The House That Jasper Built

By Kaye Ketterer

This is part 2 of a 2-part reminiscence about Kaye’s childhood home.

There was nothing extraordinary about the house I grew up in, yet everything about it was extra-ordinary by today’s standards. The house was built in about 1884 by Jasper & Meta Marie Johnson, my maternal great-grandparents. It was a white farmhouse with wood siding and fish scale shaped siding at the peaks. My great grandparents had a beautiful open front porch with gingerbread trim and when my grandparents lived there, they enclosed the porch. In today’s world it would now be called a three season porch. The two story house faced the south, set back from the road with two rows of about 6 elm trees in each row. As a child I thought the rows of elm trees gave my house a castle-like entrance even though the driveway was just beyond the rows of elms. There was only a dirt cellar where canned goods were kept, and you got there by outside steps on the East side of the house.

When my life began in this house I was just two years old and there was no indoor plumbing, nor central heating. There was a pump just outside the back door under the wind mill where we drew our water and there was a big wood stove in the middle of the dining room.   The kitchen got most of its heat from the old cook stove. The outhouse was just a short distance from the back door to the north and we had chamber pots in our bedrooms so we didn’t have to get up and go outside at night. On the main level there was the kitchen, dining room, living room and my parents’ bedroom. To the north there was an enclosed porch as we called it that had a row of windows on the north wall and that’s where you entered the house from the back door.   In this porch, my mother did laundry and eventually the west end was used to make way for an indoor bathroom!   This porch also had a desk where my Dad would sometimes do bookwork and a chrome dining set was placed in front of the row of windows. In the summer months we often ate in this room. When other farmers would come to help pick corn or combine oats, my mother fed them on the back porch. They could wash up in the laundry tub sink and wouldn’t have to take off their dusty overalls.

img023 the house

Upstairs there were three rooms: my bedroom I shared with my sister and another bedroom where my two brothers slept. There was also a room that faced the north, thus we called it the “north room”.   No one slept in this room and when I was growing up it was used to store things that weren’t used anymore like our 6 year old crib and boxes of who knows what! The hallway was quite large and at the top of the stairs there was an old dresser that sat there for years holding off season clothes and usually had stuff piled high on top of it.

As a young child I don’t remember the house getting much remodeling or updating, but it was kept sanitary and picked up by my mother’s almost constant, deep cleaning. The bedrooms had the original wallpaper that was stained and peeling and the ceilings were plaster. Occasionally in my bedroom there would be a sticky substance dripping from one of the walls and it would stain the old wallpaper even more. The floors were wide pine boards although in my brother’s bedroom the floor had been covered with thin dark brown linoleum. My bedroom floor boards had been painted a light blue and were somewhat rough and splintering. There was no closet in my bedroom, just a shelf with a thin rod hanging from it where we could hang clothes from hangers. There were two windows facing the south and one window facing the west. This window was almost level with the floor, so in the heat of the summer I would put my pillow in the window sill and sleep on the floor to get any cool air that came through the window. It seemed my bedroom was either hot or freezing cold. In the winter ice would gather on the window panes even though my Dad put plastic inside covering the windows. I learned to be quick getting out of bed and getting dressed in the winter time. My sister & I had twin beds. Mine an old roll-a-way bed and hers a “Hollywood”. Her bed was always called that and I never asked why but supposed it was the brand name. There was one light on the west wall in my bedroom that turned on and off by pulling a string.   My sister & I shared a dresser with two drawers each.

Our farm house never felt big or scary to me; although there were times I wished that my bedroom was downstairs safely positioned next to my parents.   Sometimes at night I would wake up to a whooshing sound and it felt like a bird was in our bedroom. I would turn on the light and see this bat flying around. I was scared and would always wake my sister, who would quickly pull the covers over her head and tell me to go back to sleep! I couldn’t do that, so would call for help and my Dad would come upstairs with a broom and a pail and he would get the bat into the pail and put it back outside. When my sister went away to college I had the room to myself. I liked it except when there would be a thunder storm. Storms always scared me and when I would hear the first crack of thunder I would run down the stairs and position myself right between my parents in their bed. I remember doing this until I was in junior high, then I found a safe place to sleep on the living room couch, near my parents’ bedroom.

