healthy growing plants, so you can see my dilemma. At times, it’s something of a surprise what I find growing among the canas and potatoes. Last year a whole row of potatoes showed up in the spring that I thought I had dug the year before. I really did dig there, but apparently didn’t dig deep enough. They were very good and earlier than the new crop, so we had fresh potatoes early. See what I mean? I like good surprises. My sister asks, "How do you design your garden?" She made it sound like I knew what I was doing.
I’ve discovered after nearly 48 years, my husband really does have a gardener’s heart. This year, he has tripled the size of "his’ garden, has planted a new asparagus bed and is even growing broccoli, which was never his favorite vegetable. Onions, cabbage, radishes, lettuce, Swiss chard and kohlrabi are already planted and some radishes are up. He said I could plant some of the "vine-y" things if I had too much room. That suits me fine. Once they get going, they shade out the weeds and it’s not as much work.
Happy gardening to all of you who do, and  "may all your weeds be wild flowers."  (Gardening Plaque)


This resource is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by State Library of Iowa.