The most special times in the farm house were holidays like Christmas. We always cut our own tree from the “forty” as it was called. The “forty” was a 40 acre plot of land surrounded by roads just over the hill from our farm.   The tree was always long needled and was often a bit bare in places, so my Dad usually had to drill some holes and stick branches in the bare spots. It didn’t matter to me because when we got the blue lights, silver balls, and ice-cycles on it, I thought it was the most beautiful Christmas tree ever! That was all the decorating we did for Christmas, but the kitchen was always warm with the heat of the oven as my mother baked about 12 different kinds of cookies not to mention pies, bread rolls, and her specialty: homemade baked beans.

It was always a fun time when my cousins from Minneapolis came to visit. Eventually there were six children and the oldest two were the closest to my age. We did everything together. We usually had to help with doing dishes after a meal, so we made it fun; we played bank! We imagined that the silver ware was money and while we dried it and put it in the drawer, we counted it! As young girls we took baths together on Saturday night to be clean for church the next day. In my bedroom we pushed the two beds long sides together and slept on them the opposite way. This way all three of us fit together.

When my cousins visited, this usually meant more of my relatives would show up either for the weekend or at least for Sunday dinner. This was a huge affair. Our dining room was a large room and we would open the Duncan Phyfe table and put in two leaves. Then the chrome table from the back porch was put on its end up to the Duncan Phyfe. If we needed more room, we’d add the small kitchen table. These tables weren’t the same height, but we would put table clothes on and we were set. Finding enough chairs sometimes was difficult, but we used the piano bench and always put it at one of the short ends where I sat with my cousin.

Over the years the house changed some. Quite early after moving there, my parents had the basement dug out more and put in a furnace. I remember a huge sand pile in the back yard that was there a long time. This was a great place to play with toy machinery! The furnace was huge and burned wood and coal. My Dad cut our own wood, but I remember times he would order a load of coal. I’m sure this was easier on him, but it made the house dirty and when he started the fire in the early morning hours, I would bury myself under the covers as the coal smell was awful! I remember my mother complaining as it made her drapes dirty!

When I was in high school, my Dad decided to re-do my bedroom. He took out everything down to the studs. We didn’t find any gold or other treasures, but we did find honey bees between the studs! It was quite a sight! This is what had been dripping down the walls and making the wallpaper sticky. I don’t remember how my Dad got the bees out, but when the room was done it was beautiful. My sister had done a 4-H project which involved re-decorating the bedroom.   She had is all designed on paper and did sew new curtains, bedspread and skirt for around a dressing table. The dressing table was made from 2 peach crates put together by a board across the top. A new mirror was purchased for above the dressing table. My Dad build in a real closet and the floor was carpeted! I felt like I was the luckiest girl alive!

Over the years, my parents carpeted other rooms and did other improvements. After my parents retired, it seemed the old house was too big and took too much work. After much discussion my parents decided to build a new house. They build it right in front of the old. Everything was on one floor and the furnace was both wood and electric so they were set!   In 1982 there was a family reunion to celebrate 100 years since my great grandparents homesteaded the farm. The old house was still standing, but after that my Dad tore it down, saving the wood flooring and other re-usable things.   In doing so my Dad discovered that several old beams had been charred by the old chimney. It was a good thing they had built a new house.

My oldest brother lives in the house now. He has done some remodeling and used the old wood flooring in his dining room. He put on an open front porch, added a master suite, and a 3 season porch on the back to the north. There are no more elm trees, but the oak tree where we all used to swing still stands with a new swing installed in its branches.  Bricks from the old house have been given to family members and I have a sampling of the old wall paper and some square nails that were used in the house.

The house I grew up in was a good place. Nothing fancy, but it didn’t matter, there was love, good things to eat and plenty of people to play with. I have lived in many houses since my childhood days, but the house I remember most is the farm house of my childhood.

Missed Part 1: The Barn? Read it here.

Kaye lives in Monona, Wisconsin, and keeps her country roots close to her heart. Along with writing, her interests include music, traveling, children, and the elderly.

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The Barn

By Kaye Ketterer

This is part 1 of a 2-part reminiscence about Kaye’s childhood home.

I am the youngest of four children who grew up on a small Wisconsin dairy farm in the 1950’s and 1960’s. My Dad was the dairy farmer milking about 22 cows and working about 100 acres of a 160 acre farm. Both he and my mother grew up on farms about 15miles away from each other. The farm we lived on was where my mother grew up, and was homesteaded by my Mother’s grandparents. I slept in the same room my mother did and went to the same school she did. Like many things in life, I didn’t really appreciate the lineage I came from until much later in my life.   My parents planted a large garden and my mother canned vegetables and meat and they both respected the land as their close friend and took care of it as the fragile part of life that it was.

I loved being outside on the farm and especially loved being in the barn. My Dad loved his work and would often sing as he was doing the milking and always enjoyed the regular visit of a neighbor coming from town to dig up worms. The barn was built on a stone foundation with walls about 12 inches thick. There were windows on the north, south, and west sides with deep window sills that could hold most anything. The outside boards of the bar were painted red which in my memory had faded from what used to be a bright barn red, to now a dull shade of grayish red. The barn was built in about 1885 and had electricity, but no running water.   The cows would have to be let outside everyday so they could drink from the stock tank as it was called that was attached to the milk house just across the barnyard.   The milking level of the barn would be quite cool in the summer and in the winter even though there was frost on the inside of the walls, the air was warm and sweet from the cows. The barn smelled good most of the time. My Dad cleaned the manure every day from the barn by hand scooping it up and carrying it a few steps out the door to a waiting manure spreader. He would also white wash the barn walls every spring. I loved the barn after a whitewashing! It smelled like a fresh spring day and was as clean as a whistle!   The best time to be in the barn was during the late afternoon milking. My dad would be doing the milking from about 3:30pm until 5:00pm and that is where I would be too.

I would follow my Dad around while he did his chores and as I got older I would help him more. I was always full of questions about how the milk machine worked or if cows had a memory. My Dad answered my questions and was always willing to let me help, but I think he liked it best when I would play my own pretend games and he could do his work without interruption. So, the barn became this magical place where anything could happen and I could go anywhere I wanted. It was my own theatrical stage where I could be the main character and every part of the barn became my background and set for whatever need I had.

img022 the barn

There were times the barn was a school house and the cows my students. I remember imagining that the white on their faces was the paper they would use to write on. On the southeast end of the barn there was a pen for heifers and an off the floor manger for their food. I would stand up in this manger as the teacher and direct the cows in their learning. Sometimes I would get carried away and shout my directions and one or two cows would jerk in surprise. My Dad would simply say, “Be careful so you don’t scare the cows”. I remember taking a nail or anything I could use as chalk and write on the walls or beams of the barn as I played “school”. The walls of the barn were whitewashed about once a year, so they made a perfect “chalk board”.

I had cousins that would visit often from Minneapolis and they too loved the barn. We often played “hotel” in the barn. It must have been the idea of my city cousins, as I don’t think I’d even stayed in a hotel yet!! Each stanchion was the door to a room and we used the feed bin as a desk for the hotel workers. On the wall in the barn was an old spice cabinet with several drawers. We used that to store the room keys. Any nut or bolt could become a room key and we fixed a chain with a hook on the end to use as our telephone. Of course preceding all this “play” was cleaning! We would sweep the main walks of the barn and wipe off the feed bin. We surely had a five star hotel with only the finest guests!

The barn always had many cats meowing and looking for attention. They usually were part of the play for me and I sometimes would dress them up in my doll clothes and try to get them to ride in an old black buggy that I used for many years as a play thing. I don’t think the cats liked wearing clothes, but I think I was always gentle and gave them lots of love. There were lots of times my Dad would say there was a mother cat that had a batch of kittens in the hay mow. I couldn’t wait to see them and hold them, but my Dad always taught me to be patient and the mother cat would bring them out when they were ready. This usually happened unless I got too impatient and went searching for them in the haymow myself!   The cats had their own dish in the barn, where my Dad would give them a splash of warm milk and they would all gather around it to lap up the milk ever so grateful my Dad hadn’t forgotten them!

There were times when a calf would be born and after the mother would clean and lick her calf, my Dad would carry the calf to a special place with new, clean straw. I would lay with that little calf stroking its fur and sometimes putting my head on its side until its mother would give me a look and stern MOO! When it was time for the calf to be weaned my Dad would show me how to let it suck my fingers in a pail of warm milk. It was a messy job as the calf would usually be really hungry and want that milk so bad, but not really know how to get it from the pail into its mouth and swallow it! It took a few tries, but eventually the calf would drink smoothly with little or no dripping of milk.

The haymow was another magical place. It was the best smelling place in the barn when the haymow was full of new baled hay. I could understand why cows liked hay. I could almost eat it myself! As the days went by and number of hay bales dwindled, that’s when the fun began! Climbing up high on the bales felt like the top of a mountain. It gave me power! When my city cousins would come, we would carry and move many bales to make tunnels, houses, and even stack them to make higher mountains. My Dad was pretty particular how the bales were stacked to be able to get the most in the hay mow, but when my cousins & I were done, it never looked the same. And my Dad never said a word!

When I was in high school, my Dad stopped using our barn and rented the neighbors barn just down the road.   It was a bigger barn with barn cleaner and drinking cups for the cows to get their water at the stanchions! It was a short walk through the woods and was much easier on my Dad. The plan was to tear down our old barn and someday stop milking cows altogether. In 1972 the barn came down. My Dad salvaged many things from it. The barn boards have become walls, bird houses, and picture frames. The old condenser milk cans have been painted and used for stools to sit on. Some of the barn beams have been built into a cousin’s cabin and others made into tables. The spice cabinet has been refinished and hangs now in the new farm house on the property.   The barn is gone and only pictures and my wonderful memories remain.


Click here to read Part 2: The House!

Kaye lives in Monona, Wisconsin, and keeps her country roots close to her heart. Along with writing, her interests include music, traveling, children, and the elderly.

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Small Things

At a recent Salon at Pinney Library we had fewer readers than time slots available, so I offered a writing exercise. I asked people to think about something meaningful they have with them in the room, then challenged them to write facts (1 minute), memories (3 minutes), and meaning (1 minute) about that object. This is always interesting, because think about it: what do you have on YOU right now that has meaning for you? We passed the rest of the Salon eagerly listening to each others’ stories.'s%20Watch

Small Things

By Ellie Jacobi

I am wearing my late husband Paul’s watch. I used to wear these delicate, feminine, fancy watches, but they had dials so small my aging eyes could no longer read them. So here I am with Paul’s watch on my wrist, discovering that large watches are now quite fashionable for women!

The watch was with us on all our extensive travels. It told us not only the time, but the date and month. I remember having it go in for repairs and feeling as though time was out of control instead of the watch being unavailable.

It has shown me how small items can bring people to life in memory.

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Flight or Invisibility

By Diane Hughes

The NPR program about the special powers of superheros bored me. I’m not a fan of superheroes but just as I was thinking of searching for the classic rock station, the guy says “So I started asking people which would you rather have, if you could choose a superpower, Flight or Invisibility?” I almost instantly yelled out loud “Flight!”

It turns out, according to this program, almost everyone has an instant response of one or the other, and they will continue to defend their initial response even after they have time to reflect and ask questions to define more carefully what the superpower entalls. How fast can you fly? Will my clothes also become invisible? Can I turn it on and off at will? All very good questions but none of the answers seem to sway a person from their initial response.

By this time I’d pulled into the Lake Kegonsa State Park parking lot near the trailhead of one of my favorite paths that would take me past the restored prairie and down to the lake’s edge. When the program ended, I walked along the prairie’s edge trying to imagine flying over the prairie and out over the lake. One of the most exciting experiences in my life was piloting a glider, feeling the rise of the small plane as we crossed over a lake, using Earth’s natural thermal heat to rise up and prolong our ride. Each time we found a heat source, we could use it to rise higher again but eventually we glided down and lined up with the runway of the small airport. Landing required carefully counteracting the rise caused by the heat of the paved runway so  I reluctantly turned the controls back over to the instructor.

I recalled another a day on a different prairie, one of those first days in the spring warm enough to enjoy the breeze. I saw a young red-tailed hawk high above and paused by the side of the road to watch him as he slowly descended, making use of the thermal rise to lift again and then come closer to the prairie floor with never even a flutter of wing. He saw me watching and showed off his dive, pulling up just before hitting ground. I knew he would but still my heart stopped as he got within two feet of the ground.

He saw that I watched, and knew I was delighted. So he did it again, this time coming straight down from an even higher start. I clapped, not sure if Hawk culture would understand the noise as joy, perhaps it would scare him off, but my response of applause sprang from a  deep place within me that needed to express my joy. Fortunately for me, the Hawk, now affectionally named “Red,” seemed to understand my response as a form of admiration and continued to perform his aerial stunts.


He turned in tight spirals, flew down as though to pounce on a mouse, and then high up turning in wide spirals. He circled around me from time to time, making a perfect circle with me as the center point, each time coming closer. At times his shadow brushed over me and I could FEEL his shadow as its coolness crossed my face. I felt embraced by this wild being and, even though I know you might say “anthropomorphizing,” I say no. This guy knew I was watching and took pride in showing off his skills. He enjoyed my adoration and returned the favor by letting me know he was glad for my presence.  After about fifteen minutes, he left after circling one more time in a wide arc at the exact height of my head. I think he might have said “Excuse me, I need to go hunt for dinner now” but that would be anthropomorphizing.

I then recalled a dream I once had in which a number of large birds were running,  getting ready for take off. At the last moment, one bird (the one that really looked a little like BIG BIRD now that I think of it,) suddenly couldn’t take off with the others. She clung to the tree sobbing in the most heartbreaking voice “Why can’t I fly?” I didn’t need a therapist to know that one represented me and demanded some life adjustments to awaken my flying abilities. For awhile “the Bird That Can’t Fly” was a theme, showing up in my paintings and my jewelry collection as I learned that many birds don’t fly, but use wings as a way to glide down from trees and help them propel up small inclines. Another NPR program included the theory that this is why wings developed and only after a long evolution in wing design was flight possible.

So on this day, asked to choose between being invisible or flying, FLYING was the only possible choice. I imagined scenes of the Grand Canyon properly explored, or in Washington DC flying around the Washington Monument. I would drop water balloons on duck hunters and take kids on rides just for fun. I’d jump off of Yosemitie’s Half Dome and enjoy the amazing thermal updrafts of  Yellowstone’s Old Faithful. Games in my mind to help pass the day.

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News from “Mountain Girl” Stephanie Kadel Taras

I received this email from my APH colleague Stephanie Kadel Taras, author of Mountain Girls, this morning. I posted an interview and excerpt from her book earlier this year. I’m pleased to share her news! -Sarah White

Hello friends!

I’m excited to share that I’m the guest blogger today on the excellent blog and podcast,, curated by fellow West Virginia ex-pat Dave Tabler:

mt girls coverThe blog post includes a new short piece about one of the stops on my West Virginia book tour this past May and why I wrote Mountain Girls, plus an excerpt from the book. This guest blog is a real privilege, as Dave’s website is a rich trove of quality work from Appalachian writers and historians. I’m humbled to be in such company and honored that Dave included me.

In addition, I have made an audio recording of the first chapter of Mountain Girls—just me reading my story. If you wanna hear it, the free audio is now available on my website:

Hope this message finds you well and relishing summer,

Stephanie Kadel Taras, Ph.D.
TimePieces Personal Biographies

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Local memoir writers: help me decide!

Help me make a decision! I’m trying to choose between two different  time slots at the Sequoya Library for a 6-week memoir workshop starting in late September 2014.

Would you be more likely to come at the same time as my previous Sequoya workshops –11am-1pm Mondays — or the new time slot, 4-6pm Thursdays?

Let me know!

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My “Writer in Residency” at Costco

This spring I got an email from the publisher of my oral history book, Madison Women Remember Growing Up in Wisconsin’s Capital. They were planning a book signing for Father’s Day for their local authors. Would I be interested in participating?

“But it’s a women’s book,” I said. “Why not Mother’s Day?”

“Too late for that,” was the reply. “Will you do it?” It was a dull day in late winter; committing seemed easy. I agreed to give up two hours on June 14 to sit in a Costco warehouse signing books. I have never been in a Costco.


June 14 arrived. I drove 45 minutes from my eastside home to the west edge of Madison. I entered through a canyon lined with giant inflatable watercraft and coolers and approached a draped table topped with two stacks of Madison Women Remember. Nearby stood a placard on an easel with an image of the book, announcing “Local Author Signing 12-2pm.” A staff person greeted me and seated me with some of those shorty water bottles and some black Sharpies.


Somehow I thought they’d be more of us—a group of people with Wisconsin history books of interest to Fathers, things like Baseball, Fire Departments, Cars. But there was only me.

Only me, in the middle of a stream of consumer America flowing as gently as goldfish in a bowl. I tried good posture and friendly eye contact. Some people, mostly older women, stopped to talk. During lulls I felt the dark pull of my smartphone. Checked some email, followed some links, surfed a little. Then I reprimanded myself. That’s no way for a Local Author to behave!

That’s when it hit me: this is a Writer in Residency. It may be brief and it may be an unusual setting but if Amtrak can have a Writer in Residence, so can Costco. And right now, for the next two hours, that lucky writer is me. So I pulled out a steno pad I always carry with me, and began doing writing exercises.*

Sure enough, as soon as I was publicly writing, more people wanted to talk to me. I sold some books. I had a very intriguing conversation with an older couple from southern India about the difference between religion and spirituality. The husband wants to write a book.

What had felt like penalty for a poor decision months before (I gave up a BEAUTIFUL Saturday for this?) became a relaxed, focused, immersion in an environment that is to me, exotic. I may live in Middle America but I rarely go there. Wisconsin’s capital really can be “77 square miles surrounded by reality” if you play it right.

Arcadia Publishing sent me a satisfaction survey form about the author signing yesterday. I answered it “Satisfied” but suggested next year, they invite me for Mother’s Day. I look forward to my next Writer in Residency at Costco.

- Sarah White


*What I wrote:

5 Sense Survey

SOUND: Cash registers beeping beepingbeepingbeeping. Muffled hum of machines–air conditioning? Crackling walkie-talkies of staff. Murmuring people. Rattle of shopping carts. Slap of shoes on polished concrete floor.

SIGHT: Stream of people with giant empty carts coming in the door. Inflateable rafts, pool toys, coolers. World Cup soccer on flat screen TV $479.99. Bose Bluetooth speakers, ad running on loop. People avoiding eye contact with me except little children and women of a certain age. Every 10 minutes or so one buys a book and I sign it.

SMELL: Just a hint of food—warm nuts? Bread? There’s a food court behind me.

TOUCH: Cycling air-conditioning. It gets just warm enough I dampen with sweat, then it kicks in and I feel a breeze of cool air. Coarse black fabric on the table my elbows rest on. Seersucker pants course against my thighs.

TASTE: Bottled water. An Altoid mint, just to have something to report.

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